A bucket list cruise for both of us, this review will cover our experience of eating gluten free aboard the Celebrity Solstice ship. With a landscape as incredible as Alaska is I might slip in a fair few non-food pictures too (sorry/not sorry!). This was our second time on a Celebrity ship, but our first since having to eat gluten-free. Read on to find out how we got on!
Before I start, it’s important for me to state that this cruise was the very first cruise on the Solstice since she was grounded due to the pandemic. Although I have no gluten-free point of reference for Celebrity, I think there were certain aspects of our experience that may have been down to that. For anyone reading this who has sailed Celebrity before, it may be that our experience didn’t match yours. I therefore wanted to make it clear that this could be the reason why.
Although this is a gluten-free food blog I always like to give a few details about the ship we’ve sailed on. Launched in 2008, Solstice has a passenger capacity of 2852. I don’t know the numbers on our sailing, but there were a lot of empty dining room tables, so I’d estimate we sailed at around 60% capacity? Celebrity pay a lot of attention to art-work on their ships, in particular sculptures, and there were a lot of these around. There is also plenty of glass-work, which is no surprise given that there is a glass blowing studio on board where you can pay to make your very own glass work of art!
With such stunning scenery to look at as on an Alaskan cruise, we were very glad that there was an observation deck, in the form of the Sky Observation Lounge. During the day it was a quiet refuge, somewhere to just relax and savour the beautiful scenery all around. By night, it was a lively music venue, and a really fun place to be.
Here are a selection of pictures showing the wonderful artwork and many areas of the Solstice.
Booking and Prior to Cruising
I booked directly with Celebrity Cruises over the telephone, as I am a blue light card holder and get a 10% discount, but couldn’t do this online. I let the sales advisor know that we were both gluten-free, and it was noted on our booking. She also sent through a special needs form which I completed and sent back. This can also be completed online here (don’t let the fact it talks mainly about wheelchairs put you off, there is a section at the end specifically for allergies and dietary requirements).
Check-in and Boarding
Like the majority of cruise lines, particularly since Covid, Celebrity has an app. Most things relating to check-in and boarding are dealt with by the app. The app also shows all the food menus (sadly with no allergen markers), drink menus, and details about entertainment. Because this was the first cruise on the Solstice since re-starting, we were able to access our cabin and get rid of all our hand luggage straight after boarding. We did all of the muster-related things, then headed to lunch. We had a concierge cabin and, as you’ll see below, decided to go to the concierge lunch that is hosted in the main dining room on embarkation day. (Btw this sounds posher than it actually was, it was the same price as a normal balcony cabin when we booked! Concierge on Celebrity is not the same as concierge on some other lines!),
One of the few ‘perks’ of concierge on Celebrity is a special lunch on embarkation day. We decided to give it a go to see how it was. Here is a photo of the menu we were given, and the first thing you’ll notice are absolutely no allergen markers. Not a great start, and a little surprising, given that when we were given dinner and lunch menus for the main dining room to order from, they do have allergen markers. No idea why the concierge class lunch menu doesn’t.
After some back and forth discussion with the server (he had to keep on going to the galley to check with the chef) we were told that the soup was safe (and also vegetarian for me), and that all the meat and fish dishes were safe. I explained that I was also vegetarian, and eventually I was cooked a vegetable stir fry with rice noodles. The soup and mains were nice, but we weren’t offered any gluten-free bread, and also no dessert.
After lunch, we were given the menu for dinner so that we could pre-order. It was reassuring to see that there were allergen markings on the menu, as I’d been starting to get really worried. The allergen markings include gluten free, lactose free, and also cover vegetarian dishes. I also noticed that there were dishes where vegetarian parmesan was specifically mentioned. A big thumbs up for this, as Celebrity seem to be the only cruise line so far that know the difference, with real parmesan in Europe not being vegetarian due to animal rennet being used.
