Monday, October 8, 2012

Disney's Pop Century: What Resort Eating Means When You're Gluten Free

I've been to Disney many times and I've stayed in a wide range of places, from value to deluxe. After years of trying out the different resorts, I've come to the conclusion that Pop Century, a value resort, is my favorite place to stay. Location-wise, it's very central to all of the parks, and transportation-wise, it has its own bus system. The theme is a lot of fun (who doesn't love a ginormous Big Wheel?) and I love the pop culture references from the last 60 years. The only downside is the sprawl of the resort, but if you book a preferred room, you'll be placed close to the main transportation center. (The other downside was that they had a time capsule of technology that's super outdated... I laughed at the original Gameboy, the 8 tracks, the Apple IIc... and stopped laughing when I realized they included the tape recorder that I still use. Even the same make and model.)

I was a little worried about trying to get gluten-free at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts have sit-down restaurants, while the value resorts only offer cafeteria-style quick service. The food is also not spectacular at the quick service-style restaurants -- it's fairly standard fare, like burgers and hot dogs and pasta. They generally offer a salmon or chicken special with sides like mashed potatoes and vegetables.

This also doesn't really mean much to me, because when I go to Disney, I only ever eat breakfast at the resorts. Lunch and dinner are going to be spent at one of the million amazing restaurants at the parks and deluxe resorts. On this particular trip, we missed our lunch reservation upon arrival and were forced to eat lunch at Pop Century.

We arrived at the cafeteria, and thanks to some Internet research, I knew to ask for the chef. I went to the nearest employee and asked for the chef for a food allergy, and moments later, Karen appeared. She walked me through station by station (there are four in total at Pop Century, including a pasta station and a grille), and pointed out everything I could eat and more importantly, everything she could adjust for me to be gluten-free. Her exact words? "I will make you anything you want." She rattled off a list of the things she can do with the items she had in the kitchen, including pastas, burgers, chicken fingers, pizza.. my head started spinning with all of the options. She also told me that when I came back for breakfast, she could do gluten-free pancakes, gluten-free waffles, gluten-free muffins, you name it.

She also said that in the morning, the lines at each station are crazy. For people with allergies, do not bother waiting in line. Karen told me to simply grab a manager/employee, tell them I had an allergy, and wait by the kitchen door for a chef to come out. It's quicker than waiting in line to tell them to get the chef.

I asked her for a bacon cheeseburger with fries. REAL French fries!! They have a dedicated fryer for gluten allergies. She gave me one of those flashing buzzer thingies, told me to go ahead and pay, and then wait for my food. Because my husband could simply walk up and grab a meal, his food was obviously ready before mine, as she had to make it fresh. But it also meant that instead of having a burger that had been sitting there for half an hour, I had a fresh one. I also had a fruit bar for dessert -- I could have had a number of options, including gluten-free brownies and fruit cups.

My food took probably 10-15 minutes in total. I'm betting that during a rush, it would take longer, but I have no problem waiting longer for food if it means I don't get sick. My burger was great, and I forgot how delicious fresh crispy fries are. This clearly was not the best burger and fries I've ever had in my life, but for a cafeteria-style restaurant, it was very tasty. It was a good omen of things to come!

This was also the beginning of my constant waiting for food. I noticed that whenever I ordered anywhere with an allergy, my food took much longer than other tables around us. While at Tutto Italia in Epcot (more on that amazing meal later), the server explained that whenever they get an allergy request, the kitchen washes all of its pans and utensils before beginning to cook that dish, which is why my food took so much longer. Honestly, I'm on vacation. I'm in no rush. What do I care if my food takes an extra 10-15 minutes? If it's taking longer because they're trying to keep me safe, I really can't complain. So if you are going to Disney with a food allergy, expect your food to take a little longer, but be grateful that it's for your own good.

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