Gluten-free Holiday at Walt Disney World, Orlando
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Mar 16 2011

Gluten-free Holiday at Walt Disney World, Orlando

Last week my family and I headed to Walt Disney World for a much needed vacation to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. I had been looking forward to this trip for a year, which is how long we had been planning this.  But as with any adventure outside the comforts of home, one who is gluten-free will have validated concerns about cross contamination and avoiding being sick, especially on holiday.  The last thing anyone wants is to get sick away from home and put a damper on a family vacation.

A few months before the trip I started to research about eating gluten-free at Disney World and tips and advice so that I could spend my time at Disney enjoying the rides and focusing on my family and not stressing about my next meal and getting ill.

It is not surprising that an abundance of information was available on this topic.  It makes sense since Disney hosts millions of visitors a year.  And with so many people, especially children, being diagnosed with gluten and other intolerances it is no wonder that Disney wants to cater to everyone to assure they really remain the “most magical” place to visit. There are endless blogs with posts that feature this exact concern.

A couple of months before our vacation, I contacted Disney at specialdiets@disneyworld.com and they made sure to mark all of my dining reservations as a “special diet”.  As a result when you arrive at your reservation at a sit-down meal, the host/hostess will then alert your server, who will then have the chef come out and speak to you, personally, about what you can eat safely.  I found that all the chefs were very patient, and extremely knowledgeable about the gluten-free diet and cross-contamination.  As a bonus, at every sit down meal, when bread was brought to the table, I was brought my own basket of gluten-free rolls or pita, depending on the restaurant where I was.  They would even offer to bring separate dishes of butter or olive oil for dipping. Usually my husband would also take the gluten-free bread, so we didn’t have to worry about any stray crumbs.

When eating at a quick service meal, which does not require a reservation, it can be just as easy. When you arrive at the location, just mention to a staff (cast) member that you have dietary needs and they will get the manager or chef for you, and again, they will go over your options, and usually serve and bring you out your meal personally.  One thing to note, is that most of the quick service eateries do have gluten-free buns, rolls and brownies, but they may not be listed, so you have to know to ask for them.  And the bonus, there is no extra cost!  The same at sit-down restaurants, you can eat gluten-free roll after roll, and you won’t be charged for it.

Lastly, there are the infamous character meals, which seem to be mostly buffet style.  I don’t think since being diagnosed I have eaten at many buffets for fear of easy cross contamination with shared utensils, or one dish spilling/dripping into another.  Thankfully at Disney the chef will come speak to you, personally, walk you through the buffet to show you what is possible for you to eat and then make you your own plate from the back if that is what you would like, which is what I requested.  I even received some specially made gluten-free Mickey waffles, but more about that in a future post.

I also received many forms by email which helped me plan eating for our trip, these included safe menu options for most of the restaurants; no gluten-added products used throughout Disney World at snack carts and quick service locations; a dietary request form where you can submit all your specific dietary needs; and where to find certain gluten-free items.  I found that most dining options have gluten-free substitutes such as, but not limited to breads, dessert, soy sauce, chicken nuggets, mac n’ cheese, pasta and pizza.

Reservations are not required to eat gluten-free, but it definitely made everything go smoothly and stress-free, and without a reservation, it may be difficult to get into a sit-down restaurant when many people make reservations up to 6 months in advance, especially for the character meals and some of the more popular eateries.

Since being diagnosed with celiac, traveling has always felt a bit tricky, trying to research the dining options at my destination in advance and stocking up on snacks.  So when I heard that eating gluten-free at Disney was easy, I was eager to learn more.  Of course I was still a bit skeptical until I experienced it for myself.

Now, I can say with total confidence that it really is easy to safely eat at Disney World.  With a little planning, my trip was stress-free and not once did I have to worry about getting sick.  It made the trip that much better that I could once again feel like a “normal” person, it was truly a pleasurable experience.

I had a feeling it was going to be easy shortly after our arrival when I took a walk on the Boardwalk, next to our hotel, and came across Minnie’s Bake Shop gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, pictured above to the right.

This next week, I will be featuring a series of articles on my trip to Disney, and specifically reviewing certain eateries including BabyCakes NYC new outpost at Downtown Disney which is 100% gluten-free.

For more of my reviews on our recent Disney trip, read my review on dinner at Kouzzina by Cat Cora, dinner at the Polynesian’s Kona Cafe, Disney’s quick service gluten-free options, dinner at Epcot’s Restaurant Marrakesh, our character breakfast at the 1900 Park Faire at the Grand Floridian, and my review of BabyCakesNYC at Downtown Disney.

Article Written by:

Anne is a self-proclaimed foodie who loves eating out as much as cooking for friends. Since being diagnosed with celiac, she has been determined to not let it put a damper on her food adventures, and to raise awareness among the general public. Anne recently moved from Chicago to Atlanta and is enjoying exploring the gluten-free wonders in her new city. Follow Anne on Twitter and Google+!

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Comments

  1. Johnna says:

    I’m so glad to read your good review of gluten-free dining at Disney. It gives me hope that our experience was an exception. Our recent trip was dreadful, the quick service restaurants were far from quick and staff was poorly informed if informed at all. Even when using Disney dining reservations for a table service restaurant, it was an uncomfortable experience. We’ll consider more off-property dining next time, except for the numerous trips to Babycakes that will be made!

  2. Awesome, Anne! I wish I could talk hubby into going to Disney. It must be so nice to feel so safe while traveling & eating out.

    Kim

  3. Anne Steib says:

    Johnna,

    I am sorry your trip wasn’t as successful. When were you there? That must have been very disappointing.

    I must say I was surprised the quick service was helpful as they were, because the two times I visited those types of eateries, they were pretty crowded, so I was a bit nervous, but I had people out helping me and getting my food pretty quickly. I also had printed up all the lists I received from Disney beforehand, so I carried them in my bag to refer to, if I was ever left on my own to figure it out.

    I did note that places didn’t necessarily say they had gluten-free buns or brownies, but they all seemed to have them once you asked, and the best part, they did not change extra for them!

    • Johnna says:

      We were there last month (February). I’m sure my experience is a bit different because I am vegetarian, but regardless it was difficult. I blogged about it here: http://52sweets.blogspot.com/2011/03/eating-gluten-free-at-disney-world.html

      • Anne Steib says:

        Johanna, I just read your blog post and responded. It definitely sounds like you had a challenging time. I know just what that feels like. I do eat vegetarian 99% of the time, but I do eat fish, so I did eat fish in some cases where there really was not much in terms of vegetarian options. Before we left, I did go through every single restaurant menu I could find to be sure I made reservations with something we could eat. My husband has been a vegetarian for over 20 years as well. But I can imagine traveling with a larger group makes it even more of a challenge, because you have to all agree on something, whereas it was only 3 of us, and I was in charge of planning and making reservations.

        I also think the Epcot restaurants in the international section are separately owned and while they also had gluten-free bread and options, they are not run the same as the rest of the Disney restaurants. That was my take from what I had read.

        Like you, I brought lots of snacks, and we kept Udi’s bagels, cream cheese, Nutella and fruit in our mini fridge for snacks and breakfast.

  4. Lucinda says:

    I’m so excited to find your post. We are leaving for Disney next week. I was there 3 years ago and found their sit-down restaurants to be extremely accommodating although I do agree with you about the international places at Epcot. I had only been diagnosed for 2 weeks at that time so I didn’t approach the quick service restaurants as the lines were long and intimidating. But this next time, I will be braver as we have now learned both my children are also gluten-intolerant. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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