Welcome to Tuesday’s Travels – gluten free. We’re visiting Downtown Disney in Walt Disney World this week, our second in an multi-week series on dining in WDW*.
Downtown Disney, though not considered one of the theme parks, includes three “boroughs” – the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side – and is definitely a place worth visiting during your stay at WDW. Filled with shops offering more Disney-themed items than you could ever imagine, street performers, theaters, an arcade, as well as great night life places, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and candy stores, you’ll be entertained for hours. Downtown Disney is centrally located on the WDW property – making it easy to visit from any resort, theme park, or water park.
We use Downtown Disney as a central connection hub. The bus system, free to all resort guests, travels throughout the “World”. While the bus system is quite extensive, there are no bus routes making connections from one hotel to another hotel, or from one theme park to another theme park. The easiest way to make these transfers is via the Downtown Disney bus hub. From Downtown Disney you can connect to any location, making getting around the “World” almost effortless. Another reason why WDW is called “The Happiest Place on Earth!”
Downtown Disney is also the home of DisneyQuest, a five-floor indoor gaming complex. Here you can find interactive rides and games to keep you busy for hours, especially on a very hot afternoon when you need a reprieve from the heat, or when a rainy day happens. Our favorite activity is the interactive “video” game, Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for Buccaneer Gold … AWESOME! You can surely work up an appetite while playing hard in DisneyQuest. While there is a quick-service food counter here, my suggestion is to eat outside of DisneyQuest, either before you arrive or after you’ve finished playing, as they are not well equipped for accommodating gluten-free needs.
Downtown Disney has many places that can meet your special dining requests … and do a deliciously fabulous job!
A great lunchtime or casual dinner stop is Pollo Campero Marketplace.In the market place you’ll find Pollo Campero, featuring fried chicken with a Latin flair, touted to be the BEST fried chicken by the gluten gluttons in the family. This is a great place for the members of your traveling group who want a really great tasting meal and don’t have food restrictions.
Also in the Marketplace, right next to Pollo Campera, is Fresh A-Peel. This is where the gluten-free folks will find great choices such as burgers, fries and salads. We dined on delicious burgers and non-greasy, “safe” french fries. Fun to be able to share a family table where everyone was happy with the choices available. A great beginning to our trip!
For something sweet and delicious, head DIRECTLY to Erin McKenna’s Bakery BabyCakes NYC™. (They’re located in the same building as Pollo Campero.) Erin McKenna’s Bakery™ (known only as BabyCakes NYC at the time we visited) has the most yummy doughnuts, brownies, cupcakes, and whoopie pies! All of their treats are gluten-free and dairy-free. Everything is also certified kosher, parve and vegan. We made this our first stop, indulged to our hearts content, then we continued on with our fun adventures! As it happened, we made a few stops to Erin Mckenna’s Bakery™ during our stay at WDW. Yep, it was that important:-D (You can even have large orders or a special occasion cake delivered to your hotel room or a resort restaurant with 48-hours notice. Looking for a certain flavor? Be sure to chat with the General Manager – Emily – about that as well. They are GREAT at accommodating requests!)
Here’s how much we liked the Chocolate Chocolate Doughnuts!
For dinner we dined at Bongos Cuban Café. Though this is not considered an on-Disney-property restaurant, we were able to have the reservations made through the Disney Dining reservations line. They did not have the prior notification from our special diets request form however. (This was not a mistake. Be aware that Special Dining requests don’t extend to non-Disney restaurants, even though reservations do.) Bongos was very accommodating! Once seated, the chef joined us at our table to assist us in our ordering. This was very helpful. Many items were safe as normally prepared, and a few needed tweaking. While the service was good, and the atmosphere was lively – be sure to enjoy the outdoor patio if the weather isn’t sweltering – the food (even for the gluten gluttons) was just average. This would not be my first choice next time. Just a sidebar, if you like plantains, they can do them several ways. I discovered plantains are one of those foods I’m glad I’ve tried, and once was enough for me:-D
While wandering through Downtown Disney, I poked my head into a number of other eateries. One that we didn’t have a chance to try, but made a great first impression, was Raglan Road, featuring authentic Irish cuisine. I took a couple moments to chat with the manager who shared that they can do gluten-free, and dairy-free, fish and chips, and killer battered onion rings. He was quite knowledgeable about gluten-free requirements and gave me great confidence that there would be delicious food awaiting my arrival. Unfortunately, I never made it back there. Perhaps you can check it out and let me know your thoughts.
Another fun activity to do while at WDW, aside from eating delicious meals and not having to worry about gluten and cross-contamination, begins at Downtown Disney. It’s finding the hidden Mickeys. You can buy a Hidden Mickey Field Guide to get the hunt started. Filled with clues to where hundreds of Mickeys are hidden throughout WDW, this activity will keep kids, and adults, entertained, occupied and inquisitive. We took it everywhere and pulled it out while standing in lines for our favorite rides. Great way to pass the time:-D
Be sure to enjoy the boat rides around the Downtown Disney lagoon. These are fun and a relaxing way to take a break while still seeing the sites. You can also save precious walking by ferrying to and from one end of the Downtown area to another.
Those are our Downtown Disney notes. Watch for our next Tuesday’s Travels – gluten free when we share our dining finds in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
*If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check out the easy How-To Guide we shared last week on creating a gluten-free, or multiple allergen-free, dining plan. While our series will share the places we visited, there are countless dining locations from which to choose. To find restaurants easily, I scour Birnbaum Guides 2012 Walt Disney World (there is a new one every year with updated info) for their descriptions and dining information. I’ve used this book (year appropriate) every time we’ve planned a trip to Disney. I don’t think I could do Disney without it:-D
Do you have any great memories of visiting Walt Disney World?
Safe food is a journey … Thrive!™