Dairy and Gluten Intolerance on an Alaskan Cruise – The Kitchen Rag

Which one of the below statements do you think is false?

During my Alaskan cruise, I…

A) didn’t see a single whale. B) had the ability to avoid gluten and dairy in my meals.

C) ate a big fat soft serve ice cream cone.

Instead of giving away the right answer, I’m going to be mean and keep you in suspense for a few more paragraphs. Trust me, the answer is a little surprising.


Clean Eating, Hypochondria, and Alaskan Cruises

As thrilled as I was about going on an Alaskan cruise with my husband’s family, I was also very nervous about the food situation…  Last fall I got chicken pox. Although my body fought the virus like a champ and less than ten days later I was pretty much all better, there was one thing that changed. My gut. It was never really the same. I’ve been cautious with gluten for a several years now, and even before my illness I would limit it to a slice of sour dough bread maybe once a week or so at a maximum. But after my chick pox, I began developing red rashes around my mouth any time I had even a trace of gluten. Even worse, I began having  severe reactions like cystic acne, gas, bloat, and diarrhea after ingesting  dairy, both pasteurized and raw. Kicking and screaming, I turned to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.

I selected “alternate dining” when we signed up for the cruise, specifically dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetable oil-free meals. (Let me interject that, first of all, it is pretty cool and very encouraging that these kinds of options exist at all. Props to cruise lines). But I knew it would take some extra effort to stay nourished on this trip. So before we embarked, I started to prepare. Besides packing way too much stuff for one week (tricky trip to pack for… hiking clothes, evening dresses, casual, warm jackets, etc) I made a stop at our local whole foods store to grab some supplements.

Thirty minutes later and about  fifty bucks or more lighter, I came back with:

  • Multivitamin – once a day with breakfast
  • Probiotics – one capsule in the morning on an empty stomach and one before bed.
  • Charcoal – one capsule in the morning and one at night, to help the body detoxify and prevent food poisoning
  • Vitamin C – one capsule in the morning, one at lunch, and one at dinner
  • Digestive Enzymes – three with each cooked meal.
  • Milkthistle – one capsule in the morning and one before bed, to help the liver detoxify. Great during the cruise especially if you are planning to have a few dips in the overly chlorinated pools and hot tubs or have a few alcoholic beverages. Trust me your liver will thank you!

Not sure if my bag was so heavy because of my clothing or my supplements, but I did feel a lot better now about getting on a boat with no access to our farmer’s market or local grocery stores.  In fact, I began taking vitamin C as soon as someone standing in line next to me waiting to get on the boat let out a big uncovered sneeze. I’m not a big germophobe, but there were over 2000 people from all over the globe getting on that ship. The entire population of my home town in Moldova would have fit on that boat!


Soon I would find out what the food situation was going to be on my week long Alaskan vacation. Here is what I had to be concerned about.

The Buffet

There was a buffet with a large number of options. Probably about 50% had either dairy or gluten, or both, but they also had plenty of options for me. Sometimes it was obvious, but otherwise I typically asked one of the servers to tell me which dishes where gluten and dairy free. They usually knew or found out quickly and easily. I was able to walk out on a daily basis with a piece of meat, a green salad, smoked fish, vegetables, soup, and fresh fruit. They had a gluten free dessert on most days, but it usually still had dairy. I confess, I had a very hard time not grabbing the tiramisu or flourless chocolate cake covered in strawberry compote from my husband’s plate . Instead, I got fresh pineapple, melon, and oranges. We religiously supplemented our meals with digestive enzymes.

Fine Dining

Each evening and for most lunches we ate at an on-ship sit down restaurant. This is where I was impressed. As soon as I sat down our first night on the cruise ship, they knew who I was and what my food requests were. The waiter offered me the menu, letting me know which appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts were gluten and dairy free. At the end of the meal the maitre d’ came in with the menu for the next day’s lunch and dinner, and I got to choose my food in advance so they could make it dairy and gluten free. I was also able to substitute potatoes or rice for steamed vegetables, ask for extra anchovies on my salad to replace the cheese, request fresh olive oil instead of butter on lobster, etc. They even had gluten free bread on the table for me, and asked if I wanted margarine. I politely declined both the bread and the margarine (read here why margarine is carcinogenic) but I appreciated the thought.

