Nicole Ciuppa, RDN
Atlantis, Bahamas: Food Allergy Review
Jetting off to the Bahamas for this year's Spring break was just magical and full of priceless adventures! I love to travel to new places and immerse myself into all the destination has to offer whether it be local markets, historic spots, art galleries, or natural wonders. One of the aspects of traveling that is personally challenging to embrace is food. Local cuisine is tricky and dangerous territory for someone with multiple severe food allergies, especially if traveling to a destination that does not speak your native language. Thankfully, the locals of the Bahamas speak English and navigating food within the resort worked out well aside from one slip up. Keep reading to get some inside tips for handling multiple food allergies in Atlantis, Bahamas!
Before I talk about the restaurants, I want to mention that when booking this vacation, my family made sure to book a hotel room with a kitchenette. In the past, I have travelled places without this luxury and managed, but when given the opportunity to have the comfort of the kitchenette, we choose to do so. Our hotel room in the Reef Hotel had a kitchenette that included in dishwasher, sink, electric burners, microwave, coffee maker, mini refrigerator, cooking supplies, dish ware, and utensils. I also brought non perishable staple foods in my suitcase- a closed box of non dairy milk, etc. Going into this vacation, I told myself I would do my best to dine out both for social inclusion and for overcoming fears of doing so (that issue is for another blog post). It was comforting to know that if all failed dining out, I could come home and cook a bowl of pasta or eat a can of tuna.
Location: The Royal Hotel
Head chef: ✔
Walking into Poseidon's Table, I immediately was awed by it's beauty. White marble floors and walls with artfully designed white woodwork laced the center eating area. Vast skylights covered the ceiling of the restaurant allowing the sunlight to shine down on the guests. The restaurant is buffet style breakfast food and also has a head chef preparing meals in a kitchen. I mention this because not all restaurants in the Atlantis, Bahamas have a chef on the premises. As my parents were checking us in to the restaurant, I decided to take a walk around the buffet and familiarize myself with what was being served. I did not eat off of the buffet due to cross contamination reasons but knowing what is served gives you a better idea of the foods you can ask to be cooked for you. I noticed there was a line up of amazing fresh fruits which is my perfect breakfast so I knew I'd be ordering some of those! I was pleased to see the inclusive options offered, for example, the non dairy milks, individually packed allergy free jams/honey/jelly, fruit juices, a gluten free option for waffles and pancakes, etc. When seated, I received hot water and a plethora of awesome tea flavors- I chose to have green and camomile tea since they are my favorites. I asked our server to speak to the head chef and told her about my severe multiple food allergies. The chef came out of the kitchen to speak with me and, after telling him about my anaphylactic allergies, handing him an allergy card, and telling him what I would like to have for breakfast, he assured me that I would have my foods prepared safely with clean separate equipment/utensils. I was brought out my order of a fresh fruit platter consisting of oranges, grapefruits, bananas, grapes, and pineapples. They have the best citrus fruits in the Bahamas. I also brought overnight oats (rolled oats and non dairy milk) in a to go container that I made the previous night in our hotel. Everything worked out well and we proceeded to eat there every morning on the island! I must say, this was my favorite place to eat in the Bahamas.
Location: Poolside in the center of the Reef and the Cove Hotel
Head chef: ✔
Separate allergy safe kitchen: ✔
Cascades Grill was actually the first place we ate since we arrived on the island in the afternoon and were too tired to shuttle out to a real dine in restaurant. Cascades is a casual place to grab lunch, snacks, or have a drink during the day when sitting poolside as they serve burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, alcoholic drinks, etc. The Nutrition and Dietetics student in me felt pleased to see some healthier options on the menu such as a veggie burgers, salad, and vegetable crudite with hummus. I was nervous to try to order food, originally, since this would be my first time eating away from home in almost 2 years (I know..pretty crazy but I avoid these situations as much as possible) but I took a deep breath and spread some positive mental attitude to start this trip off on the right foot. When the head chef came out and I told her that I wanted to order steamed broccoli and carrots with salt, she looked at me as if to say That's it? That is all you want me to make you?. I order very simple foods when out to eat as, in my opinion, there is less room for error and I can see exactly what I am eating when the food arrives. I let her keep an allergy card and she informed me that my vegetables would be prepared by herself in a separate building with an allergy safe kitchen. This comforted me and something about the way she handled speaking with me, made me have some level of trust for her. My order took 30-40 minutes to be delivered to me but I was fine with that as long as it was safe. I thanked her for going out of her way to accommodate my food allergies, sat and ate outside watching the waves crash, palm trees sway, and feeling the cool breeze of the tropics. I ordered the same meal a couple other times during our stay-sometimes as lunch and sometimes to save for a hotel cooked dinner side.
