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Staying Gluten-Free at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

We spread our travel wings a bit to celebrate our 15 years together and hopped on a (much quicker than Hawaii) jet plane to the Bahamas! Here’s my top 5 ways to stay gluten-free at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar on Nassau, Bahamas.

  1. Contact the Executive Chef on property. This goes for every Hyatt vacation property you visit. I was so thrilled to sit down and meet with Chef Sutti, executive chef of the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar during our stay.  He discussed at length with us the ways someone with food allergies or intolerances can stay safe at their property during their stay. THE most important thing was to make sure the head chef at your property knows your coming. Chef Sutti has a board in his office where he tracks all guests with dietary needs, when they are coming and where they are eating! Outline what your dietary restrictions are so they can prepare for you. Can’t stress this key point enough.

    Executive Chef Suttichai Sripolpa of Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

  2. Do restaurant research. The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is comprised of 3 hotels and 22 restaurants on property. When I sat down with Chef Sutti, he clarified that only 7 of these restaurants are directly overseen by Hyatt. The others are controlled by SLS and Rosewood hotel properties. I did not realize this! Our first night we dined at CLEO, an SLS restaurant. Whoops. Here I was thinking I was being taken care of by Hyatt staff and that was not the case. Read menus, ask the chef questions and be specific about what items you think you want to enjoy during your stay.

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    So many quick service options by the pool/beach. NOT gluten-free.

  3. Make all your dining reservations in advance. Chef Sutti has 9 chefs that manage the restaurants on property at Baha Mar. If he knows you are dining at 3 Tides on Wednesday he will make sure there is a chef there to oversee your meal preparation. I know this is hard. It’s really hard to know what you are going to feel like eating! Unfortunately impromptu fish tacos at the DRIFT pool bar WILL compromise the attention level your meal will get. It pays to make a plan, for yourself and your health.

    My ‘light’ dinner at the Hyatt’s Grand Club. Yum!

  4. Consider the Hyatt Grand Club. This upgrade, which cost us 12,000 Hyatt points, was a HUGE money saver for us. Dining and drinks at Baha Mar are not cheap. Two poolside drinks will run $40 and a nice meal for 2 with drinks will cost $200+. The Hyatt Grand Club had breakfast, an afternoon snack and non-alcoholic beverages, cocktail hour with a spread of crudités, cheese, salad and several hot dishes, and dessert to cap off the night. It was well worth the points. There were many families at the grand club which makes a lot of sense also. Feeding your whole family here and getting by with a light lunch is totally doable. We ate a late breakfast, and stopped for cocktail hour and ate a lighter late supper. It worked out great and the staff was very considerate of my needs and prepared special meal.
  5. Pack options. I brought along tortillas, chicken, guacamole cups and plantain chips. I didn’t use it all but it just makes sense to have some portable lunch options if you get in a pinch or aren’t trusting the situation.

 

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GLUTEN-FREE sunscreen! Free at every towel station. Boom.

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Gorgeous, Fresh, Coastal Rooms

 

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Tito’s Kombucha Mule

Loving all things kombucha these days. Even doing some home brewing myself 😍 follow me on Instagram for updates.

This cocktail has a moscow mule drinker’s number. Lighter in sugar with way more flavor, add the health benefits of kombucha, and you have your next homemade cocktail. You can’t find this at the neighborhood bar!

1 part Tito’s

2 parts GTS Gingerade Kombucha

1-2 parts Lime LaCroix

Squeeze of fresh lime

Serve in a copper mug over ice.

Chocolate Banana Nut Butter Blender Muffins

Boy do I get excited when all three of my kids will eat the same breakfast without complaining.. I just love this recipe. So simple! Throw it all in the blender, scoop, bake and done. I’ve included a few substitutions that I’ve tried successfully.

1 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)

3 dates (optional – if your nut butter is sweetened this could be omitted. I want my kids to like these so I add the dates to boost the sweetness level)

2-3 medium bananas

2 eggs

1/3 c raw cacao powder (omit for a non-chocolate version)

1 t vanilla

1 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

1/2 c chocolate chips or nuts if desired

Add all ingredients and blend on medium speed until smooth. Bake in a sprayed muffin tin at 350 for 14-16 minutes. They bake faster than a traditional muffin. Makes 10 muffins. A great snack or breakfast on the go!

 

Gluten-Free in Steamboat Springs

Café Diva

Amidst the flurry of activity at the base of Steamboat Ski Resort is a true culinary gem.

Summer in Steamboat is a bit slower paced and quiet. The construction was everywhere at base camp. Our group had been by this unassuming restaurant at least four times during our stay on the mountain and never noticed the small entrance. Café Diva was our final meal in Steamboat and it did not disappoint. Reviews were great but our experience was better.

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Photo courtesy of Cafe Diva

Chef Kate Van Rensselaer noted the ability to accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets on their website and Facebook page and also had an updated summer menu that listed the gluten-free options. Updating allergen menus is usually something most restaurants let fall by the wayside. There was only one review on Find-Me-Gluten-Free but I was so astounded by the many positive reviews of the chef’s culinary ability that after a quick call to discuss I was excited to give it a try.