Every night, before the appetizers came out, while everyone else was eating rolls and butter, I ordered a pot of  tea to help me avoid temptation. My sister-in-law over at Me Gusta Mantequilla is paleo, and she brought some extra coconut milk for me, because she is amazing like that. So besides chamomile, mint, and green tea, I was also able to enjoy a few cups of black tea with a splash of coconut milk. It was delicious. I highly recommend it if you want some dairy-free creamer for your coffee or tea. For dessert, I was able to have a different sorbet almost every night, which were quite good, though I admit I looked jealously at the others’ richer desserts. On two nights they served an odd concoction of gluten free cake with strawberry jam, which was overly sweet and, well, not good.


And, oh boy, were there temptations on this Alaskan cruise! As a child I used to dream of soft serve ice cream. I remember the first time my mama bought me one. I was twelve and we had to sit in line for thirty minutes to get it. I enjoyed it so much and ate it so slow that I got ice cream all over my dress and my hair. During the Soviet Union, we didn’t get much ice cream at the village store, and when we did, there was a line out the door. Usually, by the time you got to the counter, it was sold out. Soft serve ice cream machine was a western invention we got a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it was such a novelty! Everyone wanted to try it, but it was quite expensive.

Now, fast-forward to more than ten years later. Free soft serve ice cream on the top deck. Free. Bottomless. Chocolate. Vanilla. I am on an Alaskan cruise watching my husband eat a vanilla ice cream cone, while I have a piece of pine apple and a cup of green tea in front of me.  On the fifth day, the kid in me kicked in. I took three digestive enzymes, two probiotics, a charcoal pill, got myself some lemon water and ordered a vanilla ice cream cone. I don’t remember what happened for the next fifteen minutes. I was transported to a different world. I was twelve again, licking my sweet sticky fingers with ice cream in my hair while my mother laughed at my delighted smile. I did not get gas, diarrhea, or bloat but I did struggle cystic acne forty eight hours later.

Desserts where everywhere on the Alaskan cruise. Cakes, ice creams, pies, tartes, creme brulee, and it felt like everyone was eating it everywhere all the time. The only thing that really tempted me was the ice cream. And in a way, it was really just my childhood. Was it worth it? The child in me says “yes!”. That said, I can’t help but I advise against it, especially if you have a full blown food allergy.

Health Consequences

Although I’m quite sure that most of our food was prepared in vegetable oil and the produce was definitely not local, fresh, pastured, or grass fed, I had no gastrointestinal distress or headaches on the Alaskan cruise. I felt slightly tired and dizzy on the days that we were at sea and moving pretty fast, but that went away as soon as I got in a horizontal position. My husband, who typically avoids gluten, had a few slices of pizza, some bread, dairy, and desserts. Despite taking all the same supplements I did, he got off the cruise bloated and struggling with heart burn. My advice to you would be to take the supplements and avoid or limit the free, all-you can-eat-pizza, bread, and sugar if you want to feel well and take in the beauty of Alaska without hindrance.


Up to now, I’ve talked you ear off about food because, as you probably know, I think about food a lot. However, on this trip, the scenery took front seat most of the time. We spent a whole day in Glacier Bay and it was breathtaking! No words can express the majestic beauty of Alaska.


I spent a lot of time reading  The Vaccination Book  while sitting in front of  these huge windows watching the deep infinite water of the ocean. We even got to see whales! Six of them!

Bingo! Out of the three questions the false one was the whale watching;)


In Skagway we went on an unexpectedly vertical hike to Upper Dewey Lake. Talk about building an appetite for dinner!  The views were incredible!


Besides the wonderful scenery and plentiful food, we got to spend some quality time with Clayton’s family in honor of his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.  Since we all live so far away from each other it was wonderful to catch up. They are very dear to me. My husband’s parents have become my parents and his family has become my family. They have offered me unconditional love and acceptance from the first  day they met me. I am deeply humbled a grateful for them every day. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. You two inspire us to grow in our marriage and as individuals everyday. Its an honor to be your daughter.

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