Cruising gluten-free: setting things up pre-cruise

03/01/2015 - Leave a Response

Walt Disney World is awesome for gluten-free dining, but I didn’t know what to expect from Disney Cruise Line. So I took to their website and ended up here:

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

I clicked the “Email” link, which took me to a contact form. After using this form to ask about gluten-free options onboard, I received a reply advising me to contact SpecialServices@disneycruise.com. I did so, and received a phone call from a very helpful young lady named Jeanette. She told me that a notation about the gluten-free requirement was added to our reservation, answered all my questions, and followed up with a detailed email. Note that all of this occurred about six weeks pre-cruise. It eased my mind to know that my son would have safe food during our trip. If you’ll be cruising DCL with dietary restrictions, I recommend contacting Special Services ahead of time.

Our first Disney cruise!

02/26/2015 - 13 Responses

I’m scared of boats, claustrophobic, and prone to motion sickness. A cruise was never on my wish list. But for several years, my boys expressed interest in a Disney cruise. This past Christmas, my husband and I made it their big gift. We just sailed last week, and wow – Disney knows how to cruise! I have lots of tips to share in the weeks to come, but for now, here’s the big Christmas-morning reveal:

cruise reveal

Each of our three boys received a wrapped mailing tube (which I’d picked up at a craft store). We asked the boys to open these gifts at the same time. Inside each tube was a pirate scroll, which they unfurled to reveal the cruise info:

cruise itinerary

In addition to the scrolls, each boy received a pirate shirt (for Pirate Night), a polo shirt (for Dress Up Night), and a customized Disney magnet for our stateroom door. They were very excited, and I felt very brave to be facing my fears!

Columbia Harbour House: gluten-free review

02/25/2015 - Leave a Response

Columbia Harbour House sign

We’ve found that Columbia Harbour House is the best place in the Magic Kingdom to get a gluten-free meal. Why is that? Well, they have a food allergy and gluten-free menu – yay!

Upon making our way to the cash register, we told the Cast Member that our party had someone who can’t eat gluten. He handed me a special menu. I was surprised and delighted. Rather than going through a binder of ingredients, I could just let my son pick something from a menu – hooray! Not only that, but they had GLUTEN FREE FRENCH FRIES! This is a big deal, since few restaurants have dedicated gluten-free fryers. Thus, finding French fries that haven’t been cross-contaminated is rare. Also, the barbecue sauce in this restaurant’s self-serve dispensers is gluten-free. Another yay!

Anyways, the cashier called out a manager, who took our order, prepared it personally, and brought it out to us herself.

As I sat upstairs, watching my son eat his chicken tenders and fries just like in our pre-celiac days, I kind of teared up a little. Which might be why I forgot to take any pictures of our meal. :)

If you have celiac disease or food allergies, Columbia Harbour House is definitely the place to go!

Akershus: gluten-free AND gluten-filled review. Plus some princess pics.

02/12/2015 - 4 Responses

Akershus

We’d never been to Akershus before and we’d never eaten gluten-free at a Disney table-service restaurant before, so this was a meal of firsts! After checking in, we were greeted by Belle, commemorating the occasion with a formal portrait.

Akershus Belle

We then were shown to our table. I’d informed the restaurant of my son’s dietary restrictions ahead of time, so our waitress told us that the chef would be out to discuss the meal. Not long after that, the chef appeared at our table. He discussed the appetizer buffet with my son, advising him which items contained gluten (fortunately, there weren’t many).

My gluten-laden appetizers.  My son had a lot of gluten-free options, but his plate wasn't as pretty as mine.

My gluten-laden appetizers. My son had a lot of gluten-free options, but his plate wasn’t as pretty as mine.

Then it was time to take a look at the entree menu. The chef told us that he could modify all but one of the entrees to be gluten free, my son chose what he wanted, and the chef prepared it just for him.

Delicious gluten-free chicken and potatoes.

Delicious gluten-free chicken and potatoes.

Dessert was yummy – a trio of gluten-laden goodies for me, delicious sorbet for my son.

My glutenous dessert trio.

My glutenous dessert trio. My son’s sorbet looked yummy, too, but didn’t last long enough for a picture!

While we enjoyed our meal, the princesses came to our table to visit!

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Isn’t my kid a good sport? What an enchanting and delicious meal! What do you think of Akershus?

Random Magic: Meeting Ariel

02/04/2015 - Leave a Response

Did you ever have one of those totally unexpected pixie-dust-moments? That happened to us at Epcot.