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The husband and I chose a nice Malbec from the extensive wine list and perused the appetizer and salads. They did ask if we would like bread at the table, which is something I always appreciate from the server. Instead of the bread service, I received rice crackers and warm house-made olives. I don’t care for olives but did try one just to see. Still don’t care for them!  It is pretty standard for us to split a salad at a nice meal but I was intrigued by the appetizer offerings. They all sounded good and I couldn’t decide . . . so the hubs chose the Peppadew Popper Kebabs.

 

Wrapped in prosciutto, and stuffed with smoked chevre, almond and basil and served with an arugula pesto and herb salad, this appetizer was small but mighty. Delicious flavor combinations when these components were melded.

The venison short loin received rave reviews from my husband and friend. Definitely order this medium rare to rare was the suggestion of our server, Gaye, who kept us chuckling throughout the meal with her unique personality.

I chose the scallop dish and it was divine. The scallops were seared to perfection and delicious but the accompanying flavors was what really stood out. Fresh corn, heirloom tomato and purple fingerling potato sautéed with a lemon-tarragon butter vinaigrette. The real star power in this dish was a later discovery of popcorn shoots. These thin green sprouts had an amazing true sweet corn flavor, mixed with slivers of green onions; it was the perfect garnish on this dish.IMG_0138-3621378672-1533397963796.jpg

Dessert had another wide range of gluten-free options. My interest was piqued with the Colorado Peach Parfait (on the GF menu with GF graham crackers!). The chef seemed concerned about the graham cracker cross contact issue and so we omitted them. I was a bit sad; as that was the primary reason I wanted to try the dish. We probably should have just cancelled that but we got it anyway as well as the crème brulee, after the server told us she couldn’t even find a crème brulee in Paris that topped Chef Kate’s crème brulee.

 

Both desserts were divine and a perfect nightcap to our delicious meal. Bravo to Café Diva for making a gluten-free menu that was so extensive AND for working with me and making me a safe meal. I so so appreciate it and can’t wait to come back some day!

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving #sogood Spotlight

Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite tried and true recipes and products for Thanksgiving!  I promise these will meet the approval of everyone at your Thanksgiving table. Head on over to my Pinterest page and check out the Gluten-Free Thanksgiving board to see the full list of recipes!

Urban Accents Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brine Kit, 12.75 Ounce – This is an all you need kit (including the bag!) to brine your bird gluten-free. Worked like a charm and now I am sold on the benefits of brining! Secret – I first found this at Home Goods!!

Urban Accents Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brine Kit, 12.75 Ounce

Allergy Free Alaska’s Gluten-Free Pecan Pie (Corn Syrup Free, Refined Sugar Free) I’ve made this pie at least 6 times. It is so much tastier than the traditional version full of corn syrup! You will not be disappointed!

Gluten-Free Pecan Pie (Corn Syrup-Free, Refined Sugar-Free) | Allergy Free Alaska

Gluten-Free Goddess Quinoa Salad with Pears & Spinach This is a nice light salad to round out what can be a pretty heavy meal. The dressing is a bit heavy on the maple flavor and to lighten it a bit I’ve swapped the maple for honey.

Quinoa salad with pears spinach chick peas and toasted pecans is a delicious and light gluten free vegan side dish

Aldi’s Gluten-Free French Fried Onions & Cornbread Mix – this product line, Live GFree (most of which is certified gluten-free by GFCO), continues to pleasantly surprise me at the discount grocer Aldi. What a nice surprise to find these products last season!

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Canyon Bakehouse Classic Gluten-Free Stuffing Now this is a pretty traditional stuffing but trust me when it comes to gluten-free bread, you do want an expert’s ratio of liquid and dry ingredients for a stuffing recipe.

Visit Gluten-Free #SoGood’s Pinterest page for many more recipes!

Aldi ‘Live GFree’ Spring Finds

Ok Aldi you had me at Key Lime and Meyer Lemon! So excited about these new mixes. Definitely on the nutrition profile of an occasional treat, I for one love options that my girls think are fun to bake and share.

Aldi is a my go to for gluten-free pasta, wraps, pretzels, baking mixes (CARBS)… mostly for my kids. It makes offering them gluten-free options affordable and also keeps my kitchen gluten-free which makes me happy.

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I love that these mixes scream spring and beautiful weather…

Did I mention Nebraska is getting another blizzard tomorrow. Augh. Over it! The hubby and I are headed to the Bahamas in a few weeks to celebrate our 15 year wedding anniversary. 😍 So I guess that’ll have to get me through this next downturn in weather and also some baking to channel our inner spring weather!

Stay tuned for some pics on Instagram of these baked goods 😉

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Aldi Gluten-Free Spring Cake Mixes

Gluten-Free Makeup

A girl’s got to have options! Makeup was an area of concern that I set aside when I was first diagnosed. It’s just too overwhelming to think about all your personal care items AND everything you eat! Since then, I’ve sourced friends, researched companies and purchased oodles of wasted products.  Finally I found a group of product lines I enjoy and trust for their consideration of gluten contamination.

