Brand Evaluation of Gluten Free Dining options.
Recently I sailed with Virgin Voyages on the Scarlet Lady. I had read in promotional content and other people's reviews and concluded that eating gluten free may be challenging. But hey - I won't starve to death, and I really wanted to go on the Cruise.
I eat Gluten Free. It has probably been more than a decade at this point. I believe eating Gluten Free makes it easier to maintain a healthy body compostion. It reduces bloating, and enhances my energy. I don't have a formal diagnosis - but since eliminating gluten, I get symptoms when I eat it.
Not perfect, but not bad for 59 either! In the beginning Gluten Free dining was just way out there. No menus were marked. I had to understand what foods were likely to contain Gluten or Wheat Flour, and avoid them. Which really wasn't a problem, since I cook. I am fully aware that gravy contains flour and that restaurants coat fries with seasoned mix containing flour for a crispy texture. I can eat one or two fries without feeling symptoms. But I do need to be mindful not to eat many.
Once Gluten Free dining began to catch on, restaurants marked their menus with "gf" on items that qualified. At a later stage it was mandated that an entity have a completely separate kitchen in order to claim "gluten free" on their menu. So that did away with the "gf" on many menus. Some pizza restaurants still offer GF pizza by purchasing a frozen crust that is fully compliant and not made in their own kitchen. I am still eating gluten free and rarely have a problem, because I know which foods are suspects.
Virgin Voyages really caught me OFF GUARD! Since I had read that content, before arriving I was really surprised to find that they have well marked and coded menus. A disclaimer at the bottom of every menu says:
"Virgin Voyages' kitchens are not allergen free environments. Please inform our crew if you have a food allergy or any other special dietary need."
Yeah, okay, but the menu is clearly decoded at the bottom... so why do I have to tell them? After the warnings that I had seen when booking I expected it to be alot more difficult to obtain gluten free food.
The bottom of the menu clearly denotes, (v) vegetarian, (gf) gluten free & (vv) vegan. We all know who we are so presumably we can order accordingly without sharing our drama, wouldn't you think?
"I would like the Grilled Shrimp"
(no reference to "gf" - because they are all "gf" according to the menu)
Rob ordered the Spanish Octopus - and honestly, it didn't look glutinous to me. Maybe the chef snuck some gluten into the sauce - but otherwise the octopus was not breaded and deep fried or anything like that. I will never understand why they put gluten into sauces. It adds exactly nothing! There are other ways to thicken.
The Grilled Shrimp was delishious!
After relaxing a bit we returned to our room to shower and dress for dinner. Then went exploring and found an amazing place to have another guest take our picture! No photographers on Virgin Voyages. DIY - do it yourself. It does make a nice Ice-breaker for conversation with another guest.
We had a reservation at "Razzle Dazzle".
The menu there was coded in the same way. It was easy to pick an entree, and to see that the entree appeared clean (gluten free) when it was placed on our table. But the dessert we have to TRUST. I ordered, as I always do, THE ONLY proclaimed gluten free dessert on the menu. It was beautiful. But I know, YOU can not tell if the BEST gluten free desserts are GLUTEN FREE or not by looking at them! You have to eat them to find out.... Uhg..
IT WAS NOT GLUTEN FREE! Sadly I don't have a pic of the menu.
I will spare you the details. Complicated by the fact that this was our FIRST night onboard and I had not yet located the bathrooms (you know, they tuck them away).
This dinner was our 25th Wedding Anniversary. I will NEVER forget it. I remember that the person who seated us wished us a Happy Anniversary. But there wasn't anything else special that happened beyond that, in the restaurant. My husband gets points for denoting our reservation as such! But, there would have been something special, on any other cruise line, just sayin... The atmosphere was "celebratory".
The patrons dining next to us (not pictured) may not have showered, because there is no dress code for dining when sailing with Virgin Voyages. If you book with Virgin out beyond the initial discovery phase (which is now) likely the brand will attract beautiful, clean and fashionable people!