We started the day by rope-dropping, going straight to Test Track and single ridering it with no wait whatsoever, doing Ellen’s Universe of Energy, and using our FastPass+ for Spaceship Earth. Afterwards, we headed to the Land side of the park for a popcorn snack. As we munched, my son glanced over toward the Imagination Pavilion and said, “Hey, that looks like Ariel!” We went over for a closer look, and sure enough, there she was, meeting and greeting. The line was short, we hopped in it, and had our first ever random Ariel encounter. She was great!

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It was just one of those sweet, unexpected moments that makes Disney World so special. Do you have a pixie dust story to share? I’d love to hear it!

Flame Tree Barbecue: gluten-free review

01/28/2015 - Leave a Response

We’ve been to Flame Tree Barbecue in Disney’s Animal Kingdom many times before, but this was our first visit with dietary restrictions. Fortunately, Disney makes it easy! When you get to the cashier, just tell him/her that someone in your party can’t have gluten. They will call out a manager, who will take your order, prepare it personally, and bring it out to you. My son ordered the ribs, which came with two sides. Since the fries there are cooked in the same oil as gluten-containing food, he opted for a double order of the cole slaw and gave half of it to me.

Flame Tree ribs

The manager warned us that the barbecue sauce in the self-serve dispensers at Flame Tree Barbecue is NOT gluten-free, so she gave us several packets of the GF stuff.

The only thing that would make this better would be a dedicated fryer so that the French fries would be gluten-free. Overall, however, a very good gluten-free dining experience!

Coronado Springs

01/21/2015 - Leave a Response

Disney’s Coronado Springs is a resort and a convention center. If you’re attending a convention here, it is the perfect place to stay. If you’re a family of five, it’s not.

When my son and I attended the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention, held at Coronado Springs, we opted to stay right there. What a great decision this turned out to be! Our room was a short walk to the convention center (which is very lucky – it’s a rambling resort and some rooms are quite far from the convention center) so we could pop back to the room whenever necessary.

Why is this resort not the best choice for a family of five? The standard rooms only sleep up to four people. There are a small number of suites of various kinds (junior, 1-bedroom, and executive), but these cost more than the price of two standard rooms, and seem to be mainly used by managers or executives attending conventions. So, if you’re a family of more-than-four and really want to stay here (and I wouldn’t blame you – it’s a lovely resort), book two standard rooms as close together as possible.

Just inside the door is this beautiful fountain.

Just inside the door is this beautiful fountain.

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The lovely lobby.

After checking in, we made our way to The Casitas (one of the three areas of this sprawling resort laid out around a central lake).

En route to our casita.

En route to our casita.

Getting close to our casita...

Getting close to our casita…

Our casita!

Our casita!

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CS desk and dresser

CS bath

We passed this fountain on our way to and from the bus stop. So we walked by it a lot!

We passed this fountain on our way to and from the bus stop. So we walked by it a lot!

One morning, I took a stroll around the resort grounds to check out the other two areas.

The main building from across the lake.

The main building from across the lake.

The Ranchos.

The Ranchos.

The main pool.

The main pool.

The Cabanas.

The Cabanas.

Coronado Springs has several dining options: table-service breakfast and lunch at Las Ventanas, table-service dinner at Maya Grill, Siestas Cantina by the main pool, counter-service Café Rix near the lobby, counter-service food-court Pepper Market, and Rix Lounge (as well as a couple of pool bars). The only one we tried was Pepper Market. The chicken nachos, cheese empanada, and grilled veggie pita were all very good!

CS pepper market

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Would I stay here with my family of five? Probably not. There are other Disney resorts that work much better for big families. Would I stay here for another convention? Most definitely!

Our favorite Disney restaurants: Biergarten

01/14/2015 - 2 Responses

So, if you ever find yourself as part of a party of seven in Epcot at lunchtime on a ridiculously hot day in August and really just want to get out of the sun and into the air conditioning and don’t have an ADR… go to Biergarten.

I can’t take credit for this suggestion. That totally goes to the Geekin’ on WDW podcast. (If you haven’t checked it out, do so. Father/daughter hosts Curtis and Lindsay are awesome!) But I did take them up on this most sage advice, making for one of the best lunch stops of our trip. Peruse the menu here.

Though we were a big party and didn’t have a reservation, Biergarten was happy to accommodate. After a few minutes’ wait, we were shown to our table, served drinks, shown to the buffet, and enjoying fine Oktoberfest-style entertainment. Wow!

biergarten drinks

My husband’s German-sized beer and my wine flight.

Fun was had by all!

Fun was had by all!

Go to Biergarten in the Germany Pavilion at Epcot. You won’t be disappointed!

(Note: this visit was before my son’s diagnosis of celiac disease. We’ll have to go back to try their gluten-free offerings!)