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How strict am I? Here’s the items I use that are labeled gluten-free:

Easily Ingestible – If it’s easily ingestible it should be labeled gluten-free. Easily ingestible to me means a powder floating in the air that is inhaled and then.. ingested. These particles take the same path as food! This includes:

  • Powder Base
  • Bronzer/Blush
  • Loose Powder
  • Eyeshadow/Brow Powder

Lip Products –  Did you ever wonder what happened to lipstick that fades? Yep. You eat it. Studies have show the average woman eats 4-7 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime. 😳 Lip Products include:

  • Lip stick
  • Lip balm
  • Lip liner
  • Lip gloss

Liquid Products – If it’s liquid that I apply with my hands (that I then later eat with) it should also be labeled gluten-free. This includes:

  • Liquid Foundation
  • Cream Blush
  • Eyeshadow Base/Primers

If it’s not in powder form and I don’t apply with my hands, I buy whatever I think works best – mascara, eyeliner. No gluten ingredients and that’s good enough for me.

For Face: Love the ZUZU Luxe liquid foundation! Great coverage and certified GF! Their powder foundation is great for daytime use, provides great coverage and a beautiful finish. I use Mineral Fusion’s bronzer on the cheekbones – especially in Nebraska winters!

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For Eyes – I’ve always used these two mainstays – L’oreal mascara and L’oreal liquid eyeliner. Both reasonably priced and work great. Again, I’ve often been disappointed in switching it up! Bonus is that they are Target mainstays and affordable! Eye shadow tends to get all over, so I stick with a trusted brand, like ZUZU or Mineral Fusion.img_9380-1.jpg

For Lips – ZUZU takes the cake here. I love their lipliner and lip gloss. Mineral Fusion Lip tint is also great. SoftLips seems to be the best lip balm labeled GF. I tried EOS for awhile and got a bad reaction. Dry and peeling lips. After discussing with my dermatologist friend apparently they are WELL KNOWN for this problem. One class action lawsuit later… My son and daughter also experienced the reaction from EOS lip balm. Just because its labeled GF certainly doesn’t make it perfect!

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Hoping this post helps those of you out there that are looking for the right products to keep you healthy and looking fab at the same time!

Gluten-Free at Universal Studios Orlando

So we jumped on the theme park bus again; after a 2 year reprieve from Disney. Universal Studios Orlando for a bit of muggling fun. Here’s a rundown of the #sogood and the not #sogood!IMG_0109

Universal is . . .

Louder

Rougher

More sophisticated

Less friendly

More stomach turning

Less clean

More thrills

Less allergen-friendly

Did you catch that last one? Yep definitely two different worlds on that one. I thought you all may find it interesting what I received from Universal when I emailed their corporate dietary email. I was pretty shocked at what I got in return. See below. . .

“Hi, in Universal Studios, we have fruit stands in the parks with apples, oranges, grapes, watermelon on them. Also have lemon and strawberry slush carts which will be ok, also have turkey legs on carts that are just smoke plain. We have a full service unit it is Lombard’s landing and Finnegan’s, we have a chef in each unit have the server bring the chef to the table and he can go over all the things he can do for you In Islands of Adventure we have 2 full service units one called Confisco’s and one is Mytho’s, we have Chefs in both of those units, have server bring Chef to table and he can go over the things he can do for you. We have another walk up unit it is Thunder Falls, we have smoke chicken, smoke ribs, and roasted corn on cob and roasted potatoes with fresh herbs and salt and pepper, also have French fries all natural cooked in soy blend oil that is the only thing cooked in those fryers too.  I will also say no desserts at all from any of the restaurants too.
 We also offer gluten free pasta in the full service restaurants in both parks and at café four and at louies italian, there is a Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream shop in USF that has gluten free ice cream. We also have three broomsticks which have smoked chicken and smoked pork ribs, roasted corn on cob, baked potatoes, roasted potatoes with onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs and some salads too.
Also units have a gluten free bun available too. The butterbeer is gluten free. Popcorn is gluten free.  The soft serve at florean ice cream is ok, not the hard pack ice cream.
At leaky there is a vegetable platter no bread and a chicken sandwich on a gluten free bun. There is gluten free pancakes at all the breakfasts, bacon, eggs, fruit, sausage yougart
If you need any more information or help feel free to give me a call at 321-388-2123, Chef Bob. The restaurants in citywalk will be able to help you with your allergy all units have 4 chefs in them.
They can make you gluten free pasta and a non- breaded chicken breast at the character dinner. The fudge is made on property in our bakery on shared equipment.”

Wouldn’t a nicely laid out spreadsheet work a bit better for this information?!

Let’s compare this to Disney’s website page, https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/special-dietary-requests/, that addresses so much more info. Disney then sends you specifics on what each restaurant offers for your particular allergens/intolerances.

