Eating Gluten Free At Walt Disney World, Not the Cake Walk They Claim

Okay, so this is going to be a quick post. I have a lot of things to do and not much time to do them tonight. I’d simply rather be sleeping than doing anything else. But, I thought I should get this up sooner rather than later.

So a week or so ago I went to Walt Disney World with my husband, son, and a couple of friends who’s stay overlapped ours. As you already know, I cannot eat gluten. This has not been a challenge in the past while at WDW, but sadly it has become one. Now while things weren’t quite as bad as they were at Disneyland there were still issues. For example, I can no longer eat the candy apples anywhere. Unless I’m okay with just the plain red break your teeth ones. You can get those at Downtown Disney and one place in Hollywood studios. However cross contamination can be an issue so I didn’t get one. In years past the “good” ones used to be safe at the candy shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. They used some caramel from a can whereas everyone else was making it from scratch (or maybe it was the other way around). Either way they knew what I was talking about and I had quite a few sugar fests over the years. That is over now. When I go in to ask I get “the blank stare”- you know the one. Then they have to “go ask someone” and next thing you know they’re having a meeting and trying to figure out what gluten is before telling me nothing is safe. Also, many of the prepackaged snacks now say “May Contain Wheat” and there’s no company to Google. So basically it’s dead end food. It’s springs from nowhere and just shows up at the park. No one manufactures it and all they know is, it’s not safe for me. What else is new…

Moving on to restaurants. On more than one occasion I was told I should head over to Cosmic Rays, they can do gluten free food for me. Well that’s all well and good, but sometimes you don’t want to walk all the way over to the other side of the park to have yet another hamburger on a horrible tasting bun. So I didn’t. I only ate there once in my entire trip and it wasn’t that great. Now in all fairness the people who work there are great. You could really tell that the few people who are in charge of dealing with “allergy guests” actually care. I’m willing to bet it’s a volunteer position and those who are putting their names in have someone they love dealing with food issues. No one else would care that much.

I did try some other quick service places and once again I was handed a book with ingredients. This was a slightly upscale version of Disneyland’s ingredient statement ripped straight off the box and handed to me. No, this was a fancy book with photo copies of ingredient statements ripped straight off the box. There was never any allergen statements attached to these lists (which means there were no allergens or someone was breaking the law). And asking if something was safe was again met with “the blank stare”. So I was forced to spend my trip Googling companies that in some cases only distribute to theme parks and restaurants. This should not have to be my responsibility if Disney is telling their guests that you can come to their park and eat hassle free. They’ve done away with the safe food lists in both DL and WDW, claiming this is easier for me. It is not since they’e stopped educating their staff. I met a family with a son who couldn’t have gluten or dairy and I told them to just plain stay away from Disneyland. They had some medical conference for their son in California and were debating a few days at that park. But they’d had so many problems in Florida they were on the fence. I was really sad to tell them there was really no point in visiting. If they thought eating at WDW was hard then they were in for an uphill battle in California.

Here are some things I can tell you are safe after talking with people who actually cared about their job, and googling company info.

The roasted pork shank at Gaston’s Tavern

LeFou’s Brew at Gastons Tavern

On my first attempt to find out the gluten free status of these foods I got nowhere and left empty handed. After googling company info I found out that the four ingredients that make up LeFou’s Brew are all gluten free. The roasted pork shank wasn’t so easy and in fact I never did have it there. I had an identical meal at a quick service spot at Hollywood Studios (I forget the name of the place). The manager there actually just knew what was safe and what wasn’t. He had the book just so we could double check ingredients if we wanted but he was extremely confident. We also had to wait a bit longer as he wanted to get us our meal separately so as to be sure no cross contamination occurred (they also sold sandwiches at this location). It was totally worth the wait. I would recommend the pork shank and we also got a turkey leg (still gluten free) which was fantastic as well.

I was also lucky enough to eat at the new Be Our Guest restaurant twice! Once we waited in line for lunch (not too bad, about 30-40 minutes). Later that day we checked back to see if anyone had canceled their reservation and we were in luck, an 8:10pm spot had opened up! The cast member said she was happy she’d asked us if we wanted it as most couples with a baby would pass on such a late meal (Chicken Little stays up late and we have a late dinner most nights). The cast member standing next to her told the couple in line beside us that there were no open spots. But as soon as he heard what the girl we were dealing with said he told that couple to hold on while he double checked. So it makes me wonder if they do have openings at times but simply don’t offer them to some guests. That or they don’t really bother to check. So if you really want to eat there be persistent! Either way I’m glad we got the chance to go back. My son acted up at lunch so I didn’t get to eat my soup when it was hot and the cheese got weird. The second time around however it was fabulous. I love French Onion Soup and had long ago given up hope I’d ever have it in a restaurant again. But they do have a gluten free option and it’s divine. They also have a gluten free dessert, a lemon and raspberry cream puff. My server (who also had Celiac disease) said it was so amazing she didn’t even feel sad she couldn’t have anything else, I agree. Now it’s not a light cream puff, it’s very dense. Probably due to the gf ingredients but it was still soooo good. I also want to give a compliment to the staff at this restaurant. The Chef was really kind and knowledgable and almost anything I wanted could be done gf (that’s for both lunch and dinner). This is in comparison to Ariels Grotto in California Adventure where the chef seemed ticked off there were gf diners (we went back few days ago and he seemed in better spirits so perhaps he was just having an off day?) and then my salad had blue cheese (there’s no such thing as gf blue cheese) on it and they also messed up my drink. So I ate my meal with a bit of fear. I also got a novelty cup but was told they were out of the clip on Ariel’s (how that happens at Ariel’s Grotto is beyond me, but it’s nothing that shocked me given my experiences here). Be Our Guest staff members care, know what their doing, and offer a wide range of choices. I also got the novelty goblet which was really fun. I like to collect those cups from different places. I feel like there’s always going to be something on every that menu I want and can’t have, but a cup won’t hurt me and makes up for quite a bit. I know everyone has their own goofy little souvenir things they like, I collect pins and cups. In fact when I was buying dishes for this new house I didn’t even get mugs to match my plates, cause I knew I’d never use them. So I saved the money and just went straight to the fun cups and mugs. 🙂

