Olive Grove Restaurant on P&O Iona

Gluten Free Foodie’s Guide to P&O Iona’s Included Dining Venues

As a gluten-free cruiser, I know the struggle of deciphering menus and hoping for safe, delicious options. On my recent cruise on P&O Iona, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of gluten-free dishes at their included dining venues. But which ones truly shine?

Join me as I share my firsthand experience and rank the best gluten free included dining venues on Iona, so you can dine with confidence and enjoy every bite of your cruise!

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Which Included Dining Venue is Most Gluten Free Friendly on P&O Iona?

Of the included dining venues, I would rank these dining venues from the most gluten free friendly to the least in this order:

  1. The Olive Grove: Multiple gluten free options for starters, main courses and dessert mean that if you like Mediterranean-style food, then there’s plenty of choice without the hassle of pre-ordering. However, a reservation is required for the Olive Grove – I’ll discuss more about booking tips below.
  2. Main Dining Room (MDR): My previous blog post on the pre-ordering process for gluten free diners (and everyone with a food allergy or dietary requirement) in the MDR. I found the MDR to be very gluten free friendly for breakfast and dinner but less so for lunch.
  3. Horizon Restaurant: Clear allergen labelling as well as a choice of sealed gluten free options mean that gluten free cruisers won’t be left hungry at any time of the day! There’s even gluten free scones for afternoon tea here.
  4. The Quays: Limited hot choices during lunch with the only option being gluten free fish and chips. But the fish and chips are very good indeed!
  5. Taste360: Gluten free pizza available on request and cooked to order but I found it doughy and unevenly cooked.

Note: Grab and Go on Deck 16 (Lido Deck) was not operational on my cruise and from reading other online reviews, has not been operational for some time on the P&O Iona.

I’ll cover gluten free options in extra charge specialty restaurants in Gluten Free Foodie’s Guide to P&O Iona’s Specialty Dining (Extra Charge)

Gluten Free Options at The Olive Grove

P&O Iona The Olive Grove Menu June 2024
June 2024 Menu for The Olive Grove on P&O Iona

The Olive Grove is a casual included restaurant on Deck 8 aka Promenade Deck Mid-Aft on the Starboard side. The menu is distinctly Mediterranean and there are family favourites ranging from lasagne, pasta, pizza to Spanish paella and grazing boards. There are some menu items which attract a small supplement but most of the menu items are included.

The Olive Grove was my favourite included dining venue onboard! There were many gluten free options, as well as a few which can be made gluten free if you speak to your server. I liked it so much I ate at the Olive Grove multiple times on my cruise. So what were the gluten free options like?

Gluten Free Starters at the Olive Grove

Gluten Free Caesar Salad with Pancetta served in The Olive Grove on P&O Iona
Gluten Free Caesar Salad with Pancetta
  • Caesar Salad: This was made gluten free for me without the croutons. You can add toppings from pancetta, chicken, chorizo or avocado.
  • Italian Salad: This was made gluten free for me without the croutons. Same toppings can be added, as above.
  • Italian Antipasti: The gluten free option would be served with gluten free bread or crackers.

The starters were all tasty but it’s the main courses in The Olive Grove that shines!

Gluten Free Main Courses at the Olive Grove

Sardinian-Style Yellowfin Tuna with Rice Gnocchi served on P&O Iona June 2024
Sardinian-Style Yellowfin Tuna with Rice Gnocchi
  • Sardinian-Style Yellowfin Tuna Steak: This was the best main course I’ve had on my entire cruise! The rice gnocchi was wonderful and the tuna well cooked (ie. not over cooked).
Seafood, chicken and chorizo paella served at the Olive Grove onboard P&O Iona June 2024
Seafood, Chicken and Chorizo Paella
  • Seafood, Chicken and Chorizo Paella: This was hugely disappointing and I would not order it again. The prawns were not de-veined. The bomba rice was overcooked and I think it was “steamed” in the oven, as opposed to being cooked on the stove top.
Gluten free Pizza Carne served on P&O Iona The Olive Grove restaurant June 2024
  • Gluten Free Pizza Carne: Good gluten free pizza base and came out very crispy. It’s about a 12-inch size and perfect for one person.

Gluten Free Desserts at the Olive Grove

Torta Giandula at the Olive Grove restaurant onboard P&O Iona June 2024
  • Torta Giandula: This flourless chocolate cake was rich, just as it should be!
Crema Catalana served in the Olive Grove restaurant on P&O Iona June 2024
  • Crema Catalana: Effectively a Crème Brûlée! But still good.
  • Affogato: This can be served without the biscotti!