Regardless, I made my list of restaurants I thought would be best and here’s my experiences.

Antojito’s – Universal City Walk – C-

This is a lively place at Universal’s City Walk. Antojito’s is a very large restaurant with live mariachi bands and lots of chips and margaritas. I called ahead for this reservation and asked for a manager but that was lost in communication during our seating. My order went in late due to the manager being delayed in getting out to see our table. I chose shrimp tacos on corn tortillas and roasted plantains.

Their menu does have gluten-free items noted. I didn’t feel great the next day. After thinking about the plantains, they may have been flash fried and since their tortilla chips weren’t safe I am guessing the fryer was contaminated. Either that or the tortillas were warmed on a shared surface? Hard to know. It was the first night there and I think I was too excited to ask all the right questions. Not a perfect start. On the upside everyone else really liked their food!

Monster Café – Universal Studios Florida – B

Our first day at the parks we were looking for a quick service stop. This Café had pizza, ribs and turkey legs. I spoke with the manager and had read that the turkey legs were safe from the Universal Dining sheet. I asked him to pull the leg and steamed plain broccoli from the back of the restaurant and he was happy to do so.

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It was actually really good and I shared it with my oldest and hubby. It was huge! NOTHING on the menus was marked GF. This really went for EVERYWHERE in the park, aside from the higher end restaurants menu (Mythos). No GF marked on anything. It was the first day and I was already longing to jump across Orlando and go to Disney instead!

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar – Universal City Walk – B+

This spot seemed intriguing for our larger group. Burger and sushi aficionados combined. We stopped the day before to make the reservation and the manager chatted with me at length about their procedures and I was impressed. I was really hoping to score a mini burger and sushi combo but their burger buns have dairy.  I was trying ot keep my system in check so I was avoiding it. Boo. So I ordered some of their basic sushi options.

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This is pretty Americanized sushi here. They served it with a sauce that once I questioned it, it was quickly swiped from my plate. Must not have been safe. The sushi was just okay. Nothing to write much about, but it is a cool atmosphere and I feel like they did execute the meal well. The burgers got good reviews from the rest of the group.

Three Broomsticks – Islands of Adventure – Hogsmeade -B

My girls are Harry Potter fanatics, thus our trip here in the first place. So we had to stop at the Three Broomsticks for a quick lunch our 2ndday at the parks.  Three Broomsticks serves fairly simple food, roasted chicken, ribs, shepherds pie. There didn’t appear to be a significant amount of contamination risk coming here. I chose the rotisserie smoked chicken salad. The hubs went for ribs and the kids for fish and chips and mac and cheese.

Again, using the resource sent to me from the dietary service and a brief chat with the manager on duty, I made my selection. Also again, nothing on the boards was notated for allergens.  The manager did take my order but my food was delivered on the same tray with everyone else’s food.  The salad was fine. Nothing special, which is pretty much what the whole family said about the meal. You pay for the experience here; the food isn’t the star.IMG_0113

Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour – Universal Studios – Diagon Alley – B+

This quaint ice cream shop in the heart of Dragon Alley was a huge hit. All soft serve ice creams were gluten-free, we tried Butterbeer (of course!) and pistachio.  The information sent from Universal did say the hard pack ice cream was not safe, just the soft serve. We did also try the Butterbeer! It is gluten-free (not dairy free). Unfortunately between the 5 of us we couldn’t even finish it! So sweet!

Mama Della’s – Loews Portofino Hotel – D

This may have been the meal that put my system over the edge. Mama Della’s was recommended by the Loew’s Portofino staff as the most accommodating menu for a celiac needing gluten-free food. The menu was far from kid friendly, the prices were high and there was pasta everywhere. On the menu and off the menu.

IMG_0106I went for custom dish, asking for a shrimp salad. It was mediocre at best. The salad was drowning in oil and had an odd flavor. I ate the shrimp and left the rest. I had a bad feeling from the start of the meal, the way the server and manager handled my requests and I was even more annoyed when we got the bill and they charged me for the full price shrimp entrée instead of a salad with added shrimp. $34 for a shrimp salad seemed outrageous.

The next day I felt awful. I contacted hotel management and tried to meet with them twice in the hotel lobby. It never worked for them to be accessible when we had the time.  We played phone tag for a few days. He wanted to follow a health protocol with me. No offer of real action to discount our pricey meal that ended up causing a downward spiral that made the end of our trip extremely difficult for me to manage. I didn’t have the energy to keep calling and attempt to reach them. I left voicemails that never got returned.

Mythos – Islands of Adventure – B+

This themed restaurant within Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park definitely had the most gluten-free reviews out there. They won “Best Theme Park Restaurant” from 2003-2009 and they still proudly display that signage.

IMG_0122The inside of the restaurant is built to look like you are immersed in Greek mythology, with waterfalls, rock carvings and even a replica of the River Styx running through the restaurant. It was quiet the evening we were there as we snuck in at the end of the day. Definitely try to make a reservation as they do book up, we walked in about 20 minutes before closing and they were kind enough to accommodate us.

