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Home | Blog | (Disney Week) Welcome to Disney Week . . .

(Disney Week) Welcome to Disney Week!
Elizabeth Barbone
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Me at EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival in 2009.

May 29, 2013

Folks, we need to talk. There's something I've (sort of) kept from you: I'm a Walt Disney World fan.  A really, really enthusiastic Walt Disney World fan. Let me try to explain how this happened.

(wavy lines of memory)

Relaxing and freezing on vacation in January 2009.
Relaxing and freezing on vacation in January 2009.


It all began in 2009.

My husband decided on a whim to take a trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort. We went in January and, not kidding, froze. Here's the thing...and I'm embarrassed to admit this but I  didn't really do my research on how to eat safely at Disney with food allergies. Instead, we did what we often do when traveling. We rented a condo with a kitchen, shopped at local grocery stores, and cooked all our own food. It was fine. Better than fine, really. Disney amazed and delighted us. We wandered around, held hands, talked, and just relaxed. While at “the parks” at Disney, I happily ate a snack of popcorn from these cute little carts. Not once did I try to eat in a restaurant.

Me at EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival in 2009.
Me at EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival in 2009.

Then in late 2009, the kind folks at Disney invited me to speak at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. Excited doesn't even begin to cover how I felt. Sharing gluten-free baking tips with Disney's guests thrilled me. Thrilled me.

Again (and if you are a Disney fan, I can hear you sighing here.) I didn't do much research on how Disney handled food allergies and gluten-free issues in their restaurants. I read a few sites that said Disney “got it” but, sadly, I found a VERY outdated gluten-free list from Disney Dining. It listed only a few “safe” options.

(photo copyright the Walt Disney World Resort)<p>
Beach Club Marketplace at Disney's Beach Club Hotel
(photo copyright the Walt Disney World Resort)

Beach Club Marketplace at Disney's Beach Club Hotel

So over the long weekend that I was there, I didn't stray from eating at Beach Club Marketplace, the small cafe in my hotel. Everyday for lunch and dinner, I'd ask them to make me a salad. It was an open kitchen. So I watched as they changed the bowl, used fresh gluten-free ingredients, and safely prepared my salad. For breakfast I ate fruit and yogurt. And snacks? Well, I stopped at a cart in EPCOT and got a bag of, you guessed it, popcorn.

Now if you are wondering how the heck I offered a demo at EPCOT without knowing about the gluten-free dining options, let me just say that....well, I don't know how it happened. The lovely folks that host the Food and Wine Festival don't work in the restaurants. So the issue never came up with them.

And when I chatted with people before or after my demo, they asked lots of questions about gluten-free cooking and baking. In the busyness of our time together, we didn't have a chance to talk about what they'd eaten during their trip. I know. Weird because usually gluten-free folks won't stop talking about what they've eaten. And I love them for it!

Thankfully prior to returning to EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival in 2010, several gluten-free folks pointed out the error of my ways. Their reactions were something like, “Wait. You went to Disney and ate salad? What the heck is wrong with you?”

Again and again, people told me that Disney “got” gluten-free and allergy dining. I figured that many gluten-free eaters couldn't be wrong.

Inspired by this, my husband and I drove over to the “quick service” restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge to eat at The Mara.

And here's where everything changed for me.

(photo copyright the Walt Disney World Resort) <p>
The Mara Quick Service Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.
(photo copyright the Walt Disney World Resort)

The Mara Quick Service Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

I walked up to the counter, told a staff member that I required a gluten-free menu and, GET THIS, they said, “I'll send the chef right out.”

The chef, I believe her name was Trish, came out and walked me through the menu items that were safe to eat. The Mara could prepare gluten-free pizza, fried chicken strips, hamburgers on gluten-free buns and more. The chef told me about how my food would be handled in the kitchen. Separate utensils, fryers, etc. I was amazed. When I took my first bite of a gluten-free roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and a vegetable stew, my love affair with Disney dining began.

So when my mom wanted to take a trip in late 2012 to celebrate her retirement, she said, “Let's go to Disney.” I did a happy dance and booked the trip. 

And earlier this year when I learned that Food Blog Forum 2013 would be held at Walt Disney World? I practically shouted, “A blogger event where I can eat the food! I'm going!”

But...other than on Facebook, I haven't really shared my experiences dining gluten-free at Disney. (I did talk about them on my podcast with Sarah Norris from Gluten-Free Dairy-Free WDW.) Why the hesitation? I don't know. Maybe because it still feels a little funny that I--someone with no kids--loves a theme park? Maybe I worried that folks would look down on that?

I decided to swallow around that fear and share my excitment and experiences with you. If you look down on me for enjoying dining at the Walt Disney World® Resort that's ok. (clears throat) It means more Disney for me!

So this week I'm sharing what I know about how to dine safely at Disney with food allergies. And I'll share a roundup of the recent Food Blog Forum that I attended.

Welcome to Walt Disney World® week on*  

Before I go, I know I'm not alone. Have you dined gluten-free at Disney? Please share your tips and favorite places to dine in the comments. At the end of the week, I'll round them up and include them in a post.

*--This week isn't a sponsored post or a paid post(s). All the experiences that I'll talk about this week, I paid for out of my own pocket. And all the (joyful) info I share, reflects my own experiences and wasn't influenced by anyone at the Walt Disney World® Resort. 

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