Main Dining Room Dinner
In general, we were really impressed with our MDR dinners over the course of the week. For our first evening, we had pre-ordered at lunch, and we of course let our server know that we were both gluten free, and that I was also vegetarian. Every evening we had the Maitre D/Assistant Dining Room Manager come to our table to take our order for the following day, which included breakfast, lunch and dinner (if we wanted to eat in the MDR for all those meals). It was also confirmed that all ‘allergy’ meals are prepared in a separate area of the galley with special allergy chefs.
It was great to see the menus marked up for lunch and dinner, making it easy to choose. If there was nothing suitable (eg nothing that was both vegetarian and gluten free for me), then they were happy to mix and match bits from other dishes, or cook something completely different. For example, one evening there was a vegetarian dish of gnocchi with four cheese sauce. They were able to adapt this to be gluten free by serving it with GF spaghetti instead (I don’t know if the sauce had to be adapted too, or was naturally GF, as I didn’t ask). Below are some examples of the dinner menus.
The gluten-free bread that was served at dinner was actually really nice! Often homemade, and some different varieties. Obviously not as nice looking as the standard bread baskets other tables got served – not sure I’ll ever stop drooling over those!
Desserts were good too, there was a vegan gluten-free chocolate cake that was particularly tasty. Overall we really enjoyed our dinners.
It appears that Celebrity don’t bother labelling any of their buffet with allergen markings (this was the same at lunch, and later on in the evening too) which makes it very difficult to know what you can have.
As seasoned cruisers, we knew to look for someone who looked like an officer in the buffet, and a Maitre D was sent to deal with us. It took quite a while for him to find out what we could have – I don’t know if this was just because it was the first cruise back in service and people were still learning (trying to be generous here). Eventually told that we could have eggs, my husband could have bacon, the beans were fine, and they could do GF toast. The hash browns and sausages were not gluten free.
When breakfast turned up, the bread appeared to have been cooked on some kind of griddle, as it was black and inedible. The Maitre D did apologise, and said he hadn’t been able to find a GF toaster anywhere (one did appear by the last day of the cruise).
We waited a few days before trying the buffet again, and the experience was only slightly better. My husband asked if there was any gluten-free cereal. The Maitre D thought they had some, and phoned down to the main dining room. They found what they thought was GF cereal, but it wasn’t in any packaging, and they were only 90% certain that it was gluten free. Clearly we didn’t risk it.
Ordered some eggs, beans, mushrooms and toast through him, and the toast was at least edible this time, so a definitely improvement! The following morning (last morning of the cruise) a sign had appeared for gluten-free toast, complete with toaster.
On the first day we popped up to the buffet after our concierge lunch to have a look round. At the start of the buffet was a display of gluten-free food, which we thought was a good start. However, there were no allergen markers on anything, and that remained the same throughout the cruise. This is definitely an area where Celebrity need to improve.
We’d found a Maitre D and asked how we dealt with lunch in the buffet. They explained that we would need to pre-order gluten-free pizzas (which we actually found out wasn’t true, they didn’t need pre-ordering) and that there were GF cookies that also needed to be pre-ordered, as they were made fresh. This actually turned out be that they were frozen, and popped in the oven (and they were coconut macaroons rather than cookies, but very nice). We had placed an order of pizza and cookies for the next day.
The next day, with no Maitre D in sight, we went to the pizza counter, where we explained we’d ordered a gluten-free pizza. We then watched the server not change his gloves, use the ladle from the sauce to smooth it over the pizza base (which would have previously been used to smooth it over the standard pizzas), then use the same unchanged gloves to get the toppings and put them on.
I got quite upset by this, as there was clearly absolutely no understanding of the problem of cross contamination, and I was worried we were going to have problems for the whole cruise. I left it to my diplomatic husband to explain the problems, and he then watched the server make the pizzas again. This time he changed his gloves, and used untouched sauce and toppings from a cupboard. The pizza was kept completely separate from everything, including from oven to plate. Every time we ordered pizzas for the rest of the cruise we did stay and watch, but didn’t have any further problems.
