January 25, 2020

Gluten Free: Disneyland - Planning and Accommodations

At the end of November my family headed back to Disneyland for what is rapidly becoming a yearly tradition (editor's note: a topic covered recently on Disneyland for Designers). This was our first visit to the happiest place on Earth since my partner was diagnosed with celiac disease, and not wanting to experience a repeat of the meal stress we experienced over the summer in Seattle, we put a lot more effort into planning this time around.

This is part one of a two part article covering eating gluten-free at Disneyland. In this part, we will look at some general information about visiting Disneyland with gluten-free or celiac-friendly dietary needs. Part Two covers our experiences at specific Disneyland Resort restaurants. Hopefully some of this information is helpful to others who are planning a park trip with dietary needs.

Gluten-free Street Taco Plate from Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill @ DCAGluten Free Disneyland Trip Planning

Call Ahead

If you are planning reservations, character dining or other experiences involving meals, call ahead and discuss your dietary needs. We were able to note dietary needs when we booked our character breakfast through the Disneyland mobile app, but when my partner called to confirm, she was given a lot of additional information. One pro tip she received over the phone - both Cafe Orleans and Blue Bayou make a gluten-free Monte Cristo, but you need to call a day ahead and let them know you will be dining there so they can make the bread.

Getting to the Disneyland Resort

Being Oregonians, getting to Disneyland is a short hop from Eugene or Portland to LA. A few snacks (editor's note: sealed snacks) in our carry-on and we are set all the way to the hotel. Not everyone has the luxury of a quick flight and may be looking to refuel at LAX before the final leg to the Anaheim resort area. Find Me Gluten Free has a list of airport restaurants, but there are less than a handful listed for LAX that are celiac-friendly.

In-flight snacking can be similarly sparse. Beyond Celiac has a good rundown of celiac friendly airline offerings. Not all North American airlines offer celiac-friendly meals on domestic flights. Most offer a gluten-free snack...of some sort...for purchase.

Quick takeaway: bring your own travel food and bring baby wipes if you plan on eating at the airport. Actually, bring wipes anyway, they are always useful.

Grocery Delivery

Grocery delivery to your hotel is awesome. If you have dietary needs, it's a great way to ensure you have foods you know are safe during your trip.

We placed an order that included our Costco staples (Kind Bars, Pure Organic Fruit Bars, Babybel's, Kirkland Turkey Jerky and fresh fruit) and a few miscellaneous items from Sprouts. This covered all of our snacking for all seven days. This was our first time using grocery delivery and we learned a few things.

First, check with your hotel ahead of time to see how they handle grocery deliveries. We stayed at the Sheraton Park Hotel which requires guests to be present to receive orders, so we scheduled our groceries for delivery a couple hours after we anticipated arriving. And don't trust what you read online, policies change.

For example, until late last year, Disneyland Resort hotels accepted grocery deliveries at Bell Services and kept food refrigerated (if needed) until you arrived at no cost. The on-property hotels now require guests to be present to receive their own deliveries. Of course this could change again tomorrow, so do your homework.
Second, make sure you note your dietary needs with the delivery service. I didn't think to do this ahead of time and one of our shoppers started gathering our order while we were still in the air. When I took my phone out of airplane mode, I had a string text message substitutions, a couple of which were not gluten-free.

Gluten-free at the Disneyland Resort

The Good

First off, the Disneyland Resort is incredibly accommodating to a wide array of dietary needs, including gluten-free and celiac. Resort restaurants, both quick and table service, all offer printed allergy menus and are staffed with chefs trained in accommodating food allergies and dietary needs.

When we indicated we had dietary needs, resort restaurants all offered chef consultations. The chefs we spoke with were knowledgeable about celiac disease and took time to explain how they would prepare and handle our meals to prevent gluten cross-contamination. Best of all, we were never made to feel like our dietary needs were an inconvenience, even when a restaurant was incredibly busy and accommodating us would slow them down.

I can not say enough about how awesome it is to know you can walk into any resort restaurant and be accommodated. It eliminates a huge amount of stress and allows you to enjoy the park without worrying about your dietary needs.

The Bad

Outside of the Disneyland Resort proper, celiac-friendly options were much more limited, especially without personal transportation. Even with a car, time spend driving around Orange County to eat is time not spent in the park. For us, all of the meals we ate over our seven day vacation either came from resort restaurants or groceries we brought from our hotel room. While eating exclusively at the resort was very celiac-friendly, wallet friendly it was not.

The Ugly

For all that Disneyland does right to accommodate dietary needs, it seems like access to this information has become more limited over the last year. When we started planning our trip in early 2019, the Disneyland mobile app listed allergy-friendly meals, including gluten-free options for nearly all resort restaurants. As of writing this (January 2020), many of the menus in the mobile app now simply say, "Allergy-Friendly menus available upon request." Oddly, some of these same menus WILL show the removed allergy-friendly items if you start a mobile order. Technology.

Speaking of "menus available upon request," until recently printed allergy menus were available at Disneyland City Hall. This practice stopped some time in 2019. Now, you must go to a restaurant to view the allergy menu, making planning ahead a bit harder.

Well, that does it for part one. Part two is now available.

Cheers!

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