Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gluten Free Disney World -- Day 5


Our last day in Disney World. I am always sad to leave and already looking forward to my next vacation there. I already have a list of things to do "next time." One is to see the new Presidential speech at the Hall of Presidents. The current president gets to record a speech for the animatronic version of theme selves at Disney World, and since we didn't get over there this time, I have not yet seen the Obama speech. More importantly, there is a gluten free food creation available at the Magic Kingdom that I have never tasted: The Dole Whip. Alex clued me in about Dole Whips, which you can only get in Hawaii or Disneyland/ Disney World. Just as you enter Adventure Land (coming from the direction of the Crystal Palace) there is a stand (Aloha Isle) selling this non-dairy Pineapple Sorbet. Apparently, it can be served "float style" with pineapple juice, or served alone or twisted with vanilla or orange soft-serve. I am not sure how I missed the existence of this delightful sounding concoction, but I am ready to plan my next trip to Disney World to get one!

Breakfast on our last day consisted of leftovers, as I desperately tried to eat up all the food we bought. Then we were off to Epcot! Alex and Allison had their lunch at the Morocco pavilion, where I had some very strong coffee with an orange liqueur. I needed A LOT of sugar to soften the flavor. I'm afraid that coffee is for stronger folk than me. Mark had Moroccan-style mint tea, which he enjoyed.

Instead of lunch at Morocco, the rest of us opted for a late lunch/ early dinner at the San Angel Inn in the Mexico pavilion. This is probably the best atmosphere of any Disney World restaurant. Inside the pyramid shaped pavilion, you are under the illusion that it is night time in Mexico. There is a market-place selling handmade goods, and past that is the restaurant, which sits on the Rio de Tiempo -- the River of Time. The "river" is part of the Gran Fiesta ride and it winds right past the restaurant, as if you are sitting on a patio by the river. Behind the river, an Aztec pyramid looms, and a volcano erupts in the distance.

This is an excellent restaurant for gluten-free options. The chef came out and went over the menu with me, and there was more that I could eat than there was that I couldn't. I was able to have the chips and salsa. (Mark would like to point out that the salsa was VERY mild and too wimpy for any self-respecting Texan.) I ordered the Tostadas de Tinga -- a fried corn tortilla (tostada) with beans, lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado, sour cream and queso fresca. It was great and I would definitely order it again. I would have liked to try the flan, but we were getting antsy about making it to the airport on time, so we had to skedaddle.

It was a great trip and, as always, I came away thinking that there is no better place for a gluten-free traveler than Walt Disney World.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gluten Free Disney World -- Day 4

We woke up in our beautiful secluded treehouse on a gorgeous spring morning. The trees were rustling, the birds were singing, and for once we were not rushing to get into a park. Instead, we spent the morning with family -- our Aunt Pat, Uncle Snork, cousin Polly, and their current exchange student Uyen, a lovely Vietnamese girl about the same age as Polly.

We had both breakfast and lunch in our treehouse, which is more a condo than a hotel room as it has a full kitchen. Mark went out and brought home lunch food from the Goodings grocery store at Crossroads Mall. Some info about grocery stores near Disney World can be found here.
He brought home lunch meat, cheeses, fruit, chips, and plenty of soda, so we had more than enough to eat. (I ate the leftovers from this feast for breakfast on our last day.) After lunch, we went to the pool for a while and the kids swam while the adults basked in the sun.

We had a lovely time but had to part ways in the afternoon, as Lani and Caroline had appointments at 3:00 at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, a hair salon for little girls located next to Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom. After they were dolled up, and properly outfitted in princess costumes, we had dinner at Cinderella's Castle.

We were here once before for dinner, and on that occasion we had to wait a long, long, long, long time for our dinner. I am happy to report that we did not have that problem this time. We were served promptly and the chef came out to talk to me right away. For an appetizer, I had the BLT Salad, which is a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a light vinaigrette dressing, garnished with tomatoes, egg, red onions, and bacon. It was a small salad, but just the right size for me. I chose the Prime Rib for dinner which came with potatoes and asparagus. The chef also made a gravy for me. The Prime Rib normally comes with a Cabernet sauce that is not GF, but he cautioned me that they cannot always offer the gravy to customers, as it depends on how much pan-drippings they have on any given night, and how many GF customers come in. I am happy that I was lucky enough to get some as it really added to my meal. I was able to order a dessert from the regular menu, a caramel creme brulee that was very rich and with a strong caramel flavor.

