There’s been a lot of talk on the Interwebs about Disneyland Paris’ facilities for those on a gluten-free diet. So, after returning from a few day’s with the mouse and friends, I’ve decided to break format and blog about our experiences. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short.
Just to recap, it’s my wife who has coeliac disease, not myself. However, I basically eat a GF diet as that’s the most convenient (and safe) way to act. Obviously I have more choice in restaurants but it does give me the advantage of contrasting and comparing their GF offerings to regular menus.
We’ve been to Walt Disney World in Florida many times since my wife was diagnosed. Eating there is a breeze; easy-peasy. There are many. many places in Orlando to eat. Yes, you’ll get a lot of steak but there are surprises and delights to be had. However, that’s another blog post. My point is that eating within WDW was straightforward and after a few days my wife completely let go of the ‘will I starve today’ anxiety often associated with holidays.
Bearing these experiences in mind, you’d think Disneyland Paris would be equally as good, no?
Let’s get something straight, it’s not a disaster. I’ve read the tales of being fed dreadful slop (and yes we encountered it) but if you choose your establishment wisely and book in advance you can get a couple of decent meals. That said, it’s not good and there is massive room for improvement.
To give you an idea of the hits and misses, here are some of our experiences. Please note, your mileage may vary and you may not have as much ‘fun’ as we did. Your risks are your own.
Before diagnosis, my wife and I had visited DLP several times so we knew the restaurants and food available. This gave us a head-start and fortunately little had changed since we last went there five years ago. Our favourite place is Inventions, possibly the poshest buffet restaurant I’ve ever eaten in. It’s in the Disneyland Hotel but you do not have to be resident to eat there. Book well in advance.
Now I know what you’re thinking; a buffet? Are you mad? Yes, I know a buffet is no place for coeliac to be wandering around but we wondered if something could be plated up in the kitchen as long as we knew it was safe. You see, Inventions is what it is not only for the excellent food but also for the Disney characters that constantly turn up and make a fuss of you. My 10-year-old son initially tried to play it cool but was constantly reduced to fits of giggles and Chip and Dale terrorised him. You go for the atmosphere.
Using of some French GF cards I’d printed out and blessed with a polite and understanding waiter soon my wife was furnished with a plate from the kitchen of various deli items, some seafood and followed by a plate of roast pork and probably slightly too many stir-fried courgettes. Still, we were not complaining; the food was great and Mrs Evans went home with a full tummy. As this was the first night, we had high hopes for the next few days.
Breakfast was a hit and miss affair. A standard buffet style line-up. The language barrier came into play a lot here and after expelling the situation to the waitress my wife was presented with a huge pile of Valpiform GF cakes and biscuits. This was a double-edged sword. We were grateful for the fact they could provide this but it did make my wife feel a bit singled out as the other tables looked on curiously. All she really wanted to know was whether the scrambled eggs and beans would be ok. Still, we loaded the backpack up with the baked good as daytime snacks.
Lunch was a major score. We went to another pre-coeliacs haunt, Annette’s. This is a 50’s style diner in the Disney Village area that does excellent burgers and huge desserts. Many of the waiting staff cruise around on roller skates. To be honest, we didn’t expect much and Mrs E was ready with her cakes and biscuits. Again, we went through the routine with waitress who fetched the manageress. She, in excellent English, explained exactly what was GF and what was not, even pointing out that the fries were in dedicated fryers. As she had a GF bun with here, Mrs E enjoyed a juicy burger and a huge portion of fries. We went back the next day.
Dinner turned into a bit of a mess. We went to the Steakhouse, again in Disney Village. Known for it’s excellent steaks and slightly more formal atmosphere I was confident that this place should find feeding a coeliac easy.
They were just not interested.
Honestly I’m sure they could have fed us but the chef (after being reluctantly summoned) basically said there was nothing my wife could have except an allergy meal (more on those later). We left and returned to Inventions but had to wait two hours for a table. Again Inventions treated us very, very well.
Next day, after a significantly more successful breakfast, we had booked another of our favourites, the Plaza Gardens buffet within the Disneyland Park itself. Yes, Disney does a lot of buffets. We had read online that coeliacs had been treated well here and so were quietly confident. Nope. Within a few minutes of arriving (and having to pay the set price in advance) my wife went to speak with a member of the kitchen staff behind the counter. The waitress got a chef (appeared to be a junior one) who explained that under no circumstances would he plate anything in the kitchen and that the only thing he would serve her was an allergy meal (really, we’re getting to it). This, plus the fact that our hostess, who we had also spoken to, had only answered with ‘we cannot take any responsibility’ all sounded like they were too scared to feed us in case they caused a problem or got into trouble. It was a ridiculous situation and it felt we were not being permitted to take responsibility for our own actions. We demanded a refund and left. My wife had no lunch.
The evening was to be spent at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This is an excellent rodeo-style dinner show ‘in the round’. The many hundreds of people there are fed the same thing; a cowboy meal of sausage, ribs, chicken, potato and corn. It’s served into metal bowls at lightning speed by the waiters and waitresses so we knew that trying to work out what was safe and avoid cross-contamination was out of the question. That was fine, we were there for the show. Mrs E took some home-prepared food to eat and asked for the allergy meal, just so we could take a look.
Ah, the allergy meal; Disneyland Paris’ get-out-of-jail card. If you download the brochure (PDF) direct from DLP on their allergy solutions you learn of a delicious range of meals that cater for 55 allergies all in one. Shall we take a look. In fact, try and identify the starter without reading the caption first.
It’s tomato soup. I have honestly done nothing to the colour on that photo. ‘Soup’ was a brave term as it was more of a stew. How they did that I have no idea. Needless to say, it was disgusting.
Next? Chicken and rice. How bad could it be, right?
Wrong. I have never tasted something so bland and watery that called itself chicken.
Finally: Peach delight.
Delightful. If you hate food.
Now before anyone gets offended, what offends me is coeliacs being lumped in with a wide range of other allergies, some far more critical, just for a large corporation’s convenience. People requiring a GF diet have a wide range of varying sensitivities and know ‘themselves’ best of all. It wouldn’t surprise me if some coeliacs looked at the range of allergy-free meals available and thought ‘wow, that’ll do me!’. That’s great, but those who know what they can and cannot tolerate should be and can be offered a wider choice.
All it takes is a little preparation, a little education and some planning and all the restaurants in DLP could offer an interesting gluten-free menu. Their USA counterparts do, so I don’t see the excuse. Trying to wrap up all food allergies with one meal is just plain lazy.
So, not a disaster, but could do so much better.
In summary (scored for GF awareness):
- Inventions, Disneyland Hotel 4/5
- Breakfast, Disneyland Hotel 2/5
- Annette’s 5/5
- Plaza Gardens 0/5
- Steakhouse 0/5
- Buffalo Bill’s N/A (I wouldn’t expect them to on such a mass-catering exercise, so it’s unfair)
A special mention also goes to the Coquelles Ibis (near the channel tunnel) who were very understanding of my wife’s condition and cleaned down a station to prepare a lovely steak and salad.