Helen Garfield shares her experience of dining with allergies on a P&O cruise ship Oceana

Our guest blogger this month is  Helen Garfield, CEO of local charity based in Worcestershire.

Helen suffers with life threatening food allergies and is often frustrated  with P&O cruiseestablishments who don’t understand or seem to care!!  She is delighted to find companies, like P and O who offer excellent customer service to the food allergy customer.

‘I’m a keen cruiser mainly because eating abroad with allergies is my biggest nightmare. I’ve travelled with various companies but P and O cruises stand out as being exceptional and I just wish that UK restaurants could emulate their service. Here I will share the process so you can understand how efficient this really is.

Last year I sailed on Oceana travelling on a return cruise  from Southampton to Norway in August 2014. (No need to struggle with airline food!)

Prior to cruising you are asked to complete a special dietary information sheet. This is sent back by email and P and O acknowledge it. (Don’t forget to inform your travel insurance company to make sure they cover you)

There are various ways to dine-

  • Club dining – same table, same sitting either 6.30 or 8.30pm, same staff. This is my preferred option
  • Freedom dining– same restaurant, turn up when you want. This worked well this year. If you arrive early you can request the same table and same staff.
  • Special diningg. famous chef or grill restaurant, a cover charge is payable, book a table at a time to suit you
  • Buffet – available 24/7 but not recommended for allergies due to possible cross contamination from other less careful passengers
  • Room service – free, but not prepared by main kitchen so not perfect for allergies although they do try to deal with it.P&O cruise 3

On your first night in the dining room the Head Waiter will come and find you and discuss your first dinner with you. In hindsight I think I would ask to pre order this on my info sheet, the Head Waiter has all your details (he even had a copy of my email exactly as sent).

Then the Head Waiter will bring you the menus for the next day, I was encouraged to pre order every meal, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner. I could pick and mix between menus and even requested items not listed, there is always a basic menu as well as the day’s special menu. Basic includes melon, Caesar salad etc. as starters, chicken, steak and salmon for main. Daily menus vary hugely and I enjoyed all sorts of meals including duck and barramundi.

No matter where you sit or which restaurant you use (except the buffet) your meal will arrive as booked, it is all identified by cabin number. The Head Waiter will have written your menu out as you discuss it with them and given a copy to the galley.

There is a special diet chef who is responsible for making it, he/she has a separate area of the galley so no cross contamination from other chefs or meals. When your table waiter greets you and you identify yourself to them (not always needed as they saw me coming!), they fetch your menu sheet from the Head Waiter and confirm with you what you ordered. They fetch your meal which has a carbon copy of the order attached to the plate and check these all match before delivering your food to the table.

This is a slick and efficient system which has worked perfectly for me both on this and a previous cruise of 14 nights. It’s amazing when you think they are serving 2000-3000 meals three times a day, yet my special plate gets to me without any hiccups. Brilliant!!

1149scrI found the staff incredibly helpful and caring. Always checking everything was okay.

The special dietary chef was meticulous, I am allergic (among other things) to bacteria based items such as yogurt, creme fraiche, probiotic etc. The cruise chef was being so careful that he wouldn’t serve me a baked ham that had been bought in as he wasn’t sure how it had been cured, he decided to be safe and he would only serve me items cooked on board. This is very different from a local experience at home when I became very unwell after eating at a local restaurant as the chef hadn’t identified a probiotic in a salami style cured meat. Not a mistake P and O would make!!

On another day I requested fish in a beer batter, the chef wasn’t sure about the beer/yeast combination and made me a different batter in a different way. The staff were terribly apologetic as my meal was delayed by a few minutes…hardly a problem to ensure I am safe!!

One day we fancied afternoon tea. As always I had a special meal pre-ordered – cucumber sandwiches, warm scones, jam and cream. All totally fresh and delicious!

On the final day an impressive chocolate buffet is provided mid afternoon, the Head Waiter told me that I would have a special plate made up for me. I arrived and it was very busy, however I needn’t have worried as the Head Waiter came and found me in the queue, personally fetched my plate of cakes and biscuits and had even reserved myself and my fiancé a table for two. I was made to feel special not difficult! Why can’t others do this? If P and O can manage it in a restaurant of 590 covers why can’t my local venues do it?

I would wholeheartedly recommend P and O cruises for people with allergies. On my last cruise there was even a sign in the doorway of the children’s clubs banning peanut items as they had a child with a peanut allergy using the children’s clubs. Seriously impressive.

I can’t sing their praises highly enough. It’s an incredible system and works like clockwork. (On another note if anything did go wrong they have UK trained A and E doctors and nurses and an Intensive care set up on board!)
P&O cruise 2
P and O cruises are brilliant, waking up somewhere different every day. Having great tasting fresh safe food (they only take produce on board in the UK, Singapore and Barbados to ensure quality) and being thoroughly spoilt is such a treat. I love it and can’t wait to go again. Well done everyone. Eating becomes a joy and most of you with allergies know this is rare when eating out!!!

You can connect with Helen on twitter @hgarfield66

If you would like to share a positive eating out with allergies or coeliac disease  experience please send an email to consultancy@fatc.co.uk or call me on 07732637292

We look forward to hearing about your experiences

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One Response

  1. Cunard which are operated by the same company as P&O are also good. Their Chairman is Coeliac himself. MSC Cruises has a GF menu as does Costa. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises can adapt with 24 hours notice so you do have to think about what you might like the next day.. Same on Princess and Holland America. Carnival has been my worst experience. When ordering the waiters took it upon themselves to bring me items from the menu as they didn’t think I had ordered enough.. And of course they were offering me completely unsuitable goods.

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