We returned from our Disney trip yesterday and I am only going to assume it’s going to take a few days to recover. It’s not because we got sun burned (we didn’t, surprisingly, although it was 90F+ everyday), or we ate too much (…maybe), it’s because of this.
FitBit Ultra data for three days at Disney
In what amounted to just a little over two and a half days at three of the four parks, we walked 33.6 miles (+/- 10% due to steps being added from rides being bumpy), with Saturday being the busiest day of ~12.1 miles. And I learned something interesting this weekend as well: my Trail Gloves are not fit for my feet. In the past, I’ve complained about them being too narrow and this weekend proved it. Even before we stepped foot into the parks, I could barely shove my flip flop-adorned feet into my shoes and it only got worse from there, with Saturday resulting in an abrasion on my right foot from the shoe’s webbing. With a little Body Glide, my flip flops never caused a problem, so that’s excellent. I knew there’d be a ton of walking, as is expected when visiting amusement parks larger than some towns, but I was incredibly worried about FOOD. And for good reason: amusement parks are filled to the brim with horrible food and Disney was no exception to this.
Most of the food in the park is what you’d expect, burgers, “chicken” nuggets/fingers, ice cream, churros, turkey legs, and so on, most of which the general population has no problems consuming but this presents a curious problem to those who’d rather eat healthier, no matter their dietary needs. But we had the curious choice of how to eat primal at Disney. So before we left, my intrepid girlfriend began looking up dining options and we discovered that most, if not all, of the restaurants in the parks and our hotel offer gluten-free food options. SCORE! We booked a few reservations at a few places and made sure to specify gluten-free for every meal and thankfully since Disney World gets tens of millions of visitors a year, no one looked at me funny when I said I was gluten-free. Now, while every restaurant offers this option, it still has its own problems, especially for us paleo- and primal-types who eat hefty portions of meats and vegetables:
Your option of restaurants is limited to buffets, basically
All of the walk-ups are out of the question, since most of them are nothing but crap anyway (hot dogs, hamburgers, candy, etc.) but even out of the sit-down restaurants, you’re still very limited. For example, this is what I was able to eat at Tangierine in EPCOT, and this was my first dinner of the night:
Chicken platter from Tangierine
This was a $16 chicken platter because I couldn’t eat their lamb shwarma as it’s (somehow) made with flour. It consists of about 4 ounces of chewy chicken, 2 ounces of an olive salad, a few ounces of lentil salad, a heaping of hummus (which was tasteless), and some goopy sauce which was supposed to be tzatziki but tasted like kefir. Out of all the restaurants we reviewed in EPCOT, Tangierine had the best reviews and supposedly offered a wide variety of gluten-free options, neither of which is really true. Going gluten-free eliminated 5 of the 7 food options available, and almost all side dishes. I couldn’t eat their tabouleh or couscous since both are grains, so I was stuck with the tasteless hummus and lentil salad. For my first meal in EPCOT, this was a huge disappointment for me. It was even worse for my girlfriend who barely got to eat any of her food because 5 minutes after we started to eat, it was pouring rain and the only open seats were outside…so her food turned into a floating pita and parsley puddle.
Who wants tabouleh soup?
My second dinner was some so-so bratwurst with sauerkraut on an American version of German bread, which was equally a let-down. But luckily on Saturday, our second day, things got much better food-wise. Our first meal of the day was at Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Word to the wise: NEVER EAT HERE AT 9 AM, IT’S FULL OF KIDS AND DISNEY CHARACTERS SINGING. This was almost a disaster because of the character dining alone, simply because it was too damned early for me to deal with kids or giant anthropomorphic animals singing. I think we heard the Hot Dog Song from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse half a dozen times, each equally annoying. But luckily this was a buffet and I was too hungry to care. The best part of telling the waitress you have a food allergy is that one of the chefs will take you around the buffet to describe what foods you can and cannot eat, and will even offer advice on what to eat if you’re mildly gluten-intolerant. This was great because it took all of the guesswork out of everything since sometimes, there’s even a smidgen of flour or gluten in products you’d never think of (like lamb shwarma). So I lucked out and was able to eat eggs, frittata, bacon, chicken sausage, and all the fruit I could stuff into my stomach. And for $30 a person, I was damned sure to eat as much as I was able to. I even had a gluten-free waffle that didn’t taste utterly terrible. So my mega breakfast carried me through most of the day, with a banana here or there with some Larabars, and I was content but then tragedy struck, it was dinner time! Most of the restaurants are reservation-only at dinner time on weekends due to the sheer volume of people coming through, so we decided to go the easy route and simply at eat at the same buffet for dinner.
This turned out splendidly because the options this time were quite delicious: beef tenderloin and roasted turkey. I believe I must have eaten a pound of the beef tenderloin alone, it was salt-cured and very, very fatty and delicious. Let’s just say that this is a meal I would have easily made at home and been very content.
Dinner at Hollywood & Vine
I was able to stuff myself on gobs of fresh green beans (that were actually fresh!), marinated mozzarella, broccoli coleslaw (made with vinegar, not mayo), and an olive/tomato salad, along with the beef and roasted turkey. This was the best meal I had all weekend, despite it coming from a buffet. The rest of the gluten-laden options physically looked unappealing and gross to me, everything from the mac-n-cheese to the breads, it all just looked gross. But unfortunately, that’s where the love story with food ends. The next morning, my girlfriend brought up food from Picabu, the Walt Disney World Dolphin’s “buffeteria” which is really just a fancy name for a cafeteria because there’s nothing buffet about it. I got eggs, bacon, and two bananas. The unfortunate part was the fact that we had to get both the adult and kids’ portion of the food just to get enough to be satiated, which simply drove up the cost (with coffee, ~$23 for breakfast) of an absolutely dreadful meal. Again, everything we got was gluten-free but unfortunately, it was also taste-free, I’ve gotten better meals at Denny’s for half the price.