Based on that experience of buffet lunch, it was really poor. However, we decided we’d try again the next day, and were lucky enough to find a Maitre D who was fantastic. She explained she had a son at home who had 16 different allergies, so totally understood our concerns, and was going to do all she could for us to make it a better experience, and that she did. Her name was Gorica, and she was a complete credit to Celebrity.
After hearing about our experience to date, Gorica told us that she was going to make us her personal responsibility for the rest of the week. Without her input, I think we would have considered the buffet experience pretty dire, but it definitely improved after she got involved. She took orders from us (which for me, included getting a meat free gluten-free burger that was only available in one particular dining room that you needed to be in a special cabin to access).
We also learnt via Gorica that there is always gluten-free pasta available in the buffet, cooked separately, and she was happy to take us round the buffet each day and tell us what would be safe (and if it was safe directly from the buffet, or would need to be got fresh from the kitchen). Without her help and insistence on helping us, I think we would have left our cruise with quite a poor impression of Celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of room for improvement, but I think our experience shows just what a difference a single member of staff can make.
At the time of our cruise, the buffet is severed to you by staff. I think that is one of the huge benefits to come out of the pandemic, and I hope it continues. It definitely makes the risk of cross contamination between dishes a lot less, and from cruising over the years, lets just say I’ve seen some very unhygienic behaviour from passengers perusing the buffet!
Gorica told us that the salad bar was always safe for us to eat. There were also jacket potatoes available, which again were safe. I’ve often wondered why cruise ship buffets don’t have jacket potatoes readily available, so was great to have them. Fries could be ordered (there weren’t any GF fries available there and then), and there was pizza and pasta available every day.
Late Night Buffet
We didn’t eat dinner in the buffet at all, but if you’re feeling hungry, the buffet is open very late. Not a great deal of choice for anyone gluten free, but the salad bar was always available, as was GF pizza (which we indulged in a couple of times!).
Main Dining Room Breakfast
Gorica persuaded us to place an order for MDR breakfast through her, and assured us it would be waiting for us when we got there. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, this wasn’t the case. In fact, that first breakfast took 25 minutes to get gluten-free pancakes delivered to us, followed by a further 20 minutes after that to get our cooked breakfast. On top of that, there were items missing!
What came was nice, but the speed and the missing items were disappointing. There seemed to be no evidence of any gluten-free cereal or bakery items.
It’s really difficult to feel as if you’re not constantly being negative, but when we saw Gorica at lunchtime in the buffet, she asked us how breakfast had gone. We told her the truth, and she was really cross that it hadn’t all been ready for us as it should have been. I felt so sorry for her, she couldn’t have tried harder to get a decent experience for us, but communication between staff and the galley definitely appeared to have some issues.
She asked us to try again, and we did, and it was a much better experience the second time. Everything came out very quickly, and although there was still an issue with communication, it worked in our favour this time, as we got double amounts of things rather than having them missing! As well as pancakes, we were brought GF vanilla french toast. Everything was there with our cooked breakfast, including some fried sliced potatoes (I’d asked for something potato based seeing as the hash browns weren’t gluten free). We pretty much rolled out of breakfast, and both agreed that it had been a much improved experience from the day before.
Main Dining Room Lunch
We only went to lunch one day in the MDR, and had pre-ordered the evening before at dinner. The food was fine, we just found the experience quite slow, and decided that the buffet was a better fit for us.
Like dinner, the menus do have allergen markings (but not on the app), but if you are coeliac or cross contamination is an issue, it is recommended you order the evening before as we did to ensure your food is cooked safely. On another day we considered going for lunch but on the lunch menu we looked at, the markings weren’t correct. There were dishes that were clearly vegetarian not marked up as such, and nothing gluten free (so not surprisingly didn’t bother with MDR lunch that day!)
As room service was included at no extra cost with our cabin, we decided to try breakfast one morning when we were due to get off at a port. We booked it with enough time to spare that we could run up to the buffet if it didn’t come, but it did (eventually!).
