Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Disney World, Gluten Free

Original post: November 2013
Updated: July 2020

There are enough posts out there on other blogs stating how amazing Disney is at dealing with food allergies. They rock. All but one restaurant we visited followed the same process - tell them about your food allergies and the chef will come out and tell you what you can order, if buffet show you what is safe, and then any food you order is brought out by the chef. When we visited in 2013, we were not glutened a single time and we were there for a week. We have since visited two more times and have also never been glutened. 

Here are our top 10 places to eat gluten free at the Walt Disney World resort:
  1. Cinderella's Royal Table - Magic Kingdom
  2. Sanaa (Dinner) - Kidani Village Resort
  3. Boathouse (Dinner) - Downtown Disney
  4. Be Our Guest (Lunch & Dinner) - Magic Kingdom
  5. T-Rex (Dinner) - Downtown Disney
  6. California Grill - Contemporary Resort
  7. Crystal Palace (Lunch) - Magic Kingdom
  8. Chefs de France - EPCOT
  9. Pinocchio Village Haus - Magic Kingdom
  10. Amorette's Patisserie Cake Decorating Class - Downtown Disney
Here are other places we enjoyed but did not make the top 10:
  1. Sci Fi Cafe (Lunch) - Hollywood Studios
  2. Boma (Dinner) - Animal Kingdom Lodge
  3. Boardwalk Pizza (Boardwalk)
  4. Cape May Cafe (Breakfast)
  5. Aloha Aisle - Magic Kingdom
  6. Mama Melrose's (Lunch) - Hollywood Studios
These we would not recommend
  1. Ale & Compass (Yacht Club)
  2. 'Ohana (Breakfast) - Polynesian Resort
  3. Garden Grill (Dinner) - EPCOT Center
  4. Restaurant Marrakesh (Lunch) - EPCOT Center
  5. BabyCakes NYC (Dessert) - Downtown Disney
  6. Captain Cook's (Dinner) - Polynesian Resort
  7. Hoop Dee Doo Revue (Dinner show) - Fort Wilderness
  8. Prime Time Cafe (Hollywood Studios)

Oh Sanaa - what a way to start a vacation!

Our favorite meal on our 2013 trip was by far was our first- we had 10 minutes to get to our reservation after checking in at our room in the Animal Kingdom Lodge next door. Upon arrival we were given a pager for a 10 or so minute wait for our table. Meanwhile we went outside, used the complimentary night vision goggles and looked at some antelope and zebra grazing in the savannah. Upon being seated, the chef came out and basically said nearly everything on the menu was gluten free, assuming we order papadam instead of naan. Now, if you are not accustomed to indian spices, this may not be your favorite place but for us it was pure heaven. Even the Giggler had a great meal - grilled shrimp over rice with green beans. We ordered the bread service (all 9 sauces), 3 salad sampler and a vegetarian entrée to share. Every sauce was excellent and the 9 provided great variety. The vegetarian curry's were served over rice - we ordered a paneer curry + dal) and also delicious. For dessert we shared the blood orange ice cream desert which was tasty but definitely too small for 3 to share had we not gobbled up all of our other dishes. This is one of those meals we will remember for a long time and hope to someday experience again.

T-Rex - great food, great ambiance, great service

First off, many thanks to the tip I read on Disboards that said to get a Landry's Select Card before your trip if  you know you will be dining at T-Rex, Yak & Yeti or Rainforest Café as it puts you basically to the front of the standby line as I was unable to score an advance dining reservation ("ADR" in Disney speak). It costs $25 but you get that credited back when you visit. We were seated within 5 minutes of arriving ahead of a large line of folks.

The chef came out right away to tell us what we could order. We started with the chicken quesadilla appetizer on corn tortillas which we all gobbled up. The rest of our order (which we opted to share) was served to us family style - gluten free macaroni & cheese, a spicy salmon/black bean/rice dish and a big bowl of sautéed green beans. It was all delicious.

The main attraction at T-Rex are the animatronics Dinosaurs. We were seated next to the Wooly Mammoth who moved around every few minutes. We took turns exploring the other areas of the restaurant - each its own theme, all tons of fun to explore.

I hope they open a T-Rex in Northern California some day.

