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(travel) Gluten-free and Disney? Yup!


photograph: Elizabeth Barbone

June 20, 2012

 

Summer's officially here! Do you have any trips planned? I don't. My husband's work life gets crazy-busy during the summer; so we tend to travel in the fall or winter. So I didn't think I'd be planning a trip. However...

My mom recently retired. (yay for her!) She and I talked about taking a trip to celebrate. The other day my mom--who is also gluten-free--decided that she wants to go to Disney World! Thankfully, we aren't going in the summer. I love Disney but hate heat. So the thought of Florida in the middle of the summer makes me wilt. But here's the thing with Disney. You plan early. (We're going in November.) Since traveling with food allergies can be *interesting*, I thought I'd share my planning experiences with you-- just in case you want to visit the house of the mouse too! Then, in November, I'll share what happened "on the ground."

I meant to do this for my other Disney trips but life got really busy. This time around, I have the time to jot everything down and take pictures of food. (Ah, yes. You know you are a food writer when you get excited about taking pictures of your food!)

This won't be my first visit to Disney. I presented at their Food and Wine Festival in 2009 and 2010. While I wouldn't call presenting for three days work--we're talking Disney here--I wasn't exactly on vacation either. In 2010, Greg and I extended our trip a little but we stayed off property.

This time, I'm staying at a Disney hotel and taking advantage of their dining plan. Eep!

My previous trips to Disney assured me that they really have a good handle on allergy-safe dining. But nothing prepared me for what I saw when I went to make a dining reservation:




Look at that! A place to declare, before you even arrive, that you have special dietary requests! How great is that?

Now, of course, before each meal, I'll chat with the staff about my needs. But there's something nice about being asked about your food allergies and intolerances, isn't there?

Disney also provides this information about dietary requests. I'm reaching out to them today. When I hear back, I'll update this post with information about their response.

 

To help my planning (you need to secure reservations for table service meals early), I asked folks on Facebook what they recommended. As always, folks were SO helpful--the gluten-free community really is the best! Here's the exchange:

My question: Just booked a trip to Disney World! (yay!) I welcome all dining suggestions.

Heidi: Disney is awesome just let any place know ahead of time and they will amaze you. Have fun.

Nicole: There are tons of places to eat - it's a GREAT place to go gluten free. There were a bunch of places that I hadn't told ahead and just stopped in and they were sooo accommodating!

Sue: You'll love it! The chef at the food court at Pop Century made my daughter gf chicken fingers- first time she had EVER had them! She was so excited to see what all her friends had been eating for years. Have a great time!

Maggie: Cat Cora's restaurant was quite tasty as was the Tuskers Restaurant in Animal Kingdom.

Lisa: Disney is amazing! It's the most carefree I've felt since going gf! We went three years ago. I'm sure it's even more awesome now!

Becky: They have changed vendors and the rolls aren't as good as previously, but at all restaurants, even " fast food" the chef will come and talk with you. My favorite place to go on vacation, b/c I know I will come away so pleased with all my meals. Have a blast.

Tina: You will LOVE it there! The Crystal Palace is amazing. I don't know if it is still the same chef, but when we went, the chef was celiac himself. They even have gluten free chocolate chip cookies and candy you can buy in the gift shops.

Margaret: Ohana at the Polynesian Resort was my absolute favorite. I went twice last year, and the gluten eaters were brought family style food, and mine was brought out separately, and my waitress the first time was extra cautious about everything! And I have to say that I thought my dessert was more spectacular than the regular one.

General notes...we contacted specialdiets@disneyworld.com and they sent a pdf of what foods were available (read that as safe) at each of the counter service restaurants as well. As others have mentioned as soon as you get to the register let them know of your dietary restrictions, because they have to call the chef to come out to speak to you. But they are very aware, and I had several chefs tell me that I shouldn't take food from anyone else but them. Sometimes my food was even covered with another plate to keep it safe. Oh, and eating at counter-service places off-peak times is nice, too. The only trouble I had at Disney was when I played with a bubble machine and ate cotton candy without washing my hands first (I was only gf for 1 1/2 months).

Katie: had brunch at The Contemporary Resort and the chef came out to walk me through the buffet and point out exactly what I could and could not eat. Then he offered me gf pancakes, waffles, etc. It was awesome! Everything on the buffet is LOCAL too - i could have just eaten the fruit and been happy! plus they had paper straws instead of plastic! First time I'd seen that!

Other Resources

Here are a few other blogs I found that focus on dining gluten-free at Walt Disney World (and one for Disneyland in California).

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free at Disney

Orlando Gluten-Free (includes links to other blogs that cover eating gluten-free at Disney.)

Great post on DelightfullyGlutenFree.com on Disney Dining 101. And Sara's reviews of Disney World restaurants/food: Sanaa, Sci-Fi Drive In,  and Fried Chicken Tenders

Now, I haven't been to DisneyLand (yet) but if you are headed there, Disney itself blogs about gluten-free options. Gluten-Free at DisneyLand.

 

How about you? Have you been to Disney? What should I know? Share your experiences in the comments! 

Talk to you soon!

Elizabeth



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