Monday, July 27, 2015

Disney's Allergy-Friendly Menus

In April, Disney began the process of introducing allergy-friendly menus at table service and quick service restaurants at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  My understanding is that by the end of September, these menus will be available at all Disney owned and operated table service and quick service restaurants at the theme parks, water parks, resort hotels, and Downtown Disney.  All of the menus note that you may still consult with a chef before placing your order, and have the following disclaimer:

The new menus cover the top 8 allergens - gluten/wheat, milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish.  Maybe because gluten/wheat is the most common special diet request at Disney, some restaurants, like Landscape of Flavors, have a separate gluten/wheat allergy-friendly menu.  These are my favorite allergy-friendly menus at Disney World, because I only have to avoid gluten.

Disney has also created allergy-friendly kids' menus for guests ages 9 and under.  

Before the new allergy-friendly menus were tested and introduced, gluten free menus were available at a small number of Disney restaurants, like Trattoria al Forno, Sanaa, Jiko, Columbia Harbour House, Contempo Cafe, and the non-Disney owned Tutto Italia.  Last year, special diets menus were tested at Kona Cafe and Captain Cook's at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, the Flying Fish Cafe on Disney's BoardWalk, World Premiere Food Court at the All-Star Movies Resort, and the ABC Commissary, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, and The Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios.  I dined at all of these restaurants during the testing period, and loved their gluten free menus.  

In April, the new allergy-friendly menus were first introduced at signature dining restaurants like Artist Point at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.  When we dined there in late April, our server told us that there were other gluten free options than were listed on the menu, like the filet mignon.  

I was shocked when I saw Trattoria al Forno's allergy-friendly dinner menu on Saturday.  It was so small compared to the gluten free menu they used to have.  Their previous menu listed 3 more gluten free appetizers, 8 more entrees, and 2 more desserts than their current allergy-friendly menu.  These dishes are still on the regular menu, but sadly, don't appear on the new allergy-friendly menu.  I really wanted the pasta with green beans, roasted potatoes, and Genovese pesto that appeared on the old menu, so I asked to speak to a chef, who told me that it could still be prepared safely by using gluten free spaghetti.  When I talked to a manager about why this dish was not on the allergy-friendly menu as a gluten free option, she told me that it was not nut friendly.  Even if it is not nut friendly, it could have been included on the new menu with a gluten/wheat designation, but not a nut designation.  I don't understand why a restaurant that used to be so gluten friendly would take a step back with such a limited number of gluten free dishes on their allergy-friendly menu when so many are available.   You can read my dinner review of Trattoria al Forno here, and view all the dishes that used to be on their gluten free menu.  If you talk to a chef, I am sure most, if not all, can still be prepared gluten free.  

The new allergy-friendly dinner menu at Kona Cafe only lists three gluten/wheat friendly entrees - sesame seared scallops, grilled New York strip steak, and Pan-Asian noodles.  The curry-crusted lamb chops, sustainable fish, pan-seared duck breast, oven-roasted taal chicken, and grilled Kona coffee-rubbed pork chop were all listed on the gluten free menu they adopted last year, but are not listed as gluten/wheat friendly on their new allergy-friendly menu.  That makes no sense to me, especially since we were told on a previous visit that the pork chop was naturally gluten free.  If you are interested in ordering these entrees, I would definitely ask to speak to a chef if you are dining at Kona.  In the Magic Kingdom, The Plaza Restaurant recently adopted an allergy-friendly menu with just three gluten free entrees listed.  On past visits, I could order any sandwich gluten free, and I always ordered a milkshake, which isn't listed on their new allergy-friendly menu at all.  You can read more about The Plaza's new menu here.  

Last week, we had lunch at Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas, and saw their new allergy-friendly menu.  Last year, they introduced gluten free naan made with Cup4Cup flour, which contains dairy.  My understanding is that the chefs at Sanaa were told to make the naan more allergy-friendly, so the recipe was reformulated to make it gluten free and vegan.  The new naan has gotten very mixed reviews from my blog readers who have tried both gluten free recipes.  Some think it is good, though everyone seems to agree that it is not as good as the previous version of Sanaa's gluten free naan, while others don't like it at all.  I am glad to see this option for diners that are both gluten and dairy free, but am sad that the gluten free naan made with Cup4Cup is no longer on the menu.  In my opinion, it was the best gluten free bread available anywhere in Disney World and Orlando, but it is no longer being served, because it was not allergy-friendly enough.  

My other concern about the new allergy-friendly menus is based on an experience I had at Jiko, where I chose to order from their new allergy-friendly menu and not talk to a chef.  I ordered the Jiko Salad with poached pears, heirloom spinach, kabocha squash, and pear vinaigrette.  It was delicious, but was served with pumpkin seed and black lentil brittle, an item not listed on the allergy-friendly menu, so I became worried that maybe my salad had been prepared incorrectly and included an ingredient that was not gluten free.  I felt much better though when I looked at an old post I wrote that featured Jiko's previous gluten free menu, which mentioned the pumpkin seed and black lentil brittle.  I am assuming it was left off the allergy-friendly menu because it wasn't friendly for other allergies, but appeared on my salad because it is gluten free.  The problem with surprise ingredients is that they can scare diners with special diets.

