Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gluten Free at Disneyland

While I wait for my one billion Disneyland pictures to upload, I thought I would do a synopsis on eating gluten free in Disneyland, just in case someone is randomly googling "how do I feed my kid gluten free at Disneyland?"

For the most part, eating gluten free (GF) at Disneyland is just like eating GF anywhere else--doable, but a total pain in the ass.  It takes some planning and research, but anyone who has a celiac kid is more than used to that, so it really wasn't any more difficult than eating at a restaurant down the street.  Like anytime you feed your kid something you didn't personally prepare, it's a leap of faith--that the utensils and cooking appliances aren't contaminated with gluten and the people cooking the food are taking the precautions they say they are.  I can't verify that it happened the right way every time, but Norah is pretty sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten and save for a stomachache on the day before we left (which I suspect had more to do with the fact that she hadn't eaten a vegetable in four days), she did not get sick at all.

Before our trip I called the Disney dining number, which is the number all over the website that you use to make your dining reservations (I was booking our breakfast at Ariel's Grotto).  The operator said I could pick up a list of all GF options at the Town Hall on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.  I asked if she could just email me that list but she said that while she could read me the list over the phone, she did not have a PDF of the list that she could send me.  I thought that was weird, but whatever.  I contacted the dining department over email and a few days later they did send me the list (not as a PDF, but a cut and paste).  It worked.

We stayed at the Grand Californian and planned to eat at the Storyteller's Cafe for dinner that first night.  It was around 3:00 pm when we first got there and got settled, and the kids were hungry, but our only option in Downtown Disney was a bag of kettle corn.  Which was tasty, but not the nutritious snack I was looking for.  There may have been other options if I had really looked for them, but there was nothing obvious and/or readily available.

We checked in at the Storyteller's Cafe in the Grand Californian, notified the waitress that we had a food allergy, and a few minutes later the chef came out to speak with us.  He gave us a few GF options, but the only one that appealed to a four year old was a cheese pizza with a GF crust.  Norah reported that it was delicious.

The next morning we were up very early (the time change worked in our favor) and decided to order room service.  It was not on the menu, but what I called down and asked what their GF options were, I was told they could do pancakes or waffles, no problem.  Done and done.  We got the pancakes and they were delicious and quickly devoured.

Lunch was at Toon Town at the hot dog stand, Pluto's Dog House.  My GF list said that the hot dogs were GF and I should just order a dog with no bun.  I didn't believe for a red hot second that all the hot dogs were GF, and when I asked about it someone came out from the back and put in a special GF order for us.  It took about five minutes longer than the rest of the food to be ready, which makes me believe that all of the hot dogs are NOT in fact GF.  So, when ordering I would not just order without a bun, rather I would specifically say you have a food allergy (I know, I know, celiac isn't an "allergy" but it is easier to explain it that way and when people hear "allergy" and see a kid they tend to pay more attention and take it more seriously).  The hot dogs in the kid meal are turkey and come with both apples and carrots, which is nice.

We had dinner that night at Redd Rockett's Pizza Port in Tomorrowland.  It was not on the menu, but I knew from my list they could do a GF pizza.  The first person behind the counter that I asked was uncertain but immediately went and got a manager who put in a special order for us.  It took about 15 minutes to get the GF pizza, which wasn't that long in the whole scheme of things, but a bit tough for a four year old who was tired and hungry and had to watch everyone else eating while she waited for her food to come out and then cool down enough to eat.

Saturday morning we did the Princess breakfast extravaganza at Ariel's Grotto.  The breakfast is served family style, so there's not a menu to order off of.  Instead, the table shares platters of fruit, cheese, and muffins; a waffle; a platter of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, and potatoes.  When I made the reservation, I verified with the operator that there were GF options, specifically pancakes or waffles.  The chef came out as soon as we were seated and brought Norah a GF blueberry muffin (Udi's).  She was thrilled.  The chef said that with the exception of the waffle, everything else was naturally GF.  When I asked about the GF waffles or pancakes she said that no, they didn't have that available.  I was very nice but explained that I was told it would be available and while there was certainly a lot of other GF options, my kid doesn't eat sausage and eggs.  The chef was SO kind and accommodating and said she would send someone across the park to find a pancake mix.  Our food took quite a long time to come out, but when it did, it included a giant plate of silver dollar GF pancakes.  What Norah couldn't eat they boxed up for her and she snacked on them the rest of the time we were there.

