Disney World, Disability, and Celiac

It’s been a month since we returned from Disney World, and for that entire time I’ve been intending to reflect about Disney with disability/celiac.

We are planners in our house, but oh! the heights of planning we have achieved since my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. Our first meal at a restaurant required a detailed conversation with the Culver’s manager the visit BEFORE we actually ordered food (as opposed to ice cream) for her.

Disney World is well known as a food allergy haven. At sit-down restaurants, the chef will come out and talk to you. At the quick service Commissary in Hollywood Studios, the food for Julianna came from a totally different part of the restaurant than everyone else’s. All their Quick-service places have a dedicated GF fryer. I mean, !!!!

Sit down dinner at Liberty Tree Inn on our first day cost $300 (it’s a prix fixe), but Julianna got a feast of her own—right down to rolls. She was giddy with the freedom.

However, $300 a meal is a quick path to bankruptcy, so we ordered from Instacart to stock the cabin. We ate all breakfasts “at home” and packed about half our lunches for park days, and cooked 3 dinners in the cabin. It worked really well… we didn’t abandon too much food. (I hope the cabin cleaners took that untouched broccoli home!)

But I also knew I couldn’t assume that every GF item I needed would be in stock at Publix. Like taco seasoning. Did you know a lot of taco seasonings have gluten in them?

So I started packing for Disney 8 weeks in advance, as I planned meals, knowing I would forget things if I didn’t. Most of us can forget to pack something and say, “Darn, now I have to spend a little more $$.” In our case, it actually had health and wellness implications. I couldn’t afford to forget anything.

So, beginning in March, I mixed up a batch of taco seasoning (easier than asking an anonymous Instacart shopper to find one that’s GF, trust me) and put the half cup I needed in a baggie and threw it in a crate… along with a bottle of of Italian seasoning. And the backpacks. And the water bottles. (Julianna’s water—she has her own dedicated water bottle now. It’s pink. It’s unmistakable.) I found GF instant mac & cheese (YOW, that stuff was HORRIBLE! No one would eat it) and GF instant oatmeal and packed dried fruit for yogurt. One of our suitcases was called “food, pool, and pharmacy.” (Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, nighttime cold meds…)

Our kitchen at Fort Wilderness was GF except for a box of Cheez Its. We skipped the bread—sandwiches get smashed and gross in a backpack anyway–and went with meat-and-cheese rolls and crackers (GF and non-GF.) You can dole all that out and save the gluten for last. Because in a theme park, you can’t wash your hands 10x while making a meal, which is what I have to do at home. (Not an exaggeration.)

Anyway, it was high maintenance in the planning phase but well worth it.

The other thing I wanted to share was about the DAS (Disability Access Service) pass. Procedures change all the time, but at least at the moment, Disney is doing “lightning lanes” that you pay for. The DAS pass is a free version of the same thing for people with disabilities and up to 5 family members. Disney is EXTREMELY disability friendly. So many scooters on the busses for people who have straightforward mobility issues. People with mobility issues get priority.

Anyway… because we had the DAS pass, the longest line we waited in was 25-30 minutes, and that was a) Space Mountain, because Julianna wasn’t in a thousand years going to ride that one so the DAS pass didn’t apply, and b) the brand new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster, which she did ride (and loved), but which you didn’t need a DAS pass for because they were only doing virtual queue and you signed up in advance for a boarding group.

We were seven days in parks, and we could have quit 1-2 sooner, because we’d done everything. Splash Mountain about 6 times… Thunder Mountain twice in quick succession… the Pandora “flight” ride (the one with a 2.5-hour “standby” line) twice, Rise of the Resistance 3x in one day, the Smuggler’s Run the same.

We told the boys, “You guys really don’t understand what Disney World is like. This is not how it usually is. Someday you’re going to want to take your kids to Disney and you’re going to be begging your sister to come along.” 🙂

At the risk of sounding like a Disney ad, I just have to say: Disney earns its reputation as a family friendly company and vacation destination through hard work and attention to detail. We WERE able to find a single “hotel” room that accommodated six people—there aren’t as many as those that accommodate five, but they are there. And six is the perfect number in park, because every ride that is not an individual rider (like Space Mountain) or a group of 6 (like the Smuggler’s Run) is divided by 2s or 3s. You do the math. No matter how you split it, a family of 6 gets to be together, without being paired with strangers.

Also, after this trip it occurred to me that as much as we all grouse about the expense of a Disney trip, I am no longer convinced it’s overpriced. I mean, look at these sets. The sheer attention to detail—in the sets and in the lines, as well as in the rides themselves—is exquisite.

The last waiting area for Smuggler’s Run has everything–right down to the game board and, up on the shelf behind, the laser ball and helmet used to train Luke.
And inside the cockpit, it’s almost like being there for real.
Rise of the Resistance: a full-sized transport shuttle you go outside to board… and somehow, when that door opens again, it opens in the docking bay of a star destroyer.
Yes. That’s what that door opens to after “takeoff.”
The Imperial walkers are so big, you can’t even get them in a single frame.
And in another universe, this is the Pandora set at Animal Kingdom. Not part of the rides. Just the set around it.