Some menus, like the breakfast menus at Trattoria al Forno and The Wave, are leaving off some of my favorite ingredients in order to make dishes dairy free.  At Trattoria al Forno, there was no mention of the espresso-mascarpone cream that the Mickey waffles are usually served with on their new allergy-friendly menu, probably because the dish is listed as an option for people with milk allergies.  The espresso-mascarpone cream is why I love to order Mickey waffles at Trattoria al Forno, so I asked to speak to a chef, and was able to order my waffles with the topping listed on the regular menu, which is gluten free.  At The Wave, their allergy-friendly breakfast menu lists the spinach-tomato scramble as safe for gluten/wheat, fish/shellfish, milk, and peanut/tree nut allergies.  On the regular menu, this entree is listed as spinach, tomato, and feta cheese scrambled eggs, but I guess they dropped the feta to make it safe for people with milk allergies when they put in on the allergy-friendly menu.  I would love to see separate gluten free menus at Disney table service restaurants, like they had during their testing period last year, because they are much more user friendly for people that eat gluten free, but have no other food restrictions.

Overall, I think that Disney is going the extra mile for people with food allergies with their new allergy-friendly menus, but I definitely have some concerns.  I hope in the near future that these menus will appear on Disney's website, and that they will be adopted at the food kiosks in the theme parks.  I have noticed that dishes with oatmeal are appearing as gluten/wheat friendly on some breakfast menus, but I would not order these items unless you confirm that they are made with certified gluten free oats.  At table service restaurants, if there is a dish on the regular menu that you are interested in, but it does not appear on the allergy-friendly menu, definitely ask to speak to a chef, because there is a good chance you might be able to have that dish, which is definitely the case with many entrees at Trattoria al Forno, The Plaza Restaurant, and Kona Cafe.  Several of my blog readers have mentioned that they don't feel the chefs are as creative anymore as they used to be before the introduction of the allergy-friendly menus, and there is anxiety for some over the safety of their food if they don't speak to a chef.  Please be aware that allergy-friendly menus are not available at table service and quick service restaurants that are not Disney owned and operated, which currently includes all the restaurants at Downtown Disney, Coronado Springs Resort, the Swan & Dolphin Resorts, restaurants in the China, Mexico, Italy, Japan and France Pavilions at Epcot, and Yak & Yeti and Rainforest Cafe at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  That certainly does not mean that you can't get amazing allergy-friendly meals at these locations, because some of my favorite restaurants, like Raglan Road, Cookes of Dublin, La Hacienda de San Angel, San Angel Inn and Tutto Gusto, are not Disney owned.  

On the positive side, I love having a menu to look at that lists gluten/wheat friendly options, and usually, I have a lot to choose from, which I appreciate as a celiac.  If I don't have any questions, I like that I can order quickly, and not have to wait for a chef or manager.  The allergy-friendly menus lend consistency to allergy orders at Disney.  In the past, I know that some guests were being offered different dishes than others, depending on what chef they spoke to and what that chef was willing to make, but inconsistency should no longer be a problem with options clearly listed on a menu.  Overall, I am excited about the introduction of the new allergy-friendly menus at Disney World and Disneyland, and I am very thankful that Disney is so committed to going the extra mile for people with special diets.  We dine at Disney World at least once a week, because it is a place I feel very safe eating.  Some restaurants, like Whispering Canyon Cafe and Boatwright's, have so many gluten free options to choose from on their new menus, it is hard to decide what to order.  

The new allergy-friendly menus are never posted at Disney table service or quick service restaurants.  It is always a good idea to note your food allergies on your advance dining reservations, or tell a cast member when you check in at table service restaurants.  At quick service restaurants in the theme parks, ask the cashier for their allergy-friendly menu.  At most resorts, you will need to ask for them at one of the food stations.  

You can read more about the introduction of allergy-friendly menus at Disneyland and Disneyworld on the Disney Parks Blog here.


  1. I just wanted to say a quick thank you for all of the information that you supply on your blog. I am 7 weeks into my gluten free journey after my Dr. suggested I may be allergic/sensitive to gluten. Two weeks after being diagnosed we had a last minute trip to Disney and your blog was so very helpful. We are getting ready for our annual trip to Disney and I feel so much more confident going there. I live in NJ and your recent blog about NY has me very excited to go into the city and try some of the restaurants. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences.

    1. You are so welcome, and I really appreciate the feedback!

  2. thank you for these posts, they are really helpful, we are going in July 16 with a gluten free member and she is also allergic to fruit, including citrus, so many things have lemon juice in them, we are really pleased to hear you can request to speak to a chef. Thanks again.

  3. thank you very much indeed for these, we are going in July 16 with a gluten free member of our family, she is also allergic to fruit which includes citrus and lemon is in so many things. No tomatoes allowed either so we are really glad to have a starting point with this and to know you can speak to the chef! thanks again.