You can hang the room service card outside your cabin until 2am, and whatever you have ticked will be delivered to you within the time slot you indicate. The choices are fairly limited, and there is nothing on the card about allergens. As you will see from the photos I put up, we made it extremely clear that everything needed to be gluten free!
Maybe overkill, but we wanted to be very sure that the person dealing with the order understood exactly what was needed. It seemed to work, as we got everything that we ordered.
Not the best looking breakfast in the world, but it did the job and kept us going whilst we were exploring the port. At the time when we ordered, we hadn’t had our breakfast in the main dining room and so we didn’t know that they could do gluten-free pancakes. If we were to sail Celebrity again, I’d probably try asking for GF pancakes as part of the room service breakfast, or try the buckwheat ones (as in spite of the name, buckwheat is GF). It was definitely nice to have another breakfast option which involved not leaving our cabin!
Unfortunately, it seems neither of us took a picture of the other room service menu. Not sure how that happened! From memory, there were no allergen markings on it, but we didn’t call them to investigate further. Given that breakfast was dealt with well, it’s quite likely they would have been able to find something suitable.
Cafe Al Baccio & Gelateria
Celebrity describe Cafe Al Baccio as inspired by the ambiance of European cafes. It’s a lovely place to sit to enjoy coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, although it was always very busy on our cruise. If you have a drinks package, as we did, then all of the hot drinks are included in this. The cakes are included for anyone, you just need to ask. Something to be aware of if sitting in (you can also ask for takeaway) is that they automatically put some kind of biscuit (biscotti I think) on your plate with your cup. My husband kept forgetting to tell them beforehand, and it happened a couple of times.
There were supposed gluten-free cakes. However, you’ll notice from the pictures I put below, that cross contamination was a huge issue. I actually spoke to staff when seeing a gluten-free cake on the bottom shelf, and explained why this was such a problem. To be fair to them, this must have been passed on, as later on in the cruise the cakes tended to be on the top shelf. However, they were still put right next to gluten filled cakes, and you could see that there were crumbs all over the place. Definitely not suitable for coeliacs.
They did have another gluten-free option, which was actually kept completely separate, and with it’s own serving tongs. These were coconut macaroons (the same ones as we’d had in the buffet), and they were really nice. Sometimes they were plain, and other times chocolate. Mornings were definitely the best time to get these, as they weren’t out all the time, so we used to ask for a few to take back to our cabin to keep us going for the day (or take off on port days).
These were kept in their own container, on top of the counter. Only once was there something else up there in a different container that wasn’t gluten free, and we chose not to have any macaroons, as it appeared the there was only one set of tongs for the two containers. This is obviously something to be aware of, but in general, apart from that one time, we felt confident that cross contamination wouldn’t be an issue.
The gelateria was the other side of the seating area. No photos unfortunately. I asked twice if there was anything we could have. Once to the person serving the gelato, who said no. The other person was an officer, who took my details including my cabin number and said he would find out and let me know, but unfortunately never did.
Poolside Mast Grill
This is your typical cruise ship food place next to the pool, offering burgers, hot dogs and fries. There was nothing to indicate that anything there was gluten free, and when we asked, we were given a few puzzled looks, followed by a no. Given that we were in Alaska, and it wasn’t really outside pool weather, it wasn’t a problem to us on this particular cruise!
Located by the indoor pool (which was a lovely area for chilling out), the menu suggests that there are a few GF options. However, the opening times didn’t really seem to match up to what was on the paper daily planner, and the things they had available didn’t seem to match the menu on display (which looked as if it had plenty of options). My husband visited a few times, but wasn’t able to get anything gluten free. When asked, he was told it wasn’t available, and they seemed surprised when he pointed out that the menu said there were many gluten-free options. Bit of a strange experience really!
As is usual for us on cruises, we didn’t eat at any of the speciality restaurants on board. Your choices are Tuscan Grille, which is an Italian style restaurant, Sushi on Five, Le Petit Chef, described as a fusion of entertainment and cuisine, and Murano, a luxurious restaurant.
