This past week I was in California and got to spend a little time with the mouse. I love Disney, I always have a good time and this trip was no exception. However there was one thing that really threatened to ruin my trip, and in fact there were a few sad moments. They all concerned food. As anyone with Celiac disease knows eating while away from home can be stressful. Disney has (in the past) been great about this though. They used to be very Celiac friendly, not so much anymore. Before I used to just stop into City Hall and pick up a print out, a list with all the restaurants and food stands in the park on it and it listed everything that was safe. Well this trip I was informed they change vendors so frequently they couldn’t possibly keep up with the list (it was updated monthly though virtually nothing on it has changed over the years). I was told all I had to do was stop by restaurant or stand and I would be told what was safe. I was so excited, it seemed like they were getting even more Celiac friendly. I was wrong…
On more than one occasion I was met with the blank stare. You know the one, it’s the one that comes right before people say “huh”. And in that moment you know things will end badly for you. Either you will be instantly turned away, or because they don’t know anything about gluten they aren’t being careful about cross contamination and you’re basically gambling with your health by eating there. An annoyance in the real world, but in a theme park it’s a disaster. My only option beyond eating in their resultants is to lug a full days worth of food with me. Not really practical and could lead to spoilage in summer.
My best experience dining was at the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. Although I’ve had a good experience there in the past and that may play into it. The waitstaff knew what I was talking about and got the chef straight away (he was also knowledgeable). Ariel’s Grotto was sort of okay. The chef didn’t seem overly enthused he had gluten free diners and had to think about what was safe, not a great sign. The waiter had a full on deer in the headlights look when we told him we were GF. Not that we should have had any issue as we had to make reservations in advance and we told them two in our party couldn’t eat gluten. Apparently they didn’t think it was worth making a note of that.
In the regular fast food type restaurants it was hit or miss. The chef was standing there in one place (can’t remember where we were but they had roast beef and turkey, plates or sandwiches on GF bread or regular) and he was friendly and knew what we were saying (even if the waitstaff seemed a bit confused). One of the servers at Taste Pilot’s Grill seemed to know what were were asking too. But later in that same park at the hot dog place (near the Monsters Inc. ride) they were trying to ask each other what was safe and one person said only the plain hot dog with nothing on it. We didn’t eat there because I hate hot dogs (though I was so hungry at that point I would have considered them) and they didn’t seem confident. We finally ate at Lucky Fortune Cookery and none of the sauces were safe. They said I could have the meat plain and they had a GF lemon sauce that wasn’t listed. We picked that because I was starving and they put the sauce on the side, I’m so glad they did as it was basically lemon concentrate and the last time I checked that isn’t a sauce. Food stands were even worse. I had people tell me nothing was safe, others just handed over products expecting me to somehow know it’s gluten status by just looking at it. And one person just handed over the ingredient list for the turkey legs. It had been ripped off the cardboard box they apparently come in and had no company info or brand name on it.
So basically Disneyland is no longer Celiac friendly. They decided to stop making any effort and do not bother to educate their staff. You eat there at your own risk. If you’re willing to google allergen statements while waiting in line for rides then you can have the occasional treat (like I did for their frozen bananas- safe by the way). But I feel like I shouldn’t have to do that. It’s stealing the magic. Disney said they started becoming food allergy/intolerance friendly because they cater to all kinds of people. And if they can accommodate a child with a life threatening illness then they could surely produce safe food. That it wasn’t fair for some guests to watch everyone around them eating cookies, candy apples, and even just basic foods like pizza and burgers. That guests with allergies should be able to have a chicken nugget like a normal person. I always loved that about them and now it’s over. I’m back to feeling like a burden and a freak when traveling. That my dietary restrictions will once again dictate where we eat. That those with me will now feel bad for grabbing a snack when I can’t have one. I’d say it was nice while it lasted but I’m so blinded by anger I can’t.
I have not been to Disney World in a couple of years. I plan to go sometime in the new year. If the dining conditions are the same you can be sure I’ll write about it here. I also plan to contact Disney to complain and ask why they basically did away with something so many people and families rely on. I will post their reply here as well.