My Gluten Free Experience at Grand Palladium in Jamaica Part 1

I had an incredible all-inclusive vacation at Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The vacation far surpassed my expectations. The resort was beautiful, the staff was lovely and the food, oh my the food. The food surprised me in so many great ways. The kitchen staff took good care of me so I ate extremely well and never got glutened. The food was fantastic not only for me as a gluten free guest, but Ryan also agreed that he never thought we’d eat such amazing food at an all-inclusive resort. It was such an enjoyable trip and we will definitely be back. I wanted to share my positive experience of eating gluten free at an all-inclusive resort in the hopes of encouraging others to have the confidence to do the same. I think this will take two posts: the first will focus on the buffet breakfast and the drinks, and the second will be about the a la carte dinners.

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This was our favourite beach at the resort, it was aptly called ‘Coral Beach’ because of the coral reef. There was really great snorkeling here where we saw bright, beautiful fish.

The morning after we arrived I met with the Food and Beverage Manager to discuss what my dining options would be during my stay. He explained that the most important thing was to make sure that I spoke with the supervisor and head chef at each restaurant, each time that I went there. He said I should carefully explain to the chef what I could and could not eat and they would be able to prepare something separately for me. He cautioned me to remember that I was still in Jamaica so some of the staff would just really want to help and please me by saying “yes” without fully understanding the situation. So it was very important that I always speak with the head chef.

The F&B Manager also provided me with a Celiac Palladium Dietary Card that I would be able to show to the kitchen staff (they didn’t have a soy one though). What’s funny about that card is that sometimes when I would show it to the wait staff while I explained that I needed to speak with the chef, they would look back at the card with terror in their eyes. Thankfully the chefs didn’t feel the same way.

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Our beautiful resort – Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa in Montego Bay, Jamaica

The Buffet Breakfast

The buffet breakfast had me scared since like those with Celiac Disease or severe gluten intolerances, I cannot eat at buffets. Even the slightest bit of cross contamination will have my stomach in pain and my arm tingling with numbness. I don’t want that on any given day, let alone while on vacation. So I will not risk it and eat anything off of the buffet (except for the bananas which have thick peels or individually packaged yoghurt cups). So when the Food and Beverage Manager told me that when I showed my allergy card to the supervisor at breakfast they would be able to walk me around the buffet pointing out what was gluten free, I was adamant that I was not eating from the buffet. Regardless of how safe they think they are making it, buffets are always a breeding ground for cross contamination. All it takes is a serving spoon going into the wrong dish or tongs hitting someone’s toast on their plate and I’m sick.

Instead, when I got to the breakfast buffet I asked to speak with the head chef. Out came Norman. I explained to him that I couldn’t eat gluten or soy, which included no vegetable oil. I asked if he would be able to cook me something fresh that had been prepared separately so there was no risk of cross contamination. He completely understood and right away said he could make me a vegetable omelette that was cooked in olive oil instead of the usual vegetable oil. I also asked for a large plate of freshly cut up fruit. Well I’ll be. We could see Norman carefully cooking my eggs separate from everyone else, with a clean pan and utensils and freshly cut up vegetables that he chopped himself.

From that morning on I was so happy seeing Norman walk towards our table when I asked to speak to the chef. He made me such great breakfasts that fueled my day and made me feel spoiled each morning. I didn’t miss that buffet one bit. He knew that I loved fruit, so he started to anticipate my order and would greet me with a wonderful fruit platter he had already prepared specially for me that he had covered so there was no risk of cross contamination. I think he felt bad that I had to wait for him to freshly prepare my meal while Ryan took over the buffet. He was so thoughtful. During the trip I enjoyed large, fluffy and stuffed to the brim vegetarian omelettes, and over easy eggs with fried potatoes that he gladly made me. I appreciated the care Norman took in preparing my meal personally. He didn’t delegate the task to someone else, he wanted to make sure I was eating safely and extremely well. And he always had a smile on his face. Thank you so much Norman!

