As we arrived to the restaurant for our first breakfast aboard Disney Wonder cruise ship, I surveyed the buffet and asked for assistance. At Disney, they don’t mess around with food allergies. This became clear to us as soon as we boarded the day before, as the staff were very attentive, knowledgeable and helpful. I’ve heard from other people that gluten-free dining on Disney cruises was wonderful, and our first day was certainly great. But now we were confronted with the abundance of choices of a buffet. How do we safely navigate it? At once, they summoned the chef. I explained to him that my daughter needs gluten-free food, and could he please show us what items in the buffet were gluten-free.
“I can certainly show you gluten-free items in the buffet. However, with the buffet you always risk cross-contamination. If you tell me what she wants to eat, I’ll be happy to make it for her.”
Please excuse me while I pick up my jaw from the floor. In fact, I am getting a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: gluten-free foods are neither healthier nor low-carb. Discuss.
After I recovered from the shock, I wanted to hug him. And after he told V that yes, in fact they DO have gluten-free doughnuts, I think she wanted to hug him too. It’s not often that you come across someone in the restaurant industry who really gets Celiac, someone who understands that cross-contamination IS a big deal and that no, you can’t just take the croutons off of the salad. Our love with Ralf, chef-extraordinaire, was at the first sight. Or perhaps at the first mention of cross-contamination.
Half-way into our breakfast, Ralf came back to check on V. We started talking about all things gluten-free. He asked V if there was anything particular she really wanted to eat, something that perhaps was hard to find or make. She mentioned lasagna. Ralf started to enthusiastically think out-loud about possible ways to make it happen. “You are having dinner in my restaurant tomorrow? I’ll see what I can do.”
The following day, he presented V with this masterpiece: Lasagna made from egg batter, cheese and bolognese sauce. It was to die for. And because it did not contain pasta, it was on a lower-carb side to boot.
We ate breakfast at Ralf’s restaurant every single day. He came out to say hi to us, brought V more gluten-free doughnuts and treated her as a princess.
Meanwhile, I decide to check every single restaurant and cafe onboard. I was determined to find a place that did not accommodate a gluten-free diet. (Nor did I expect that every dining venue would be able to do so.) Alas, my mission was a total bust. Gluten-free pizza? Sure. We just have to make sure the chef is back from break to make it. (It appears that only head chefs are allowed to deal with food allergies.) Gluten-free sandwiches? Absolutely. Gluten-free desserts? We got plenty. The only thing that they did not seem to have was gluten-free cones for the soft-serve ice-cream. Or maybe they did not have them out on the deck for everyone? Since V was managing perfectly well without I did not bother to ask.
By the way, this is what happened when V asked for a tuna sandwich with fries and fruit for lunch one day:
On our last night, Chef Ralf prepared a surprise dinner for V: coconut crusted chicken strips. It was finger-licking good. Trust me, I am generally no fan of coconut, but it was so amazing I’d gladly gobble up the entire plate if it were mine.
It’s been two months since our cruise but our memories are still fresh and vivid. Thank you Disney Cruise Line for providing an amazing gluten-free dining experience. Thank you for taking food allergies seriously and educating and training staff to provide guests with safe and wonderful dining experience. And a special thank you to Chef Ralf who went above and beyond to make V’s experience extra special.