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My family and I had the pleasure of going to our favorite place on earth recently – Walt Disney World! I've been going there my whole life and while I kind of go nuts for it myself, it's even more special to see my kids' reactions to everything. Just tons and tons of fun.
(Going to California instead? See my post on eating gluten-free food in Disneyland here)
While I choose to eat a Paleo diet when at home because it makes me feel better and helps maintain my long-term health, when I go on vacation I don't worry so much about any restrictions. I spend so much of my life cooking and prepping that I don't really want to be restricted nor have to think very hard about what I can and cannot eat when on vacation. However, now that I have been diagnosed with Celiac disease I am VERY vigilant about eating gluten-free. No vacation is worth months of pain and repercussions!
Disney World (and I also hear Disneyland as well) is AMMMMMAAAAZING at accommodating those on a restrictive diet though. It was so incredibly nice to go away for a week and not worry one iota about getting contaminated with gluten and not feel like a nuisance either! It truly made our vacation a relaxing vacation since we could have fun and not have to worry about what the heck we would eat. Below I describe in detail each of the places we ate at and our experience at each, but the basic gist of it is: you tell your server/cashier that you have an allergy. They either hand you an allergy menu or an allergy chef comes to talk to you to discuss what you can eat. You order with the allergy chef and they prepare your food in separate friers/waffle makers/grills, etc. It takes just a few more minutes to talk with the allergy chefs than ordering a “normal” meal, but I think the longest we waited was 7 more minutes. Most times it was more like 3 minutes. And the majority of the allergy-specific cast members we dealt with were extremely friendly and helpful.
You can find out more about what Disney offers in the way of allergy-friendly meals here.
Dinner – T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney
This is a fun dinosaur-themed table-service restaurant that has a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs, themed rooms like an ice cave, a rainforest, and a desert, and a meteor shower that occurs every 20 min or so. We had not made a reservation so when we got to our table we just told our server that we all had a gluten allergy and were avoiding dairy so she told us she’d call the allergy chef. It took about 7 minutes for the allergy chef to come out to talk with us, and he asked us what we were thinking of eating off of the menu. We said the rotisserie chicken and ribs looked good and he let us know that they were ok to order. We ordered two Boneyard Buffet platters to share amongst the 4 of us. The waffle fries however are pre-seasoned with a gluten filled binding so he asked us to pick other sides. We went with potato chips and coleslaw. He said they had sorbet as a dairy-free dessert as well (we skipped that though). The meal was decent but it’s definitely one of those places that you go more for the atmosphere than the food.
Breakfast- ‘Ohana in the Polynesian Resort
This is a character-themed breakfast where Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto come to your table for autographs and pictures. I had made reservations for this several months ahead and checked the “gluten and dairy-free boxes”. When we were seated they already knew we had an allergy. The waitress said she couldn't serve us until the allergy chef came out, which he did about 5 min later. He came out, confirmed our allergies and then told us he could make us a platter of gluten-free waffles, eggs, sausage, potatoes, and bacon, and then let our server know to serve us everything else like fruit, juice and coffee. The GF waffles were absolutely delicious, which delighted us since when we first found out were were Celiac we lamented how we’d never get Mickey waffles again. I could seriously just eat meals soley of GF Mickey waffles but I needed to be a good role model for my kids and eat SOMETHING else haha.
Lunch- Pecos Bill Cafe in the Magic Kingdom
This is a quick service (fast food) restaurant in Frontier Land. We asked the cashier for an allergy menu and then waited for a manager to come take our order. It took about 3 min for her to show up. She wasn't very enthusiastic but took our order nonetheless. We received a buzzer and about 4 min later we went back to get our food. We all got bacon burgers with GF Local Oven buns, fries, and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. I also think all of us started with the buns on our burgers, after a bite or two removed the top, and then by the end just ate the burger itself. The bun was just too dry and dense.
Dinner- Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom
This is apparently the hot ticket in town nowadays as it is the newest restaurant in the MK as part of the new Fantasyland. It is well worth the trouble of getting a reservation though. There are 3 rooms, one is the beautiful main ballroom where Belle and the Beast danced in the movie, one is the West Wing where the wilting rose is, and then the third is the Rose Gallery which was empty when we went to look in it. You get to take a picture with the Beast on your way out. We sat down in the main ballroom and mentioned our allergy to our waitress and she tells us the chef will be out shortly. He arrives just a few minutes later (with warm gluten-free dinner rolls!) and tells us he can pretty much make everything gluten-free but lets us know about the items with dairy. He is incredibly friendly. He says most of them can be made dairy-free but sounds like they use a soy-based margarine. I ordered the shrimp and scallop platter and my husband ordered the braised pork. My kids got the kid's chicken meal. We also got appetizers- I got French onion soup, my husband got a garden salad and the kids got fruit salad. Dessert was raspberry or lemon sorbet. My soup and entree were delicious albeit pretty rich. I have seen pictures of the shrimp and scallop platter with gluten and it comes on a puff pastry – it looks like they removed the pastry to make it GF. It didn't matter though, I was pretty freakin stuffed after I finished! (No teacups ride for me for many hours) Great ambiance though and a super fun place to dine!
Breakfast at Cptn. Cook’s in the Polynesian Resort
This is the quick service restaurant in the Polynesian. We asked the cashier for the allergy menu and then proceeded to order the Bounty Breakfast Platter. We just needed to tell her what we wanted and then paid and received a pager. Approximately 5 min later we were able to go up and get our food, which was a plate of 2 GF Mickey Waffles, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and eggs.
Lunch was at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot (Norway)
This is a princess character lunch where you meet Belle, Mulan, Cinderella, Snow White, and Ariel. I've got 2 young boys so I went ahead and reserved 2 princess character meals this trip since I figured I might never get this opportunity again. You never know when boys will switch over to thinking princesses are yucky! When we checked in the lady saw we had an allergy from our reservation and it was printed on our ticket. Then we were shown to our table and our waitress also noted we had an allergy as well and let us know the allergy chef would be out momentarily. The waitress was quite sympathetic stating that she too had food allergies. The very friendly allergy chef showed up a few minutes later and asked us what we thought we might want from the menu. Both my husband and I ordered the meatballs with mashed potatoes and berry sauce and my sons ordered the chicken kid’s meal. Then the chef offered to walk us through the appetizer buffet and showed us what we could and could not eat. We were able to eat most of the items that weren’t obviously full of gluten (like bread). It really goes to show that Disney makes an effort not to use gluten as a binder or thickener whenever possible because many items that otherwise would be off limits for a gluten allergy in the “real” world are ok here.
Dinner was at the Sci-Fi Drive In Theater in Hollywood Studios
This is a fun “outdoors indoors” restaurant where you dine under the stars in “cars” that have tables within them, overlooking a giant movie screen. Again, the ticket when we checked in mentioned our allergy and the waiter called for the allergy chef. It took him about 7 minutes to show up but he was also very friendly and helpful. We went full off the Paleo boat here and ordered gluten-free pasta with marinara sauce and chicken for our entree, Chicken Wings for our appetizer, and then got a brownie with ice cream for dessert.
See Part 2 where I talk about more meals we had!