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One of the great breakfasts that Norman cooked for me.

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One of the wonderful fruit plates that Norman prepared for my breakfast. Not only were they pretty to look at, they were tasty too!

I also loved that every Friday was “Jamaica Day” at the resort, which basically meant I got to drink three mimosas for breakfast. Nothing like champagne and orange juice to class up your morning. Plus, as part of the celebrations there was a bonfire and party on the beach at night.

I also want to note that one morning at the beginning of the trip when I didn’t realize to ask for Norman specifically (or maybe it was his day off), another chef came out to speak with me. Unfortunately, right away I could tell that he was not interested in helping me. He didn’t seem to listen to my spiel about what I couldn’t eat, gave short answers, and looked like he just wanted to get away from our table. Always remember that it is very important that you feel comfortable in the situation, especially when it comes to your health. Since I did not get a good feeling, I decided not to order eggs that morning and instead I happily chowed down on my own breakfast foods. Sure, it wasn’t as good as eggs and potatoes, but I ate safely and was content and full.

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It’s always good to remember that when needed, it’s easy to fend for yourself at breakfast. I brought my own instant oatmeal and homemade muffin & energy bites. Plus, at buffets you can find individual yoghurt cups, hard boiled eggs and bananas.

I Skipped Lunch:

I’ll be honest, I never ate lunch at the resort. There was a buffet lunch, but I didn’t bother eating there for a few reasons:

  1. I was always full from such a big, late morning breakfast
  2. The buffet was far from our favourite beach and pool so I didn’t feel like walking over there so someone could specially prepare me a meal – especially since Ryan always ate lunch from the jerk hut on the beach which was more convenient
  3. I didn’t want to push my luck
  4. I like eating homemade foods and snacks so I was happy filling my tummy with peanut butter and crackers, energy bites and pepperoni sticks

The Drinks:

OK let’s be honest, you don’t go to an all-inclusive resort for the food… You go for the warm weather, beach and the drinks. So of course besides food, my other main concern was determining which drinks could I have. Don’t get me wrong, the food at the resort far surpassed any expectations that I had but come on, I was at a beach after all and nothing compliments a beach more than a fruity, sugary alcoholic drink. I quickly asked a bartender (while the bar wasn’t busy) if I could see the ingredients in the piña colada mix, strawberry daiquiri mix and the grenadine. Never assume that you can safely drink all drinks, there could be something hidden in them too especially when they are mixes. Thankfully the piña coladas were safe as they are my favourite beach drink and the grenadine was also fine so I could have rum punch. But albeit I had to avoid the strawberry daiquiris since the mix had xanthan gum in it.

I stuck mostly to rum based drinks (we were in Jamaica after all) and some vodka. I really wanted to try some of the blended drinks that Ryan kept ordering (Dirty Banana, banana colada, and Hummingbird) but I didn’t think it was worth the risk. They only quickly rinse out the blender before making another drink. So there could have been whisky or rye or Strawberry daiquiri mix or chocolate sauce in it before that could have made me sick. I thought about asking someone to clean it out and make a fresh drink for me, but I figured it wasn’t worth the risk or hassle since I really enjoyed the piña coladas. Although I will admit that all that sugar got to me after a while but they sure were refreshing.

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Pretty drinks

One thing I learned quickly was to ask for no fruit or straw in my drink. To he honest I don’t know if the fruit was cut up or stored in a way that there was no cross contamination. Plus, I didn’t want anyone’s hands on my straw. See I noticed that not all the bartenders would properly give you straw by keeping some of the paper on it so they don’t touch the actual straw. With the beer tap being close and people getting huge mugs of beer filled I know that many a time there was beer on their hands so I always took the liberty of grabbing my own straw. So my order was always piña colada with a bit of rum (I want it to taste good, not sip pure alcohol), with no straw and no fruit. It didn’t take long for our regular bartender at the Coral Bar to know my drink of choice. I sure could go for one of them now.

Next up, in part 2, I’ll share my experience eating at the a la carte restaurants.

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