The Rest

  • Boma - great flavor, good variety buffet with some interesting flavors thrown in
  • Crystal Palace - another buffet, salads were out of this world
  • Be Our Guest - get a fastpass for this one and save an hour in line. This was the only place where we did not see the Chef and that was because you order on a screen and you can select allergens which will then only show what you can order and automatically order it with your allergens in mind. The potato leek soup and raspberry lemon cream puffs were standouts.
  • Mama Melrose's - tons of options. I had a pasta/shrimp/vegetable dish while DH had a steak. Giggler had pasta. We went here because we had purchased the Fantasmic dining package which guaranteed us good seats w/o waiting for that night's show. We would not have dined here otherwise - we probably would have gone to the 50's Prime Time Café instead.
  • 'Ohana - the main attraction here is that Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stich come to visit. Breakfast was good but not our usual healthy fare- mickey mouse gluten free waffles (which were delicious btw - they use the Bob's Red Mill pancake mix which does not taste this good when I've used it for pancakes - maybe they use special butter in the waffle iron), a small plate of fruit, then a big skillet full of eggs, sausage, bacon and potatoes - all gluten free. Fun to do once, but we'd rather spend our calories on other things.
  • Garden Grill - this was a bit of a disappointment for me as I had very high expectations. I have always loved the ride "The Land" and was very excited to be at a restaurant which revolved around it and served food grown there - but they only showed the "ride" scenes- not the actual garden which is what I think is so incredibly cool - that ride inspired me to become a home gardener. The food was just OK also - tons of meat & potatoes (the tilapia was good) I thought the vegetables would be excellent but we really only got to sample root vegetables - blech.  It was nice for the Giggler to see Mickey and friends again and get some more autographs but I won't be booking this one again. I'll opt for the food court downstairs which appears to use more of the produce grown in the Land pavilion.
  • Restaurant Marrakesh - this was also a disappointment as I had fond memories of dining here 20 years ago. Gluten free options were very scarce. We ended up sharing a chicken kabob over rice with some stewed vegetables. Next time we'll eat at the sit down restaurant inside of the Mexico Pavilion.
  • BabyCakes NYC - this was another one I had high expectations and was disappointed. I found the baked goods were just OK - nothing I'd ever order again, not terrible, but not what I had been led to believe given reviews. We tried cupcake tops, brownies and cookies.
  • Captain Cook's - this was our last meal of the trip and the worst. We had cheese burgers which looked like the burgers served in elementary school w/ some sort of gelatinous gunk on top, along with some very runny overcooked "vegetables" (mainly onion and cabbage). Just plain gross. The good news is they also had some sealed gluten free brownies and chocolate cookies which were actually pretty good -not that disgusting enjoy life brand we were offered throughout Disney World. I wish I could remember the name of the baker -good stuff. We could also get the Dole Pineapple whip which we had been wanting to taste which was also good.

Flying Gluten Free

Traveling gluten free can be so depressing. I'll never forget the layover I had in Seattle when flying from San Francisco to Anchorage. 2008 - our first full year gluten free. We had eaten the gluten free wraps and fruit I had packed for the first flight, and still had a slew of bars and dried fruit & nuts we were saving for our vacation. The terminal had a few eateries- Starbucks, Pizza and Burger King. Of all those places guess what our options were? A banana at Starbucks. Even the prepared salads had croutons sprinkled on top. Fruit cups topped with granola.

Fast forward a few years- now most airports have plenty of offerings although you still have to do your homework. I've had Greek salad in Phoenix, soup in San Francisco. But I still pack a slew of food our flights and trip. The only airline I've seen offer a gluten free snack box is Alaska Airlines (although I have not flown with them in over a year so they may not now). I've done a few International business trips and each time I've packed many pounds of gluten free food to keep me fed throughout the trip. I recall a business lunch where the company I was visiting pre-ordered delicious salads for everyone - but every single one had macaroni salad in the middle. Thank heavens for the Go Picnic! box I had packed that morning. It's important to plan ahead and always have more food than you think you will need.

Fortunately my company allowed me to fly business class to Europe- and in each case I pre-reserved and was successfully served gluten free food.

This post includes pictures of the gluten free meals I was served in International Business class on British Airways, Lufthansa, SWISS Air and United.

I hope this is useful to others who are planning their trips re: figuring out how much gluten free food to pack as well as picking an airline should gluten free food offerings weigh in your decision.

If you couldn't care less about the airline meals, at the bottom of this post I also include what my go to foods are for gluten free travel.

Happy Travels!

SWISS Air- San Francisco to Zurich, June 2012

SWISS Air gets an A minus in my book - lots of variety, lots of flavor - the only reason for the minus is the rice cakes. Upon takeoff I was served some grilled chicken with roasted vegetables, greens w/ dressing and a fruit salad. Oh, and the rice cakes. I thought that was a decent meal given I had no expectations whatsoever.
 Then I was surprised to learn that was the appetizer- this was the main course:
 wow - even more grilled chicken (or it could have been turkey), over rice with some more vegetables. I was stuffed after this meal.

Prior to landing I was served a nice breakfast as well - more vegetables with some rice noodles and 2 fruit plates, some yogurt, and, oh, another rice cake. At least I had some jam to spread on it - this is where I first started to look out for individual packets of peanut butter and other spreads like Nutella which I could bring on future flights.

SWISS Air - Zurich to Stockholm, June 2012

The connecting flight to Stockholm also did not disappoint - more fruit, more vegetables, more lean protein, and a fresh gluten free roll as well! Very impressive and very tasty.