At this point in the trip, being our last night, I was already not feeling well. Too much exposure for sure and one poorly handled meal had sent my system over the edge. I ordered the simplest item on the menu, the beef medallions with herb roasted fingerling potatoes, corn succotash, herb salad and chimmichurri. It was delicious and the rest of my crew loved their food as well.

We really liked the ambience of the restaurant and the kids loved watching The Incredible Hulk roller coaster go over and over again. A great win, just wished I could have enjoyed the meal more without the worry of feeling more sick the next day.

In conclusion . . .

I was hopeful, I read and researched. I joined the gluten-free Orlando Facebook group, posted and read responses. And I had a plan for the restaurants.  I reached out to the dining management for the theme park and hotel. Even the best-laid plans fail.

At the end of this trip I was struggling and it was a struggle that lasted weeks. It changed my perspective on being able to travel and trust restaurants to accommodate me.

I didn’t want to write about it because it cumulated in such an awful response. I don’t want this blog to be negative.

But I also want people to be educated and know how this sort of trip can end up being such a struggle. If I was going to do this trip again we would need to stay in a condo with a kitchen so I could tote along my own meals to the park. As easy and accommodating as Disney is regarding allergens, Universal was not.

 

Perfectly Paleo Breakfast Muffins

These babies are perfect. My kids love them, I love them and they are full of healthy ingredients. When else can you sneak this much ground flax seed into your kids meals?

The muffins are also refined sugar-free to boot with the only sweetener being dates and a banana. Double the batch and freeze them for easy morning breakfasts. Mix in your families favorite add-ins to make them yours! Enjoy!

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My girls and their favorite add-ins – chocolate chips for the middle and dried fruit for the oldest.

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Print Recipe
Perfect Breakfast Muffins
Course Breakfast, Snack
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Paleo
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 18-20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Course Breakfast, Snack
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Paleo
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 18-20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line or spray muffin tins. Combine the almond flour, flaxseed meal, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. In a high-powered blender (I use a Vitamix), combine the eggs, dates (soften these in hot water for a few minutes if they are dry), banana, olive oil and water. Blend until smooth. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients. Choose your add-ins. Half our family likes a hearty blend of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Some of us like the chocolate chips, I use Enjoy Life. This batter can easily adapt to 3 cups of add-in ingredients. Fresh or frozen berries are also a great choice! Or bump the nutrition by adding cups of chopped trail mix. Choose the combination that your family loves. Or take half the batter and make two different varieties! Fill muffin tins 2/3 full with batter and bake for 18-20 minutes until muffins spring back when touched.
Recipe Notes

This recipe is adapted from Gluten-Free Cupcakes, by Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry

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Gluten-Free Cruising with Royal Caribbean

I’m so excited to share my first guest post! Shelly Asplin MA, RD, LMNT, is THE ‘gluten-free’ dietitian in the midwestern region. Having a knowledgeable dietitian is key, especially for those that are newly diagnosed with celiac disease. Shelly worked with me at the former Celiac Support Association (now reformed as the National Celiac Association) and is currently a Hy-Vee dietitian in Omaha on 180th and Pacific. Thanks Shelly for sharing your experience with us! Here’s her experience on a Royal Carribbean cruise in January of 2018.

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This was our first experience on a cruise.  Royal Caribbean surprised me several times!  They offered an entire buffet area dedicated to gluten-free.

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 We only dined in the buffet area a couple of times.  I preferred full service dining with a menu that designated gluten-free items.  Each night the wait staff would provide me a menu with gf items identified and I would preorder for the next evening.  They offered gluten-free breads with each meal.  Some of the gluten-free desserts I enjoyed were baked Alaska, crème brulee and my favorite, flourless chocolate cake.

20180114_132708 I did try the gluten-free pizza, it wasn’t the tastiest, but it was nice to have the option.  From lobster to filet mignon the meals were lovely.  I would highly recommend developing a rapport with your regular wait staff.  I felt it helped ensure the safety of your gluten-free offerings.

This was a Western Caribbean cruise. The ports offered naturally gluten-free offerings in Cozumel and Costa Maya.  I enjoyed shrimp nachos, ceviche, lobster and margarita’s.

Gluten-Free in Mexico

Pueblo Bonita Pacifica Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 

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Secrets Silversands Riviera Maya, Mexico

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The cumulative tally from this review puts Pueblo Bonita Pacifica at an average score of B- and Secrets Silversands at an average of B. Read on to hear details about the #sogood and #notsogood of each property.

Location
B+ Secrets is one of the resorts closest to Cancun in the Riviera Maya, about 20 minutes from the Cancun airport.

C  Pacifica is located southwest of Cabo San Lucas. The bus ride was about 40 minutes from the airport.

Room Accommodations
C+ At Secrets we had a deluxe ocean view room, which was spacious with a couch, table and large balcony. This is an older resort so the room was showing wear and could use some freshening.

