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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.