This is part of a letter I sent to Carnival regarding our trip in June 2011 onboard the Carnival Glory to Canada - pretty much sums up our experience. Carnival's only response was that it was sorry for our bad experience. That's it. Never will we cruise with Carnival again.
In choosing a cruise line for our family trip, the availability of gluten-free food was of paramount importance. After an exhaustive research process, we decided that Carnival would work best for our dietary needs. Conversations with Carnival personnel as well as numerous reviews on the internet (including pictures of mouth-watering entrees and desserts) gave us peace of mind that my daughter would receive special treatment. However, our experience on board was quite different than what we were expecting.
I will start with some positives. Ana Cvejic, our hostess, was fabulous. She took our gluten-free orders each night, always with a big, welcoming smile. She went over and beyond that which was expected of her. It was a true pleasure to have met her. Our maitre d', Csaba Varga, was also delightful and very accommodating. Both he and Ana always attempted to right whatever wrong came out of the kitchen. Moreover, our cabin steward, Hubert, was outstanding. He always welcomed us with a smile and kept our rooms clean and neat.
Unfortunately, the positives end there. I'll start with the pizzeria. After waiting 45 minutes for a gluten-free pizza to be prepared (after being told it would take only six minutes), the cook at the pizzeria placed the freshly baked gluten-free pizza on the same board where regular pizza was handled. He then proceeded to cut the gluten-free pizza with the contaminated pizza cutter. Subsequent to informing him that he had contaminated the pizza (and it was thereby no longer gluten-free), he said it was his first time making gluten-free pizza and that he was never instructed on how to handle it. With the intervention of his superior (and another 45 minutes), we were finally able to enjoy some gluten-free pizza (which was very good). The following day, my daughter wished for gluten-free pizza again, only to be told by the pizzeria personnel that there was no more gluten-free dough available. It took a few stern conversations with more senior personnel to find some gluten-free dough. Suffice it to say that my husband, daughter and I ate our pizza alone while the rest of our party had long finished their meals.
I will now move on to dinners at the Golden Dining Room where Sethal was our waiter. We had early seating at 6 pm; however, our meals seem to last over two hours. Each night, it took, on average, over one-half hour of waiting before our orders were taken. Travelling with five children is not easy and keeping them occupied during this wait time was a challenge. Furthermore, my husband has a very demanding work schedule which does not allow us to have meals together often and we were very much looking forward to eating together as a family on the cruise. This seldom happened. Similar to our experience at the pizzeria, most of our party had already finished eating while the gluten-free members still had to eat. The entire process of ordering the food and then receiving it was quite disorganized.
As with the entrees, the gluten-free members of our party were able to order desserts for the following day's meals. My daughter eagerly looked forward to receiving the dessert she had ordered the night before. However, on several occasions, she was told that the chef was unable to make her any dessert (let alone the one she had requested) and was left to choose from ice cream or sorbet yet again. Now, one may say that is not too shabby. But when you are a five year old child that is watching her sisters and brother enjoying the chocolate melting cake, it is of little consolation. The last night of our cruise, Ana Czejic, surprised my daughter with several gluten-free desserts, including crÃ¨me brulee, chocolate melting cake, and Baked Alaska. Unfortunately, due to Sethal's incompetence, the surprise desserts didn't arrive until after 8:00 p.m. when Ana had to fetch them herself and it was too late to eat anything else.
Finally, I will move onto breakfast and lunch at the Platinum Dining Room. Here, too, the process was disorganized and at some points reached complete chaos. Our orders were taken late, food arrived sporadically over a one hour period, the wait staff had to be reminded often of recent requests that were not fulfilled (sometimes four or five times), dirty dishes piled up, etc. The gluten-free baked options at breakfast were limited. The gluten-free pancakes were inedible -- basically gummy, pale discs of dough with no flavor whatsoever. There was gluten-free bread, but the same kind offered at all the other meals, with no variations. One breakfast, in particular, almost ended very badly. That morning, my daughter was presented with beautiful, aromatic fluffy Belgian waffles which the waitress assured us were gluten-free. I knew, especially after seeing the pancakes the day before, that those waffles were not gluten-free. Our waitress went back and forth to the chef several times, assuring us each time that the chef made them gluten-free. Ana, our angel, stepped in and obtained the ingredients for the waffles from the chef. The first ingredient listed was WHEAT FLOUR! Had we listened to the chef's assurances and allowed my daughter to eat those waffles, she would have been severely ill the remainder of the cruise. From that point forward, it was extremely difficult to trust the guarantee of gluten-free food. Once again, the gluten-free diners were left to watch the others eat their meals while we waited for ours to arrive.
We planned this cruise vacation almost four months in advance of sailing, with plenty of notice to Carnival that we would require gluten-free food on board. We had hoped that at least the dining aspect of our vacation would be stress-free and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it was neither of those. In fact, as I described above, one meal put my daughter's health and well-being at risk.
With five small children, cruising is a great alternative to travelling by airplane to a vacation destination. We plan to take more cruise vacations in the future. However, unless Carnival can restore our confidence with respect to the availability of gluten-free food, it will be very difficult to choose Carnival as our go-to cruise line. Furthermore, I feel it is entirely fair to request restitution for the stressful and dangerous food situations with which we were faced.