Gluten-Free in Disneyland

Despite my vow to never go to Disneyland again, I succumbed to a friend’s request that I run the Tinkerbell Half Marathon with her. It was, I will admit, a relatively easy race (or as easy as 13.1 miles can be!), and the energy of the crowd was amazing. Running through the park before the regular crowds arrived reminded me of my childhood.

(Or, it was amazing fun!)

I then spent a day at Disneyland with my family — my niece is finally old enough to appreciate the magic of Disneyland. I felt old and jaded as I watched her try to absorb all the sights and sounds of the park…and that was before we wandered halfway down Main Street.

That’s not what this piece is about, of course. The Disney experience has changed a lot since my childhood. The old parking lot is now full of restaurants and shops. The park itself seems to have more dining options. And the lines? Well, the lines are just as bad as ever, though I was impressed with how fast the Pirates of the Caribbean line moved (and not-so-impressed with the mind-numbing slowness of the Storybook ride’s line!).

In both cases, I have been even more impressed with the availability of gluten-free dining options. I knew going in that Disney had stepped up to the plate when it comes to food allergies, but actually experiencing safe and varied GF dining experiences is worth writing about.

Obviously, the usual caveats apply: these are not dedicated gluten-free kitchens, foods can be exposed to cross-contamination, and, of course, you need to ask questions about ingredients, particularly if you aren’t 100% certain you’re ordering a gluten-free menu item.

After the half marathon, our entire party ate at Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney, and everyone had a great (and huge!) meal. The menu clearly indicated gluten-free options, making it easy for me to order. This was important as the runners at the table were starving.

Inside the park, we decided against our family favorite the Blue Bayou — the niece deemed it too scary and dark — in favor of Cafe Orleans. There, the two GF diners in our group were given special menus. The host at the front of the restaurant specifically asked out dietary restrictions (two gluten-free, two vegetarians, one 4-year old, and one who happily ate whatever was on the menu). That kind of thoughtfulness was greatly appreciated by all.

I enjoyed a GF version of a muffaletta sandwich. My brother ordered the regular version. Both were pricey, I will confess, and both were priced the same. Of course, his version came with chips and fruit, while mine was accompanied by a couple of grapes and strawberries. I didn’t particularly need the chips, but was surprised by their omission.

Disney parks in the United States, including cruises (not a park, but you know what I mean), are highly gluten-free conscious. The international parks also have gluten-free options, but do your research carefully as local dietary rules may be different than in the U.S.

Since my niece had such a great time at the park, it’s pretty clear we’ll be visiting again. Since both my sister and I are gluten free, knowing we’ll eat well is a relief! Now if they could just do something about those long lines…

Tip of the Week

It is Disney practice to allow guest with food allergies or intolerances to bring their own food items into the various parks. Inform security when you enter the park. However, because park staff cannot handle or heat your food for you, make sure you bring something that can be consumed without any additional equipment or assistance.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

While I loved the fact I could eat a muffaletta, something I fell in love with years ago in New Orleans, it was too much food for me. I ended up taking half my sandwich to go. As with so many of my old favorite foods, the longer I *don’t eat breads, even of the GF variety, the less inclined I am to indulge.

And since the sandwich made me feel heavy, I compensated by enjoying a light dinner (the niece conked out around 5 p.m., so we were home very early). Since the evening was cool, this meant lentil soup. I adore lentil soup, and will prepare it at the thought of chillier weather.

Or, frankly, any weather! Seriously, I love lentil soup. It’s versatile. It’s filling. And it’s perfect for lunch the next day.

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