Gluten-free Vegetarian Dining in Disneyland 2013

February 4th, 2013 yum Posted in Ca, California, Disneyland, Gluten Free Dining 7 Comments »

Five years ago I went to Disneyland and ate gluten-free there for the first time. I had been when I was a kid, but back then we had to bring a cooler with food and rough it. These days things are considerably easier with Disney supplying a list of gluten-free offerings at City Hall and chefs that generally have cross-contamination procedures in place to bring safe food to their gluten-free patrons.

Last time around I had a flawless time and was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the Disney “cast members”.

I ate and reviewed our experiences at Redd Rockett Pizza Port,the Tiki Juice Bar, Storyteller Cafe and Blue Bayou on our 6th anniversary trip to Disneyland.

This time I tried a batch of new restaurants and had a variety of experiences, some great and some less great. I would still recommend Disneyland as a gluten-free destination but there were a few tiny little hiccups this time around.

First of all, our first stop was at Town Hall to pick up the much touted dining gluten-free dining guide. I was more than a little surprised when the cast member there told me that they “didn’t have the new one for the new year,” especially since it was half-way through January already. I asked for one from last month and he said that they weren’t allowed to give an outdated one out. He suggested I talk to each chef at each restaurant to figure out what I could eat. So first off there was a bit of a weird feeling to the day. Luckily, but somewhat bizarrely, I was able to find a perfectly current dining guide online using my cell phone at that covered Disneyland, California Adventure AND the resorts, so I wasn’t completely in the dark. I would have far preferred getting a sheet of paper to easily refer to. Needless to say, having to blindly search out gluten-free options in the park did not sound like fun.

We started our first day with a meal at the Carnation Cafe, a restaurant on the main downtown part of Disneyland in the midst of the shops. The waitress brought out a chef to speak with me and he told me which menu items I could order. I ended up choosing Oscar’s Choice, but then it was a little confusing because the order had to go through the waitress and not the chef, apparently. Anyway, the food was fine when it came out- but when I was almost finished eating I noticed a clump of granola on my food. The menu clearly states that the granola isn’t gluten-free, and no one at our table ordered the dish with granola, so I’m not sure how it got there. I’m glad that I didn’t eat it accidentally! Actually, if you look really closely at the meal you can see the clump of granola. When I finally noticed it on my plate I squinted at it and picked it up with my spoon. You could clearly see the shape of an oat in the middle of the thing. I showed it to the DH and asked, “does that look like granola to you?” It looked like granola to him, too. Also, to be honest, since it didn’t come with gluten-free bread or anything, I thought they were a little stingy with the potato serving. We had a big day ahead and I was hoping to start off with a nice, filling meal. Overall, I was less impressed with the service than at other Disney Venues, and the granola thing freaked me out a bit.

After this inauspicious beginning, things improved.

For lunch time we went to Redd Rocket Pizza and I had the pizza and Planetary Pizza Salad. I was impressed with the pizza base. I think they changed it from the very white crust they used before and now it is much more tasty and has a good texture. As before, they cooked it properly and it was quite appetizing. Actually, it ended up being way too much food, and the salad was enormous. I think the latter was made larger since last time I came. But I was happy to have some veggies with my pizza. When we came in, there was a huge line snaking through the cafeteria. I told a cast member near the door that I needed to order gluten-free, and they had me go to the middle station where the chef was, and I put my order directly in with him. They have really improved wait times since last time! I think it only took about 7 minutes for him to get my order made in the back and bring it out. I was impressed with their improved efficiency.

That night we noshed on leftover goodies from Trader Joe’s including a fresh mozarella salad, Udi’s bagel and cream cheese, fruit and a treat from the divine Babycakes NYC (LA division, of course).

The next morning we decided to take Kid Yum to a character breakfast with Minnie at Plaza Inn. Some years ago when we came for our anniversary, we were tempted to try it but decided to wait until we came with kids. Fast-forward five years later, and we had Kid Yum in tow and the timing seemed perfect, especially after I read all the glowing reviews of their gluten-free training.When I arrived at the buffet I was a little intimidated but the host told me to go ask the omelet chef about gluten-free options. He seemed a little busy, but would have had some food brought for me from the back. Luckily though, someone brought a chef from the back and that chef took great care of me and was really nice and friendly. He asked me what I would like and told me he would get it together in the back and then bring it out to me at our table. Kid Yum and the DH got food and sat to eat it, but before long the chef came out with a huge plate with fresh fruit, hash browns and even the famed mickey mouse waffles. He also brought me a freshly made small omelet and later, a sample of the mexican casserole hot out of the oven.
It was lot of food and my DH laughed at me with my three dishes, but considering the price, I was happy to be so spoiled. I had no cross-contamination concerns at all and felt great. Not to mention that the second Kid Yum lit eyes on Eyore, her eyes lit up and she got a grin on her face that I have never seen before or since. There were tons of characters and they all were very sweet to my daughter and she had a great time. A few of the characters even put up with her trying to play a crazy balloon game with them. I would do it again in a heartbeat not only for the food but for the character experience. Kid Yum didn’t like seeing Captain Hook in the flesh and right and front of her at the breakfast table, despite loving him in the parade the night before. That was the only time she jumped into my arms to hide from a character. She was also deeply suspicious of the fairy godmother, but then moved from that to practically jumping into Tigger’s arms. Silly girl. Anyway, two thumbs up for the Breakfast with Minnie at Plaza Inn.

