One of my favorite things about travelling is trying all the food! Over the last few years, however, I’ve found that my body really can’t handle wheat.
Now that the world is opening back up, I’ve had to navigate traveling while living the gluten-free life – which means carrying a lot of my own just-in-case snacks. And also, a lot of research into restaurants before I go. So much research.
The husband and I just spent 3 days at the Disneyland parks, and I was pleasantly surprised! We stuck to the snack stands and quick-service food and I was able to order a variety of gluten-free items. My general travel go-to is a burger with no bun – but there’s only so many burgers I can eat before I never want to see ground beef again.
So here’s my experience with gluten-free dining at Disneyland! Luckily for me, I don’t have celiac or a life-threatening allergy: I don’t have to be super careful regarding cross-contact. If you do have more serious gluten-free needs, then you may want to stick to the non-quick service restaurants so you can talk to your server and chef in a non-rushed environment. But: I will say, they seemed to take gluten-free very seriously – my food came out of a separate part of the kitchen, was often covered, and they asked me if it was ok to put on the same tray with the husband’s beglutened foods. Also: whenever I did opt for a gluten-free item, my food took longer. All good signs when you are dealing with food allergies.
First up, Disney has a very generous bring-your-own-food-in policy. I carried in snacks with me (which they saw when inspecting my bag!) and they had no issues with it.
Next up, I used the Disneyland app to order most food. As of January 2023, ordering via the mobile app provides an easy way to filter by gluten-free items. Sometimes they were a slight variation on an existing menu item (i.e., a burger coming with a gluten-free bun) and other times the description was the same as the main menu. Because I don’t worry about cross-contact, if the item looked the same (and was typically a thing that is gluten-free anyway) I would order off the regular menu. Also: not all places had a gluten-free menu, when I suspect the food may actually be gluten-free. I’m sure if you were to ask, they could get you answers on ingredients, but at the quick service places during the lunch rush, it might take some time for them to track down a person to get you the info. Since I don’t have to be 0-gluten, I just took my chances.
Finally: what I ate!
Grand Californian – Craftsman Grill: I made the mistake of ordering the chicken shawarma (at the counter, not on the app), without asking what it came with. In my head, I assumed it would come with rice. Uh, nope: a salad and … couscous. The chicken and salad were really good! As I’m sure was the couscous.
Day 1: California Adventure
California Adventure – Pym Test Kitchen: I know it’s all gimmicky, but this is a fun restaurant to stop by. Everything is giant or tiny, it’s fun just to see people’s orders come out. We ate breakfast, and I don’t think there was an option in the app for gluten-free breakfast. I wanted a smaller meal (everything makes me motion sick! Amusement park days mean take a dramamine and also never be hungry but also never be full – a tricky line to walk) so I ordered the eggs-turkey bacon-cutie-toast meal from the kids menu. The scrambled eggs may very well have gluten, I know that’s a common hidden ingredient to make eggs fluffy, but I didn’t ask so I don’t know for sure. I traded my toast for 3 of my husband’s delicious tater tots (I woulda taken more, but I also have to watch my garlic intake – and there was maybe garlic on them there tots) and I didn’t finish the turkey bacon. Because … it’s just not the same! I get they are trying to provide a healthier kids’ breakfast but … c’mon Disney. It’s vacation! Let the poor kiddos live it up a little!
California Adventure – Smokejumpers Grill: I got the cheeseburger and fries from the gluten-free menu. It came on the classic Udi’s bun. The burger itself was fine: the husband called it a ‘high school cafeteria burger.’ We went during a bit of a lunch rush, and his food came out first, so I took it to him (lunch rush: he was camping at a table to make sure we had a place to sit!) and then there was a bit of a snafu regarding my food. Apparently, they brought it out when I wasn’t there, so then they took it back to the kitchen, but I stood around a few minutes before asking about it, then they finally brought it out to me. There were a lot of other people who seemed to have missing items from their orders up at the counter with me, so I think it’s not quite the well-oiled machine it may have been pre-pandemic.
California Adventure – random snack stand: I got some caramel popcorn when I really wanted the salty, buttery kind, but California Adventure is weirdly devoid of regular popcorn stands. Disneyland park, however, has popcorn stands everywhere, so don’t you worry, I was able to get my popcorn fix on later in my trip.
California Adventure – Cozy Cone Motel: I got the chili cone queso, but in a cup, not the bread cone. (I had seen someone walking around with the bacon mac n’ cheese in a cup, not a bread cone, so I assumed they could accommodate me in my chili request – and they did.) The menu in the app doesn’t say the chili with queso, cheese, and fritos is gluten-free, so I’d definitely confirm that if you need true gluten-free-ness. But: everything they serve comes in a bread cone, so chances for cross-contact seem high, even if the chili is gluten-free.