Lufthansa - Stockholm to Frankfurt, June 2012

Breakfast on Lufthansa was surprisingly good - some sliced meat w/ vegetables, yogurt and some friend polenta over stewed apples and berries. Lufthansa gets a B plus overall as the food was not quite as flavorful, not quite as many fruits and vegetables and that horrible Rice Bread. As much as I hate rice cakes, at least they are edible. Rice bread is (RisBrot) is not. It's like eating concrete.

United - Frankfurt to San Francisco, June 2012

United gets a solid B - although I have a feeling the same kitchen in Frankfurt handles both United and Lufthansa. Lunch was some bland chicken with some tomato sauce, diced vegetables, a little fruit and yes, RisBrot. Blech.
 Later I was served this appetizer- also kind of light on flavor (I was not a fan of the 3 flavor mousse thing on the left).
 But the main course was OK - fish with boiled potatoes carrot and broccoli. The flight attendant took pity on me and offered some MozartKugeln (candy) which was leftover from the prior trip.

British Airways - San Francisco to London, September 2013 - same as the "bland" special meal

Flavor and calories - oh that would have been so nice! Each meal had a lot of vegetables, some protein, rice cakes, but no flavor. I suggest packing some individual packets of gluten free sauces as well as peanut butter. One of my favorite meals on that flight was salvaging the rice cakes served with dinner by spreading peanut butter on top.

Meals on this leg deserve a C although I'll give British Airways a B Plus as they made  up for it on my final flight -if all flights had been like that one, BA would have been A Plus.

Here is the first course for dinner- very nicely prepared and fresh, but almost no calories or flavor.
The roasted tomato on the salad was yummy but a little garlic and parmesan would have gone a long way!
The main course was a bit more substantial but still left me hungry:
Chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
Dessert was a beautiful bowl of berries, fat free. Delicious on its own but I did have to dip into some bars an hour or so after dinner.
Prior to landing in Heahtrow I was served a plain omlet with grilled tomato and mushrooms as well as some fruit on the side, and more rice cakes. The egg filled me up but again, I would have loved for some salsa or other spice to add.
Once I landed in Heathrow I spent some time in the British Airways lounge. I was amazed to find all food was labeled with allergens it contained. I was able to have eggs, beans, chili and curry over rice, in addition to the usual fruit and salad. They also had a sign near the cookies which said to "ask for gluten free biscuits" so I did and this is what I got:
it was delicious! Very fudgy, just the way a brownie should be!

 British Airways - London to Stockholm, September 2013

The meal on this flight was filling and pretty tasty. Fish atop tomato rice with sautéed vegetables with a gluten free roll!
Here is the label from the roll. It was kind of dry but tasted OK smothered in butter.

 British Airways Stockholm to London, October 2013

Another satisfying meal - eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, fresh gluten free bread and juice.


British Airways London to San Francisco - October, 2013 - Excellent

The food on my return trip to San Francisco was excellent and filling. The first course included a very tasty lentil salad, fresh bread and mixed greens. This time I was able to flavor the salad with some lemon olive oil, salt and pepper although I would have loved a pre-made dressing or some garlic powder.

The main course was chicken breast with stewed tomatos and broccoli over rice. Not the most flavor but far better than the first flight.
Dessert was a delicious piece of gluten free cheesecake with raspberry sauce!
 Prior to landing, lunch was served - a gluten free sandwich, more bread (which is still in my freezer) and a piece of decadent flourless chocolate cake.
All in my food strategy worked as I came home with some extra bread, chocolate I bought in Stockholm and even a few bars. Had the final flight been as bland/light as my first flight I probably would have eaten all of my travel stash.

Bringing Your Own Gluten Free Stash

Here is a summary of what food are my go to items when traveling and preparing my travel stash:

Outbound Flight:

  1. Turkey, Cheese & Spinach Wraps. My favorite wrap is Sandwich Petals, followed by Sonoma Teff Wraps and Rudi's Spinach Tortillas. If I have an early flight, I make these the night before, wrap in foil, seal in a large Ziploc and refrigerate until I leave for the airport
  2. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich on Canyon Bakehouse bread. This bread is the real deal and holds up.
  3. Fresh Fruit (Apples, Bananas, Oranges) in a Ziploc, berries when in season. I keep berries in Munchie Mugs (originally purchased for when my daughter was a toddler but now we use them all the time). Pick up some fresh fruit for your return flight as well.
  4. Cheese Sticks (if bringing wraps, fruit and/or cheese I usually bring a lightweight cooler bag along with 2 Ziploc bags - after clearing security I fill one bag with ice from a restaurant or bar and then double bag. I've never had a problem with this request if I mention it's because I have food allergies.

 Other stuff for the flight and during your travels:

  1. Dried fruit and nuts
  2. (for the Giggler - a special treat she does not get usually) Annie's Gummy Bunnies Fruit Snacks
  3. Go Picnic Meals (these come in very handy at amusement parks and when you want some variety of food choices when snacking) - I would never say these fill me up like a meal though - they are strictly for snacks IMO. Tip: sign up for their email list and like them on Facebook to be notified of special deals although be warned- they send out way too many emails. Once a week would be fine but they are more like daily.