Blogpost: Coral Princess Panama Canal (Part 1) :: Cruising Gluten Free
This is Part 1 in a 4 part series about our vacation on the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal (to see Part 2, click here). It was an 18 Day adventure from Vancouver, British Columbia to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
This is one of my favourite pictures from our vacation. It was near the end of our trip and I think it captures the carefree happiness we felt on this Cruise. We’re having fun and don’t care in the least about what the ocean breeze is doing to our hair
The poster we’re holding is one we made to have on display for the photographers as we went through the Panama Canal. See the Canadian flag and hand prints? Those are from our little grandchildren.
At the time, we knew our cruise was almost over. We enjoyed ourselves with the good people that we met on the cruise but we were starting to feel homesick for our loved ones. Especially our two little grandchildren. So I guess we were also looking forward to heading home.
This Cruise started in Vancouver, our home city. It was nice that we didn’t have to fly somewhere to get our vacation started.
We had a mini-suite which is a bit bigger than a balcony stateroom. It has a little sitting area with a couch and the bathroom has a full size tub/shower combo. This was our “home” for the next 18 days.
We spent the first afternoon exploring the ship and at 4:30pm, went up to Lido Deck 14 for the Sail Away Party.
Now let’s talk about food. After all, this is primarily a food blog.
I have to admit that because of my gluten intolerance, I was a bit apprehensive about setting out on an 18 day cruise. We had cruised once before, on the Diamond Princess from Alaska in 2009 and although I was avoiding wheat back then, I didn’t have the full GF dietary restrictions. For this cruise on the Coral, I had bags of snack foods I packed with me. So I knew I wasn’t in danger of starving.
Much to my delight, the Coral Princess Crew did everything right. I was well taken care of. I didn’t eat half of those snacks and still came home with a few extra pounds on my waistline.
After Sail-Away, we went for Dinner. We chose to do the Early (5:45pm) Seating, Traditional Dining, in the Provence Dining Room. For anyone who has never cruised before, this means that all of our dinners would be at a set time, at the same table, with the same table mates and wait staff each evening.
Although Princess has other options for dining, I believe for someone with dietary restrictions, Traditional Seating with the same wait staff each evening, is the best way to go.
Several months earlier, when we booked this trip, I filled out a special dietary request form to let Princess Cruises know I had to have gluten free food. The next step, once I was aboard, was for me to identify myself to the Wait staff and Head Waiter in the Dining Room. When I told our Waiter Lawrence I was gluten free, he and Rey (the Assistant Waiter) said “oh you’re the one”. It made me laugh. Obviously someone told them to expect a passenger with dietary restrictions and I was “the one”.
Right away, they served me couple of slices of gluten free bread. Not the best I’ve ever tasted. I think it had a rice flour base. It had a decent texture and with enough butter it was okay. I appreciated the effort.
There were two communal butter dishes and a couple of baskets of wheat buns on our table for six. Worried about cross contamination, I had to remember to grab a pat of butter quick before the other guests started dipping their bread knives in it.
I am on guard like that, even when I eat at a friend’s house or when we go out with a group to a restaurant. After 3 years of being gluten free, it’s become habitual.
Lawrence called Jose, the Head Waiter, over to meet me. I can’t say enough good things about Jose. I felt so very well taken care of by him. He was my gluten free guardian on this Cruise.
Jose made recommendations for gluten free, or easily modified dishes from that first evening’s dinner menu. Princess Dinner menus consist of four courses. Appetizer, soup or salad, main entrée and desserts. Except for a few dishes that are “Available Anytime” and always on the menu, the dishes change daily. It is mostly North American cuisine, although I do remember one evening when it was Italian Night with lots of pasta selections on the menu and the waiters all dressed in striped sweaters.
- Appetizer: Melon Trio with port and mint. A nice light starter of melon balls, served in a martini glass
- Main: Prime Rib of Beef (tender and delicious) with natural rosemary jus, Baked Potato topped with Sour Cream, char-grilled Tomato and 1/2 cob of Corn
- Dessert: Fresh Fruit Plate
After Dinner, Jose gave me the menus for next day and said he would be right back. I could order anything I wanted off those menus. The chef would make whatever changes were needed to make sure the dishes were gluten free for me. Jose also told me that the Chef would like to make a gluten free dessert for me each night. Something special that was not necessarily on the menu.