C+ Pacifica had a much smaller room, ours was also ocean view, with a teeny balcony. But the resort is newer so the interior was fresher. Our friends upgraded to the butler suite and it was pretty amazing. We spent our evenings as a group either in their room or the fire pit area near the beach.

Beach
B+ Secrets has a shallow, swimmable beach with water sports available, there are sandbags throughout to protect from erosion, but it was pretty and there are plenty of chairs, shade and beach chairs available as well as drink service.

C+ Pacifica has a large beachfront, no shade (other than upgrade cabanas) but a very volatile riptide so there is no swimming allowed.

Pools

A- Secrets main pool had a lot of activity during the day with music for a few hours intermittently. The activities team did a nice job of making people smile throughout the afternoon. The pool temperature indicated it may have been moderately heated. The nearby infinity pool was definitely quieter but pretty darn cold! Note the photo op – we were dying! One member of our group noted that the hot tub had a funny odor.

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B+ Pacifica’s main pool was nice, nothing spectacular. The cushions were nice and they did have umbrellas for shade, they had a more relaxed pool near the ocean with a hot tub as well. The activities here were more subdued without quite the energy the Secrets staff had.

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Restaurants – So how gluten-free was Secrets “gluten-free” food?

One positive that I found at Secrets, why this resort made our list, was that all the restaurant menus had gluten-free items marked on the “regular” menus. As much as I feel like I still need to advocate for myself, it is super nice to have your options already narrowed down. I still had to address the fact that I have a medical condition and was not just ordering items for a “lifestyle” choice. The only restaurant that had very limited gluten-free options was Portofino, the italian restaurant. We did not dine there. The hostess at each restaurant asked specifically if any of the guests had any allergies when we checked in, which was also a nice awareness factor. I did not get sick from any food on this vacation. And in all honesty the only slip came the first day when my gluten-free ceviche came out with gluten-full crackers (but they were packaged so no harm done).

Secrets Breakfast

B- The only option at this resort for breakfast was room service or the buffet, The World Cafe. My husband appreciates a hearty breakfast so he was pleased with the variety and custom order options at this buffet. I enjoyed the smoothie bar, you selected from a variety of ingredients and placed the ingredients in a glass and they added juice, milk or water and blended it per your instructions! Nice. No gluten containing ingredients that I could see so I felt like this was a safe option. I actually packed my paleo crepes and Justin’s almond butter packets and am very glad I did.

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I tried conversing with the chef via translation with the manager and it was difficult to feel comfortable with their prep on more complicated breakfast dishes. This is where buffets are difficult! Crepe + smoothie = a decent start to the day. We did order room service our last morning because we just didn’t have time for the buffet. It was just mediocre.

Secrets Lunch

B+ Poolside lunch service was not an option here – likely due to the size of the hotel. There was a buffet set up at the poolside bar, but after one trip there my crew was not interested in trying it again. They said it was pretty gross. And nothing was gluten-free. So the only other options for lunch were the Oceana sit-down restaurant or the lunch buffet set up inside where the breakfast buffet was.

We went to Oceana twice – the food was excellent.

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Surf and Turf skewers are pictured above. Ceviche, whitefish and salads were also very good – but unfortunately the meal took well over 1 1/2 hours. Not exactly how you want to spend your time with there’s sun shining at the pool right outside!

After our bike ride we wanted a quick lunch so grabbed some salads, etc from the buffet inside on the way to the pool and they were able to bring out a nice grilled chicken salad with some fresh fruit. It worked, but the whole group lamented that they missed the poolside ceviche and fish tacos that we were served at the Pacifica pool. The pool bar at Pacifica did not have gluten-free lunch options, read on for more on Pacifica’s gluten-free offerings.

Secrets Silversands Dinners

El Patio

Our first evening at Secrets we visited the mexican restaurant, El Patio. We did not experience any issues with our group’s size at Pacifica last year (aside from dinners taking over 2 hours to complete). At Secrets however the first night we ran into a huge problem. “With a group this size we can not allow you to order individual meals, we will bring you all the same appetizer, entrée and dessert.” Uh, what? Isn’t this is an all-inclusive resort and we should be able to order what we like off the menu, right? Nope.

So we had a rough go the first night. They served our table the same appetizer, reviews were mixed, some people got upset, some people enjoyed the food. I sat there. With no food. Starving, having had a few cocktails. And then they never came to take my order. They eventually brought me gluten-free appetizers. With beans, and cheese. Two things I usually avoid while dining out. And did I mention I’d had a few drinks?

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Note the picture – empty place setting for me! I felt out of control of the situation. I hadn’t eaten much that day. We were up at 3:30 am, It was 9 pm when we sat down for dinner. Recipe for disaster. I ended up in tears, partially due to the condition my body was in, partially because I wasn’t sure I was being served safe food, and finally because I felt very, very sorry for myself. And that’s okay! Right? No.. yes of course its okay. It’s a hard road, it’s tough to have such limited choices. It is really tough to watch others eat whatever they would like and… ? It’s just a tough spot. If we were not at an all-inclusive would the cards have fallen this way for me? Nope.