We did speak to one of the chefs as we walked by Sushi on Five and asked about gluten free, he did say that there were a number of items on the menu that were GF or could be made so. I assume that if we’d visited the other restaurants, we’d have been told the same.
Gluten-free lager is widely available in bars, and is included in the drinks package (although when we booked and looked at the different packages, we did have to upgrade to the middle one, as it didn’t seem to be included in the basic package).
The syrups used in cocktails were gluten-free, as was the hot chocolate at the cafe.
This was our second cruise on a Celebrity ship, and our first one as gluten-free passengers. I feel like we’re getting more and more in the swing of it with every cruise we go on, knowing the right kind of questions to ask, who to look for in dining rooms/buffets, and how to eat safely on board. Trying not to be negative, I’d say that on this particular cruise, it’s lucky that we were confident in asking questions and not being afraid to speak to dining room managers as otherwise we’d have had quite a tricky time.
Celebrity’s most major failing is in not labelling up the buffet at all. This is a problem, as you don’t even have a starting point of knowing what might be a safe possibility, and so have to seek out a member of staff who actually knows their stuff to go through everything with you. If you are gluten intolerant, and can handle a bit of cross contamination, I can imagine this would be really frustrating, as on other cruise lines who do use labels, you can just take what you want without needing any staff input.
If you are coeliac, or cross contamination is an issue, then you would expect to need to speak to someone to see if you could get something directly from the kitchen, but again, with no labels, it makes it much harder to know what might be a possibility. Celebrity really need to do a better job here.
We were lucky that after a couple of days, we found a senior member of staff who basically took us under her wing, and from then on, our buffet dining experience improved hugely. It shouldn’t be down to luck though, and every member of staff should have the knowledge that Gorica did, and the ability to help us. I’m going to be generous here, and say that some of this may be down to the fact it was the first cruise on the ship after a two year break, and that there still seemed to be staff training going on and getting things up and running (such as the the gluten-free toaster on the last morning of the cruise).
If this had been our very first experience as gluten-free cruisers, I think we may have been put off a little bit, as things were definitely not as easy dining wise as they should have been (especially in the buffet). However, I’d like to think that this wasn’t up to the general Celebrity standard due to the reasons I’ve outlined above, and as such, we would be happy to cruise Celebrity again.
The main dining room dinner experience was a very pleasant one. It was great to have some different types of homemade GF bread that was actually tasty, and we had plenty of choices (or if not, things made specially). The dessert choices were good, including a really tasty gluten-free cheesecake. Lunch wasn’t so good, but that was really only down to how slow we found it. Others might enjoy a more leisurely lunch. Breakfast in the MDR improved as the week went on, but again, I think that was largely down to the fact we ordered through Gorica, and she really pushed it to be a better experience. It would be good if all staff knew that there were things like gluten-free pancakes available for example.
If you want safe sweet treats to enjoy at your leisure, and are not a fan of macaroons, you’re probably best to bring some of your own packaged goodies on! We always tend to do that just in case, but we did actually really like the macaroons. There definitely needs to be more training given on displaying gluten-free cakes and the problem of cross contamination if they’re not kept separate though.
I always do a little cheer when gluten-free lager is available (Princess, you really need to take note of this, as you’re one of the few cruise lines that don’t seem to have it!), and it was brilliant to find it in all the bars.
Overall, the actual standard of food was high, and if Celebrity could get rid of some of the issues I’ve described, then their gluten-free offerings to passengers would be a really good product. I try to be as fair as possible when writing these cruise reviews, and of course, they are based on our actual experience at the time. However, I hope that they show the good and the bad, and give any gluten free cruiser a realistic view of what they might expect on board.
Normally I don’t really write anything about the places we visit, but the scenery of Alaska is just so mind blowing, I felt the need to write a few lines and put a pictures in! If you’ve ever done a Norwegian Fjords cruise, it’s a bit like the Fjords on steroids! Extraordinary scenery, serene sailing, glaciers, wildlife, snow, lumberjacks…..! It was absolutely incredible, and I would highly recommend an Alaskan cruise to anyone out there.