I ordered most of my meals the day before from the next day’s menus. I could have waited and ordered on the spot from the current day’s menu (not recommended by the cruise line but they will do whatever makes you happy). I did that a few times for lunch but found it was harder and more confusing for the wait staff to manage. When I didn’t order in advance, I often settled for a salad or something I was confident was naturally gluten free. Less chance of a screw up. Last thing I wanted was to get sick on this trip.
After Dinner we headed to the Princess Theater to see the dance production. Tonight’s show was Motor City. A Motown themed show. The singers and dancers are very talented. We enjoyed all the production shows but the half hour shows seem too short. I think they were longer when we sailed in 2009.
Day 2 – At Sea Day
We ordered Room Service for this first morning at sea. The Room Service Menu is extremely limited. There’s not much to choose from. It’s basically Continental style breakfast. It didn’t matter, I just needed a quick bite before my Spa appointment. I was going for a manicure and pedicure.
- Gluten free rice crispies (as you can see in the picture above, I wrote in and highlighted gluten free on the room service door hanger menu)
- Small fruit bowl (it was just a few melon balls). We also had a basket of fresh fruit in our cabin that would be replenished on request.
- Plain unsweetened yogurt
- Tea and my daily glass of prune juice
We chose to have Lunch in the Provence Dining Room.
- Chicken Gumbo Soup (the soups are made daily from scratch and they’re delicious)
- Bacon Burger minus the bun and Green Salad (I expected the burger would come wrapped in lettuce but instead they layered it. The meat was a bit on the dry side. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either)
- Melon Frozen Yogurt (yummy!)
It was a big lunch for me. I was ready for a siesta but wanted to check out the Art Auction in the Explorers Lounge. We enjoy looking at original works of art but seldom buy any. Something has to really grab our attention before we invest hundreds of dollars in a piece of art. There was some nice stuff at the Art Auction, although none of it was by artists we were familiar with.
But hey, they were handing out free “champagne” (sparkling wine), so we hung out for a bit. The Art Director who was running the auction was very nice and was good at explaining the Giclée printing process. Mostly, he was auctioning off numbered and signed Giclée prints. In addition to signing their pieces, some artists applied brush strokes to the print, making each piece slightly unique.
We were a bit sceptical about whether the art pieces were as good a value as was being touted. After reading this fairly recent article, I’m glad we didn’t succumb to auction-fever. This doesn’t mean that we won’t attend Cruise Line Art Auctions in the future. I’m sure we will because we find them entertaining.
- Hearty Black Bean Chowder, minus the garnish of Corn Tortilla Strips on top (loved this soup, wish I had ordered two bowls of it)
- Seasonal Field Greens, Celery Hearts and Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Seared Salmon Cutlet with herb butter and vegetables of the day plus parsley potatoes (it was a mild pink salmon fillet, I guess I was hoping for the more flavourful Alaska or BC Sockeye Salmon)
- Dessert: Fresh Berries with Raspberry Sorbet (Princess makes fresh ice cream and sorbet daily and berries are available anytime…so yum!)
When Jose, the Head Waiter brought me the next day’s menus to order from, he told me they could make gluten free French Toast, Pancakes, or special Muffins if I felt like eating Breakfast in the main Dining Room.
After Dinner, we went to the Princess Theater and watched a production called Dance. It was even better than yesterday’s show.
After the production show we went to the Universe Lounge to see a Comedic Musician. I tell you, there is no shortage of Entertainment when you go Cruising!
I think it was there that I discovered they had Strongbow Cider aboard (it’s gluten free). Woot! Through email correspondence about what alcohol they would have aboard that I could drink, they told me they did not have any hard cider on the ship. I had this vision of going to the bar and drinking water while Hubby enjoyed a beer.
Princess Cruises has some very strict alcohol policies (as do most cruise lines). They allow one bottle of wine for each person in a stateroom and then charge a $15 US corkage fee for each extra bottle of wine you bring, regardless of whether you intend to drink it in your stateroom or the dining room. You are not allowed to bring any other kinds of alcohol on board.
