by Angie Carreiro
Karen Stoj is a newly turned Gluten-Free diner. Eating Gluten-Free is sometimes trickier than it may sound, as gluten can be hiding in foods you might not think contain gluten (as is the case with most food allergies)! From beer, to something as innocent as soy-sauce, if you’re new to the Gluten-Free lifestyle you might make mistakes here and there, because spotting the allergen isn’t always as obvious as you may think!
Karen recently took a trip to WDW in August 2012. So, how were the parks for someone who, herself, doesn’t yet know all of the restrictions of her own diet? Well, let’s find out!
AC: Karen, we already know you just recently realized your own allergy to gluten, but exactly how recently was it, and how much did you know about what you could and couldn’t eat while planning your vacation?
KS:I found out about my Gluten allergy just a week before our vacation. I immediately went on-line and joined several gluten free living community boards. I wanted to learn all about gluten on my own from reading, research and what others have learned. Amazingly, there were entire lists of gluten-free foods at every eatery in Walt Disney World. I read through the lists very carefully and read all about what foods are safe to eat. The more you read and learn about it, the better judgment you can make for yourself.
AC: I’m Gluten-Intolerant, so cross contamination isn’t a problem for me, but how severe is your allergy? Can any small trace of gluten cause an allergic reaction?
KS: Fortunately, I do not experience any reactions that are life threatening such as breathing difficulty or swelling similar to people who are allergic to peanuts or bee stings. I still wanted to avoid contamination if at all possible.
AC: Were you able to find items on menus in WDW that were already Gluten-Free, or did you have to speak to a chef or manager every time you ordered food?
KS: Thankfully, most foods are naturally gluten free. Vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, and even rice and potatoes! Gluten is most commonly found in wheat, rye, malt, some flours, and other various fillers and additives. I knew already to avoid most soups and sauces as well as pastas, breads and desserts. It is Disney policy that if you state that you have an allergy that a chef come out to talk to you, even at quick service restaurants. This made it very easy since the chef would point out immediately what I could and couldn’t have or would have to be prepared differently.
AC: Did you bring some of your own snacks with you from home on your vacation to WDW? If yes, did you end up needing to use them?
KS: I did bring some popcorn and gluten free cookies but ended up throwing them out and just getting popcorn and ice cream!
AC: On a scale from 1-10, how easy was it to find food in WDW?
AC: On a scale from 1-10 how easy was it to ORDER food in WDW?
AC: Were there any obstacles you faced with your diet restrictions in WDW?
KS: The only obstacle would have been if I was worried about cross contamination. The chef will tell you if the fryer is used for any foods that contain gluten. It is then your call to skip the food that you may otherwise have been able to eat or get it anyway.
AC: Did the Cast Members seem well acquainted with the Gluten-Free diet (maybe even more-so than you were)?
KS: Everyone knew about Gluten! All the way from Mexico quick service and the bakery in France to the truck in Animal Kingdom that sells chicken wings.
AC: Did you find that you needed to do a lot of planning ahead, or was it pretty easy to order off the menu right then and there in the restaurants?
KS:I did no planning whatsoever, but we did choose many buffets with the hopes that it would be the easiest to find lots of options for me to eat. The key to planning is just really to know as much about the allergy as possible.
AC: Did you find Counter Service restaurants to be easier or harder than Table Service locations for ordering special-diet food?
KS: Counter Service restaurants were just as easy to order from. I stopped asking about the french fries because most only had 1 fryer so I ended up eating them anyway. I frequently requested my sandwiches sans roll and the rest worked out fine.
AC: Were there times you felt frustrated during meal time trying to find out what you could and couldn’t order in WDW?
KS: Absolutely NOT
AC: Did you have any slip-ups in WDW and accidentally eat something with gluten?
KS: I’m sure some of the fries and tortilla chips all contained trace gluten from the fryers. I did cut the middle of the German cheesecake out and eat it…
KS: The Chefs in Germany at Biergarten, the Chef in France at Les Chefs de France and the Chefs at BOMA for breakfast and dinner all went above and beyond to accommodate me by either making special desserts or modifying dishes. Biergarten and BOMA had the biggest selections of food and I could even eat several of the soups at BOMA! For breakfast they also made me special Mickey waffles
AC: Karen, I think I about covered what I needed to ask, but is there anything you would like to add?
KS: Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask! Everyone is there to make you feel comfortable and almost all restaurants and quick service locations had gluten free bread and rolls if you request them.
Although Karen’s allergy is specific to gluten, these special-diet dining tips can help future WDW guests with any type of food allergy know what to expect when dining during their vacation. It’s good to know that, even if you know very little about your own allergy, Disney’s gotcha covered!
Thank you Karen for sharing your experience with us with such wonderful, informative answers!
Angie has been a WDW addict since her first visit at age 8, and since then her life has never been the same! She lives in upstate NY with her boyfriend, Kevin (fellow Disney lover), and their 3 dogs, Flip, Josie, and Hildy, where she works at Farm Sanctuary as an animal caregiver. Please join Angie every week in “Fish Are Friends, Not Food: Eating Vegan in WDW!” Angie believes that WDW is the most magical place for people with special diets, so, should you have any special diet questions (especially about vegan and gluten-free dining) she’d be happy to help!