A huge thank you to my lovely friend and fellow celiac, Meagan Manning, for sharing her tips on how to do Disney, gluten free! I found this brilliant old photo of my brother, Mickey and I hanging out in Orlando back in 1996 and couldn’t think of a better image to use.
Daunted by Disney? Anxious about a gluten free Magic Kingdom adventure? Don’t be. The folks at Disney can provide a safe, happy, gluten free holiday. The park and its staff really do take great care to accommodate gluten free diners—adults and children alike—and outline their dietary needs policies in detail. Planning ahead is a must, however, as the park can be difficult to navigate, gluten free items cannot be found everywhere, and meals will cost you a fair amount. Here are a few tips to keep gluten away and the fun plentiful during your trip to Disney.
- As always, plan ahead and make advance reservations! Many Disney restaurants fill up during peak times, especially on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Take advantage of Disney’s online dining reservation system to make sure you get in to your top picks. A great bonus of using the system: You can specify any dietary needs when making your reservation, so staff will know before you arrive that you’ll require a gluten free meal.
- Not all hotels have gluten free options available on-site. The cheaper, “value” hotels, like The All-Star Resort I stayed in, only have “cafeteria style” dining options with few gluten free choices. I could not find more than a banana and a several beverages. If you stay at one of these locations, plan meals accordingly and bring a fair amount of snacks to supplement larger meals.
- Some restaurants are only accessible with theme park admission. Restaurant location information can be found on the main Disney dining site. I traveled to Disney World for a work conference and didn’t purchase theme park tickets. My dining options were severely limited without access to any theme park restaurants. Make sure to check into this if you’re traveling for work or not planning on purchasing tickets for every day you’ll be at Disney. If you find yourself in this situation, heading to Downtown Disney is your best bet.
- Be prepared to pay top dollar for gluten free meals. Many of the restaurants with good gluten free options are on the pricey side. Disney’s first price tier—one dollar sign ($)—costs up to $15 per plate. Plan carefully when selecting one of the lowest priced venues because many only offer “grab and go” items or have limited gluten free options. The second price tier ($$) will run you $15-35 a plate, the third tier ($$$) restaurants cost $36-$60 per plate, and the fourth tier ($$$$) are $60 a plate and up. Full listings can be found on the main Disney dining site. You will receive a well-prepared quality meal, but you will pay for it. I was charged $5.12 for two cans of Coca-Cola at a moderately priced hotel. Dining plans are available if you’d like to plan your food budget in advance.
- It can take a fair amount of time to navigate Walt Disney World and its various attractions via the Disney shuttle system. On top of that, snack foods like bananas, gluten free energy bars, and yogurt can be hard to find. Be sure to have some sort of snack with you at all times. The good news is those with food allergies can bring their own food items into any theme park. According to Disney’s website, “guests with food allergies or intolerances are allowed to bring food into Walt Disney World theme parks and dining locations. When entering a park, simply inform the Security at bag check that someone in the party has a food allergy or intolerance.”
- Disney staff are not allowed to cook anything from outside the park. According to the official Disney World Website, “our chefs and other Cast Members may not prepare, cook, heat or reheat any food items brought in by our Guests.” I packed a good deal of fruit, gluten free energy bars, and dishes that didn’t necessarily need reheating like black beans and rice. While not the most appetizing meals in the world, I rarely found myself hungry.
There are tons of things to do at Walt Disney World, and the staff will help make sure you experience them to your heart’s content sans gluten. However, a good deal of pre-planning on your part will be needed to make your Disney trip a success. Walt Disney World is HUGE, full of tourists, difficult to navigate at times, and full of things you won’t be able to eat. As you know, if you’ve been “glutened” or are starving, desperately searching for a snack, these are some of the last obstacles you will want to deal with. Luckily, with a bit of legwork, gluten will be the last thing on your mind.
Have you travelled to Disney World, gluten free? I’d love to hear about your experiences. What and where did you eat?