Two things you should know about me – I like my food Gluten Free (GF) and Mickey shaped. Well I don’t know if I really like GF better, but living with a sensitivity to gluten makes it a must. I am among over 3 million people across the United States who follow a GF diet. A portion of those people may be eating GF to lose weight, but the majority of us have gone GF after determining that we have a negative reaction to eating gluten.
Why Are People Gluten Free?
Based on a 2017 Forbes Magazine report, the number of people following a GF diet has tripled since 2009, yet the prevalence of Celiac disease has remained flat. First things first, what is gluten? Gluten is part of the tough, elastic protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and many other grains. So what is Celiac disease? Celiac disease is defined by the Celiac Disease Foundation as, “a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” In layman’s terms – when someone with Celiac eats gluten they have a reaction that is like the flu and and a stomach virus all at once and it damages their small intestines. The worst part, as if feeling like you can’t move for a week isn’t it enough, is that people with Celiac are at a greater risk of developing certain cancers, other autoimmune diseases, and a multitude of other non-autoimmune diseases. There is no cure for the disease and no medication, so Celiac sufferers are forced to follow an extremely strict GF diet – that means NO gluten at all, including the cross-contamination of gluten from other people’s food – i.e. no using the same toaster, utensil, or cooking area.
But good news is the prevalence has remained flat over the last decade, right? Nope – Celiac is extremely difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are so non-specific, leading many people to suffer from the disease for years without a diagnosis. It is estimated that 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
AH! I know, way to bring down the mood! But there is good news! With GF diets growing in popularity, people are becoming more aware of the disease and are more knowledgeable when speaking with their doctors. This hopefully will mean that more people will be diagnosed and can adapt their lifestyle and there will be more funds put into researching a cure!
While I follow a GF diet, I have not been diagnosed with Celiac. However, I suffer from all of the same symptoms and am 10x more likely to have the disease because my sister has been diagnosed. Because of my high risk and symptoms, I decided to go GF instead of going through all of the testing and have found luck doing so. It’s important to note that even though one may not test positive for Celiac, he/she may still have a gluten sensitivity (think of it like being lactose intolerant). These individuals do not have the other risks associated with eating gluten that Celiac suffers do, but will still see success in cutting gluten out of their diet.
So the next time you hear someone ask for a GF menu, don’t assume it is a fad diet they are trying – it may be a serious health issue!
Eating Gluten Free at Walt Disney World
If you or a member of your travel party suffers from an allergy of any kind, you know how stressful it can be traveling. Your mind races in so many directions when you begin planning your trip – Do I need to pack my own food? Will they have any food there for me to eat? Will I be sick the whole trip? What do I do if I have a reaction? – The stress can overwhelm you to the point where you consider if taking a vacation is even going to be a vacation!
I’ve had those same thoughts before going to Walt Disney World (and Disneyland!) and want to set any of my fellow GF/food allergy sufferers’ minds at ease. You are not wrong to worry before heading to Disney, but a little bit of research and planning will ensure that you can enjoy your trip.
Know Before You Go
First things first, in most cases you do not need to call or email WDW prior to your visit to make special arrangements for your meals. Most Table-Service and Quick-Service locations offer allergy-friendly menus and alternate meal options upon request. If you are making any Table-Service reservations using the My Disney Experience app, online, or over the phone, you will have the opportunity to notate any allergies/special accommodations needed. I made a reservation through the My Disney Experience app at The Plaza in Magic Kingdom on my last visit. Upon check-in, I was handed an allergy-friendly menu to review while I waited to be seated. When we were seated, the waiter confirmed my allergy and had the chef come to my table to ensure that the foods I selected were GF. – If that is not good service I don’t know what is!
If you walk-up to a restaurant, don’t worry either! During my last trip we decided we would try to get into Spiced Road Table in the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot. They were able to seat us and I asked for a GF menu. They did not have a printed menu for me to review (this restaurant is run by an “Operating Participant” – aka not Disney), but the waiter was very knowledgeable and went through each item, letting me know if it was GF or could be adapted to be GF. (GF FOODIE TIP: Spiced Road Table is a great restaurant to go for some GF food! Majority of the offerings are GF when you remove the sauce and they were extremely understanding and accommodating, while ensuring not to negatively impact the experience for my fellow non-GF diners. Plus, Spiced Road Table has some of the best views of the fireworks if you can time your dining correctly!)