There used to be a dinner show at the Castle, featuring the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella's Mice, but that has changed. Instead, the Disney Princesses arrive and come to all the tables, but there is no show, which is a shame as I thought the old show was very clever and it was kind of nice to see some of the rarer characters. However, the kids got to see all the Princesses, so between Chef Mickey's and Cinderella's Royal Table we saw most of the major Disney characters without having to stand in long lines.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gluten Free Disney World -- Day 3

Our third day at Disney World was spent in the Magic Kingdom and we had no reservations for lunch. We were headed across the park toward Tomorrowland when we were delayed by the 11:00 parade. Unfortunately, we were standing in front of a funnel cake vendor when we were forced to stop, which meant the kids were quickly demanding funnel cake. The little shop only sold funnel cake, waffles, and a creamy chicken and wild rice soup. Seems like an odd menu to me, but we bought the kids soup and funnel cake. There wasn't anything I could eat, but I had a breakfast (yogurt, Shar breadsticks, fruit) at the hotel, so I wasn't too hungry yet; but by 2:00 I was ravenous and nobody else wanted to eat. So while the gang went to ride Space Mountain, I opted to take my niece Lani with me to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland. One odd thing about this counter-service restaurant is that it is divided into three sections, one for chicken and ribs, one for hamburgers, and one for sandwiches and salads. You have to wait in separate lines to order from each of the three sections. That makes it difficult to order if you have multiple people in your group, but since it was just the two of us, we settled on the chicken and ribs queue. I had the ribs, which came with mashed potatoes and green beans. It was all good, and nice to get some veggies at a theme park restaurant. The kids meals came with a choice of side items including grapes, apples, or carrots, so I got some grapes and carrots into Lani as well. A nice healthy bonus for the day.

We did have reservations for dinner, and again, we had a party of 8. We ate at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort hotel. As far as I'm concerned, no trip to Disney World is complete without a meal at Chef Mickey's. The party atmosphere pumps you up and it's an excellent chance to get photos, hugs, and autographs from the major characters: Donald, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and the Big Cheese Himself -- Mickey Mouse. This is a buffet restaurant and your meal includes a souvenir photo. The chef took me through the buffet and I chose prime rib, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and some potato salad (yes, I know -- mashed potatoes and potato salad. What can I say? I like potatoes.) It was very good, but the real reason to come here is the character interactions. One downside of having a party of 8 is that they seated us in a separate room, away from all the action. The characters did come through and stop at every table, but the parade of characters was not visable to us and we didn't get the same "energy" that you get in the main dining hall. An interesting note, Chef Mickey's now makes their own GF cupcakes! I love cupcakes. They are just plain fun! These were not the best I ever tasted. The chocolate cupcake was a bit gummy and the vanilla cupcake was not very sweet... it almost tasted more like a muffin. The frosting was good and not too sweet, which is the usual problem with cupcakes, so that was nice; and frankly, I think it's great that they were offering something special that you could only get at Chef Mickey's. So, I hope they keep the cupcake idea, but the recipe could use a little work.

One more thing about Chef Mickey's... the girls ordered specialty drinks that came with a glowing Tinkerbell clipped to the straw. They both clipped to their headbands, which was adorable and made a fun souvenir. I myself ordered a Captain's Mai Tai, which was sweet and delicious, but did not come with a glowing Tinkerbell. :(

Gluten Free Disney World -- Day 2

On our second day in Disney, we did something I have wanted to do for a very long time -- we took the Keys to the Kingdom tour. This is a "behind the scenes" tour that takes you down into the "Utilidors" underneath the Magic Kingdom and shows you the inner workings of many of the rides. I learned all kinds of interesting things, which I can't share with you because I took a vow that I would "never ever ever ever tell anyone the things I am about to see, so help me Walt." It's a great tour if you are the sort of person who wants to know how things work.

