How to Deal with Food Allergies at a Disney or Universal Theme Park

March 29, 2015, 4:26 PM · Disney and Universal theme parks have been opening new restaurants over the past weeks, but how can you enjoy themed food in a park if you have a food allergy?

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.

Gluten-free at the Smokejumpers Grill

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.

Chicken dinner
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.

Helpful Links:

Replies (11)

March 29, 2015 at 4:56 PM · I've eaten in the last few trips gluten free and they are great at every restaurant. Never an issue at wdw or uo.
March 29, 2015 at 6:44 PM · Very Good article!
March 29, 2015 at 9:22 PM · Three of four members of our family have serious food allergies, and both big Orlando parks do a great job with it, especially Disney. You just note on the reservation there are allergies and remind them when ordering. The chef typically personally comes to your table and often even makes a special dessert for the kid, which is nice, since a food allergy usually serves to make one feel excluded instead of special. A big caveat: this process takes time. Sometimes 15 minutes or so. This is good to know ahead of time, since many people want to eat and get back in the parks. I will say without hesitation, that a Disney park is the single best place to eat on the planet with a food allergy.
March 29, 2015 at 9:49 PM · It would be great if the parks would publish nutrition information handouts similar to many other restaurants and nearly all packaged foods. Either printed guides or on the website.

About 1 of every 400 have type 1 diabetes. That's probably at least a couple hundred Disney guests a day. Carb counting is mandatory, especially on a pump. While it sounds simple, it's well proven that estimating carbs is hard even with experience. I can manage a bad day. A week's vacation is more like an up and down ride on the Mine Train than an Enchanted Tale.

Unfortunately, none of the central Florida parks, Disney, Universal, or Sea World/Busch Gardens readily publish this info.

March 29, 2015 at 10:37 PM · As a former cook at Disney, SeaWorld, and Universal. I can tell you that this gets abused. There is no such thing as an allergy to iceberg lettuce. Nore an allergy to American cheese but not any other cheese. If you want to know why your food is taking long to get to you. It's because Mary has a "gluten" allergy and we rang in her ticket before yours. Food allergies are serious and people abuse it to no end. It needs to stop.
March 29, 2015 at 10:42 PM · Thanks for the article Robert! I didn't know you could call in advance about food allergies. It's also nice to know that they are so careful about not cross contaminating food. I have a reaction if french fries are fried in the same oil as fish. Usually I just never order any food from a place that serves fish, but if they have a fry vat reserved for items without breading that is awesome because I don't think they throw unbreaded fish into the fryer.
March 29, 2015 at 11:07 PM · I understand that some people are gluten free by choice, but 1 out of 250 people are gluten intolerant. That has been true since the 1940s (people tested blood donated during WWII) My Uncle didn't know he was gluten intolerant and he got so sick that he passed out at work and his kidneys almost shut down because he was so ill for so long before he was finally diagnosed. There may be people who fake allergies(in which case they are not very considerate of others who do have a problem), but for example I am allergic to all fish and there are anchovies in cheese wiz, so I can't eat that even though I can eat dairy just fine. I know that some allergies may seem improbable, but some days there are 50,000 people in a Disney park and they all have to eat so you are going to see some really rare allergies.
March 30, 2015 at 6:34 AM · GREAT ARTICLE! My eczema testing revealed I was allergic to Gluten, Nuts, and milder allergies from other random food. Although most restaurants are being more accommodating to those with allergies, I've still always been a bit nervous of asking for substitutes because I can't shake the feeling I sound like some ungrateful person who doesn't like the Chef's creation as is.

REPLY TO SOME ABOVE POSTERS: ARGH I also get annoyed by those who abuse the 'I have allergies' accommodations. Or those on the gluten-free fad diet bandwagon. They're the ones making those with real allergies get nervous. I've told my substitute requests to sometimes be met with the (OH NO!) dreaded eye-roll from a server thinking "do you reeeeaally..." Yes-- I do!

March 30, 2015 at 12:37 PM · Food allergies are bizarre to me, but I guess I don't call them allergies. If you can't take them, the food should not have them. The meat should be just meat. The sauce is what causes the allergies or indigestion or distaste. The future of food is everything has a grilled version and sauce on the side.
March 31, 2015 at 12:08 AM · People can and are allergic to anything. About 2% of adults in the US are allergic to fish or shellfish and it is the protein in the muscle of the animals that they react to. So it is actually the meat that is the problem. The current theory is that the protein in shellfish is similar enough to the protein in dust mites and cockroaches that people develop an allergy to shellfish after exposure to dust or cockroaches and that is why some adults develop a shellfish allergy later in life. Some people in Australia develop a beef allergy if they are bitten by a paralysis tic that has just bitten a bilby (it is kind of like a rabbit, but it carries it's babies in pouches like kangaroos)
Allergies are an immune system problem- Normally your body only destroys viruses, bacteria, and parasites because they cause diseases. With allergies your body thinks plants, animals, and fungi could cause a disease and your body overreacts and turns on your immune system (swelling) Because you are eating the food your throat is what swells. If it swells shut you can't breath. It is similar to sneezing allergies, but in that case you are only breathing small amounts of pollen into your nose and throat (so small that you can't see it) When you eat something you are allergic to you are putting mouthfuls in and so you get a larger reaction. Not all reactions happen in your nose/mouth/throat. In some people the food slowly destroys your intestine (where it sits for the longest amount of time in your body) which causes food poisoning symptoms right after you eat it(your body is trying to remove the thing causing the problem), but long term destroys your intestine (those are the gluten intolerant/allergic people).
Some people's allergies are mostly caused by the genes they inherited. Some families have many individuals that suffer from asthma and allergies and find out their child has a severe food allergy from birth after rushing their child to the ER because the child's throat swells shut the first time they fed a food to their child. My mother had to do this for me when I was 2 years old.
Anyway, if you or your child has ever almost died after eating something or you get violently ill several times a day or week after eating a certain food you can see why people with allergies get nervous about eating out. That is why we get tired of having people roll their eyes at us when we say we have a food allergy, and nervous that the server won't give us safe food. Who wants to be stuck in the rest room for hours a day, or even worse have a trip to the ER while you are at Disneyland/WDW?
March 31, 2015 at 3:11 PM · I'm allergic to shellfish, not the throat closing type but the hideously upset stomach version. I have to make sure to tell the servers when I eat out because you never know what's been cross contaminated or not. For example, if a place serves fried shrimp and I order fries I have to make sure they are not cooked in the same oil that they did the shrimp in.

It's a pain in the rear to have to do this but the alternative is just ewwww. Disney has been great each time I've eaten there especially at Boma where the chef came out and explained my food options. I had no idea that one of their soups had shrimp stock in it until he told me and saved my night...LOL.

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