This Caribbean cruise was a special treat for our 30th wedding anniversary and I specifically booked with MSC as they advertise in the Coeliac UK magazine saying that they cater for gluten free guests. As I am both gluten free and vegetarian I emailed the company in advance to check that they could cope with my dietary requirements and they confirmed it would not be a problem.
On board ship I spent a week explaining to the waiters, maître d'hôtel , head of catering (and anyone else who would listen) that I was vegetarian by choice and gluten free by necessity. None of the choices on the gluten free menu were suitable and although the maitre d (Juliana) was lovely and tried really hard to help, I spent the whole week eating a small supply of energy bars I had taken on board.
All attempts to negotiate meals that I could eat were rejected by the chef. For example I suggested that I could have a zuccini dish if they left off the breadcrumbs or a pasta dish if they left off the meat sauce. Each time I was told that they couldn't accommodate me because the food was already prepared. This is rather worrying as it suggests that the dishes served on board the MSC Divina are effectively 'ready meals' which cannot be altered.
The lovely Maitre d' promised that if I went to a specific restaurant for lunch he would have advised the chef in advance and something would be prepared for me. I had to convince the waiter in the restaurant that he needed to speak to the chef as he was adamant I could have the pasta (in bolognese sauce). When he eventually spoke to the chef and agreed that something had been prepared for me, I was served with...... a plate of brocolli. I kid you not - a plate of broccoli was the best they could offer!
After 3 days the maitre d' managed to convince the chef that I could eat omelettes and from then on this was my meal each night. Just an omelette of course - no vegetables or salad on the side because that would be too difficult to arrange. As if to add insult to injury, my omelette was served as soon as I sat down so I ate this as everyone else was ordering and then sat through their 5 courses trying not to make them feel awkward for eating while I was twiddling my thumbs.
When I spoke to the head of guest services (who promised to resolve the issue but never did), he said that if I felt awkward sitting there while everyone else was eating they could move me to a table on my own. Not exactly the result I was hoping for.
Sadly breakfast and lunch were similarly farcical. I tried the buffet service but the breakfast omelettes (yes omelette again) were often contaminated by people using the same food tongs they had used for foods containing gluten. Croutons in the lettuce at the lunchtime salad bar ruled out salad as an option too.
Trying to give the buffet staff the benefit of the doubt I explained I needed gluten free and asked if they could help. They shrugged their shoulders and said 'No' without offering any alternative.
To be absolutely fair I should point out that the choice for vegetarians who are not coeliac was equally poor - my husband and another guest on our table were veggie and only had one option on the menu each night. Everyone on the same table also told me that their food was cold at every meal and the meat eaters were disappointed that when they ordered steak they were not given a choice over how it was cooked. I suppose I should feel pleased that, thanks to Juliana, at least my omelettes arrived steaming hot and were perfectly edible.
To say I feel let down by MSC is the understatement of the year. I planned and saved for a long time for this holiday because it was a special occasion and the attitude of their staff, from waiters to head of guest services was appalling. The only bright light on board was lovely Juliana who tried so hard to get things sorted for me.
My recommendation to anyone with special dietary requirements is not to trust this company when they say they can accommodate you. From personal, unhappy experience I can assure you that this was the worst customer service I have ever experienced.
One thing is for sure, although it may not be for the right reasons, I will always remember our 30th wedding anniversary!