Odd Situation at Universal Studios - Celiac Disease
Mar 21 2011

Odd Situation at Universal Studios

It’s been several weeks since I got some very unfortunate news from a reader about an upsetting situation her family encountered at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, FL. Her young son cannot eat gluten and is a huge Harry Potter fan. He wanted to order some Butterbeer just as any other fan would. Obviously, the gluten-free status of the drink had to be checked before anything was ordered.

Before the family headed to Universal, the mother checked online to see if Butterbeer is gluten-free and it appeared that it was.  Someone who worked in guest services at the park also confirmed this and mentioned how accommodating their restaurants are to people with special dietary needs. Once in the park, the family ordered the Butterbeer and once more are told it’s gluten-free. The order is served and the child starts to drink it just as the manager comes running out and tells him to stop because it’s not safe. At least, it seems that the topping is not safe. Below is the rest of the story, posted with the reader’s permission.

She [the manager] says the drink topping is prepared in an area that there is a very high risk of cross contamination and it is not celiac safe–after she discussed it with her colleagues. So, she kindly offered him one without the topping, he was still delighted and furthermore–told my husband just to remember to ask for it that way whenever he returns.

The following day at the park, the following happened:

The staff tells us Butterbeer is a trademark item and can’t be prepared without the topping, sorry about your luck. We [the parents] spoke with management, went to guest services, and spoke with someone who said she was the head of food services.  No change.  They told us the manager on Monday was wrong to do what she did.

The family has since reached out to everyone in management at the theme park they could think of contacting and the answer is the same from everyone they’ve encountered. Butterbeer cannot be prepared gluten-free because it can’t be made without the topping due to the contract the park has with J.K. Rowling. My attempts to get a statement from Universal Studios have been unsuccessful. At first, I assumed the customer service representatives were just slow responding to e-mail requests, but it appears that no one at the park has plans to reply to my question. As always, I let them know up front I’d be writing about the situation.

Contracts are legal agreements so if Universal Studios has one that states they can’t alter Butterbeer in any way, disappointing countless kids visiting the park, they have to abide by it. However, this seems like a very strange agreement to me, and one that limits the sales of Butterbeer which there is likely a huge profit on. How in the world does that make good business sense? In my opinion, it simply doesn’t.

*Jules from Jules Gluten Free also had a bit of a disappointing experience at Universal in Orlando as well. Several years ago I enjoyed a wonderful meal at Margaritaville at the park, but there should be other safe options than sit down meals that come with long lines just to be seated.

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!


  1. Samantha says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I will add that the Gfree Menu at Margaritville is awesome! They even comped my son a gfree dessert this week. They go out of their way to make you feel safe, sent the chef out–without us even asking–to meet our “resident celiac” lol! We are currently annual passholders at Universal–so are having to become saavy at the options around there.
    Universal Studios—is very lacking in their gfree options. Disney rocks in this area. We are locals–I was born here, so we are very familiar with Disney. We don’t get the same feel good vibe from Universal with our gfree needs at this point. Hopefully that will change over time–but sadly it’s not looking good as of lately.

    • Samantha says:

      We visited recently and I asked again about the gluten free status of the Butterbeer and they told me that due to many complaints they changed the prep area for the topping on the product so that it would be gluten free and was now safe for Celiacs.

      I had asked Universal on several occasions to let me know personally of any change, which never occured–but my youngest child was recently diagnosed with Celiac as well and when we were visiting recently I told him I’d ask again–and the response we received was that it was now gluten free and safe for us!

      Not only that, but they also gave the kids each a FREE frozen and regular butterbeer in a souvenir mug. My kids were so happy to be able to enjoy this (sadly my 9 year old is also lactose intolerent and it’s not lactose free…but Lactaid was on hand). My 9 year old told the lady that it was best day of his life, LOL! He was REALLY excited. I was so floored by this, and happy to see my kids so happy. There are so many things Celiacs can’t have, & this really made their day.

      I asked when this change actually happened and they told me it was about a month ago.

  2. Laura Kooris says:

    Why don’t you try to contact JK Rowling directly about the problem and controversy. YOu’ll probably have to go through an agent, but since there is such a huge population with celiac disease in the UK, she might help with the problem.

  3. Tiffany Janes says:

    Laura – the parents that shared this story already contacted her and have to date, have not heard back from her.

  4. coltrain says:

    Rowling can be… difficult. Hagrid’s Hutt wasn’t allowed to have a ramp for wheelchair access by Rowling because it would ruin its “authenticity”.


  1. Disney/Universal – Gluten Free On the Fly … | Jules Speaks Gluten Free Blog says:

    […] more note on Universal: Tiffany Janes over at Celiac-Disease.com just published one family’s account of their bad gluten-free experience at Harry Potter in […]

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