Lately I’ve been writing posts about traveling while vegan and with food allergies. I wrote about flying to Europe, staying in Prague, and taking a Viking river cruise. Now let’s talk about what happens when things go horribly wrong.

Last week we went to Mexico for an all-inclusive beach vacation. The resort we were staying at had a buffet and also had several restaurants that you could go to for dinner.

First off, only one of the restaurants had vegan options. Most didn’t have even have vegetarian options. Most also heavily used my husband’s worst allergen. We decided to stay with the buffet.

We got in around lunch time. We had enough to eat. There was a Mexican food section for rice and beans. There was a make your own pasta station. There was fruit. The majority of vegetables were cooked in cream sauces or were covered with cheese but there was enough food for us to be satisfied.

They even had signs up about allergies that asked us to talk to the staff. No one we asked had any idea why we were asking them nonsense and they would just walk away.

At dinner the first night, there was an Asian theme. Cue Jaws theme song. The husband’s allergy is to sesame. He ate only from the Mexican section which was on a separate table from all the Asian food. He also had some fruit which was also separated.

His reaction started while we were still in the dining room.

While it is possible that the food was cross contaminated in the kitchen, there were other issues. First of all, there were not tongs available for every dish. People were passing them back and forth between dishes. This is obviously a huge safety concern but he should have avoided that by never being near the Asian food. I think people were touching the tongs to the food already on their plates when they were serving themselves. So, the tongs in the Mexican section were getting touched to the Asian food on the plates of guests.

We had epi pens and benedryl. He dosed himself and then we called for medical help. They came on a golf cart and took us to a resort complex doctor. They had 24 hour medical staff on hand – Good. She told us that we had already given him better drugs and she had access to – Bad.

Luckily, this reaction was controlled with the drugs we had. That isn’t always the case with his reactions. It isn’t even usually the case. We were lucky.

So the problem then was deciding what to do. The resort went into full cover their butt mode. The phrase, “I’m not saying you are lying….” was used (by the woman who rushed us to the doctor so she saw the reaction) because “no one else has reported a problem – pause – today.” They offered to let us eat dinner in the restaurants every night. I explained that we were vegan and they didn’t offer any options. Also most of the restaurants were some type of Asian fusion. They had no idea what “vegan” was and didn’t seem to (or want to) understand any explanation. They did also offer to have the chefs make our meals at the buffet separately. That might have worked at fixing the cross contamination issue if we had no other options but at that point we really didn’t trust the kitchen and there was no backup medical care other than the one epi pen we had left.

We decided to leave. It just was too dangerous to stay. It was the middle of the night but I booked a flight for 11:30 AM. We couldn’t eat at the resort so we took a taxi at 6:00 AM to the airport. It took 1.5 hours to get to the airport and then checking into the flight was an absolute chaotic mess. We couldn’t check in on the app. We had to fight with the agent at checkin after waiting in a long time. It turned out that the confirmation number I was trying to use wasn’t right. I mean I was trying the one next to the big CONFIRMATION NUMBER on my email and the number they told me I had to use was nowhere on any paperwork I had but obviously I’m the idiot.

Then they charged us for luggage over 40 lbs even though my reservation said we had a 55 lb allowance. At that point I wasn’t even arguing anymore. I just wanted to get to the gate.

Once we got through security, which was WAY easier and faster than check in, we ate pretzels and candy. Breakfast of champions but we were still running on adrenaline from the last 12 hours and didn’t trust any food. Bagged food with ingredient labels was the way to go.

We had a few hours to wait. Boarding time came….and went….and nothing happened. We were supposed to get on a bus to go to the plane. No busses came. Eventually one showed up. We were the first ones on. We can be sprightly when we are fleeing. We drove all the way across the airport and got on our plane. The bus headed back for the rest of the passengers. It didn’t come back.

We sat on the plane (with blessedly good air conditioning) for over an hour before the bus came back. I heard the flight attendants say that the gate agents had left so no one could load the remaining passengers on the bus. Eventually they made it.

About 36 hours after we left, we were back at our home airport. I’m describing it as “We jetted to Mexico for the day” instead of “We failed vacation and had to flee a country.”

The airline sent me a survey asking for my evaluation of check in and boarding at Cancun Airport. I had a few things to say about that.

What did we learn?

  • Buffets aren’t for us because people have no concept of the need to prevent contamination
  • We shouldn’t go on vacations where we don’t have better control of our food options. We need to stay where we can cook for ourselves.
  • We really, really appreciate Viking Cruises for taking such good care of us on vacation this spring.
  • Having a credit card is a blessing when you are in a true emergency even if I had a complete breakdown when we were safely home over how much we put on the card. We had trip insurance so hopefully we can get all/most covered.