For lunch I was determined to try the mexican restaurant in frontierland that I had not made it to last time, Rancho Del Zocalo. The outside looked nice, and when you go inside it is a very cafeteria-like atmosphere. However, one of the servers got a chef for me and he was very helpful, although it seemed to confuse him that I was trying to order 2 full meals to share with my daughter (which the DH was also going to share). I ended up ordering the veggie taco meal, resembling a veggie fajita on a corn tortilla, and the veggie enchiladas.

I don’t have a good gluten-free friendly mexican food option in our area (although there is the awesome Oaxacan Kitchen for Oaxacan food) and so the idea of getting safe enchiladas sounded pretty good. In the end, I actually preferred the veggie tacos, because I found the enchiladas a tad bland, but both were nice options.

Kid Yum loved the beans and refried beans, and chomped some of the tortillas too. *Note: I didn’t think to check on the refried beans. Hopefully they were actually fully vegetarian. They were not “meaty” but ask if you are concerned.* As for dessert, it didn’t seem like we had any exciting options. I asked about the flan, but disappointingly the chef said that it was not gluten-free, either due to the ingredients or the preparation environment. Honestly, the meal was so hearty, even with sharing with the DH and Kid Yum that I wouldn’t have had room for dessert anyway. I enjoyed the charming environment in the courtyard once we left the cafeteria-type ordering area, and we had a very pleasant and relaxing lunch.

We completed our gluten-free culinary journey through Disneyland with a chocolate coated mickey ice cream. They contain no gluten-ingredients, and although they are manufactured in a shared facility, it was worth the minor risk to realize my second Mickey food dream. That morning I had enjoyed the famed Mickey Waffles, and in the afternoon Kid Yum and I said cheers (ok Kanpai, the Japanese version) over a mickey ice cream. It had been a memorable and delicious trip, and once again, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Disneyland and enjoy the gluten-free feast! (Next time I’d probably skip the Carnation Cafe, though.)

We stayed at a hotel in walking distance from Disneyland, and went on a few emergency Target runs. I was interested to see two restaurants with gluten-free menus across the street from Target, Outback Steakhouse and Red Robin. However, we never made it over there because we ended up spending all of our time at the park and it was just more convenient to eat on the park or in our hotel room. I did find a hotel refrigerator to be very convenient for late night snacks and a snack in the morning.

*Edited to add: I almost forgot, but I was also impressed by the fresh fruit and veggie options at Disneyland. I was especially intrigued by a pack of fresh strawberries with a little chocolate sauce cup that looked naturally gluten-free. If anyone knows where those are sold, let me know and I’ll add that info to the post. I think they MIGHT have been near the treehouse, but I don’t trust my memory.,,

Just for fun, some family pics from Disneyland!

Many gluten-free bloggers have written great reviews of Disneyland restaurants on a Gluten-free diet. Their posts are great resources and help you know what to expect from your gluten-free trip. Please check them out… and enjoy your trip!

Disneyland Dining with Gluten-free Frenzy
A honest rundown of one gluten-free experience at Disneyland
Gluten-free Highlights at Disneyland
disboards forum discussion of Disneyland
Gluten-free, Dairy free on a Disney CRUISE from adventures of a gluten-free mom
Debi shares her experience at Blue Bayou

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Gluten Free Vegetarian Adventures at Disneyland: Our 6th Anniversary at Blue Bayou

June 10th, 2008 yum Posted in Ca, California, Disneyland, Gluten Free On the Road, Pescatarian, Travel 12 Comments »