We didn't really eat lunch that day, just had some snacks I had brought from home, given our enormous breakfast.  Dinner was at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country.  They had GF buns, so Norah had a cheeseburger and then had sweet potato fries that were designated GF (cooked in their own basket).  This time we didn't have to talk to a manager, which was really nice because it saved some time, the cashier was very knowledgeable and accommodating.

We had breakfast on Sunday morning at Flo's V-8 Cafe in California Adventures (Cars Land).  There was nothing specifically GF, but their kid's "American Breakfast" was GF--it had fruit, eggs and bacon.  I promised my kid ice cream later if she would eat some eggs and it worked.  The chef came out to talk to us when I asked about GF options, but it would have been just as easy for the cashier to say, 'we don't have anything special, but this is what is naturally GF.'

For lunch we went back to the hot dog place in Toon Town.  For dinner, we tried to order room service from our room at the Grand Californian, and for the first time the entire vacation we got terrible service and a horribly rude Disney employee.  I called down and asked what their GF options were and was told, "nothing."  I asked if they could get a GF pizza crust from the restaurant IN the same hotel and was told, "no."  I asked if there was anything she was willing to do to help me get dinner for my four year old and was told, "no, we don't do that."  I have a sneaking suspicion it had everything to do with the person I happened to get on the phone and if I had gotten someone else it would have been different.  Instead, we got an asshole, so we just ate downstairs at the Storyteller's Cafe again.  We had the same waitress and she remembered Norah and got her pizza order in right away.

Throughout our time in the parks we did get some treats and snacks along the way--there are stands all over the place with fresh and dried fruit, and Norah did have the Mickey ice cream (vanilla ice cream dipped in dark chocolate).  The ice cream treat itself is GF, but it is made by Nestle and in a plant that also processes wheat.  This information was also on my GF list.  I went back and forth about it, but did ultimately let her have one and she was fine.  There was also a GF dessert on the Paradise Pier's room service menu, which was a bonus.

So, overall it was a good experience.  If I could wave a magic princess wand here is what I would change:

1.  Just put the GF options on the damn menu.  Celiac and other gluten related diseases are becoming more and more prevalent and lots of people are dealing with the same issues.  Just put it on the menu.  Then I don't have to wait to talk to the chef and then wait again for my kid to get some food.  I understand that it is not going to be made in advance, and that's fine, but lunch doesn't need to be that much of a production.

2.  Include some vegetables already.  It is a struggle to get fiber into celiac kids.  It would be nice if that cheese pizza came with a side of broccoli.  Or even some apples (like the hot dog did).

3.  Don't make the information so hard to get.  Put it on the website.  Everything else is there, there is no reason why this information shouldn't be as well.

Everyone, with the exception of the asshole at room service, gets a gold star from me, with special accolades to the chef at Ariel's Grotto.  It will be interesting to see how GF eating in a place like Disneyland evolves over the next several years.  When we go back, oh in like 10 years, I imagine it will be a piece of (GF) cake.


Cam said...

This is such a great post! It will really help a lot of people. Do you mind if I link to it?

Bonnie said...

Welcome to my world. *sigh* You really should think of taking Norah to New Zealand-I was really impressed with how many menus I found where they designated the gluten free dishes. And they have amazing wine. Win-win.

Holtnotes said...

I appreciate you taking your time to post about your Disneyland experience is such detail. We are going in June and your information will make our planning much easier. I do know that we have been to Disneyworld and the dining options there for those that are gluten free was endless. Our only problem was that we had so many choices it was hard to decide what and where to eat.

Anonymous said...

I know this is old, but thank you! I totally agree with the "just put it on the menu" part. It should all be on the menu, but if certain people WANT to talk to the chef, fine, but don't make such a spectacle out of what we do every day. If you can make, say it right there on the menu so we can order like "normal" people.