Here’s a couple shots of the cups I got (as well as one I didn’t). These are Disney promotional images but I doubt they’ll care I’m using them.  After all I’m using them to tell you how great these cups are and that you should totally cave and buy them.

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This one is awesome. It’s huge and ridiculous and barley fits into my cupboard. I had been sitting there wondering how I was going to wash the thing when my server read my mind. The cup part on the top screws off! There were no instructions on care but I’d hand wash for longevity no matter what. The base flashes red and blue and has a compartment for battery replacement. Even if you can’t get into this restaurant you can still buy the cup. There’s a small shop next to Gaston’s Tavern that sells it for the same price as in the restaurant (although you won’t get a drink with it).

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I got the Belle cup of course, but I’ll probably get the Gaston one on my next trip. I forget what’s on the reverse of the Gaston cup but on the Belle one there’s a Rose. I want to say it was $7 versus $4 for LeFou’s Brew in one of these versus the regular plastic cup. They’re the same size so you’re not getting more or less, you’re really just paying for the cup. I don’t mind though. I like to recreate theme park drinks and prefer to use my “special” cups when I’m at home. I’ve done been making Butter Beer for ages in my Harry Potter mugs! I hope to try and make LeFou’s Brew as well, though the ingredients may be harder to come by.

So all in all I had a good trip. The food situation could have been a lot better but it’s definitely not as bad as in California. Disney’s response to getting rid of the food lists is ridiculous. They claim to be trying to cater to the ever changing tastes of their guests. But from what I can see aside from a couple of new restaurants nothing has changed in years. In fact much of what is being offered in these restaurants was already being served in various places throughout the park. What they mean to say is they don’t like having to contact vendors every month to be sure everything is still safe. Not that it really matters as over the years I’d kept some of the safe food lists and had found virtually no variation from month to month, year to year. So the few hours they had a staff member devote to this task was not worth the thousands of dollars of revenue they were generating by being “allergen safe”. And once word starts to spread about how hard it’s getting to eat onsite I’m willing to bet they’ll start loosing money. You would think a corporation like Disney would know better. With the rise of food allergies and increased diagnoses of Celiac disease people like me are not going to suddenly vanish. If anything we’re going to become the majority. So having some safe options will be a necessity if they don’t want it to affect revenue- which at some point it will.

As always I plan to contact Disney- again. I will again send a link to my post and we’ll see what they have to say. Hopefully I’ll get an intelligent response this time.

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2 thoughts on “Eating Gluten Free At Walt Disney World, Not the Cake Walk They Claim

  1. It is sad that this seems to be the trend now! The Biltmore House, in Asheville, NC catered to me so marvelously in ’11; we were thrilled to have the selections and care that went into the service and the knowledge that was in all the places we dined. A listing of their restaurants and eateries that catered to GF was very helpful; and the ice cream snack bar with packaged GF cookies was a treat while my hubby enjoyed his ice cream. As we bought a year pass, we looked forward to our visit the following holiday season. In ’12, on our return visit, we were shocked to find some of the same things you pointed out, with restaurant staff now not so sure, minimal selections, no GF bread before the meal as before, and there seemed to be an aloofness about the whole ordeal. Strangely enough, another couple seemed to be mystified the same as we were. I could read their body language ~ what happened! Last year was so good! The change was so dramatic. I’m sure the extra expense of catering to GF needs is just a bit too much. But the bottom line was we didn’t spend much money while there on our year pass! One restaurant experience, and an inquiry at another told us we would need to dine outside the Biltmore gates. Thankfully, Asheville does offer better than average GF choices, even an entire GF restaurant Posano’s, as well as Tupelo Honey, both excellent choices for an enjoyable, safe GF dining experience. Another trip to the Biltmore? Not until it can be a pleasure again.

    • I think it’s a travesty really. I think a lot of companies jumped on the bandwagon when they realized they could attract more business by advertising they could do gluten free meals. Then they realized it would take effort and decided to stop doing it. But they didn’t want to be seen as unaccommodating (and loose business) so they didn’t announce it when they did away with the menu. To me those are just shady business practices.

      I can only hope as more people get diagnosed, more companies will realize they have to make a decision. Either say flat out, yes we can accommodate you or no we cannot. I’m fine if they say they can’t, I just can’t stand the lying because that’s what this is. Disney says they can do gluten free, but they really can’t in most places. Even if they just designated some locations as Celiac friendly it would be a big deal. We would know to only eat at those places and life would be easier for everyone. The staff wouldn’t be placed in an awkward position and the guests wouldn’t feel like a burden. I mean I’m not trying to be difficult or do a “Don’t you know how important I am” thing, but I’m not cool with being made to feel like I’m inconveniencing the staff. I pay $1k per person just to get into the park, then when you add meals, hotels, toys and clothes for my son, they’re making a nice chunk of change off of me. So I feel like I have a right to ask them to at least treat me well. Don’t feed me if they don’t feel they can’t do so safely, but don’t be rude about it either.

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