Booking Tips for the Olive Grove:

  • Book Onboard: You cannot pre-book The Olive Grove prior to boarding. You can only book once you’re onboard. For gluten free diners, I would recommend that you do a bit of pre-planning and book the Olive Grove on embarkation day, for the entire cruise. If you like the menu items, then by all means make multiple reservations for different meals on embarkation day.
  • Book first, cancel if you can’t make it: The Olive Grove was completely booked out by the third day, for the entire 7-night cruise that I was on. So don’t delay. Because it is an included dining venue, you can cancel with no cancellation charge. So if you’re not sure whether you want to eat here, book first and then cancel if you change your mind.
  • Book for Port Days: The Olive Grove is even open for port days, for lunch and for dinner. So it’s really handy to have a 2pm reservation if you have a half-day excursion! Note that I found service to be very slow during lunch – it took me 90 minutes to be served 3 courses! But the option of sitting outside on the Promenade deck was really fabulous! Secure that reservation for sea days as it gets fully booked early!
  • Menus does not change: The Olive Grove’s menu does not change during the cruise nor between lunch and dinner. So I found that for lunch, it was a substantially better menu than what’s being served in the MDRs. (MDRs mostly serve salads, soups and sandwiches – very light lunch!)

Gluten Free Options at the Main Dining Room Restaurants (MDR)

See The Gluten-Free Cruiser’s Guide to P&O Dining on Iona for how to notify P&O of your dietary requirements and my top tips for the pre-ordering process for the main dining rooms.

  • Breakfast: IMHO, this is the best option for breakfast for gluten free cruisers. Unfortunately, similar to other cruise lines, the MDR breakfast times are a small window compared to other dining venues like the buffet. If you’re got an early morning excursion, you may not be able to have breakfast here. The star breakfast item is gluten free Eggs Benedict, on a gluten free bagel!
  • For Lunch: MDRs are open for lunch – not all four are open but the daily Horizon newsletter will let you know which one it’s on. I’m not normally onboard for lunch (as I’m busy touring the ports!) but I found the MDR lunches are light fare, with mostly salads, soups and sandwiches. You can also pre-order a gluten free lunch at a MDR.
  • For Dinner: While the MDR menus change daily, here’s a selection of starters, main courses and desserts which were available on my cruise – obviously it will be different for different cruises but hope this gives you an idea of what’s available:

Gluten Free MDR Starters

Smoked Mackerel Pate with gluten free bread served in the main dining room onboard P&O Iona June 2024
Smoked Mackerel Pate with GF Bread – mine wasn’t toasted
  • Goat’s Cheese, Sun-Blushed Tomato, Basil and Spinach Roulade with Rocket Salad
  • Chicken, Smoked Ham and Apricot Terrine with Tarragon Mayonnaise and Honey Mustard Dressing
  • Spring Lettuce and Black Olives with French Vinaigrette
  • Smoked Mackerel and Horseradish Pate with GF Bread
  • Confit Tomato, Crushed Olives and Goat’s Cheese Mousse
  • Mushroom Soup with Garlic

Gluten Free MDR Main Courses

  • Pan Fried Breast of Chicken with Potato Wedges, Roasted Root Vegetables and a Garlic and Thyme Butter
  • Roast Beef Brisket with Creamed Potatoes, Baked Onion, Cabbage and Pan Jus
  • Vegetable Stew with Spinach Dumplings and Mushroom Broth
  • Thai Yellow Butternut Squash and Baby Corn Curry with Jasmine Rice and Roasted Cashew Nuts
  • Prime Roast Leg of Lamb with Boulangere Potatoes, Oven-Based Ratatouille and Minted Jus
  • Grilled Prime 5oz Beef Sirloin with Thick Cut Chips, Seasonal Vegetables and Béarnaise sauce
  • Aubergine and Mozzarella Stack with Polenta Cake and Passata Sauce

Gluten Free MDR Desserts

Chickpea Meringue, with roasted pears served in main dining room onboard P&O Iona June 2024
The Chickpea Meringue tasted like the real thing!
  • Chickpea Meringue, Roasted Pears and Dark Chocolate Soya Ganache with Hazelnuts
  • Chocolate Marquise with Peanut Better and Banana
  • Honey Panna Cotta with Strawberries, Mint and Honeycomb
  • Seasonal Fruit Salad

Note on MDR Menus: Daily MDR menus are not in the P&O MyHoliday app – you need to walk past an MDR after lunch to see it displayed on the screen. But rest assured that even if you forgot to pre-order, there will be gluten free choices available for every course on every evening. P&O offers more sample menus on its website.

On most nights, there’s 2-3 starters, 2-4 main courses and 2-3 desserts (of course one is typically fruit salad or ice cream), marked as gluten free on the menu. If you’re happy with those, then there’s no need to pre-order and you can just notify your waiter that you’re gluten free. Fear not, you won’t be eating just bread rolls on your cruise!

How Was My MDR Pre-Ordering Experience?

