Review: Gluten Free and Vegan at Sandals Emerald Bay, Bahamas (Part 1)

Vacations, while rejuvenating, can actually be a little stressful if you’re trying to follow a gluten free, vegan diet. Doubly so if you have additional dietary restrictions like I do. (Low fat, soy free, and oat free, just to name a few.)

So when Jeff and I vacation, we usually make most of our own food. But we’ve been dreaming of a trip to the Caribbean for years, so when we had the opportunity to take one (thank you to my in-laws for the amazing Christmas gift!), cooking and doing dishes weren’t on the itinerary.

In fact, we wanted to do as little as possible except soak up the sun and enjoy ourselves. So after hours of research, I came up with Sandals all-inclusive resorts, because they cater to customers with dietary restrictions.

Since I have an irrational fear of going hungry, I watched (and rewatched) Sandals’ dietary restrictions video, read reviews on TripAdvisor, and even called Sandals to ensure that they really could handle food sensitivities. Then, with some trepidation, Jeff and I took the plunge and booked a room at Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas.

The Culinary Challenge

Apple and beet salad from Sandals’ La Parisienne

We were told to email my dietary restrictions ahead of time so that the kitchen staff would have a heads up. Here’s the (extensive) list that I sent them:

  • Gluten free
  • Vegan (No dairy, eggs, fish, meat, or poultry)
  • No soy, oats, chickpeas, coconut, peanuts, bananas
  • Low fat
  • Low salt

I also told them what I DO eat: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and beans, along with gluten-free pizza without cheese and vegetable sushi.

That said, I’d decided to allow myself gluten-free bread, pasta, and sugar while on vacation. (So likely not perfectly vegan or soy-free, but close.) Regardless, though, with my laundry list of limitations, I was afraid I’d have to subsist on steamed vegetables and water for 6 days—all while watching other people indulge in pastries and lattes! Needless to say, I departed for our trip with much trepidation.

In fact, not one to take any chances, I arrived at the resort on Sunday afternoon full, having stuffed myself with veggie sushi and sprouted lentils in the Miami airport. But I was still worried that I’d have nothing to eat at Sandals except the snacks I’d packed.

At least I would have starved in the most beautiful place on earth. I mean, just look at this beach:

Welcome to Paradise

Luckily, I needn’t have worried. Upon arriving, our butler (I felt so Downton Abbey!) greeted us with much-appreciated champagne and showed us around the grounds.

He then arranged for Jeff and me to meet with one of the head chefs, Patrick. Although Chef Patrick had read the email I sent, he inquired again about what I could and couldn’t eat.

Then, while we lounged on the veranda, he whipped up a lima bean dip with gluten free toast points, green salads with tropical fruit vinaigrette, and big bowls of gluten-free pasta with tomato sauce. He promised an even better meal the next night, once we’d had the chance to talk with the executive chef, Josef Swaboda.

Settling in—and setting off for adventure

The next morning, Jeff and I awoke early to stroll the beach and take in a beautiful sunrise.

Then it was off to the breakfast buffet at one of the resort’s restaurants, Bahama Bay. Their selection of fresh fruit was incredible—pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, grapes, strawberries and blackberries—all fresh and delicious. I rounded it out with some Rice Krispies and surprisingly good decaf. We had to hurry, though, because we had an 8:00 am Ocean Safari tour of the cays surrounding the island of Great Exuma, where Sandals Emerald Bay is located. As requested, our butler showed up to see us off with two containers of fresh fruit for a snack.

Ocean Safari Tour

Bright and early, we set off to explore the aquamarine Caribbean waters and uninhabited islands. First stop: to visit the local swimming pigs! No idea how they ended up as castaways on their little cay, but they sure were happy to see us…and the dinner rolls we fed them. We even jumped in the water with them, but alas, no pictures of that part. (Side note: That pig is a lot bigger than is looks!)

Will swim for food!

Then we anchored off another island and climbed to one of the highest points in the Exumas. We each added a stone, representing our worries, to this cairn at the peak of the lookout, and left them behind.

So long, worries…

A little more island hopping found us at an island that was home to endangered Bahamian rock iguanas. While they look intimidating, they’re actually vegetarian. (Like me!)

After our tour, lunch at the resort was no-cheese, gluten-free spinach, mushroom, and artichoke pizza. There were some snags: cheese on the pizza, one crust not gluten free. I was a little concerned, but that afternoon, we spoke with the resort’s executive chef, Josef Swaboda, who promised us amazing food the rest of the time we were there. I was still a bit skeptical, but given dinner the night before, I was hopeful.

Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed!

That night, served under the stars, we enjoyed soup, salad, and amazing baked eggplant stuffed with new potatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach in a fresh tomato sauce with hints of fennel and thyme, served alongside perfectly steamed asparagus and fresh lemon. Then came a dessert trio of lime sorbet, citrus sections, and gorgeous mixed berries. And that was only the beginning of the gorgeous food we enjoyed.

Click here to read part 2—and see the low fat, plant-based dishes Sandals came up with.

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    •' says

      I know, if only we could have taken the chefs home with us. Okay, and the butlers. 😀 <br /><br />And I&#39;m with you–will people believe the water really was that Windex shade of blue? Because I didn&#39;t believe it myself until I saw it. (And even then it looked surreal.) Counting down the days til we can go back!

  1.' says

    Wow – what an amazing sounding vacation! It&#39;s so beautiful there. Well… despite the snags, it sounds like you had a great time and the chefs did make some pretty awesome food.

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