When we ate breakfast at "The Wake" the next morning, the host/hostess asked us at the entrance if either of us had any food allergies. I find this to be really weird. It is likely that they asked at Razzle Dazzle as well but I don't like to tell people about it. It makes each meal into a whole show about me and my special food. Cruise lines will make you order tomorrow's food the night before, and I don't like that either. I was initially very happy to see items on the menu tagged. I am happy to be an informed customer.
Look at all of this BEAUTIFUL gluten free breakfast food! Yep - this time I told them. Granted some of it looks better than it tasted, but I really appreciate the effort!
I suspect that if you don't tell them at the entrance, you get the Gluten Plus version of the menu item! Because I was not well, within the hour, after eating that dessert at Razzle Dazzle. It's a DIRTY TRICK to tag something (gf) on the menu and then serve a version that is NOT!
We learned quickly on DAY one! That some of the things done "the Virgin way" (different) are not necessarily BETTER! Where Gluten Free dining is concerned BETTER, would be just tagging the menu and serving those items gluten free, all the time. How hard is that? We love Mexican Food because most of it is naturally gluten free.
Pink Aguave is the Mexican Restaurant onboard.
The Pizza Place made pizza to order, and offered gluten free dough. But, they weren't going to stop Rob from ordering a pizza with "white sauce", because it wasn't "gf". Which makes me wonder if the crew has been trained at all on the topic. Good thing I stopped Rob from ordering the white sauce pizza. We will honestly never know if the white sauce has gluten in it or not, because the crew member didn't know and we switched our order to a Gluten Free crust with tomato sauce and other things.
We LOVE LOVE LOVE the eateries with outdoor dining areas! They were comfortable, even at sea. Not too windy, not too sunny! Great job on the outdoor dining design! And the gf Pizza WAS excellent as well! Check that out - they even had olive oil on the table FOR ME!
Once I learned that I had to tell the host/hostess at the entrance that I needed gluten free food, everything was fine. The biggest struggle was at the Korean Barbeque. There were appetizers that I couldn't have, and even a drink that they generally serve to everyone.
Appetizers @ Gunbae
Which reminds me - Rob enjoys Gluten Free beer. Cruise ships normally have one brand of gluten free beer. Virgin Voyages offered a brand called Strongbow a popular English dry cider served in bars around the UK. That is one in Rob's glass above! Once we figured out which bars had them, we also figured out that you couldn't get one after 11pm at night. The assortment of bars that served Strongbow all closed at or before 11pm. Ugh..
Maybe because the Virgin Voyages brand originates in Europe they thought they could get away without offering gluten free dining options, and are having to adjust. According to our doctor, GMO has ruined our wheat in the United States. Which is why so many people are suffering from obesity and gluten sensitivity. I can imagine that to be true, because I can eat grains, even wheat, in Europe and in the Middle East, no problem..
While writing this post I did a little research. I found another blog with menus pictured, and interestingly the "gf" options are very different! That Spanish Octopus mentioned above used to be marked "gf". They must be learning as they go. I just wish they had not learned on ME!
The restaurants are beautiful! We learned that if we arrived early for a reservation that they would seat us early if they could. On one ocassion we arrived 2 hours early! Test Kitchen pictured below.
Test Kitchen wins the all around prize for the best tasting and most beautiful food. My waiter saved the day - as an assistant poured gravy over my main dish meat, he SWOOPED IN and grabbed it away returning momentarily with a NEW ONE (no gravy).
The best part of our Virgin Voyages Cruise was the beautiful ship. I was very impressed that every restaurant had dishes and flatware designed to match the environment! WOW - I haven't seen that since I was a small child having lunch in the Walnut Room at the Chicago State Street Marshall Fields. Beautiful!
The architect in me kept tapping the different building materials around the ship, to see if they were "plastique", but they were always metal, wood or glass! No cheap finishes here!
Disclaimer: at Travellikeanarchitect.com we wear many hats. If you happen upon a link within our blog here or at other linked sites, and you click it there is a possibility we could financially benefit from that. It is our greatest hope that the things we share are of great value to you! As always our opinions are our own and we always aspire to be an authentic voice.