I thought it would be helpful to compile my top tips for gluten free guests going on an all-inclusive vacation. I hope they help you, as much as they helped me!
The photos inspire us to travel but the preparation is what keeps us safe!
Choosing a Resort:
- Research online to hear other guests’ reviews and speak to family/friends about their all-inclusive trips. It’s always beneficial learning from other people’s firsthand experience.
- Call resorts in advance to find out what services they offer guests with food allergies and dietary restrictions.
- Choose a resort with many a la carte restaurants (it’s much easier for a chef to prepare something fresh for you from start to finish at the restaurants, rather than at a buffet).
- Pick a resort company known for its high quality of food as they tend to pride themselves more on their food quality and service. Chances are they will also have procedures in place for guests with allergies.
- Select an island destination that is known for better quality food and where the water is safe. In that regard, Cuba and Dominican Republic are not known for their food. For me it was so beneficial going to Jamaica where the water is safe so that I could eat fresh salads and raw fruits and vegetables. Whereas growing up when I went to Cuba and DR I would avoid raw fruits and vegetables that didn’t have thick peels to help prevent becoming sick.
Before your Departure:
- Pack food with you – you can never be too cautious and pack too much as you can bring leftovers home with you. Carefully plan out easy snack foods and protein rich foods for breakfast and lunch, as well as for on the plane. Take a look at the snack foods I packed with me on my trip to Jamaica this year for some ideas.
- Language barriers – there are many Caribbean islands with English as the primary language. It really helped that I could speak fluent English with the chefs and staff in Jamaica to help eliminate communication breakdowns (although it doesn’t eliminate cultural differences). With that being said though, do not avoid going somewhere because of the language. I have traveled to many countries and successfully navigated different languages. If you are going to a destination with a different primary language, there are restaurant language cards that you can print out which can greatly help in these situations. Check them out on the Celiac Travel web site and on the Gluten Free Passport web site.
- Call the resort you booked with and make sure they have your dietary restrictions on file. Also, find out if there is a Food and Beverage Manager or Head Chef that you can speak to when you check into the resort.
During your Stay:
- Once you check into your resort, make sure you speak to the Food and Beverage Manager or Head Chef to explain in person what your dietary needs are and to learn about what procedures are in place. Chances are they might have a gluten free card or letter that they will give you to show the staff at each restaurant. Also, they might have other helpful tips about what you should do during your stay.
- Always stay vigilant during your whole trip – do not grow complacent and do not take anything for granted. Even if the same chef has served you before, make sure you explain once again what your needs are in case if they mix you up with a different guest. On my most recent trip to Jamaica, I made sure I always stayed alert, even when ordering drinks at the bar. I went so far as to strategically stand at the bar so that when the bartender handed me my drink they wouldn’t go under the beer tap. Plus, I always asked for no straw or fruit in my drinks to prevent cross contamination. I always got my own straw.
- Even if you don’t have the luxury of having a chef who will make you your own breakfast, you can usually find some safe, gluten free foods at the breakfast buffet. Some things that can be found at buffets are: hard boiled eggs, individual yogurt cups, and bananas. These paired with your own instant oatmeal, and peanut butter and crackers add up to a filling breakfast.
- Make dinner reservations to help ensure you can eat at the a la carte restaurants each night. I found it helpful to book earlier reservations, especially for the first time going to each a la carte restaurant. There were two advantages: first it wasn’t as busy so the chef could focus their attention more on you and second if it turns out that you cannot eat at that restaurant, you’ll still have time to head to a different restaurant instead of having to go to the buffet.
- Speak directly with the head chef for each meal that you eat to outline your dietary needs and to learn of your options. One thing I found that was very important is that each time you speak with a chef, make sure that they come outside of the kitchen to speak to you. This way they are more focused on your conversation, instead of being distracted and in the middle of food preparation.
- Speak up, ask questions and walk away if you don’t feel comfortable! I can’t stress this enough. The reality of the situation is that you have to stand up and vouch for yourself. Speak up about your concerns and needs. Ask questions about food storage, prep and risks of cross contamination. And if you get that gut feeling that it’s not safe or you’re not comfortable with the staff’s answers or explanations, then walk away. It’s not worth it. Try a different restaurant or decide that your peanut butter crackers and granola bars will be better that night.
- If and when you have great service, always make sure to express your gratitude to the chef, kitchen staff and/or server. This is so important. I always made sure to say thank you during my trip to Jamaica to show how much I appreciated everyone’s service and care in preparing my meal. Depending on your resort and the tipping procedures in the country you’re visiting, you may also be able to give a tip or a small gift. I always like giving gifts for the staff’s children.
And last but not least, enjoy yourself! If you have done your prep and stay vigilant during your vacation you should be able to eat safely. So don’t forget to breathe and enjoy yourself. Take in the beautiful surroundings, great weather, and the island atmosphere!
If you have any other travel tips for gluten free guests going to an all-inclusive resort, please feel free to share them in the comments! It’s always great to learn from each other’s experiences.