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Cruising with a food intolerance

Cunard Queen Victoria Food Main Dining Room Buffet

My dairy intolerance

I am intolerant to dairy and do my best to avoid it at all costs. I am not severely intolerant but if I ate an ice cream it most definitely would ruin my day. I have never had any problems avoiding dairy and find it much easier to avoid on cruise ships than in regular hotels and restaurants.

On my last few cruises I have seen much more of a presence of lactose free/gluten free products in the buffet. On NCL ships there is usually a ‘free from’ section of the buffet which has soy milk, almond milk and other things. Each food item in the buffet has a label which I have recently started to see allergy information on. If in doubt the chefs in the buffet are very knowledgeable about what is being served.

NCL Norwegian Spirit Restaurant Windows


If you have a more serious intolerance or allergy the best thing to do is inform your travel agent when booking and then speak to the head waiter or maitre d’ on arrival. It is possible to pre order the next days dinner in advance so that the chefs can ensure that your selection is available. Doing it like this also means that the chefs are able to specially prepare dishes if necessary. For example, they may specially prepare a dish if a passenger is gluten intolerant. I haven’t ever had to do this but from talking to other people I have got the impression that the staff are always helpful and don’t mind editing the menu to suit.

IntolerancesNCL Norwegian Getaway Food Restaurant Fruit Chocolate

For less serious intolerances like mine, it is usually sufficient for me to just pick something from the menu which doesn’t have dairy in it. There have been a couple of times where I have been unsure about what is in a dish but the waiters are always incredibly knowledgeable and happy to describe the contents of the dish. I’ve only been caught out once when I ordered a sorbet believing that it would be ice based but it definitely was ice cream based. I haven’t made that mistake again since!


Dessert proves to be the only difficult part for me, with most desserts being ice cream or chocolate based. The waiters have always been happy to bring me a dish ‘without the ice-cream’ or bring me a substitute dessert which isn’t on the menu. If there is nothing on the menu which takes my fancy I usually order a fruit plate, they’ve always managed to find me some melon/berries.

There is a lot of choice on a cruise ship, the amount of dishes which they serve per day is just mind blowing! Its because of this that I believe they are better at catering to food intolerances than traditional hotels or restaurants. The sheer number of passengers coming through the restaurant means that they are going to have some with food intolerances.

Cunard Queen Victoria Restaurant Dinner Food

My top tips for cruising with a food intolerance/allergy:

1) Inform the cruise line as soon as possible, you really have nothing to lose here!

They’ll write it against your name on your reservation. If nothing else, it makes sure that the ship has enough gluten/dairy free alternatives on board for all of the guests.

2) Use your common sense.

The chefs will do their best to help find suitable food for your but at the end of the day they are making hundreds and hundreds of meals. If you order something ‘without the cheese’ and it comes with a big old piece of cheese on the top.. send it back! They’ll be more than happy to sort it out for you.

3) Ask the chefs in the buffet if the food labels aren’t clear enough.

They know more about the ingredients in the food than you think. I have heard stories from people before who have asked to see packets for the food served in the buffets and have had no problems being shown this. I am starting to see more food labels with allergen information on them, so hopefully in the future every dish will have a gluten/dairy label.

4) Don’t forget room service!

If you’re on a cruise line like Cunard it would be a shame to miss out on the room service. The room service staff are just as helpful as the regular waiters and will make sure that you have something which you can eat.

5) Try new things.NCL Norwegian Getaway Milkshake

I always find cruises to be a brilliant time to try new foods. The chefs on board are much better at cooking than I am and as a result are able to make some amazing dishes. Don’t be afraid to try something new when onboard.

6) If you can, stick to the same restaurants/eating times.

I find this to be a little boring as I love freestyle dining, but it is easier for the waiters if you don’t have to explain your intolerances every night of the cruise. It doesn’t matter so much for me but if I had a serious allergy I would consider eating in the same place at the same time each day to ensure that I had waiters which knew me and about my allergy.

7) Drinks.

Be aware that some cocktails and drinks contain dairy. Once again I’ve never had any problem with this. On my last cruise the waiter made me a milkshake with ice instead of milk, it made it into a slush which was just lovely. Just let the bartender know.

Have you had any experience of cruising with a food intolerance? Let me know in the comments.


Thursday 12th of April 2018

Great article! It’s true that cruise lines do a great job with people with food allergies and restrictions.

NCl's dining explained | Cruising isn't just for old people

Wednesday 18th of January 2017

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Sanna Vegancruiser

Monday 2nd of January 2017

People are wary of travelling with allergies and intolerances but I find cruise ship staff/kitchens more helpful than some high street/town venues where the vegan choice often is salad and chips. Or the suggestion is to have the salad without cheese. Ship kitchens are used to creating different menus and have always managed to offer an alternative to dish served on the 'regular' menu. I am lactose intolerant too so I had that to manage for many years before I became vegan ;)


Monday 2nd of January 2017

Definitely! Maybe its because they HAVE to be more aware of intolerances and allergies so they learn how to substitute products. I've never had any trouble at all, glad you haven't either.