Day 2: Disneyland
Disneyland – Red Rose Tavern: No kids’ breakfast menu here, so I ordered the gluten-free Bonjour! breakfast. The listing was the same as the regular one, but with a cutie instead of croissant. When the food came out, instead of a tiny orange, I had a gluten-free biscuit-roll thing. I wandered around the condiment stations, but they were devoid of any kind of butter or jam. (One does not simply eat gluten-free breads straight up. They are generally not very good and weirdly bland like they forgot to add salt.) No luck, just ketchup and pancake syrup (which I DID consider, but it sounded like more mess than it was worth – the syrup, not the ketchup). My biscuit-roll was sliced, so the husband suggested I make a breakfast sandwich with my eggs and bacon, and so I did. Definitely a better way to enjoy my gluten-free bread than straight up. The breakfasts are pretty generous portions for the price (food at Disney is definitely $$$), I didn’t quite finish mine. But, again, mostly because I needed to make sure I didn’t get too full. (Don’t you worry, I pre-gamed every morning with a mini-cliff bar and Coke before we left the hotel.)
Disneyland – Star Wars snack stand: They have special packaging for Dasani and Coke drinks in the Galaxy’s Edge zone. The sodas are kind of annoying to carry around though (they are a round-ball shape), so just be aware of that. We shared a 13.5-ounce coke, though, so didn’t have to carry it for long.
Disneyland – Bengal Barbecue: I do not know if Bengal Barbecue is truly gluten-free, so if you need there to be no gluten, I’d definitely consult with Disney on this one. I ordered the Bengal Rice plate, which comes with rice (surprise!) and two skewers: I opted for bacon-wrapped asparagus and pork belly. The pork belly was fattier than I was expecting (but, uh, that’s kind of what pork belly is known for, so that’s on me). They also have beef, chicken, and other veggie skewers. Bengal Barbecue is listed as a snack stand (I guess because they mostly sell individual skewers and only have one “meal” plate?), so I would have missed this place if my pedicurist hadn’t recommended it. If you are tired of the same old burger or chicken tender options from other restaurants at Disney, Bengal Barbecue is definitely a nice change of pace. Also, the 2 skewers and rice was a nice portion size for my smaller-meal needs. But also: $18.50 for that smaller meal.
Disneyland – Proper Popcorn Stand: We passed a proper popcorn stand, so I got myself some! And I didn’t even have to share because the husband just had a churro. There are popcorn stands all over Disneyland proper, so you’ll definitely be able to find some. As all you fellow motion-sick peeps know, salty popcorn is just the thing to keep your stomach full but not too full. And can help settle mild queasiness.
Disneyland – Maurice’s Treats snack stand: Ok NOTHING gluten-free here. If you aren’t bound to the gluten-free life, stop by this stand near Sleeping Beauty’s castle for a garlic cheese bagel twist. I saw someone walk past with one, and I just knew I had to find one for the husband. He assured me it was terrible, all the while inhaling the entire thing in like 5 minutes. This is exactly the kind of thing I might cheat on (just a bite or two) if I wasn’t concerned terribly much about getting a little sick. But, ya know, the roller coaster life? So I had to enjoy it vicariously. Also, I might have straight up eaten the leftover cream cheese. I mean, we paid $1.69 for it, not gonna let that go to waste.
Downtown Disney – Marceline’s Bakery: On our way back to the room, we stopped in at Marceline’s Bakery – I picked up a 100 years of wonder, purple Minnie mouse caramel apple, and the husband got a cake pop. (I didn’t confirm gluten-free-ness on the apple, so be sure to double check on that one.) The apple was amazing, I enjoyed half of it back in the room. Because I am old and it’s a lot of chocolate and caramel to eat before bed. Our room came with a fridge, so I tucked the rest of apple away to enjoy the next day.
