Living with chronic illness is never easy, and traveling with it poses unique challenges that most people don’t have to think about. When my wife Kristen first informed me that we would be taking a Disney Cruise, I was cautious. For me, and millions of other people with dietary restrictions, physical obstacles aren’t all that must be overcome. Before I knew it we were off on another adventure, and I was about to find out how it was to eat on a Disney Cruise gluten sensitive.
If you’re like me, you have some sort of sensitivity to certain foods. In my case, I have an unpleasant reaction when I eat foods that contain “FODMAPs.” Without getting into a lot of science, the foods high in FODMAPs I am most sensitive to tend to be ones that are made out of wheat. It is usually easier for me to ask for “gluten free” or “celiac friendly” meal choices even though I do NOT have Celiac Disease.
Rotational Dining Creates A Seamless Custom Dining Experience
The Disney Cruise Ships have a rotational dining experience, and your servers follow you from restaurant to restaurant throughout the cruise. That means for those with special dietary needs you don’t have to repeat explaining your needs every time you sit down for a meal. Servers on the Disney ships get to know you, and provide a customized dining experience without an ongoing hassle.
I’d like to introduce you to Branko. He’s the one in the photo below without the glasses.
Branko was our main server when we were on the Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream back in late February 2018. At our first meal onboard, we were asked about any special information that the chefs might need to know in order to make sure that any food allergies were addressed, so I mentioned that I needed to be careful of my gluten intake.
After a short exchange on what exactly my dietary needs were, he assured me that he would make sure that I would have a great dining experience. He would make any adjustments necessary to make sure that I had as much great Disney food as I could handle and that I would have as much good food as everyone else at my table. Let me stop here and tell you that he more than lived up to his promise.
Gluten Free With All The Flavor
I swear that I gained 15 pounds by the time we got home, and I ate like royalty. My dining companions (my wife Kristen, Rebekah and her husband, Carlos) had no food restrictions, so they got to have the fancy bread basket, with unusual and interesting bread selections. I, on the other hand, was resigned that I would make due with gluten free bread like I get at home: Little flavor, weak texture, and mostly a crumbly mess.
I was wrong! Even the dinner rolls that I got were decent and flavorful. Granted, it was still a little grainy and fell apart without much effort, and it came in one variety, but it was good enough that I wasn’t resentful of my needs. We are all gastronomes, so they all sampled pretty much everything that I had that was “different” from the standard fare, and my companions were all surprised at the flavor and quality of my non-gluten selections.
Branko made it so easy for me to have a 4-star dining experience at every meal. Take, for example, my breakfast. Mickey waffles (which are a Disney Dining requirement, if you ask me) and Eggs Benedict, both gluten free. The toast that the eggs are on was a little chewy, but it was no worse than a dense soda biscuit. The Mickey Waffles were fantastic! With some syrup, they tasted no different than the regular version.
From Mickey Waffles To Crème Brûlée
The appetizer and main courses were also fantastic. For many of the dishes, there were only minor alterations to the preparation that needed to be made in order to make them gluten-free, such as leaving off croutons or breaded crust. Most of my dining selections were right off of the menu, and Branko made sure that they were “safe” for me to eat even if they weren’t already gluten free.
The quinoa, orange, and fennel salad was wonderful. Some people don’t like quinoa because it is kind of grainy in texture and generally mild in flavor, but it was a great base for this. I seem to remember that the regular version of this dish was actually a couscous, rather than the quinoa. However, since couscous is a wheat pasta, it’s on my no-go list. The quinoa was a great stand in, since it has a similar texture and flavor profile to couscous.
The Pirates in the Caribbean party was a fun night, if you let yourself enjoy it. I went ready to plunder the dinner table that night and wore my bandana. All that was missing was a hook for me hand. Arrrr!
Now, I have to admit, I think I ate my considerable weight in seafood while on the Disney Dream, since I don’t get to have it at home… I’m the only member of my family who likes seafood.
When I heard that one of the appetizers would be “shrimp cocktail” I kind of expected about 6 shrimp hanging off the rim of a piece of stemware with a pool of red cocktail sauce in the middle. Instead, I got this beautiful glass with shrimp and vegetables. I’ll be honest, if I had been by myself, I would probably have ordered about 10 of these. It was that good!
Gluten Free Pasta Happiness
One of my favorite dishes was the seafood pasta. It had little clams and shrimp and a couple of other small sea creatures in a lovely red sauce (which was definitely not out of a jar!) on top of gluten free spaghetti! I could have died and gone to heaven! I love pasta. And both garlic and wheat pasta are on my “you will probably regret this later” list, so I don’t eat much or often.
Yeah, the spaghetti was off in texture, but no worse than any Chef Boy-R-Dee pasta… It was kind of mushy and I would have believed that it was just over-cooked if I were anywhere other than a Disney Dining location. But… PASTA!
Desserts were also a dream. I gladly ate more crème brûlée than is polite, just without the biscotti. In fact, Branko boxed a couple of extras up so that “we” could enjoy later back in the cabin. I was told that was technically not allowed, but with Disney magic, anything is possible.
The final meal on the ship was a sad affair, because parting is such sweet sorrow. I jokingly asked Branko if I could stuff him in my luggage and take him home with me. I settled for a picture with him for the fond memories. The Debarkation morning breakfast is early and limited since the crew only has a couple of ours to reset the ship. I was expecting to fall back on a bowl of pineapple and strawberries to go with my coffee. Instead, Branko worked one final miracle. Gluten free muffins and doughnuts! Again, not something that I typically get to eat without consequences. Branko made sure that I ate like a king each and every meal.
Disney Magic Is Real
My wife and I know that travel for self-care is an important part of our mental health routine. When we vacation with Disney, we know that we will be well taken care of. I had never been on a Disney Cruise before this, but I had some idea the lengths that the crew goes to make your cruise magical. Boy, did I under-estimate that Disney magic!
I only have one complaint about going on a Disney Cruise: I have to wait for my next one!