For those of you who've visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida, you know how well all the parks, restaurants, and resorts handle all special dietary needs -- gluten-free included. They've become somewhat of the "gold standard" for gluten-free travel -- at least with kids!
Unfortunately, Disneyland Paris is not yet at that point, but hopefully with some prodding -- along with some much-needed awareness of Celiac Disease and gluten-free diets in France -- they will at some point get there.
Our family visited Disneyland Paris for a day in April during our recent trip to France with our kids over their Spring Break. We were actually staying at a Marriott Vacation Club International property right near Disneyland (my mother owns a time share with them). This gave us proximity to Paris (the resort was about 40 minutes east of the city) and a full 2-level "villa" with two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, living room/dining room, and full kitchen.This is the only way we felt we could reasonably visit France, given what we'd heard about the relative lack of awareness of Celiac Disease and gluten-free diets. Staying someplace with a full kitchen would at least enable us to have a big breakfast before departing for the day -- and give us the flexibility to eat there for dinner, too, on those days we returned from our sightseeing early enough.
We were thankful for this arrangement, because our experience did indeed corroborate what I heard/read on most Blogs and message boards about dining gluten-free in Paris: it is difficult. We thought Disneyland would at least be easy, but again, before leaving on the trip, our research turned up the disappointing news...Disneyland Paris does not have the range of offerings and knowledge of gluten-free food preparation of their sister properties in the U.S. Literally the only options for dining are pre-packaged microwavable, allergen-free meals offered at select locations throughout the park. These meals, provided by an outside company, are free of dozens of common (and uncommon) allergens, not just gluten, so they did not leave much to work with in terms of viable ingredients. We did not even try these, choosing instead to bring a bag of snacks and a gluten-free PB&J sandwich for our son to eat throughout the day. We were glad to have this stockpile, as even our attempt to get Ben & Jerry's ice cream (a gluten-free flavor we were familiar with) turned out to be a major and time-consuming production. For more details on this and other experiences attempting to get a basic gluten-free dinner, be sure to read my more detailed review of Disneyland Paris on our website GlutenFreeTravelSite.
Obviously, not everyone with gluten-free needs visiting Disneyland Paris will have the option of staying at a place like the Marriott time-share. My recommendation -- if you are considering a trip there (and I'd never recommend it over Disney World in Orlando unless of course your objective was to spend a lot of time in Paris, as we did) would be to consider staying in one of the Disney-owned hotels surrounding the park. We never had the opportunity to talk with a chef or manager at any of these hotels to find out their degree of knowledge of gluten-free food preparation (again, more details about this in my review), but I have to believe that you'd have a decent chance of at least being able to get eggs and fruit for breakfast and basic things like steak, grilled chicken or fish, and potatoes and veggies for lunch/dinner if staying at one of these hotels, due to the higher level of service compared to restaurants in the parks.
I plan on contacting Disney about the different treatment of special diets in Disneyland Paris versus their parks in the U.S. I commend them on offering something, because I'm sure the meals would have been fine in a pinch -- or if we'd spent several days at Disneyland and Disney Studios. And I also commend them on addressing ALL -- and I do mean ALL! -- of the other allergens and special dietary needs. This is so critical for children who suffer life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to certain foods.
But I fail to see why Disneyland Paris can't simply train some of the chefs -- at least at the sit-down restaurants -- to be able to offer a safe, gluten-free steak, burger, or piece of grilled chicken (along with gluten-free sides) for its gluten-free guests. It would only require research into the ingredients of the food it currently offers (and in some cases, finding gluten-free substitutions), as well as training on preparation and avoiding cross contact. Providing a list of gluten-free "quick serve" options or items from food carts throughout the park would also be relatively easy. They offer the turkey legs just like the parks in Orlando, but you have no idea if they're gluten-free because they offer no information or guidance on this. So we weren't about to take that risk. And what about the ice cream treats and popsicles offered all over? Likely many are gluten-free as well, but trying to confirm this on your own -- especially since labeled ingredients are in French and they aren't always brands you're familiar with -- is not, in my opinion, a viable option when you're looking out for the health of your child.
I'd be very interested in hearing your feedback if you've traveled to Disneyland Paris and what you did at mealtime! Please share your comments with us by clicking on Comments below.