The manager listened to my tears, fears and sad story. My friends also stepped up to discuss the whole situation with him. I was sad. Sad I wasn’t able to participate in the “experience.” And that is truly what dining is – it’s the process of sharing an experience, enjoying food together. Like sharing a bottle of wine, grabbing ice cream on a hot day, stopping for a quick lunch. It is all an experience. And when you have a group of 10 and you are the only one not included… it’s hard not to feel that down to your core.

So we will mark that night in the #notsogood category.

Bordeaux

A Our second day we were on a mission to have a better experience. We met with the staff at the French restaurant, Bordeaux. We had to work with them and spend quite a bit of time talking to the management about making sure we didn’t have the same bad experience we had the night before. They agreed to seat us (without an upcharge!) all together and we narrowed down our menu choices to two appetizers, a soup, two entrees and a dessert. I placed my order in advance to assure no missteps.

Here’s the rundown of what I was served at Bordeaux.

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Fig & strawberry salad with vinegrette. Lovely presentation!

This may have been the first night they pulled the gluten-free bread out of the freezer – I picked it up and it literally fell apart. The texture left alot to be desired. #notsogood

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The fresh catch of the day was a whitefish, it came highly recommended by the server and did not disappoint. Delicious!IMG_0071

I was served the same sorbet two nights in a row – champagne pear. Ick. #notsogood.

The rest of my crew had the creme brûlée and the presentation was impressive! See the above video. They lit the sugar and liquor on fire and poured it on the custard. Super cool and a nice end to the evening.

I avoided dairy on this trip. It is so hard to travel dairy free. Especially when it comes to dessert. But usually by the end of the trips I am feeling the pain of indulging in the ice cream, etc. The joints in my feet just flare. So I thought I would try staying dairy free on this trip to see if it made and difference and I feel like it did. Did I say dairy free desserts are awful?

The food was exceptional and the service very attentive. We ordered a few bottles of wine and the staff was happy. It was an excellent meal!

Himitsu

B We struggled to get a reservation at this restaurant. It was deja vu to our battle with Bordeaux the night before. Several people in our group met again with the manager and we were seated at the Hibachi-style table together and ordered the premium menu at a $30 per person upcharge. Incredibly annoying that it seemed we needed to do this to get the service we desired.

The menu included several bottles of wine and my meal was prepared in the back and served to me, instead of being made on the shared surface with the rest of the group’s meal.

IMG_3213Salad with a grapefruit vinegrette. I didn’t get an appetizer served to me so I asked for a second salad – which they happily provided! It was quite good!IMG_3214

The upcharge for this ‘premium’ meal was $30. The lobster was good but there was a significant portion of steak and chicken too. Not sure it was totally worth it. The non gluten-free eaters got a portion of shrimp as well. IMG_3206

Generally speaking the food was good, part of it is the experience of the hibachi chef. Unfortunately we all agreed that the meal from Bordeaux the night before was better. And we didn’t pay an upcharge for it.

Adios Secrets – Beach Dinner

B Based on the tough experiences we had at meals, two of the guys in our group took the efforts on to set up a private dinner on the beach for our last night. At $100 a couple it was not a cheap addition to the all-inclusive price. It was really fun having our own private table and staff out on the beach, a unique experience that would have cost much much more in the states. We had a lit fire pit and music. We had several waiters to bring drinks and keep us happy.IMG_0070

The meal itself was great. They allowed me to select which restaurant menu items I wanted for my meal and I chose the whitefish from Bordeaux. Yum. It was prepared differently, still gluten and dairy-free, but still just as tender and delicious. The gluten-free bread I was served 3 nights in a row became a bit of a joke. Here’s the pics.

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The texture was better the next few nights. Maybe they took it out of the freezer?  Still not great bread though.

Dessert was a smore’s bar, but they came already assembled with no toasting required. A little odd. The gluten-free, dairy-free desserts were plated on the same plate as the gluten-full desserts so I stayed away from them. A bit of a bummer.

Room Service – Secrets

In addition to ordering breakfast the last morning via room service, we did place a happy hour order one afternoon near the swim-up rooms. Gluten-free and dairy free makes happy hour a little difficult – pretty much all the time. Here’s the steak, salmon and vegetables I ordered. I do feel like room service is a pretty gluten-free “safe” option at these resorts. You are cutting out one person in the chain and dealing directly with the kitchen which does make the communication more effective = less mistakes!

And here’s serving #4 of the same gluten-free bread. It really became pretty funny by this point.  #notsogood

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Great trip with great friends!

Meals during the Pacifica stay

Pacifica Breakfast

B One morning we ordered breakfast in the room and I was happy to get some fresh fruit and two eggs over easy. It worked 🙂 The other mornings we joined our friends for breakfast buffet at Siempre. There was a very courteous manager on staff who handled my order and assured me great care was taken in prep to ensure it was safe. I had no trouble and it was great to feel taken care of. Unfortunately the last day he was not working and I did not receive the same service. My omelette came out looking different and I was too tired to argue so I ate it. I did not feel well that day so I think there was some cross contamination involved with that meal unfortunately.