Through Princess you can order a 24 pack of Redbridge Gluten Free Beer for $108 US but I don’t do beers made with sorghum. So I took a pass. I begged them to order or allow me to bring along some Estrella Damm Daura and offered to pay a generous markup but the person I was corresponding with flat-out refused
Day 3 – At Sea Day
- Horizon Court Buffet – fresh fruit and plain unflavoured yogurt
Hubby wanted to try breakfast at the Horizon Court Buffet. We had walked through there a couple of times but had yet to try eating there. They had a large choice of different foods for my husband. He really enjoyed it.
I stuck with fresh fruit and plain yogurt because I didn’t feel like going through the bother of asking a supervisor to walk me through the buffet to point out what was gluten free and therefore probably safe for me to eat. With buffets you always have to worry about cross-contamination. The fruit was in a stand alone serving area, so I wasn’t too worried about cross-contamination there.
We had Lunch back in the main Dining Room where we met passengers Tom and Jean who were wearing Princess Name Badges with the titles of Honorary Mom and Honorary Dad. Princess featured them in the Spring 2013 issue of the Princess eNewsletter.
Although this mom and dad own a home in Phoenix, they live almost full time on Princess Ships. The ships are like Retirement Homes for them. On the day we met them, they had been on the Coral for six weeks. They never go ashore, unless they have to.
With so much time spent aboard, the Ship’s Crew are like family to them (hence the name tags). They will be disembarking from the Coral in Los Angeles and after a few weeks at home in Arizona to reconnect with their real family, they will begin their next “40 Day Cruise” on the Caribbean Princess. I can’t remember what ship they’re on after that but they said it’s all been booked.
Sometimes they invite their family to join them on a Cruise for a week but mostly they are on their own. It sounds like a different yet relaxed lifestyle, that’s for sure.
- Gluten Free Bread and Butter
- Salad of bib lettuce, slivers of radish, artichokes and raw leeks with a Balsamic Vinaigrette (loved this salad, must try to recreate it at home)
- Fish Tacos with a lettuce wrap instead of flour tortillas (very tasty!)
- Gluten Free Bread with Butter
- Shrimp Cocktail with horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce (this appetiser was really good! Big fat prawns)
- Grapefruit and melon cup (really enjoyed this and wish I had taken notes so I could make it at home)
- Pan-Seared Corn-Fed Chicken with Thyme Jus, lightly seasoned boneless breast, vegetables of the day and roast potatoes (I think they may have omitted the gravy or something to make this dish gluten free. The chicken was dry and a bit tough)
On the last night, or last formal night of a cruise, there is a Cruise Ship tradition they call Baked Alaska on Parade. On this cruise, there were about 1200 passengers who were only with us for a 3 Day Coastal from Vancouver to LA. For those passengers, this would be their last evening on the Coral Princess.
For Baked Alaska on Parade, they dim the Dining Room lights and the waiters parade out one by one from the Ship’s Galley. Each of them has a lit up Baked Alaska held high. They used to use open flame candles on the frozen dessert cakes but these days, it’s flameless candles. The waiters parade all around the dining room with cakes held high, while one of the Cruise Directors encourages the passengers to wave their napkins and cheer for the waiters.
After our Baked Alaska parade was over, the lights went up and Rey, our assistant waiter brought the cake to our table and served it. Initially he thought I would be able to have a piece but after checking with Jose, he found out the layer of sponge cake in the dessert was not gluten free. I skipped dessert that night. It was the only time over our 18 day cruise that I went without dessert.
After dinner we went to the Universe Lounge where we saw Comedic-Musician Steve Moris. He played backup for the Beach Boys band for twenty years before getting into comedy. His show was one of our favourites.
I will leave it there for Part 1 but before you go, I want to thank you for hanging out with me today. It was a delight to share my experience with you. There will be more, lots more. I hope to see you back for Part 2 at our first Port of Call in Los Angeles, California.
Other posts in the Cruising Gluten Free series…
Cruise Line Food Art
Coral Princess Galley Tour
Coral Princess Panama Canal (Part 2) :: Cruising Gluten Free
Coral Princess Panama Canal (Part 3) :: Cruising Gluten Free
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