Walt Disney envisioned an amusement park where families encountered a world of magical wonder. How did one man create an environment that stands the test of time delivering impeccable service and quality experiences throughout the past 60 plus years?
Walt was aiming for perfection, and the folks running Disney Parks today try and carry on that tradition. Cast Members must follow a strict code of rules governing their appearance, the way in which they respect the grounds, and even how they point. This also goes for how employees approach food allergies. There are guidelines surrounding how a restaurant handles sourcing, identifying, accommodating, preparing, and delivering food for those suffering from food allergies. This historic focus on attention to detail has aided Disney Parks in earning a stellar reputation from those in the allergy community.
This trip, our family chose to focus on visiting five sit-down restaurants in the Disneyland area. Our goal was to locate kid-friendly table-service dining spots that catered to children needing to eat gluten-free.
In general, even some of the most upscale dining establishments welcome children throughout the Disneyland area. The downside is that most of the table-service dining establishments are quite popular booking out completely well before your date of visit. Dining reservations can be booked sixty days in advance, and should be secured right around this time to maximize your chances of finding an available table. Take a guess about when your family will be ready to take a break for a lengthy sit-down meal. Try and consider the age of your children, time difference from your normal time zone if any, crowds, and weather when booking a reservation. Commitment to your date and time is required in the form of a credit card at the time of booking. Penalties are charged to that card at the rate of $10 per person for those needing to change or cancel their plans twenty-four hours or less so make sure to choose your times and dates wisely.
Blue Bayou is your opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Tables overlook the river where passengers are floating through the attraction. Just like the ride itself, the space is dimly lit through a few simulated fireflies, hanging paper lanterns, candles, and light up glow ice cubes included in some of the drink specials. You are serenaded by the sounds of crickets, frogs, and mellow banjo tunes, and truly get an authentic Disney experience while dining here.
#NimaTested Dish: Mickey’s Cheesy Macaroni (sub gluten-free pasta), broccolini & grapes from the Kids Menu
Result: No Gluten Found
Staff here was not 100% educated in spotting gluten-free pasta, and plates were not visually marked to distinguish allergies like some of the other table service Disneyland restaurants. The first pasta dish left at our table was not actually gluten-free. It wasn’t until checking in with our actual server that we were told it was the wrong shape to be gluten-free pasta. Just make sure to ask questions, survey different staff members, and be cautious before taking any bites.
Disney California Adventure
Cathay Circle is the place to visit for a true upscale dining experience. Replicating the glitz and glamour of the Cathay Circle Theater where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs first debuted, the centerpiece of this restaurant is the poison apple chandelier in the main dining room.
#NimaTested Dish: Gluten-free Grilled Bread
Result: Gluten Found
#NimaTested Dish: Crispy Mini Tacos with Braised Chicken, grated cheese, green beans, rice & fruit from the Kids Menu
Result: No Gluten Found
When we sat down, we had great confidence that the food was 100% gluten-free due to the overwhelming affirmations by the staff at the host stand and in the dining room. Our server said the executive chef has a family member who has an allergy to gluten, and that Cathay Circle has a separate kitchen for preparation of gluten-free foods. They also made sure to flag any food prepared gluten-free.
So, when Nima displayed ‘Gluten Found’ for the grilled bread, it was a surprise for everyone. I asked to speak directly with the executive chef but was told he was not there. I then requested to see the manager but was then told management was unavailable to speak with me. Admittedly, it was a busy night, but I was really hoping to discuss our situation with someone other than our server who had more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of their kitchen.
In the end, the experience made me feel less than satisfied. We were paying top dollar to eat here, and I was surprised that a highly respected restaurant within the Disney Brand approached an allergy related issue so nonchalantly.
Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen is for those looking for a dose of upbeat fun. Live performances begin most evenings at 6pm, and range from single piano players to full-scale multi-piece bands. The atmosphere is filled with the spirit of New Orleans and is appropriate for the whole family.
#NimaTested Dish: Gluten-free Pasta Jambalaya (sub rice) from the Dietary Specific Dinner Menu
Result: No Gluten Found
There is a lot to love about this place, but the nearly $32 price tag for the gluten-free meal for our ten-year-old son was not our favorite from an affordability perspective. Disney Parks may be some of the most child-friendly destinations on the planet, but one takeaway here is that not all dining establishments in the area necessarily create their allergy dining menus to accommodate children. Thankfully, the staff was very understanding. We were allowed to split the dish between two people at our table to make the cost more palatable without incurring any split plate charges.
Naples Ristorante e Bar is your location if you are looking for a bustling trendy hotspot. The menu is loaded with Italian dishes that will tantalize your little ones like pizzas and pastas. The space is modern in design, including two indoor seating areas and an expansive outdoor patio and bar.
#NimaTested Dish: Gluten-free Pasta with tomato sauce & Italian sausage
Result: No Gluten Found
There are two kitchen spaces and both are open to the dining area on the bottom floor. One of them houses a wood-burning oven and is specific to the creation of pizza pies. As there is no barrier, wheat is flying all over this part of the dining room posing a potential risk. When you check-in, make sure to alert the host that you need to be careful about the location of your table. Avoid being seated in the main dining room altogether if you are particularly sensitive to airborne cross contamination.
Brandy Morgan is a former software engineer turned mom who is a culture seeker, food lover, thrill finder, and travel buff. When her oldest son was diagnosed with a chronic allergic/immune condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, her well-traveled family had to learn to adapt their escapades to be gluten-free for his safety. Through travel, Brandy strives to show her children that “different” can be beautiful, and aims to inspire others living gluten-free to take that leap to explore. Brandy writes from Texas, when not accompanying the family on one of their worldwide adventures. You can read more on her blog Kid Allergy Travel.