Hey guys! Today I’m bringing you one of my most requested posts ever- a beginner’s guide to gluten free Walt Disney World! I get a lot of questions from people who recently learned about a gluten sensitivity or a family member did so I wanted to collect my top 5 just starting out must know tips for having the best gluten free vacation ever!
Top loaded mashed potatoes image is from my gluten free review of Narcoossee’s.
1. Know the System
Okay so first let’s start with just flat out how does Disney handle allergies? At all Disney-owend* (we’ll come back to that in a moment) sit down locations you’ll encounter basically the same procedure- mark your dietary restriction when you make the reservation (or tell the host/hostess at check-in if you didn’t do that), they’ll give you a special allergy menu, server will ask if you are comfortable ordering off that or if you’d like a chef to come out. These menus look a little funny at first because they note that it’s safe for you by saying “for X allergy” so if it says your allergy that means it is safe for X allergies. The menus have listings for the top 8 allergies (so if you have multiple allergies you’ll be able to check everything at once).
At buffets the server will have a chef come over who will walk the buffet line with you. They’ll go over everything that’s safe and then are happy to bring a plate of whatever you want out from the back if you’re concerned about cross contamination taking food from the regular line. They also always have tons of allergy goodies in the back like gluten free donuts, waffles, desserts, chips for dips and things like that (compulsory bonus tip, if you go to Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge they can bring you gluten free Zebra Domes- white chocolate ganache covered amarula mousse normally on cake but for allergies they put it on solid dark chocolate- and everyone I’ve ever talked to agree’s they’re one of those rare times in life where the gluten free is BETTER than the original!).
At quick services it’s a little different, you still get an allergy menu but a manager will almost always come out to take your order instead of the server and will personally oversee that it’s made safely.
Now I mentioned Disney-owned because there are non-Disney owned restaurants at Disney, essentially just about everything in Disney Springs is not-Disney (as well as Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom and everything at the Swan & Dolphin), so each of these places will have their own procedure. I strongly suggest talking to a chef at these sit down locations because they do not have allergy menus and we have had many cases of servers trying to be helpful but ultimately they need to check everything with a chef anyway so just go straight to the chef. For quick service they again have their own way of doing things but all you need to do is say you have an allergy when you get to the front of the line and they’ll take if from there. For example at Blaze Pizza (in Disney Springs) they have a whole bunch of procedures in place like glove changes and color coded utensils and I always ask for fresh ingredients that haven’t been on the line yet.
2. Get Both Menus
Okay, tip two, now that you understand how the allergy menu system works, I strongly encourage you to ask for both a regular and allergy menu. The reason for this is that dishes will only make it on the allergy menu if they are suitable for multiple allergies. If you’re like me and only have one allergy, though, this means that the allergy menus often miss items that actually are perfectly safe for me or could be with a very minor tweak. For example, the INCREDIBLY good Taste of Africa Bread Service at Jiko is not listed on the allergy menu but they are happy to swap the gluten-containing breads for all gluten-safe pappadam so you can enjoy it (and side note this needs to be on your Disney bucket list) so it’s really helpful to be able to see both menus and check out what wasn’t listed on the allergy menu, which leads us into tip 3….
3. Speak Up, Ask Questions, and Be Creative
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about having a food allergy is the need to speak up and ask questions. Here’s the thing, Disney cast members are some of the friendliest, kindest people out there and from everything I’ve seen, they genuinely want you to have a great experience in Disney. They’re not going to get upset or annoyed if you have a few questions and honestly some of my best food discoveries have been from asking if something can be modified to be gluten free, if I can sub out the not safe item for a safe item, or if some minor part of a dish that made it unsafe can be left off. So now that you’ve got both menus in hand, if something sounds like it is or can be safe and you want it- ask if you can have it!
Along with this is one of my most common practices- farming the menus. Here’s an example with one of my newest discoveries- the Cafe Sandwich at The Grand Floridian Cafe (loaded with ham, turkey, bacon, Boursin cheese sauce, and served with house made chips) isn’t listed on the allergy menu BUT since they used gluten free bread in other gluten friendly dishes I asked if they could make this particular sandwich safely for me. The server checked with the chef who said something along the lines of “sure!” and that’s it tasty sandwich on my plate!
