I’m going to Disney World! Well, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens is going after his Super Bowl MVP performance last night, but hey, I’ve been to Disney World, too.
When my brothers and I were kids, my parents took us. I remember sweating to death in the Florida heat, as we waited on line for Splash Mountain. Thankfully, we had those cool fan spritzer things (yes, that’s a technical term). You knew it must have been as hot as I remember, because my parents sprung for each of us to get our own very overpriced fan spritzer thing.
I also remember Mickey Mouse-shaped ice creams, trips to Planet Hollywood for burgers and fries, morning breakfasts full of pancakes and syrup, and being yelled at in the ’50s Primetime Café for not cleaning my plate. And yes, mom, I do have other memories besides the food, but stay with me! I’m going somewhere.
When I met my husband, I married into a “Disney Family.” I didn’t know these existed, did you? They belong to the Disney Vacation Club, know the resort bartenders by name, and go all the time. I think my husband has been there 43 times. Forty three! So naturally, when we started dating, I began to see a lot of Disney World in my future. We got engaged in Disney World, honeymooned in Disney World, and have seen two of our closest friends get married there as well. But as Lake Buena Vista, Florida started to become our number one vacation destination, I became nervous about…drumroll please…a lot of dining out.
The first time I visited the House of the Mouse, I had no dietary restrictions. I was a kid who could just sit back and enjoy the experience. My second time, I was 23 and had already been on a gluten-free diet for four years. So outside of the normal vacation chores like packing and making sure I had clothes cute enough for both traipsing through the park and going out at night, I had the formidable task of being on vacation and somehow steering clear of all gluten and dairy. It wasn’t easy! Especially since, as I’ve mentioned, I used to be much more shy about revealing my dietary restrictions.
Disney World got me to the place where I was ready to start speaking up about my needs.
When you book a reservation to eat at any Disney restaurant, they ask if there are any food allergies (I use the term “allergy” liberally when dealing with restaurants). After much debate, I decided to put down my food issues on the reservations. I figured it would take away a lot of my flexibility, but I knew there was no way I would get around the Magic Kingdom while doubled over in pain.
Different restaurants handled this in their own unique way. Some had a special allergen-friendly menu, while others would dispatch the waiter to guide me towards what I could eat. Most sent the chef out to personally talk to me about modifying a dish to suit my needs. Did I find it kind of embarrassing? I’ll admit: I did (and still do). I don’t like a big fuss being made over me, so the idea of the chef coming to talk to me? It kind of makes me nervous just thinking about it now…
Thankfully, the temporary anxiety paid off. I got special goodies I wouldn’t have gotten if I just tried to pick and choose the best options. For example, the California Grill atop the Contemporary Resort had awesome gluten-free rolls. At Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, they had Tofutti ice cream! The bread basket and dessert are two things that otherwise I would’ve skipped and jealously watched everyone else enjoy, so that was a major plus.
One thing I found strange about dining out on a special diet in Disney World is that they don’t advertise their allergen friendly-options at their quick service restaurants. I have no idea why! Many of the quick service restaurants in the parks or hotels do have special menus and food items, if you just know to ask. Tip: even if there is nothing listed as gluten-free or dairy-free on a menu, always ask!
For example, the Columbia Harbour House in the Magic Kingdom has a separate allergen fryer for gluten-free chicken nuggets and fries. Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom has Amy’s gluten-free pizzas! These items are not on the menu, but they’re there! I promise!
So if you ever go to Disney World, remember this one tip: always ask!
Have you ever been to Disney World? Any tips for eating in the resort on a restricted diet? Please share them in the comments below!