That’s the equivalent of about 4 eggs, some limp bacon, and bananas. The eggs tasted like they were from a carton rather than actual eggs with yolks and albumin and the rest of the good stuff, I had to drown them in Tabasco and pepper for any flavor. The bacon tasted like it was leftover from the day before, and well, bananas are bananas. What’s worse is the fact that this cost me $23 and tasted horrible, gluten-free or not. I had the displeasure of eating there twice and voiced my displeasure to the staff once we checked out. If you stay at the Swan or Dolphin resorts, which are great themselves, I suggest finding alternate options for eating breakfast.
I can’t comment on the foods from the Magic Kingdom because I didn’t eat a single thing while at the park, except for my Larabars. For us paleo folks, there are basically zero eating options at the Most Magical Place on Earth, and that’s no exaggeration. I already knew to avoid the walk-ups, so that was a no-brainer, but the restaurants were all a let-down as well. Since the park’s appeal is that of a weird hodge-podge of early 20th century Americana mixed with mid 20th century suburbia, the foods reflected that. Every menu I looked at from an in-and-out joint was basically the same thing with different prices: burgers, chicken fingers, french fries, “gourmet” hot dogs (meaning they were topped with chili and/or coleslaw), ice cream, and soda. I believe there were four or five quick dining places like this in the Magic Kingdom and they all served basically the same menu I just listed, so I knew they’d all be out. Then there were the very few sit-down restaurants in the whole place, all of which required reservations and more money than I was willing to shell out for food, so I didn’t even bother looking at the menus. And I didn’t bother looking because every place was booked up for the entire day, as our concierge was nice enough to point out. So if you’re paleo/primal, vegan, vegetarian, or don’t want to eat hot dogs all day, you’re SOL at the Magic Kingdom for food.
Which then leads me to our final dinner, which was at the Garden Grove in the Swan resort. This was simply a buffet disaster. The theme was ‘southern BBQ’, so I was excited since that’s stuff I’ve grown up on. The gluten-free options were as such: dried out guava-marinated chicken breasts, ribs, North Carolina-inspired barbecue pulled pork, something that resembled baked salmon, prime rib with au jus, fruit salad, mayo-heavy coleslaw, watermelon, and a cobb-style spinach salad with a bacon-infused dressing. And that was it. All of the gravies were off-limits — including the guava gravy for the chicken breast — and the other 90% of the foods were off-limits as well. The worst part of this was the fact that there were only two vegetables served at all, green bean casserole and coleslaw, and the casserole was full of bread and goopy cheese, so I got stuck with bland coleslaw. Honestly, this was a poor excuse for a meal.
Garden Grove's "southern BBQ" buffet special
Compare that with the meal I got at Hollywood & Vine from the night before, I had literally no options for food and it was more expensive. I had three plates of the same thing: prime rib, pork, coleslaw, and it was utterly boring food. If I were the executive chef, I would be embarrassed to put this food out on the bar. The food lacked flavor, it lacked color, it lacked appeal. Except for the salad, that was actually GOOD.
It was a bit onion-heavy for my tastes but it was heads above the main course offerings, I should have just eaten an entire salad bowl of that with a plate of prime rib. It would have been visually more appealing and loaded with flavor, comparatively. Everything else had the taste of what I would expect to come from a fast food joint, not a mid-range Sheraton resort with three star restaurants. And the poor line chef that was stuck out on the floor cutting prime rib for everyone, I felt bad for her because her knife was so dull it could barely slice the meat properly. Poor girl. Since we left yesterday, the 21st, I got to suffer through another meal from Picabu and it was just as bad as before.
So while the trip was amazing — it was my present to my girlfriend for her 33rd birthday and her first trip to Disney — the food options came out to be a less than stellar experience. We were lucky enough to find out beforehand that most places offered gluten-free options but that turned out to be an extremely mixed bag of food availability. If I actually had a real gluten allergy, I would be even more picky than I already was. And if I were a vegan? Well, I’d just make sure to bring my own meals to eat because you’re literally shit out of luck for food options. Don’t get me wrong, there are physical tons of food options available to eat at the Disney World parks but only if you like eating terrible food. Despite this, I’m eager to go back because at least one-third of the Magic Kingdom was closed off for renovations and repairs, so the entirety of Frontierland and parts of Fantasyland were off limits. That means no Dumbo ride, no Big Thunder Mountain, no Seven Dwarves Mine ride, which means we’re going to go back. But now that we’re armed with this knowledge about food, we’ll be much more prepared next time we go.
The moral of the story is very simple, folks: when you go Disney, go gluten-free and go big at the buffets. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it by choice or because of a medical condition, do it because you’ll eliminate most of the terrible food available to you. It may make eating out tough but that’s nothing you’re not already used to. Overall, I commend Disney for accommodating gluten-free eaters but they still have a long way to go in the terms of foods available to us, especially at Disney prices.
PS – If you want beer, bring your own. You’re basically stuck with Miller Lite or Yuengling.