June eighth was our sixth wedding anniversary, and we celebrated all six of those years (eight, really) in grand style by hopping into our car and driving across California all the way to Disneyland. Who would have thought, eight years ago, that the cute blond boy sitting across from me in that fateful Japanese language class, would turn out to be THE ONE, and take me around the world and back again. Oh, the places we’ve been. Mexico, Jamaica, the Grand Cayman, France, Italy, Belgium, India (twice together!), Japan (our second home), Singapore, Austria, Germany… My honey has the travel bug and he delights in nothing more than sharing it with his friends and loved ones. He also handily has a knack of finding great airline fares online or using frequent flier miles in creative ways, so happily, all our travels haven’t been near as expensive as it all sounds. But, then, as DH says, while some people buy big vehicles or houses- we travel, instead. And the magic of travel is, once you get a passport and get past the idea of everything being far, far away- you can go ANYWHERE. And while being gluten-free still makes me nervous about certain countries, you can get by brilliantly in most places with a little creative thinking and some handy language cards like those provided by Triumph Dining.

For this anniversary we didn’t have the time or budget necessary for one of our ’round the world jaunts, though, so we started thinking about trips closer to home. The two main contenders were Portland, Oregon or Disneyland, in great part because both places make gluten-free travel blissfully easy. Gluten-Free Living just did an article on travel to Disneyland. It was fluffy and didn’t have much of the nitty gritty detail I prefer, but it did indicate that Disneyland staff make serious efforts on the behalf of their gluten-free diners, and that was reassuring. DH loves his roller coasters and I was intrigued by the gluten-free friendly rumors, so finally we decided to celebrate at Disneyland.

*I would like to say Thank you to everyone at the SillyYaks Message Board for their helpful suggestions and tips. You made my visit so much easier!*
Here’s the breakdown of our experiences at various places:
We arrived and went through security. I had a few GF granola bars in my bag and no one commented or seemed to care. I think if you are trying to bring more substantial food into the park you might want to mention a medical dietary restriction. First stop was City Hall. We stood in the (short) line and asked for a gluten-free listing of foods at the park. They handed me a four page, double-sided printout with lists of gluten-free foods available at Disneyland Park and California Adventures. Sites were organized by place- Tomorrowland, Adventureland, etc. Also, vending cart offerings were listed. Guess what? We can eat the cotton candy, popcorn, and Mickey faced ice cream bars (not the ice cream sandwiches, of course.) Them as what eat meat can also have the turkey legs, but those of us of veggie dispositions won’t want that. One thing that I found somewhat aggravating was that I really wanted a breakfast, but both days, by the time we got to the park the breakfast menu was over or finishing. We tried several times to go to the Plaza Inn, where you can get GF waffles and other traditional breakfast fare, but the first day it was closed until Dinner, and the second day they had a special character meal for $23 per person. Much as I love Minnie, I didn’t think she would add that much to my meal, so we passed on that one.

Luckily, Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, a “futuristic” (think 1970s Jetsons) cafeteria, had quite a few gluten free AND vegetarian options, so we ended up having “breakfast” there both days.

*Please verify information with the latest Celiac Offerings Reference Sheet available at Disneyland as offerings may change!*

When you walk into the Pizza Port, a cast member greets you and shows you to the cafeteria line. I told her right away I needed a gluten-free meal, and so she ushered me to a spot where the line was open to the kitchen and had me ask for the chef. The ladies working there called him, and he came out. I told him I needed a gluten-free meal, and he said “no problem.” Magic to my ears. I could have had rice noodles with pasta, a salad, or a Cheese Pizza with a gluten-free shell. *If you are dairy intolerant, the pasta is fine, but at least one of the salads has cheese and both pizzas (one meat) have cheese. You can ask the chef and he could probably modify it for you but it will require a special order.* I chose the cheese pizza, out of novelty. I’d heard that they only carried Amy’s pizzas, so I was surprised when it came out- if I’m not mistaken, it was a glutino or similar personal pizza crust that was nothing like Amy’s, so they must have changed distributors. We did have to wait about 20 minutes for them to fix it. Do yourself a favor and lean against the wall or find yourself a table with a view of the pick up counter. It came out, suitably cheesy and pizza-like. And, happily, I noted that they seemed to do the prep work out of view in some safe, sequestered area, and DIDN’T cut it with a contaminated knife. I actually felt safe eating pizza in a “pizza joint”- thanks to the segregation of work spaces. We were both pleasantly surprised when our two GF pizzas (DH ordered a GF pizza too, because he’s sweet that way) only came to about $12.00, costing a little under $6 each. It wasn’t even more expensive than the regular pizza, how cool is that?!! We carried our pizzas outside and enjoyed a little Disney pizza magic. How was the pizza? Well, I’m not that crazy about the crust they use- it’s not gourmet. But it is recognizably (reassuringly) gluten-free, the pasta sauce they use is good, and the cheese is suitably cheesy. Altogether a pleasant, if not mind-blowing meal. And the best part? I felt fine after I ate it, and all day. Yay for good gluten-free meal preparation training!