Or, another example, at most breakfast locations they make some sort of specialty topping for waffles or pancakes (like the banana rum caramel sauce at Olivia’s Cafe)- so just ask if they can put that on your allergy waffles! They’ll check with the chef (and the diligence of Disney Cast Members in confirming modifications with the chef is something that makes me so so happy), and then fancy waffles coming up!
My point with this is that they want you to have a good experience and honestly 100% of the times I’ve asked, restaurants have been happy to (within reason of course) customize the dish a bit to make it safe for me to eat. So get both menus, ask some questions, and inquire about swapping around to make what you truly want safe for you. Whether it’s breakfast toppings or replacing sides/starches at dinner, there’s lots of ways you can get a little creative using what’s already on the menu so it won’t be a bother to the restaurant while vastly improving your meal!
4. Don't Stress
I know, trust me, I know how stressful allergy travel is, when David and I go on road trips I plan out every rest stop based on being able to find safe food, I investigate restaurants in every city, I plan and plan where I’ll just be able to find food. But the thing is, for Disney you don’t need to do that. At this point you know how the allergy system works, you know to ask questions and maybe get a little creative, and I’m going to give you a few suggestions for the best spots in just a moment. Here’s the thing, though, Disney has trained it’s staff so well and implemented a phenomenal allergy program so wherever you are, the cast members are going to know how to handle your allergy. Of course every organization and every person has their off days, but on the whole, Disney has really put care and thought into make sure allergy guests will be okay and able to find safe food no matter where they are. Unlike travel to just about anywhere else (that I’ve ever gone to at least), Disney is a place where I don’t need to worry about finding safe food, it’s a place where I get to really enjoy food not just be safe with my food. So take a deep breath, and (maybe for the first time in a long time), put what you really want to have or where you really want to go first and know the allergy aspect is going to be okay.
5. Do Your Homework
Okay, so with all of that said, I’ve always believed part of the fun of vacation is planning it and I want you to have some resources to start with because there’s literally hundreds of Disney dining locations and while just about all of them will make it work for your allergy (so don’t worry) but there’s definitely some gluten free superstars you don’t want to miss!
First, and this is going first because it surprises a lot of people, just about every resort at Walt Disney World has at least one dining location that can make you GLUTEN FREE MICKEY WAFFLES. From quick service at all of the All Star resorts to both sit down Kona Cafe and quick service Capt. Cook’s at the Polynesian, if it serves breakfast odds are very high it serves gluten free Mickey waffles.
Second, check out my post of all my Gluten Free Go-To’s. In the post I list my favorite gluten free restaurants and dishes at every location around Walt Disney World. Seriously, not just a plug for an old post here haha, this is a great jumping off point to find some of the truly best food (that’s right, not just best gluten free food but best overall food) in Walt Disney World!
Third, there’s a few staples available anywhere that are gluten free. For example, Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars and the popcorn served in the parks are both gluten free if you’re starving and need something quick, easy, and relatively cheap to tide you over. (Mickey Bars are sold at the resorts too! Just check the quick service!). OMG gluten free cookies and brownies are also widely available at quick services and are pretty decent (especially if they can heat them up!).
Fourth, if your heart is set on a particular location or even just curious about a particular location and their gluten friendly options- ask me! You can always e-mail me email@example.com or leave a question in the comments and if I haven’t reviewed it yet I’ll check it out and post about it! If you have questions I guarantee someone else does too so don’t be shy, I would love to check it out for both of us!
Okay, so that’s my beginner’s introduction to being gluten free at Walt Disney World. I always say Walt Disney World is the gold standard of allergy travel in my book and it’s because they truly on the whole do better than nearly anywhere else. I hope this post both helps you have the tastiest gluten free vacation ever and makes you feel more comfortable that your gluten free trip is going to be amazing! I’d love to hear some of your tips and favorites in the comments or if you have any questions send them over too!