Pacifica Lunch

B Our crew really enjoyed the fish tacos, salads and ceviche served poolside. Unfortunately none of this was safe for me. I walked over to the Peninsula restaurant each day and ordered my meals to be delivered to the pool due to my dietary restrictions. They resisted at first but I really did not want to sit at the restaurant for another LONG meal while my friends munched on food while taking in the rays. The food was safely prepared and it was fish and vegetables each day – I was ordering super simple food to ensure no gluten exposure but it did look much less appetizing than the fish tacos my friends were all eating. #jealous

Pacifica Dinners

Quivira Steakhouse at Quivira Golf Course

B+ Our first evening we ate at Quivira Steakhouse, a $35 upcharge from our all-inclusive rate. The meal was top notch and everyone was please with their plates. I had the fresh catch special and it was delicious. It was a long meal but the location is superb with an excellent ocean front location.

LaFrida at Sunset Beach

C The second evening we went to LaFrida, an upscale mexican restaurant and the nearby sister resort, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach. Our food was okay, I didn’t feel like I had many options available to me (no chips that are GF is a big bummer, I have since learned and tote my Plantain Chips wherever I go on vacation because usually guacamole is a safe bet!) and the sell for upscale tequila tasting was a bit much. It was also so dark we could barely see each other! Definitely wouldn’t do that again. This was also a long meal.

Siempre at Pacifica

A The third evening we dined at the resort (which would probably should have done more often) at Siempre. While the food was good, the larger size of our group seemed to cause yet another LONG meal. Like so long that part of our group when across the resort to the sushi restaurant and brought plates of sushi over for us to eat between courses!

D Our final evening we went to another sister property, Pueblo Bonito Rose, which is along the main bay of Cabo San Lucas. After a failed reservation for an outdoor restaurant (it was too chilly and windy so they were closed !?!?) we ended up at the resort’s buffet for dinner.

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Not how we had planned to spend our last night! I ordered some sushi made for me in the back and that was it for food. We did walk down to a few bars in the hotel zone which was fun.

Gluten-Free Cocktails

Tito’s has not quite made its way to the Mexican resort scene. So unfortunately vodka choices at both Pacifica and Secrets weren’t really much of an option. I don’t tip the risk scale on gluten-full grain liquor (most vodkas start with wheat, barley or rye).  Instead I’ve found I do better with alcohol that’s derived from gluten-free grains, agave (tequila), or sugar (rum or Ocean vodka). This is a personal choice for me, not a standard for others that live with celiac disease. You can learn more here from GFCO and here from Beyond Celiac about gluten-free liquor and labeling.

I did pack some Titos in my checked luggage, in several small water bottles to lighten the load of the glass bottle. It came in handy when I was ready for a change. I drank mojitos, skinny margaritas, bacardi limon and soda, and a few frozen cocktails here and there.

Size

C  Secrets is a large resort with 455 rooms. A bit of personal touch is lost here, with service suffering at times because of he sheer volume. Because we had over 6 people at our dinners the basic restaurants tried to force a set menu and it resulted in one poor experience for both me and the remaining group.

A- Pacifica is smaller with 150 Rooms but one nice positive was a larger resort, Pueblo Benito Sunset Beach, was just up the hill and allowed for other restaurant choices.

Entertainment

A- Secrets puts on more of a party atmosphere. The daytime staff was really great. Miguel was a favorite amongst our group. We did a bike ride with him to Puerto Morales that most of us agreed we would not do again. We were tired and it’s basically 40 minutes each way through the back alleys of resorts to a quaint town square with shopping and, bonus, great watermelon mojitos at the beach bar. #sogood!IMG_3231But the ride itself was rough and stinky. There was constant nighttime entertainment which our group enjoyed. The theater shows were always during our dinner times but we did enjoy the outdoor live music and indoor nightclub for dancing and shenanigans.

B Pacifica is definitely a sleepier resort. Depends on what you are looking for. Our group had to make its own fun after dinner, usually with drinks by the fire pit or playing games. The majority of the resort was asleep  by 9:30! The entertainment team was all daytime, with some pool aerobics, poker games and beach volleyball.

Overall the experiences I had at Secrets and Pacifica, from a gluten-free perspective, were mixed. #Sogood and #notsogood. I think I will always lean toward having a bit more control of the food situation while on vacation. The reason why all-inclusive’s are so appealing is the convenience factor. But unfortunately that just isn’t the case for someone with celiac disease. Traveling to Hawaii and dining out in the evenings only, I found myself to be much more comfortable with the risk levels. Not to mention the language barrier makes me uneasy in Mexico. So would I go again with friends? Maybe.  Based on how I felt I really do feel that the resorts did their best to serve safe food – it wasn’t always as appealing as the alternative but I stayed pretty healthy. I would prefer an environment with more control over the options (think vacation house rental) or a resort that was more forward with their allergen protocol (think Disney). Please share your experiences at other all-inclusives!

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