The second day after we passed up our chance to eat with Minnie and Friends, DH pulled me back to Redd Rockett’s. I get grumpy when I don’t eat, so he was determined that I eat, and fast. haha.. This time I wanted to be more adventurous, so I ordered the rice noodles with marinara sauce (on the chef’s recommendation), the Planetary Pizza Salad, and one personal cheese pizza. Keep in mind the pizzas are around 4-6 inches across. Regardless, it was a lot of food, especially with the mountain of rice pasta that came with it. I was a little startled because the planetary pizza salad did come with meat- pepperoni- that I wasn’t expecting. Doh. Had I known I would have asked for it without meat, but as it was I stole some of the olives and peppers that came with the salad and added it to the rather bland pasta. Additional salt also helped the pasta taste better- salt packets were available with the plastic utensils inside the cafeteria. The pasta was clearly rice pasta, and as DH said, looked very different than the regular pasta they served. Funny the things that are comforting when eating out. We ate our GF feast (DH shared everything) while Darth Vader and other Star Wars heroes performed on a nearby stage and kids played with a sphere fountain. Altogether, I was thoroughly happy with the experience. It wasn’t fancy food, or even especially flavorful (although the olives on the salad were higher quality than one might expect), but it was gluten-free and reasonably vegetarian friendly. The salad and pasta were a bit pricier than the mini pizza, so our second bill was about double the first one, but I was glad to get the chance to try everything.

Later we went to the Tiki Juice Bar (and saw the show with the chorus birds-don’t ask) in Adventureland. I was a little confused by the gluten-free list as the names didn’t exactly match up, so I asked the servers if it was gluten-free. They didn’t know, but gave me a great ingredient list- not only did it list all the ingredients but had a “special notes” section with a nice, brightly highlighted “Gluten-free” tag. Yay! To be honest, I took one bite and left the rest to DH- it was too sweet and artificial-tasting for me, but it was gluten-free! There are also many fruit stands all over the park where you can get fresh fruit like pineapple, oranges, and apples. I’m a little embarrassed to say that we didn’t get any- but we could have!

*a few pescatarian references, but all visible photos are vegetarian*
For our special Anniversary Meal, we decided to go to the Blue Bayou, the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The Pirates of the Caribbean has always been my favorite ride and I’d always longed to join the fancy people watching over the swamp and enjoying their meal, so it was a fitting place to go. By the way, if you want to eat there, a reservation is recommended, especially if you want a traditional dinner time. We tried to make a reservation by calling their priority seating number 714-781-DINE the first day and they were full that night, but we were able to make an early afternoon reservation for the next day. When we made the reservation, DH mentioned that I was gluten-free, and I noticed that it appeared on our table note sheet when we were seated. By the way, if you want a waterside seat, you should probably ask for that when you make the reservation or make friends with the hostess, as she determines seating. You might have to wait longer for a waterside seat. We ended up one table away from the edge- not bad, and I could make out the faint outlines of boats and riders, so I was happy. One funny note- celebrity Bob Saget was actually sitting one table away from us. I saw him and heard his voice, and half thought, “oh, he kinda looks like that guy that was on Full House,” and it turned out… it WAS that guy that was on Full House. His next table-mates asked for an autograph and photo with him, which he very graciously granted. Seemed like a nice guy. Anyway. So about the food. They had about eight dishes that could be made gluten-free. Two were pescatarian (mahi mahi or salmon) and one was actually vegetarian- a Broiled Portobello Mushroom. I was nervous about the latter becuase the Celiac Offerings list said “Portobello Mushroom with couscous.” Didn’t they KNOW couscous was made from wheat? Luckily when they brought out the chef, a very nice woman with a cool accent, she knew all about the couscous and offered rice instead. BTW, only come here if you are celebrating and up for the stiff prices- we were on the lunch menu and each main course entree was around $30, including the vegetarian dish. They first brought out a salad- it was buttery lettuce with a rather acidic sherry dressing, with a side of avocado and some blue cheese. Thankfully the blue cheese was on the side, because I can’t stand the stuff, irrespective of its gluten-free or gluten-containing status. It wasn’t bad, but I thought there was too much dressing. Apparently the salad usually comes with some kind of gluten-based sausage- I was quick to tell her I didn’t need it anyway. Our main dishes were quite good. I had a pescatarian offering (sorry guys, you may or may not know I occasionally indulge when dining out- don’t think worse of me but for $30 I thought better go with the recommendation of the chef) and was quite satisfied. The cajun rice was pleasant, and I liked the side vegetables- simply prepared and seasoned white asparagus and broccolini. DH had jambalaya that he quite enjoyed, despite the fact that he’s not usually a jambalaya kind of guy. We had told our server that it was our anniversary, so, to our surprise, at the end of the meal she brought us “free” ice cream with candles and mint doubloons, along with two mickey and minnie “Happy Anniversary” pins. Altogether it was a pleasant meal that felt very satisfying, celebrating our anniversary and fulfilling a childhood fantasy all in one swoop.
So, that was our experience at Disneyland proper. Next time, I think I’d go to the Rancho Del Zocalo in Frontierland and try their corn vegetable tacos and cheese quesadillas and/or cheese enchiladas. Pizza is good, but a girl can’t live on gluten-free pizza alone.