Day 3: Disneyland
Disneyland – Galactic Grill: The Galactic Grill is in Tomorrowland, NOT the Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars part of the park. Luckily, we had noticed that small detail on our first day in the park. For breakfast, I ordered the gluten-free loaded breakfast sandwich: it was SERIOUSLY loaded. Eggs, bacon, sausage and American cheese on gluten-free hamburger bun. It was really good, (reminiscent of a Sonic toaster sandwich) the flavor and sheer amount of food between the bun absolutely overpowered the blandness of the gf bun. The bun managed to be not too thick, but also not too disintegratey-crumbly, which is a hard thing to do without gluten. The sandwich was pretty massive, I’d say you can definitely split it if you were to get hashbrowns as well (note: hashbrowns not listed in their gf menu options). I actually ate about 3/4, then wrapped it back up to put in my pocket to finish later if my stomach made room. Cuz, you know, never get too full when you plan to ride roller coasters! And I totally did finish it, about 30 minutes later while we waited in line to see Peter Pan because the line had died down to 25 minutes and we just HAD to know why people waited in line for an hour to see this thing. Verdict: it IS a very good ride for a get-in-a-car-and-ride-through-the-story kind of ride. I wouldn’t wait more than 15 or 20 minutes though? And the poor kids in the line were BORED out of their skulls – if you’ve got little ones, for their sakes, I’d say it’s not worth waiting in a 60-minute line unless they’ll nap through most of it. I felt for the poor parents trying to keep their kids from swinging on the line chains or trying to wander out of the line. But I totally understand that from a 4-year-old perspective: that line is supes boring. Disney needs to up the line game for Peter Pan, now that they know it’s a 60-minute wait kind of ride.
Disneyland – Mint Julep Bar: Ok, nothing for the gluten-free here, but if you’ve got some non-gf folks in your party, this is where you get beignets. Which again, the husband assured me were terrible … despite all 3 of them disappearing in a matter of minutes. [Note: There is a place in Downtown Disney that is supposed to have BETTER beignets, but they were closed for renovations.]
Disneyland – Milk Stand: This is in the Star Wars part of the park – and so that means they sell Blue and Green Milks. I did not verify gluten-free-ness here, but the Milks are coconut-rice milks, blended with fruit flavor (and of course, food coloring). We opted for the Green milk, as it was listed as having “citrus” flavors, vs. the Blue milk’s “fruity” flavors. I liked it – and surprisingly, the husband REALLY liked it. He said the flavor was reminiscent of a Laffy Taffy, if that helps sell you on the gimmick. If we had found this on our first day at Disney, we would have definitely stopped by for a second time to get another one.
Disneyland – Tiki Juice Bar: This is where you find the infamous Dole Whip. The pineapple soft-serve is ALSO dairy-free, which is great for little old lactose-intolerant me. I also sometimes have a little trouble when I consume vast amounts of straight-up sugar, but the portion size worked out just right for me (due to the fact that the inside of the soft-serve swirl is empty). I ate it on a cold January day when I was already cold, and it made me even colder, but no regrets. I imagine it’s even more amazing on a more typical hot Anaheim day.
Disneyland – Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe: I wish I had looked at the menu earlier in my trip, because this place has gluten-free baked goods! I mean, not a lot, but also more than 0. I got the gf grilled cheese and tomato soup, and I MEANT to add on a blueberry muffin (to have for breakfast the following morning) and a chocolate chip cookie (for, um, more immediate consumption), but I forgot about those when I made my order. The grilled cheese was good, but weirdly made on the same kind of gf bun that my breakfast sandwich came on. It worked out, there was enough cheese inside to balance out the mediocre bun, but I also didn’t get that nice toasty crispy grilled cheese bread. The soup was good, and perfect for dipping my sandwich in (a nice trick for making gf breads a little more palatable). I didn’t finish the soup, though, mostly because I had to account for roller coastering and making sure I was ok with, um, potentially revisiting my dinner. And half a cup of tomato soup is about my limit for that. Note: I don’t know if the hamburger bun is the normal gluten-gree bread they use for their sandwiches – I do know it’s very common at other restaurants for the gf bread to change constantly based on what happens to be available at any given time. January is the off-season, so I could see Disney ordering fewer kinds of gf breads during slower times, and perhaps they’d have more traditional gf bread-bread during busy seasons. But that’s just a guess.
On our walk back to the hotel our last night, we saw that Marceline’s Bakery was making Grogu caramel apples! Which I for sure would have bought, if I didn’t still have half a Minnie mouse apple in my fridge. Which tasted exactly the same. Because it’s all just apple, caramel, and different colored chocolate. But … the Grogu apples were pretty darn cute.
I didn’t eat at any sit-down restaurants, so I don’t know how well that works out: all restaurants say they have allergy menus available upon request, but they don’t post the menus so you can see what your options are ahead of time. Aaaaand, I’m the kind of person who likes to know my options before I commit: there’s only so many salads or burgers I can eat in a row before I get sick of having the same thing. But that’s just me!
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at my gluten-free options at Disneyland. I wish I had spent a little more time looking through all the gluten-free menus on the website before I got there, but it actually worked out pretty well to just wing it. The mobile app ordering made it really easy to see what was gluten-free (once you pick a specific quick-service restaurant). And I also appreciate Disney’s very liberal bring-food-in-policy – so if you need to be super safe with what you eat, you always have that option.