Whether fueling up for the race to come, or tucking in to a celebratory feast, food is essential for the health and happiness of all runners (and really, all humans)! As a gluten-free runner with several other allergies, I’m used to making my own pre-race meals so there’s no risk of illness or allergic reaction before I even toe the starting line. But lucky for me, Disney is so wonderful with allergies, I didn’t need to worry during my Walt Disney World Half Marathon trip. First, Disney sent me lists of gluten-free and nut-free foods available at certain restaurants in the parks and hotels prior to my trip so I could peruse and plan. Then, when I made each dining reservation, there was a place to note any allergies to give the chef a heads up. And each eating experience over the course of my trip far surpassed my expectations.
For a pre-race dinner on Friday night, my family and I arrived at The Wave of American Flavors at Disney’s Contemporary Resort the early side because of the timing of the race the next morning, but since many other runners had the same idea, the dining room was already bustling! Because there were allergies noted on our reservation, the chef came over to speak with our table and she let me know which menu items were appropriate. I chose the seasonal sustainable grilled fish, a swordfish with roasted potatoes, onions, and butternut squash – a delicious dish. An extra perk was the basket of gluten-free rolls sent out along with the regular rolls. Usually, I kick back while family and friends indulge in the carby precursor to dinner, but having my own rolls on which to slather the sea-salted butter was great! Though warm, they were a bit crumbly, but just having the option was unusual and wonderful.
After the half marathon, I wolfed down a banana and a bottle of water, then headed back to my hotel with my family to shower and get ready for a celebration brunch. We were staying at an Epcot-area resort, convenient for both the finish line of the race and for eating at the Captain’s Grille at the Yacht Club Resort. Just like the prior evening, the chef came over to our table. He would have been happy to walk me through the breakfast buffet options, but I was sold the minute he mentioned gluten-free Mickey waffles! I ordered those with scrambled eggs and fruit on the side. Served warm with maple syrup and powdered sugar, this was easily the culinary highlight of my trip because I got to eat one of my favorite childhood comfort foods and feel like a kid again while basking in the glow of my recently run 13.1!
That wasn’t the end of the fantastic food. Dining in the Disney parks was just as allergy-friendly. Eating lunch one afternoon in the Animal Kingdom at Restaurantosaurus, the waitress at the counter had the manager come out to take our party’s order. The manager brought a binder that was full of substitute foods for all sorts of allergies, from Amy’s macaroni and cheese to Tofutti ice cream. I had a simple grilled chicken and cheese sandwich on a gluten-free bun with apple slices as a side instead of fries. I was too full for dessert, but I was tempted when we walked by the Gardens Kiosk, a special allergy-free dessert booth with a variety of Enjoy Life, Babycakes, and Lundberg Farms treats.
I’m not a big fan of Mexican food, but my family is. For dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion, the chef kindly made me a plate of simple grilled mahi mahi and vegetables and a side of gluten-free white corn tortillas. If you’re gluten-free, this would actually be a great choice overall, as most menu items with the exception of flour tortillas were already GF, including the tortilla chips and all the sauces. I’m a bit more limited because the orange and avocado allergies obviously cut out guacamole, but for someone who is just gluten-free and loves Mexican food, I’d recommend either here or the sister Cantina and San Angel Inn.
I was completely spoiled for choice with desserts. I had cherry vanilla ice cream at Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club resort, and candy cane ice cream at the soda fountain at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel. At the Main Street Confectionery in the Magic Kingdom and Seashore Sweets on the Boardwalk, I even found Minnie’s Bakery Rice Krispies Treats that were certified gluten-free! (They did contain milk and soy, as the ears were covered in milk chocolate. I asked one of the chefs at dinner one evening to confirm that the sprinkles and jimmies used at Disney were gluten-free.)
My family ate several meals at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel and at Downtown Disney restaurants. Todd English’s Bluezoo, Fulton’s Crab House, and Wolfgang Puck were all wonderful options for a seafood lover like myself. All the waitstaff were extremely friendly and asked about allergies when we were first seated. The shrimp and warm mixed greens, roasted salmon, and sautéed corvina with brussels sprouts I had at each establishment were all melt-in-your-mouth delicious. However, I was a bit surprised that none of them offered any gluten-free grain substitutes (even though they’re all on Disney property, they are not operated by Disney, and so they do not carry the same items). I was completely fine with it, since I usually don’t eat any grains or baked goods that I haven’t made myself, but something to consider if you, like me, found it a special treat on a race-cation to be so catered to!
To sum up, fueling for a run at Disney on a gluten-free, nut-free, orange-free, and avocado-free diet was easy and fun. The chefs and other staff at all Disney restaurants, whether ice cream stands, counter-service luncheonettes at the parks, or signature dining rooms at the resorts, were friendly and accommodating. I was amazed at the sheer variety of substitute foods and menu alterations available, even coming from Manhattan. Of course, the prices for food at Disney are high, but one great surprise was that those substitutions did not cost a penny extra, whereas in Manhattan, asking for gluten-free toast instead of rye will set you back an extra dollar or two, and vegetables instead of fries up to $5! And those prices were actually comparable to Manhattan eateries for the most part (a gut-wrenching thought to those of us who reside there, and a warning shock to anyone from more reasonable America). Some people think of Disney as a turkey leg, chocolate fudge brownie sundae, healthy athlete’s nightmare, but I found instead that it was simply a place where they would make any guest anything they wanted – as in the rest of life, it was up to you how you wanted to eat and treat your body!
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