Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grand Palladium in Mexico -- an all inclusive that does gluten free well

For the past few years, we had avoided all inclusives, choosing instead to rent condos where we could have more control over our meals.  However, we had heard good things about the gluten free provisions at the Grand Palladium (between Akumal and Playa del Carmen in the Riviera May, Mexico) and, I am glad to report, overall we had a very good experience.

The Grand Palladium is a very large property that includes 5 different areas.  We stayed at the Riviera, but since you can eat at any of the restaurants (about 8) , bars or buffets in the property, the particular area that you stay in doesn't much matter.   We were there during February school break, but even so, it didn't feel too crowded to us.  I thought that the beach area and the pools were really lovely.

At the time that we visited (February 2012), the hotel had a system in place to assist guests with food allergies and celiac.  Once we checked in, we met with one of the higher level managers in charge of dining services. He gave us a special color coded restaurant card (in English and Spanish) setting forth the gluten free requirements. (There are other cards for other food allergies.)  The text of this card was quite similar to other restaurant cards -- however, the magic of the card is that everyone in the property's restaurants and buffets has been trained to follow certain procedures once a guest shows them this particular card.  In the buffet, they made sure that we were brought to a table with a fresh tablecloth, and a manger came over to take my daughter's order. In the beach bar, they offered to make up fresh batches of french fries and tortilla chips, that had been fried in clean, fresh oil.  There is also a basic gluten free menu at each of the restaurants offering items such as grilled chicken, grilled fresh, etc. -- however, at La Adelita (Mexican restaurant), Porta Emilia (fish restaurant by the beach) and Portofino (Italian), they were able to adopt menu items from the regular menu to make them gluten free.  (The hotel does have gluten free pasta and pizza listed on the gluten free menu as well; however, it is best to let the restaurant know in advance that you want to order one of those items, so they have it in stock.  My daughter was able to enjoy a very nice gluten free pasta dish at the Italian restaurant.)

In general, one cannot make reservations in advance at the restaurants.  However, because we had a gluten free person in our group, we were allowed to make reservations, and this was also very helpful in ensuring that things went smoothly.  Our gluten free needs were noted on the reservation, so the restaurant knew to expect someone with celiac and could arrange to have some gf breads and other products on hand.

The only night things didn't go so smoothly was the very first night.  This was because we hadn't received the magic card yet as the manager we needed to speak with had the day off on the day of our arrival.  As a result, we couldn't make an advance reservation, and there was some confusion about what kind of gluten free food was available at the restaurant (the steak house.).  So, if you do arrive on a day that the manager can't meet with you, I'd encourage you to insist that you nonetheless be allowed to make a dinner reservation in advance anyway, with a notation about needing to eat gluten free.

The hotel also stocks some gluten free specialty products, including breads, muffins, pancake mix, brownies and some other desserts.  I give full credit to the hotel for ordering these products -- however, some were clearly better than others!  Luckily, the brownies and pasta were both quite tasty.  There were also plenty of naturally gluten free foods available.  Also, when it comes to "processed" foods, the hotel is quite conservative in what they consider to be gluten free, and I think only considers such a food to be gluten free if it is labeled so by the manufacturer. The ubiquitous soft serve ice cream did not have a gluten free label, so they originally told us my daughter could not eat it.  When I pressed a bit, the manager very willingly tracked down the ingredient label for me, and the ingredients were indeed gluten free. Since Mexico does have good labeling policies when it comes to gluten, we were comfortable with her eating the ice cream -- however, I did appreciate that others might feel differently and I think that the hotel's conservative approach (in combination with their willingness to let me see the ingredient label) is the best way to accommodate the range of guest needs.

One of the best things about the all inclusive was that we did not have to explain what gluten free was time and time again -- we just showed our card, and then the existing procedures were implemented.  The waitstaff and servers were incredibly kind and accommodating.  We generally ate breakfast at the Riviera buffet, and lunch at the Riviera pool bar.  At each of these places, they quite readily made up fresh orders of items such as eggs and fresh fruits for breakfast, and grilled chicken, fresh french fries, and fresh tortilla chips for lunch (the guacamole was naturally gluten free, and was amazing!) 

I've heard that the hotel is continuing to develop their food allergy and celiac friendly approaches, and that they might be developing a gluten free section of the buffet.  However, even without this, we found it quite easy to have an enjoyable, relaxing stay, and we would definitely return!

Grand Palladium Riviera May /riviera-maya/  (We booked through Expedia, but it is definitely worth it to check around to different tour packages, as prices to this hotel (and, indeed, most all inclusives) can vary widely.)

A teen and her family's experiences living gluten-free.