But what about not quite Disneyland proper? When I asked people on my favorite gluten-free message board, Yahoo’s SillyYaks group, they highly recommended the Storytellers Cafe in downtown Disneyland in the Grand Californian Hotel. (Menu). We went there for an early dinner the first night. I did notice that there wasn’t a lot of variety as far as vegetarian options- in fact, they were fairly non-existent. Honestly our server seemed quite clueless about the whole vegetarian preference thing- she said, Oh, we can make almost anything gluten-free, so what would you like… and then when I asked about gluten-free and vegetarian she sort of blinked and said, er, well, there’s the prime rib. Riiiight. We ordered the gluten-free pizza, because I was looking forward to a gourmet version, and I selected artichoke hearts, red onions, and mushrooms. We also ordered the Gluten Free (pescatarian) Linguini. Photo of Pescatarian Pasta. (Remember, DH and I were sharing, so the pesc. thing was mostly for him.) When the pizza came I was pretty disappointed as it was barely warm and clearly hadn’t been cooked long enough. I would have sent it back but I was concerned about it becoming cross contaminated on the way to the oven, so I just ate it as is, but sadly enough the Redd Rockett pizza was 100 times better. Amazing what being cooked properly will do for a food. Also, the toppings were just thrown on there with little, if any seasoning- the artichoke hearts were not even cut up so it was a bit hard to eat. The pasta was better, although there was so much of it and it was so calor-ific there was no way we could eat it all. (Not that that is a bad thing- after all, the last thing you want to be after a big GF meal is hungry!) DH thought the pescatarian bits were very tasty, and I thought the sauce was nice. Actually, I got rather nervous because it was so thick and I kept wondering if it had some thickening sauce in it, so I asked for the ingredients. I was surprised at how helpful our server was with this. She actually went to the kitchen and wrote out the ingredients: cream, shallots, black peppercorn, bay leaves, lemon juice, salt, and tomato relish (tomato, onion, shallots, cajun seasoning). My mind at ease, I could enjoy the dish. Overall we had mixed feelings about our meal there. The pasta was good but extremely rich, and it felt like they put very little effort into the pizza. However, the fact that you can order a gluten-free meal there and feel confident in it means a great deal. I would ask to speak to the chef for a real gluten-free vegetarian meal next time, and maybe go for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner. Their non-vegetarian meals are probably where their real expertise lies, and I heard so many positive reviews that I feel pretty confident recommending it for that- or even for a vegetarian meal, with better communication. If you liked the tasty salsa at the Storyteller’s Cafe, here’s the recipe.

So- that was our gluten-free, vegetarian (with excursions into pescatarianism) experience at Disneyland. You will notice many of the dishes I had included cheese- if you eat meat, it’s easier to avoid the cheese, and it is probably possible to get the pizza without cheese, although I don’t necessarily recommend it. There are salads, possibly taco options, and pasta that could be made dairy free, though- and the fancier restaurants do seem to offer at least one vegetarian main dish. We had a great time and it was so nice not to worry about food the entire time. Not having to lug around food made it easier to enjoy the real point of Disneyland- the rides, and spending time with my honey celebrating our Anniversary!

I hope this will encourage you to give Disneyland a try, post-diagnosis. It really is one of the “happiest,” or at least the easiest places, to eat Gluten-free on vacation, and I highly recommend it. Happy trails, and may all your gluten-free dreams come true! (I can’t help it- the mickey ears get to you after a while…)

Looking for more tips on Disney travel? Try Disboards or wdwmagic.
Here’s a very thorough photo essay about eating gluten-free and dairy free at Disney WORLD
and various reviews of GF Disney – somewhat dated.

And now… I’d love to hear about your gluten-free adventures at Disneyland, so please share in the comments!

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