Kristina Mugnai lived off doughy, sugary delights for years, tossing them down her gullet with the casual frequency of a teenager raiding the pantry after soccer practice. Even after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2003, she still ate pizza, doughnuts, and other glutinous treats with gusto, heeding her doctor’s advice to stick to a low fiber, high carbohydrate diet. All that changed in 2012 when she discovered the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, a gluten-free, sugar-free, processed-food free diet. This complete dietary flip put a stop to her rampant carb-loading (bye-bye, bagels; so long, cereal), and started her body on a healing path that has since enabled her to take control over her health.
In February 2013 she launched Lunar Milk, a blog dedicated to sharing gluten-free and SCD recipes and reviews. In April 2013, she went on a week-long cruise of the Caribbean and managed to resist temptation and stay healthy and gluten-free the entire trip. Her bucket list includes living on every continent; she has 4 to go.
10 Tips for a Gluten-Free Cruise
By Kristina Mugnai
It can be tough to leave the security of your safe, gluten-free kitchen with its well-stocked shelves of almond flour, wheat-free specialty items, and certified gluten-free sauces and condiments. Venturing outside of this haven means trusting your health and dietary well-being to a chef whose kitchen could play host to any number of potential glutinous contaminates. Giving up that control over your diet can take guts of steel—an attribute those with gluten sensitivity can only dream about. Earlier this year, I took that hazardous plunge and embarked on a 7-day cruise of the Caribbean, leaving behind the security of my Vitamix and boarding a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the plane ascended through the foamy clouds, questions stirred in my head: What if the cruise ship didn’t have anything I could eat? Would I roam the decks hungry and fatigued, living off apples and steamed chicken for the duration of the trip? Why hadn’t I packed more snacks??
I survived the cruise, and lived to tell about it. I even picked up a few hints to share with others who may be hesitant to spend an extended amount of time at sea, or in a foreign place where the entire country has fewer gluten-free foods than a single Western supermarket boasts. These ten tips can make your cruise more enjoyable, both for you and your fellow travelers.
Don’t be embarrassed about your needs. You might feel a bit self-conscious about having to follow a special diet, and it’s likely you’ll be seated at a table with several strangers (our table seated nine). Be open about your diet and don’t worry about what others think. Your diet is for your health, not anyone else’s. Some of your dinner mates may even be curious about your diet; be generous with sharing what you’ve learned about going gluten-free. Someone at your table could be suffering from gluten sensitivity without even realizing it, and the knowledge you impart could transform their health for the better.
Do speak up for yourself. If your baby spinach salad comes topped with unpalatable croutons, let the waiter know. If you’re seated in a formal dining room, you’ll likely have the same waiter every night. It’s his job to make sure all your needs are met, and if it’s unacceptable for your food to be touching anything with wheat, he is the only one who can make sure it never happens again. Calmly and assertively let him know your concerns, and you can be confident you won’t run into the same issue night after night. One night I asked for sliced lemons to spritz on my salad, and every night thereafter I had a small plate of lemons waiting for me. Your preferences are remembered, so set the record straight early on.
Don’t launch into your whole medical history. While it’s important to be candid about your diet, there’s no need to broadcast to your fellow diners the specifics of your condition: how many years you’ve suffered and the extent of your past miseries, what your gastroenterologist said at your last appointment, or what prescriptions you’re currently taking. That all falls into the category of TMI, so keep all that private, and be discreet about any problems you may be having on the trip. Keep it classy, not assy.
Do bring a few of your own snacks, just in case. Check with the cruise line before boarding to see what you are and aren’t allowed to carry on board. Most cruise lines will let you bring a few of your own food items, especially if you have a special diet. Make sure to follow their guidelines, i.e., bringing only unopened packages, and leave the produce at home if you’re traveling internationally. I brought Kit’s Organic bars to accompany me on lengthy shore excursions—you never know when you’ll be stuck on a bus without edibles.
Don’t focus on what you can’t have. Sure, the buffet may have baskets of soft, freshly baked rolls and platters of piled pastries each morning. Or the eight other people sitting at your table may all be drooling over the dark slab of chocolate cake in front of them. Pitying yourself for what you’re missing out on is a terrible way to spend a vacation. You can choose to stay mired in those negative thoughts, sucked into a spiraling vortex of woe-is-me self-pity. Or you can enjoy your cruise and savor the delights you can eat, luxuriating in being served up delicious plates of food like royalty while your friends back home slave away preparing their own meals and going to work each day.
Don’t compromise your diet for a little taste of the forbidden. Stay strong and remember that you want to feel good on your trip, not be stuck in the toilet or crumpled up on the bed feeling sick. Is 5 minutes spent eating a slice of pizza worth it? Not when you have to miss out on an expensive pre-paid day of snorkeling in calm, crystalline waters because of an upset stomach. Just keep nibbling your fruit and think of how much better your body will feel for having avoided temptation.
Do thank the crew for helping you. As your trip comes to a close, take some time to reflect on how much the crew has done to make your vacation more relaxing and enjoyable. Even if it was something as simple as slicing up lemons each night to put by your side, the gesture goes a long way. Thank them genuinely and sincerely for accommodating your needs, and remember the extra effort they put in for your comfort when it comes time to tip.
Don’t hesitate to do more gluten-free traveling. The more practiced you are, the more self-assured you’ll be in navigating the treacherous waters of the non-gluten-free world. While living gluten-free can be a challenge at times, it should never dissuade you from getting out there and seeing all the world has to offer.
Armed with these tips, you’re ready to explore the high seas and stay healthy in the process. Being gluten-free doesn’t have to mean missing out on the tantalizing array of new places and experiences that are waiting just beyond your front door. Now, isn’t it time you booked that cruise?