Today we bring you another great article from Heather King over at The Gluten-Free Girls blog. Enjoy!
I still remember the first time I went to Disneyland. It was truly magical, everything I expected and more. Now, as a mother and Annual Passholder, my Disney delight has waned a bit over the years. Yes, I love watching Disney through my kids eyes, but I have become jaded. During a recent stay at the Grand Californian Hotel, the pixie dust came back with a vengeance. There was the typical Disney magic, like an amazing fireworks view from our hotel room (magical, since Miss E was able to sleep while the rest of us enjoyed the show) and a meet & greet with Anna & Elsa, who spent 10 minutes casually chatting with Miss E and CJ about important things like making a snowman out of chocolate ice-cream. Yum!
… but nothing thrilled the heart of this momma like the gluten-free, Disney magic we experienced. Like everything else, Disney does it very well, my friend. At every restaurant, a chef (or food prep manager) came out to discuss Miss E’s dietary restrictions, which he/she would then oversee from start to finish.
As passholders, we often race to Disneyland for a few hours of fun after school. Since Miss E’s celiac diagnosis, I have found it easy enough to just bring our own gluten-free snacks. That seemed overwhelming for a longer visit…. So, I spoke with Chef de Cuisine Bill Orton whose portfolio includes special dietary needs at the Disneyland Resort. I simply told him our plans, and he was full of tips and restaurant suggestions. Here’s what and where we ate…
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel
White Water Snacks was a hit for poolside treats. Miss E enjoyed her kid’s cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun (gf buns are available throughout the resort). The snack bar does not have a dedicated fryer, so no french fries for her here, but she happily munched on her fruit, celery and carrots, before making friends at the kiddie pool. CJ rode the waterslide non-stop.
We did “The Quest” (scavenger hunt) at the Grand Californian, not realizing the prize would be a character cookie from White Water Snacks. Awesome. Not. Well, maybe if you are the average Resort guest and can eat cookies. But, not for us. I had visions of Miss E being disappointed or CJ protesting the inequality of whatever treat I would now have to buy Miss E to replace the beautiful flour-filled cookie she won. Thankfully, Disney magic struck again. They were out of character cookies! The cast members at WWS let the kiddos have frozen lemonade (huge hit), and I dodged a bullet.
We did run into a couple of bumps during our stay, but those minor “inconveniences” were because Disney was being extra careful with their guests’ health – something I prefer over any convenience. One of those bumps was at theStoryteller Cafe. Chef Bill mentioned the Storyteller Cafe was currently moved (closed for renovations) and only serving a buffet, but the chef could still take care of gluten-free dining needs. Unfortunately, the chef we spoke with did not believe it would be safe for Miss E to eat due to the temporary relocation. Cast members thoughtfully switched our reservation to Goofy’s Kitchen where she could be more safely accommodated. I have heard good things about the Storyteller Cafe (and their mickey pancakes) for gluten-free folks. We plan to try again when the renovations are finished.
Hungry and on our way to Goofy’s Kitchen, we were lured by the aroma of pasta and pizza into Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria. Since we had already sat down to eat once (only to then deny our stomachs the actual pleasure of eating), the proximity was appealing, too. Downtown Disney restaurants are independent (not operated by the Disneyland Resort), so each restaurant has its own procedure for handling dietary needs. Naples was excellent! Hubby, who is not celiac but eats gluten-free, ordered salmon. Miss E ordered GF pasta (her favorite) with marinara sauce. Note: the pizza is not G-free. The manager came out and reviewed our order, then later served the gluten-free meals herself. Naples earned extra points when the server brought out fruit for hubby and Miss E to eat while the rest of us devoured gluten-filled Italian bread. Next time, I’ll get extra points if I bring GF bread for them to eat.
Another very minor bump was at Flo’s V8. Chef Bill said that there was a very successful pilot program (hopefully soon to be expanded) of gluten-free menus at Flo’s V8, Wine Country Trattoria and Carthay Circle. Disney still has the special menu at the Wine Country Trattoria (check out my separate post on the Trattoriahere), but I was told by a cast member at Flo’s that the menu was not available there due to some inaccuracies. No worries. In true Disney fashion, a chef came out and discussed our options. Hubby ordered chicken (without au jus), veggies and mashed potatoes. Miss E ate carved turkey on a gluten-free bun (also without au jus), fruit, carrots, about half of her dad’s mashed potatoes (to his displeasure), which came with a Lightning McQueen container. Okay, by came with, I mean we paid extra for it. We sat inside next to the Radiator Springs Racers ride, where we could see (not hear, for fear of scaring the kiddos so much they wouldn’t ride it with us) the cars racing past.
Clarabella’s Ice Cream Shop was the hands-down family favorite! A food prep manager took and oversaw our order, after pointing out the gluten-free menu items. Most of the ice-cream is gluten-free, with obvious exceptions like cookies and cream, which were explained to us, and all of the toppings are safe for a celiac, much to the delight of my rainbow-sprinkle-loving children. CJ, who can eat his gluten-loving heart out indulged in a chocolate-dipped, rainbow sprinkle covered, waffle cone, while Miss E enjoyed her mint chocolate chip in a cup.
Food carts…. popcorn passed my check of the ingredients, but the turkey leg was a no-go due to the risk of cross contamination. I have heard that Thanksgiving is a slow day in the park, and a turkey leg is a great substitute for a Thanksgiving feast, so hopefully Disney will work this out in the future.
We did not head into Disneyland on this trip, but Chef Bill mentioned a few popular places we will test over the next few months: Tommorowland Terrace (for gluten free hamburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches), Red Rockets Pizza Port (for pasta and pizza), Plaza Inn (for gluten free mickey waffles at breakfast and huge portions to share at other meals). I’ll let you know as we discover our favorites.
Bottom-line… we will be happily giving Disney more money. Over and over, I was impressed with the level of knowledge regarding celiac disease throughout the resort. Everyone from the chefs to the cast members running food carts understood the risk of cross-contamination. As a jaded, frequent guest, I was once again totally in love with Disneyland. The parks are popular and full,always . Disney could stop accommodating dietary needs and the parks would still be full, always. Nevertheless, not only does Disney accommodate our needs, the Happiest Place on Earth does it as well as (or better than) anyone. Thanks for the gluten-free pixie dust, Disney!
Special thanks to Heather King for allowing us to share her article. Be sure to check out her gluten free blog!