I only dined in the MDR twice for dinner on my 7-night cruise and my experience with pre-ordering was mixed:

  • Marked Gluten-Free?: Pre-ordering was super-simple if you like something on the menu that’s already indicated as gluten free. In fact, you don’t even need to pre-order!
  • Minor modification? Like skipping a sauce, not adding croutons to a salad – absolutely no problem.
  • Ordering a non-GF item? It depends on and you’ll need to “negotiate” with the head waiter. Since P&O is a “high-capacity” ship, a lot of food arrived in the kitchens onboard pre-processed and “ready to cook”. This means that meat and fish may already be processed and items such as croquettes and fried chicken are already crumped and ready to be fried. If that’s the item that you’d like, then they simply won’t make it from scratch.
Tuna Sweet and Sour Sauce served in main dining room onboard the P&O Iona June 2024
  • 👆This is a pre-order of “Miso-Glazed Tuna with Jasmine Rice, Carrot and Bean Sprout Stir-Fry, Spiced Confit Tomatoes and Picked Ginger” on the menu. It’s not marked as gluten free and I asked for it to be gluten free. I thought the chef would use gluten free soy sauce instead. But what I got was tuna in a sweet and sour sauce – while it tasted fine because the tuna was well cooked, it was a very unusual combination! I also missed the carrots, bean sprouts and tomatoes and only got pickled ginger.

My Take:

  • Food Quality: Overall, the quality of gluten free options in MDRs on the Iona was excellent. Everything tasted good, with one or two tasting better than the description sounded. For gluten free choices, I would rate it better than Celebrity Cruises and much better than Royal Caribbean and NCL. You won’t necessarily find premium ingredients like Chateaubriand and Lobster Tail combo I had on Celebrity’s MDR but the quality is excellent as a mainstream “high capacity” ship. Note I also travelled on a >100% capacity cruise, so all due credit to the P&O Food & Beverage Team.
  • Range of GF Options: I would rate the range as significantly better than other mainstream cruises including Royal Caribbean, NCL, Carnival. With pre-ordering, Celebrity and Princess will try their best to make just about anything, so the range is good too, provided you pre-order. However, I really like not having to pre-order and still have a decent number of choices!
  • Limited customisation: If it’s skipping an ingredient, then no problem. However, DO bear in mind that the kitchen may not be able to customise many items as the food brought onboard was factory made and pre-processed, ready to be cooked.

Gluten Free Options at Horizon Restaurant (Buffet)

Self service salad bar counter at the Horizon Restaurant onboard P&O Iona June 2024

You may not be the type of gluten free cruiser who would eat in a buffet because of cross-contamination risks but if you do, there’s good choices, at least for lunch and dinner. Don’t forget my top tips for handling the buffet – grab a crew member wearing a “Can I Help?” yellow apron if you need help.

  • Breakfast: Good if your preferred breakfast is gluten free cereal and milk (or plant based milk) and fruit. For hot items, it was pretty much limited to eggs – fried and hard boiled – with bacon and baked beans. Gluten free bread is available but there’s no option for it to get it toasted. (If you’re big on breakfast, the best gluten free choices are in the MDRs.)
  • Lunch & Dinner:
    • Self-Service Salad Bar: Items are all well labelled with common allergens, including the dressings.
    • Hot Items: There’s usually a hot roast item (eg. roast beef, roast chicken), with vegetables and potatoes, including a GF gravy. Also, look out for curries with basmati rice as they’re usually gluten free. I visited one evening and it might have been Indian night. 👇 There were GF onion banjis and GF veggie pakoras, together with a wide selection of curries (GF & non GF). The prawn korma was excellent!
Indian dishes served at Horizon Restaurant onboard P&O Iona June 2024

P.S. On “Indian Night”, all the gluten free items were next to each other, making it a lower risk for cross-contamination. So I felt especially safe to be eating the above combo!

Gluten Free Options at the Quays

The Quays, the food court on Deck 8 (Promenade Deck), is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here’s the list of gluten free options available throughout the day:

Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon served at the Quays onboard P&O Iona June 2024
  • Breakfast:
    • The Quays is significantly quieter than Horizon during breakfast. The hot options are limited to omelettes, poached eggs, boiled eggs, with baked beans and bacon. (Sausages are not gluten free). But the best option is scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. Portions are small, so don’t be shy!
    • For gluten free cereals, best to head to Horizon Restaurant (buffet)
  • Lunch: Only gluten free option from the counters is gluten free fish and chips. You can also help yourself to the salad bar and dessert options.
  • Dinner: The Fusion counter serves a Thai Vegetable Curry with Rice and a Vegetarian Pad Thai.
Thai vegetable curry served at the Quays onboard P&O Iona June 2024

Gluten Free Options at Taste360

Taste360 menu onboard P&O Iona June 2024

Taste360 at the SkyDome serves hot dogs, burgers and pizza. During dinner, the menu expands to include Norwegian reindeer meatballs, a pasta dish and rotisserie chicken with fries slaw and corn on the cob. Unfortunately the only gluten free option is a GF Pepperoni or GF Margherita pizza. It’s made on request and takes about 10 minutes or so.

Gluten Free Pepperoni Pizza at Taste360 P&O Iona

The one I ordered was not well made and I didn’t go back a second time. The GF pizza at the Olive Grove is much better!

I hope that this blog post has given you a good overview of what the gluten free options are in included dining venues onboard P&O Iona. Here’s my gluten free blog posts. If you have any questions about gluten free dining, please do drop me a line in the comments section below!

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