Lunch was included in the tour and when I checked in, they expected me to give them my lunch order. Yikes. I was very nervous, because normally I would talk to the chef and ask him what was safe, and not only could I not talk to the chef, I wasn't even going to talk to anyone who worked in the restaurant! I had to rely on my tour guide. Needless to say, I was temporarily panicked, but I didn't need to worry. The tour guide had a book with allergen info about everything on the menu. Yea! He even knew that I could substitute GF chicken tenders for the chicken on the salad. That seemed like a good idea, so I ordered that and asked him to make sure it was circled, highlighted and starred with an allergy alert. When we arrived at the Columbia Harbor House for lunch, it was ready and waiting, just like I ordered. It wasn't one of the most exciting lunches I've ever had, but it was quite tasty.

Dinner, on the other hand, was more adventurous. Since my diagnosis, I have been avoiding my favorite Disney restaurant of all time -- Ohana. Ohana is located in the Polynesian Resort hotel and served Hawaiian food, and since "Ohana" means "family," the food is all served "family style." Soy sauce. Shared plates. Nuh-uh. However, on this trip we had eight people in our group, which limited our choices. Ohana was one of the few places that could seat us all at one table, so I called and talked to the restaurant and asked them about allergy accommodations. It turns out that they are fantastic at Ohana. Since there is almost nothing on the menu I can eat (except the shrimp skewers), my entire meal had to be made specially... and it was special! First they brought me my own plate of chicken wings. I'm not normally a wings person, and I started to tell the server to skip that one, but she assured me that I definitely wanted these wings. Sure enough, they were delicious, tender and lightly spiced. I shared them with my brother, a notoriously picky eater, and he loved them. In fact, most of the night he preferred my meal to the "normal" one. The shrimp was brought to the table on large skewers, as were the meats, but since I could only have the shrimp, they brought me my own meal: small skewers of chicken, beef, and pork served on a bed of plain white rice. When I called the restaurant I was told that they had wheat-free tamari sauce, so I asked the waitress if I could get some. She came back with the chef and three kinds of dipping sauces -- plain tamari, terriyaki, and sweet and sour. I normally don't care for sweet and sour, but it was delicious, easily the best of the three sauces. I'm glad I asked, as the dipping sauces really made the meal special. The group's dessert was bread pudding with a caramel sauce, but they brought me a warm brownie with ice-cream. Yummy!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Mai Tai. Mark and I had Mai Tai's for the first time on our honeymoon at .... that's right, Disney World! We saw the Polynesian luau show and had their Mai Tai's, which I loved. The Mai Tai at Ohana is very good, but it is far less sweet than the one I had at Chef Mickey's, so it depends on your tastes. Tune in next time for a review of Chef Mickey's on Day 3 of our Disney vacation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

GF in Disney World -- Day 1

Woo-hoo! We're in Disney World... the happiest place on Earth! We have 8 of us on this trip, so we are staying on the Disney property at the Treehouse Villas. In addition to being large enough for all of us, it also has a full kitchen, which makes it easier to eat gluten free. We loaded up on groceries -- mostly breakfast foods like eggs, bacon, and yogurt.

We arrived in the mid-morning, and by the time we got our luggage, our car, and checked into the hotel, it was lunch time. We went to The Artist's Palette, the counter service restaurant at Saratoga Springs (the sister hotel to the Treehouse Villas). Counter service restaurants are always less than ideal as obtaining allergen information delays the other people behind you in line, but they were willing to make the effort. The menu was mostly pizza and sandwiches, so I was nervous, but the chef told me that they could add any of the pizza toppings to an Amy's cheese pizza and they could make any of the sandwiches using a tapioca roll. I had a turkey and brie sandwich with salad greens. The turkey, roll, and lettuce were all very good, but I think I would pass on the "brie" next time. I was thinking gooey melted cheese. The reality was brie-flavored processed cheese spread. Meh.

After we refueled, we headed out to Animal Kingdom and we were in the park when dinner time rolled around. The children ate turkey legs from a vendor in Dinoland, but the adults chowed down at Flame Tree BBQ. Again, I asked for allergen info. This time they gave me a book that had the ingredients list for all the items on the menu. I ordered the half chicken with baked beans. The food was decent, but the real reason I like Flame Tree is the atmosphere. For some reason, people never seem to figure out that there is a huge seating area behind the restaurant overlooking the lake. It's beautiful and peaceful. Such a nice oasis in the chaos that is Disney World.

Day Two will feature a sit down dinner at Ohana in the Polynesian Resort. Stay tuned!