Published: March 29, 2015 at 4:26 PM
The nation's most-attended parks have earned those visitors in part by providing a welcoming environment to people with a wide range of abilities. So it probably should not come as a surprise that these parks have tried to provide accommodation to people with food allergies, as well.
Both Disney and Universal have devoted pages on their websites to help guide people with food allergies. (We'll link to those pages in a moment.) But these parks have trained their food staff about allergy issues, too, so a visitor can find plenty to eat in the parks without the hassle of having to call and plan in advance.
When I was eating at the new Smokejumpers Grill at Disney California Adventure, I asked if they could serve their hamburgers on a gluten-free bun. The cashier immediately summoned a chef to greet me. She asked about food allergies and assured me that any sandwich at a Disney theme park could be made on a gluten-free bun. In addition, the fries that came with the burger would be fried in a separate deep-fryer in which no items containing wheat-flour batter or other ingredients with gluten would be fried. The chef thanked me for my patience, then said that she would make our lunch personally, then bring it out when it was finished.
A few minutes later, she returned, tray in hand, with our burger and fries.
The policy is the same at all Disney restaurants. If anyone in your party has a food allergy, simply tell that to your server or cashier, and they will summon a chef to speak with you about your options. That chef will tell you what can be prepared at that restaurant to accommodate your allergy. Obviously, with common allergies such as wheat gluten, dairy, or nuts, accommodations are relatively easy. If you have multiple or rare allergies, your choices might become more limited, but Disney's chefs will work with you to help find a solution that works.
So how was that burger? I'll be honest, if there's a tasty gluten-free hamburger bun out there, I have yet to find it. Gluten is a protein that helps define the structure of good bread. (You'll find a helpful description of how gluten affects bread from Serious Eats' J. Kenji López-Alt.) Without that gluten to help things along, many gluten-free buns tend to be dense and chewy instead of light and springy.
If I were to offer a recommendation for eating at one of Disney's burger restaurants, do go ahead and ask for the gluten-free preparation, to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. But I'd either chuck the gluten-free bun and grab some extra lettuce from the toppings bar for a lettuce-wrapped burger, or ask if the chef could just go ahead prepare the sandwich that way. The fries, though, are amazing when prepared freshly this way. Crisp by coming immediately from a fryer that was frying only fries, without stopping for even a moment to wilt under a heat lamp, these were some of the best counter-service French fries I've ever tasted.
I have found the staff at Universal Studios Hollywood also to be helpful in accommodating dietary needs. Universal Studios Hollywood lists on its website which specific dishes at which of its restaurants are either gluten-free already, or that can be modified to be gluten-free.
Skip the gravy and the biscuit and you're gluten-free at the Jurassic Cafe.
There's no reason to let a food allergy keep you from experiencing the tastes of a theme park, as you enjoy its sights and other sensations. Just follow the links below for more helpful advice. And please share with us in the comments your experience and tips with allergen-free dining in the parks.