Our Favorite Disney Restaurants: Cinderella’s Royal Table

01/10/2015 - 4 Responses

180 days before our vacation, 6:00 a.m, I’m on the Walt Disney World website booking our reservation for dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Why so early? Because it was the first possible moment that I could book that restaurant. And if you don’t book it at the earliest possible moment, you might not get it. In fact, you probably won’t.

Sounds crazy, right? But it’s a relatively small restaurant (at least, by Disney standards). It’s also highly coveted. With good reason – it’s located INSIDE Cinderella Castle!

Now, I’d heard that the character interaction at this restaurant was great, but that the food was just okay. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that, when dining here, you were paying for the experience. Let me take a moment to address each.

The Princesses

Cinderella

I love any excuse to wear my tiara!

Upon your arrival inside the castle, you meet with Cinderella for a formal portrait. (She was a lovely hostess and very complimentary to my three princes.) Once your party is called, you ascend a spiral staircase. At the top, the beautiful dining room awaits. You are shown to your table, make your selections of appetizer and entree, and wait for the Princesses to stop by for a visit. They take plenty of time at each table to chat, sign autographs, and pose for pictures. They were, in a word, delightful.

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Ariel with our “Eric.”

The Food

Having read that the food here was less than great, my expectations were low. Thus, I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that the food was excellent. We all loved our meals, from our pickiest kid to my foodie husband. We particularly loved the special desserts. The menu can be found here.

The Experience

Our view

Our view

There is just something so special about dining inside Cinderella Castle. Everything, from start to finish, was very memorable. As we descended the spiral staircase on our way out, a footman stood at the bottom of the stairs, nodding to each of us as we passed. “Good night,” I said to him.

“Good evening, Your Majesty,” he replied with great dignity.

(Note: this visit was before my son’s diagnosis of celiac disease. We’ll have to go back to try their gluten-free offerings!)

The Food Allergy and Celiac Convention at WDW!

01/05/2015 - Leave a Response

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Imagine you’re 13 years old, and suddenly find out that you can’t eat gluten any more…for the rest of your life. “What’s gluten?” you ask. Basically, it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Because of cross-contact during processing, it’s often found in oats, too. “What’s so bad about gluten?” you ask. If you have gluten sensitivity, a gluten allergy, or celiac disease, your body will react to it. This is really tricky for someone with celiac disease (like my teen son) because a celiac’s body can react to a very small amount of gluten. The only way to stay safe is to avoid gluten altogether.

So, back to being 13 and finding out you can no longer have “normal” bread, rolls, pasta, cookies, cake, doughnuts…basically anything with flour. What would 13-year-old you do? In my son’s case, he handled it like a trooper. I’m incredibly proud of him. Part of what helped his attitude was the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention.

Upon receiving his diagnosis, I immediately started doing online research. One of my first stops was Gluten-free and Dairy-free at WDW. This is a fantastic resource for those with celiac disease or food allergies who are contemplating a trip to Disney World. While on this site, I learned of the first annual Food Allergy and Celiac Convention to be held at none other than Coronado Springs at – you guessed it – Walt Disney World! This seemed like the perfect way to help my son deal with his new diagnosis – and it did indeed help. If he had a moment of “why can’t I just eat like a normal person?” all he had to do was think about his impending trip to Disney. Looking forward to the trip helped him through any feelings of discouragement.

And once we actually got to the convention, wow! It was much larger than we expected. There were tons of vendors, many offering samples of gluten-free foods. This was a fantastic opportunity to try lots of new things all in one place. Before we even made it to all of the vendors, we were getting full!

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There was also a speaker stage. We particularly enjoyed keynote speaker Gary Jones, Culinary Dietary Specialist for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He is key in creating safe meal experiences for those with dietary restrictions. The statistics he shared regarding the increase in special dietary requests were eye-opening. In a way, this is also encouraging. With food allergies and celiac disease on the rise, hopefully more restaurants will start accommodating dietary restrictions. Walt Disney World already has a fabulous special-diet protocol in place. I’ll share our first-hand experience with this in future posts.

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In addition to the speaker stage, there was a demonstration stage. This is where we watched Disney chefs (and other fabulous culinary masters) create celiac- and allergy-friendly dishes. We weren’t able to sample their food (this is the question I’m most frequently asked about the convention), but we did pick up some wonderful tips for the kitchen!

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Not only did we find lots of great new products and learn some very helpful hints, but the supportive atmosphere of the convention was, in my opinion, a huge part of its success. Where else can a celiac go and be surrounded by people just like him? For my son, it was a chance to feel normal for a day. And I loved the positive message that the event organizers Laurie Sadowski and Sarah Norris put forth: Celebrate Awareness. The day was all about celebrating the increasing awareness of celiac disease and food allergies, and there was definitely a festive vibe in the air.

I hear that the second annual FACC is in the works – yay!

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