Before you head to WDW, be sure to read the official Walt Disney World Special Dietary Request policy. The webpage outlines the allergies and metabolic disorders that Disney is able to accommodate through alternatives and offers guests an email address to contact if Guests have four or more allergies/intolerances or multiple Guests with allergies/intolerances within the same party. They ask that you contact them more than 14 days in advance if your party falls into that category.
What to Pack
Be sure that at the top of your packing list is any medications, pills, epipens, etc. that you might need if you do have a reaction. I make sure I have my bag of medications that includes everything from Tylenol to Gluten-Ease and won’t leave the room without it. I also either pack or take a run to a local food store to stock up on breakfast foods, as I find that breakfast can be the most difficult meal of the day to eat GF. You may want to consider packing some GF snacks that you can bring with you into the park. Disney will allow you to bring food into the parks with you, but a Cast Member will not be able to handle the food for you – including heating it up or storing the food.
You might also want to consider bringing a doctor’s note to err on the side of caution. I am 99.9999% certain Disney would never question an allergy or dietary restriction, but should you need to visit First Aid it might prove to be helpful. For those who wear a medical alert bracelet, be sure you don’t forget that as well!
Plus, be sure to download, print, and pack our free Gluten Free Disney Restaurant cards! You can print out as many as you need and present them at each dining location for an added reminder to the chef.
Where to Eat
As mentioned, most, if not all restaurants on WDW property will be able to accommodate allergies and special dietary requests. Gluten Free & Diary Free at WDW, a blog site specializing in GF and DF eating in Walt Disney World, has compiled many of the allergy-friendly menus for both Table-Service and Quick-Service restaurants. Of course, menus change constantly, so these may not all be up-to-date, but it will give you an idea as you determine where to eat.
The beauty of a Disney trip? You can pretty much eat at any of the Table-Service locations! So the question of where to eat becomes a big one, with almost 100 options to choose from!
Quick-Service locations can be a little bit more restrictive, as not ever food cart or walk-up-window will have a GF option. However, if you stick with the larger Quick-Service locations, like Columbia Harbour House (Magic Kingdom), Sunshine Seasons (Epcot), ABC Commissary (Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and Pizzafari (Animal Kingdom), you should have no problem finding something to eat. As with Table-Service restaurants, be sure to communicate your allergy to the cashier before ordering your food. If they have any questions or concerns they will ensure a Coordinator or the Chef speaks with you.
If you are looking for a snack throughout the day, many of everyone’s favorite Disney treats are actually GF! Check out the list below:
- Mickey Ice Cream Bar
- Dole Whip
- LeFou’s Brew (Available in Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom)
- GF Cupcake/Cookie/Pastry (Available at Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC in Disney Springs)
- Ice Cream Sundaes (GF toppings available at Beaches n’ Cream, Beach Club Resort)
- Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwich (Available at L’Artisan des Glaces in France)
- GF Beignets (Available at Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, Port Orleans Resort)
- Churros (Available at Nomad Lounge, Animal Kingdom)
While you, and Disney, take all the precautions to ensure you do not have a reaction, things happen. First Aid stations are available in all Disney Parks, including Water Parks and Disney Springs and are open during regular park hours. Trained medical staff is always on hand to assist with any issues – even if you just need some Tylenol! Additionally, if you are staying on property, you can use your room phone to call the “Front Desk” for assistance. More information, including off-site walk-in urgent care facilities can be found on Disney’s official website.
I hope that the information shared will help you or a member of your party have an enjoyable trip. If you are looking for recommendations of restaurants to check out I will biasedly tell you to make an Advanced Dining Reservation at Spiced Road Table – Disney’s hidden gem – or actually, don’t so that there’s all the hummus left for me!
Do you or a member of your party suffer from a food allergy that impacts your traveling? I would love to hear any tips or tricks you might be able to share below! Or if you want to chat, send me a message on Instagram @karmankismet!