My family and I love cruising, and we’ve done so despite allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish and dairy. With a bit of planning, you can do the same. With any cruise line, you’ll need to provide your travel agent with your family’s food allergies and any other special or dietary needs well in advance - preferably, when you book. Since cruises aren’t exactly able to run out to the store for supplies, they will need to plan properly and long before you board the ship.
1) Disney Cruise Line
The perennial U.S. News and World Report and Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice top award winner tops our list. Buffets offer gluten free options as well as many vegetarian options without having to ask. Bonus: they use a rotational dining plan, which means you eat in a different restaurant each night, and your service staff follows you. This means you keep two servers who know you after day one, and you experience each of the main dining rooms, all done up in Disney style.
2) Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
This 2016 Autism Society Adam Heavner Memorial Award for Business of the Year has made dietary and other special needs of kids a central effort of the past few years. The first Autism Friendly Certified cruise line, they understand the dietary needs associated with the autism spectrum and have built what is currently the only autism-focused program at sea. For kids who simply have dietary needs, they’re equally dedicated. They offer a traditional dinner seating (same bat place, same bat time, same servers, different menu each night) as well as an open seating option, which allows you to choose your dining venue and time each night at your convenience.
3) Princess Cruises
I know, I know. You think of the Pacific Princess, Isaac and Gopher. But, this Travel Weekly and three-peat USA Today “Best Ocean Cruise Line” champion has come a long way since the days of The Love Boat. They are dedicated to families, with unique experiences on board and in port designed in partnership with Discovery Communications. Their variety of included dining options, which include a brick oven pizza prepared in an open kitchen, along with their top-notch service puts many minds at ease. Similar to Royal Caribbean, they offer both a traditional seating option as well as an open seating option.
4) Norwegian Cruise Line
A darling of multiple cruise industry “Best of…” awards since 2003, Norwegian’s pre-cruise support for those with food allergies and other dietary needs, as well as other special needs is fantastic. Onboard, you’ll find multiple dining venues and friendly, helpful staff who are there to serve. Part of their incentive program is tied to positive responses on customer experience surveys, and they strive to ensure they receive them on the last night of your cruise. At dinner, Norwegian uses an open seating option called “Freestyle Dining” - eat wherever you like, whenever you like. They pioneered this advancement in cruise dining in the early 2000s, and is the foundation for other cruise line’s open seating concepts. While your servers are different each night, those with food allergies are handled with the care and attention required. You’ll simply need to introduce your family each night and make some new friends along the way.
5) Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival has spent the better part of the last decade transforming its image as a booze cruise to a family-centric value cruise line. They’ve done a fantastic job in overhauling their entire fleet to add fresh new dining options and redesigning their kids club spaces. Camp Ocean and Circle C do not allow outside food in their spaces, and do not serve food either. The exception is their late-night programs where some snacks, such as chips may be served. Also, any kid 8 and under with any special needs have a different colored name tag with their needs written on the back so staff can identify them at any time. In the dining rooms, you have the option of traditional seating or open seating.