Walt Disney World has always been one of my most favorite places to go on vacation, even as an adult. Soon after our daughter was born in 1998, we moved to south Florida, and began to enjoy many yearly treks to the “most magical place on earth”. There’s little else that warms my heart more than a few days of throwing cares to the wind and just having fun with the family – especially when it involves Disney, and especially when it’s around the holidays.
One of the only stresses of visiting Walt Disney World for me, however, has been figuring out what to eat while I’m there. Our tradition became scheduling meals “around the world” for lunch and/or dinner each day in the World Showcase at Epcot. I became accustomed to just eating in spite of my issues (who can’t at a place like Disney?) and suffering the consequences, having not the slightest clue that gluten was the culprit.
Our last trip occurred before I had a firm diagnosis from my doctor. I had gone gluten free to test the waters, so as we planned, I called Disney to inquire about my gluten free options. They were extremely helpful, explaining that they would make a note of it on each of our reservations, but that I would obviously need to remind them at each location. I was skeptical, having encountered obstacles every single time I’d eaten out since going without gluten.
We arrived, checking into our favorite resort, and soon made our way to our first meal reservation at the Nine Dragons Restaurant at Epcot (China, in the World Showcase). As we were being seated, I reminded the hostess that I needed to see a gluten free menu, and she told me the chef would be with me shortly. I laughed. “The chef? Surely she’s mistaken!” She wasn’t, and so began a wonderful few days at Disney. In each location, the chef would eagerly visit our table, talk to me about what my needs were, and assure me that he would be preparing my food separately. I was never once disappointed, nor did I get sick.
We ate not only in China, but also in Japan, at Teppan Edo. We ate in Canada, at Le Cellier Steakhouse, in France at Le Chef’s De France, and I even ordered a gluten free pizza at one of the fast food locations (I did have to order that a little ahead of time). When we visited Magic Kingdom, I was able to get a gluten free meal at Tony’s Town Square, and our last morning may have been the most glorious when we ate breakfast at Boma. (located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge) I figured this would prove to be much more difficult, since Boma is a huge buffet – an incredible, very large one. I was assured, however, that I should not worry and that I would be well taken care of. Soon after arriving, the chef – as I’d come to expect – came to visit our table. She explained to me what areas of the buffet I would need to steer clear of, what areas would be safe, then asked me to take a look and let her know what else I’d like. I told her I’d make do with what was on the buffet, and she wouldn’t hear of it. She offered to make pancakes, I agreed, and she brought me the biggest stack of pancakes I’ve ever seen. They were fabulous.
In every single instance during our visit to Disney’s restaurants, the food prepared especially for me by the chef was delicious, and gluten free. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference it made for us to be able to go on vacation and not have to worry about my eating and subsequent illness.
If you’ve been considering a trip to Disney, but have been hesitant because you or your child have celiac, I highly recommend you give them a chance. You may have to eat a few more meals sitting down, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a little bit of that magic again like I did.
**Visit Disney’s FAQ dining page for more details and contact information.
This article was contributed by Tami Nantz, who loves all things food. After finally being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in August 2010, she is having to learn to navigate the food world in a completely new way. She’s attempting to embrace the gluten free lifestyle and all of it’s challenges, and seeks to help educate others along the way.