Location: The Reef Hotel
Separate allergy safe kitchen: ✔
I ordered from room service the first night we arrived in the Bahamas. It took all of us (my mom, dad, and I) the night to adjust ourselves to the Bahamian way of life so ordering in for me and grabbing some takeout for them was the plan. The front desk concierge actually needed to connect us to the head of room service so that I was able to speak with the chef directly about my food allergies. I was unable to give the chef an allergy card in this circumstance so that was slightly nerve wracking but she understood the severity of my allergies and was confident that she could cook safely for me. I ordered grilled chicken with olive oil and salt, steamed green beans and cauliflower, and a baked potato not cut open without butter or other sides. The chef told me the wait for my food would be 50 minutes so I sat with my parents in the hotel Starbucks as they ate their wraps. I ordered the food at around 7:30 p.m. and the concierge suggested to call the chef to check in on the meal half way through the wait time so at 8:15 p.m., the front desk connected me to the chef who said she was checking on the process and would have it delivered soon. Heading back up to the hotel room to hang out for the rest of the night, I have to admit, I was hungry and still on a New York time zone of wanting everything immediately. My food was delivered to the room around 9:30 p.m. and was cooked safely without any of my allergens which I could not have been more thankful for. I received the chicken, vegetables, and 2 small baked potatoes not cut open. It tasted delicious and was so satisfying! The takeaway from this experience is to definitely order room service in advance if you know you are staying in for lunch/dinner because it can take some time for food to be delivered, however, the chef was conscientious and accommodating.
Location: Marina Village
Head Chef: ✔
For dinner one night, we decided to check out a spot called Murray's Delicatessen which is supposed to embody a New York style diner. The menu was pretty standard with chicken, meat, and fish dishes, vegetables, salad, burgers and fries, sandwiches, etc. I decided to order steamed carrots, broccoli, green beans, and cauliflower, a baked potato, and grilled chicken (which was made as an oven baked chicken leg on the bone the whole trip-it was interesting to see how they had a different way of cooking it to a grilled chicken breast). I asked that the baked potato not be cut open as I felt safer this way knowing nothing could have touched the inside. I also made sure to tell the chef not to add butter to the potato because of my dairy allergy. The chef took my allergy card and said the food would take longer to make but that she understood everything I needed. When I saw my food being carried over to our table, I immediately was disappointed. Despite going through all of the special preparation and time it took to cook my meal, the plate of food came out with a side of wrapped pats of butter, and a leaking container of sour cream. What?! I thought the chef "understood". I calmly explained that I would not be eating the meal as it could have been contaminated by the dairy products garnishing the dish and asked for a new meal of the same order to be prepared. Now, I knew that I could just go back to the hotel and make myself dinner but that was not the point. The point was now to see how the restaurant could handle anaphylactic food allergies. The chef quickly took the sour cream and butter off of my plate nervously saying that nothing has touched my food and it was still safe. Um, excuse me, just removing my allergen from the dish does not magically make the meal safe...I wish it did. After standing my ground, and insisting on her leaving the contaminated plate on our table, the chef went back to the kitchen to make my new meal. I wanted to keep the contaminated plate on our table to make sure the chef did not give me the same food rearranged differently or washed the food and reserve it to me, etc. This was tip I learned from my uncle when I was a baby (maybe I will tell you this story in the future). About 40 minutes later, a safe meal was delivered to me that I did eat despite being incredibly nervous and not feeling able to trust the chef. This kind of thing happens but I did not let it ruin my night where in the past I may have had a sour attitude afterwards. I am making progress each time I dine out.
Once back in our hotel room for the night, my mom actually called the Food and Beverage manager of the resort to ask for advice on how to avoid another situation like that night for the next meal out. The manager asked for our dining plans for the next evening so she could pre inform the chef and staff of the restaurant of my food allergies before we dined there. After ending the phone call, we received an email forwarded to us and all of the head chefs in the resort letting them know of our experience at Murray's and helping them be aware of the attention needed to handling food allergies.
Location: Marina Village
Head Chef: ✔
Seafire Steakhouse was the only restaurant that we needed to make reservations for in advance in order to dine there. The menu was high class and expensive with different wines, fine steak and fish cuts, etc, but hearing good reviews from people we knew who have eaten there, our family decided to try it too. One thing that I did not like about Seafire was the ambience. The low lighting, dark wood, and crowded eating areas are not my preference when choosing a restaurant, however, I did think having a see-through wall to the kitchen was a nice design. I prefer places that are well lit so I can easily see my meal when it is served to ensure it is safe. Now, about the food! We dined in Seafire the night after our experience at Murray's Delicatessen so the chef was aware of me and my allergies. She came right out to greet us without me having to request to speak with her. She wrote down my exact order which is something no chef had done when preparing food for me and also kept an allergy card. I ordered grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans, with an uncut baked potato. My food was delivered timely to my parents' meals and was prepared safely. After dinner, I made sure to thank the chef for all of her attentiveness and efforts in handling my food allergies as well as a delicious meal. It is incredibly important to be kind and tell chefs/staff when they accommodate your allergies. All in all, dinner at Seafire was a success.
My concluding thoughts regarding the handling of severe food allergies in the Atlantis, Bahamas is that the resort was good but not excellent in preparing safe meals. I think more education and training is needed for the understanding of allergies versus intolerances. A lot of emphasis was put on gluten free individuals (which is also important) but more food allergy education is needed. For example, the night at Seafire, the chef told me that "the butter was gluten free so I could have that." to which I informed her that I was anaphylactic allergic to dairy and butter was dairy; butter is not to be on my plate. Food allergies are definitely manageable in the Bahamas but you need to be attentive and diligent to ensure meals are safe. From my entire experience, I recommend traveling to Atlantis, Bahamas if you have multiple anaphylactic allergies, however, do not rely on chef/staff alone to ensure your safety.
If you have any further questions do not hesitate to ask in the comments below!
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