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Monday, January 30, 2012

Gluten-free Disney

Eating on the go can be scary for those with food allergies. Two in my family are allergic to gluten (and one of them also allergic to the casein protein in dairy). Before going out to eat, I have to research a restaurant, pull up its menu online, read ingredients, plan substitutions in advance, call ahead to speak with the chef, etc., and that's just going out for dinner right here in town!

GF Chocolate chip cookie widely available throughout
the Magic Kingdom. This one's from Sunshine Seasons Food Court, Epcot.

Needless to say, planning our trip to Disney was daunting. I spent more time researching where and what those two would eat than I did planning the more fun aspects of the trip! I am happy to report that Disney World is extremely accommodating for those with food allergies, and with a little planning, it can be a food-stress-free vacation! 

I highly recommend getting yourself a Disney Destination Specialist travel planner (ours, Tiffany, did strictly Disney and was thoroughly knowledgeable of the park, all of its restaurants and the Disney resort properties). She sent me menus to all of the park restaurants as well as resort eating options and made reservations for us for each "table service"(sit-down dinner with a wait person) and alerted the chef that we had two in our party with allergies. For each of these meals, not only was the wait very minimal (if any), the chef came to discuss our meal, particularly the options for those with allergies and how the food would be prepared. As it was our kids' first trip to Disney, we spent almost all of our time in the Magic Kingdom and a half day in Epcot. There are lots of GF food choices in the other parks as well. This is our experience.

GF Mickey pancakes at our resort, Coronado Springs.

For breakfast at our resort, Coronado Springs, the chef at Pepper Market Food Court prepared gluten-free Mickey-shaped pancakes to her delight. These were served with fruit. For other meals at the resort we stuck with Pepper Market Food Court, and ate grilled chicken fajitas on corn tortillas, specially prepared for the GF, and delicious GF brownies.

GF DF waffles, hashbrowns, bacon, sausage & fruit at the
Princess Storybook Breakfast, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall,
Norway, Epcot.
For our character meal, we chose to go with the Princess Storybook breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Norway, in Epcot, because that princess breakfast only used up one of our table service meal plan credits, whereas the popular princess breakfast at Cinderella's castle costs two table service credits. The banquet hall was beautiful and each princess and a prince came to our table. Although the GF crowd in our party was very happy with their GF waffles, hash browns, sausage and bacon, the rest of us got our trays and lined up for the Norwegian buffet which offered lots of smoked fish, cheeses and hard pastries. We were jealous of the GF plates at our table! You might want to consider spending the food credits on a more traditional breakfast if Norwegian fare isn't your forte.

In Epcot, after a fun ride on Soarin', (the kids' favorite), we had lunch at Sunshine Seasons Food Court in the Land Pavillion. Figuring out the lines/food stations took us a moment and finding someone who spoke English well enough to understand "allergy" and "gluten" took a little longer, but finally, a supervisor came to point out GF food options. There was chicken, beef and pork at the rotisserie station. We went with pulled pork, black beans and rice, yogurt, fruit and the OMG It's Gluten Free chocolate chip cookie. (Sorry, no photo of the meal, only the cookie.)

A gluten-free feast at Liberty Tavern! 
(GF DF meal pictured)
Our favorite meal in the park was at Liberty Tree Tavern. It's family style, meaning you don't order individual meals. We each had a salad (vinaigrette dressings for the gluten-free). The table is set with heaping platters and bowls of roasted turkey (with gluten-free gravy!), roast beef, roasted acorn squash, cauliflower, macaroni & cheese (not gluten-free), mashed potatoes, and soft tapioca rolls for the gluten-free (note: the tapioca rolls do not save well. They are too hard the next day). For dessert, everyone got a frozen treat, but those with allergies got a platter filled with blueberries and strawberries and raspberry sorbet. It was fantastic and enough that the rest of us could abandon our vanilla to dig in to the sorbet!
GF DF Raspberry sorbet with berries
at Liberty Tree Tavern
GF Cheeseburger & fries at Pecos Bill Cafe... meh.

Our least favorite GF meal in the Magic Kingdom was at Pecos Bill Cafe in Frontierland. The crowd was overwhelming. Since it was "counter service", no reservations are accepted. The lines were out the door. Once we got to our cashier and told her of our food allergies, she had to call the manager over which required more wait. The manager was friendly and knowledgeable, however, the special order caused more wait and your party cannot sit down until the entire party has received their food. After being beaten to a table by two other patrons, we finally found a spot to sit. The expensive, now cold, mediocre cheeseburger and fries weren't worth the wait and the hassle to get them. Of course, we had already had wonderful gluten-free meals in the park and our expectations were high. If this had been our first GF meal in the park, we might not have been quite so disappointed and just thrilled to get fries fried up in its own dedicated fryer (not shared with gluten-covered chicken nuggets and onion rings), and a GF bun (tapioca).

GF DF Spaghetti & meatballs at Tony's
Town Square Restaurant, Magic Kingdom

Our Disney Specialist had to call several times before a reservation spot opened up at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. We were pleased to only wait five minutes, while those without reservations were on a two + hour wait. The chef came out and gave the GF and DF options and told how the meal would be prepared. The service was slow, but the GF spaghetti and meatballs were a hit, as were the light-up Tinkerbelle & Buzz Lightyear straw clips (that they later wore on their mouse ears) and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. The granny smith apple sorbet with mint was beautiful, but didn't score high on taste. It was like an unsweetened green apple icee with lots of apple peel. The cheesecake (not GF or DF) was pre-made and nothing spectacular either. It went untouched after one bite, the eater preferring a rainbow pop at the next popsicle stand instead.

GF DF Granny Smith Apple Sorbet.
Lovely, but pass.
I also did some "snack" research, since a chef couldn't attend us all day long. The park offers several gluten-free options. At our resort and some other in-park restaurants, they serve a gluten-free brownie. Often our meals left us stuffed with little room for dessert, so I would pocket the brownies (and bananas and apples) for later. Several "counter service" dining options offer the gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, which were great and Divvies caramel popcorn is GF and was a big hit with my little mousketeer, which can be found around the park (I found some at the Main Street Bakery). Rainbow popsicles were also a daily favorite. 

Just in case, we always pack Lara Bars, sunflower seeds, bananas, apples and M&M's for the plane and GF hunger emergencies!

More Mickey pancakes!


  1. I'm so glad your trip went smoothly! It's so nice to know that there are plenty of safe GF options for when we finally get around to going.

  2. Thanks Allison! I can say enough about the chefs and their friendliness and allergy training. If only all our meals could have been "table service". And there's always the giant smoked turkey leg to fall back on!

  3. This is AMAZING, Kristi! I love this post :) Your least favorite meal does seem like a super-low point of the trip, but I wouldn't go to a resto that I was not able to confirm with beforehand. It helps to know that counter service establishments at Disney won't be on my list (especially if I have ravenous little people with me!)

  4. Thanks, Nikki! There are lots of other counter service options that have decent food, just not so many with GF food! :)