Insider’s Guide to a Fantastic Gluten-Free Disney Cruise
In the celiac community, cruise lines have a stellar reputation for providing safe food for gluten-free cruisers. While Disney Parks are pioneers in accommodating food allergies in the theme park world.
When you put Disney and cruising together, gluten-free travelers experience the best of the best in Disney Cruise Line (DCL) vacations.
First-time gluten-free cruisers will be floored.
DCL provides more than simply gluten-free food. You’ll have excellent gluten-free food, endless options, quality, and variety that is equivalent to the “regular food” others are eating. It’s an exceptional experience for those of us who usually have to plan, prepare, and tote food on vacation.
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Is a Disney Cruise Right for You?
Disney cruises are particularly suited for:
- Celiac cruisers: Read this entire post to learn why!
- Disney Fans: Disney themes are everywhere.
- Families with young children: Aside from the Disney theme, every kid-friendly detail is covered, particularly in the awesome kids club.
- Families of four, and especially families of five: Disney staterooms are larger than most cruise lines, giving you more room to move around comfortably. There are cabins that sleep five, making it a real bargain for families of five fitting in one stateroom.
- Travelers with multiple allergies or special dietary needs: Disney is amazing with this, whether you have two dietary needs or eight.
A Disney cruise may not be a good fit for:
- Folks who don’t enjoy Walt Disney World or Disney films.
- Travelers working on a tight budget: A Disney cruise is a premium product at a premium price.
A quick word about the last one. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, the budget just doesn’t match the dream. It’s okay to tweak the dream. Pick a different cruiseline with a current promotional offer. Most cruise lines are highly-skilled at accommodating celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and often at a much more affordable price point than Disney.
If you think a Disney Cruise is a good fit for you, read on.
Notify Disney before your trip that you are on a gluten-free diet. Complete DCL’s “Request Special Services” form online up to three days prior to embarkation.
Follow up with a phone call or have your travel agent call to make sure everything is properly noted. This is not absolutely necessary, but it is an added safeguard.
If you have questions before you sail or complex dietary needs, you can email [email protected].
Read and understand DCL’s allergy guidance.
Review the basic dining options on your particular Disney ship. DCL has five cruise ships:
- Disney Wish (the newest and largest)
- Disney Dream
- Disney Fantasy
- Disney Magic
- Disney Wonder
The restaurants vary a bit by ship, particularly on the Disney Wish. On all ships, you will have some version of main dining restaurants, a buffet option (Marceline Market on the Wish and Cabanas on the other ships), adult-only upscale restaurants (extra charge), quick-service options on the pool deck, and in-room dining.
Pack essential snacks for your cruise. While Disney will have you covered on the ship, you’ll want prepackaged snacks on hand for excursions. The rest of the items on the following snack list are completely optional.
Snack Packing List
- Prepackaged nuts, crackers, and protein bars: Prepackaged snacks are critical and will hold you over on excursion days and for your trip home. Disney’s guidelines require that the items are factory-sealed when you board.
- Gluten-free ramen in a cup: This is another great option for excursions and the flight home. It’s perfect if having a hot meal on the go is important to you. You’ll just need hot water from a server at your excursion restaurant or from a flight attendant.
- Water: Most beverages are included on your Disney Cruise, but not bottled water. At nearly $30 for a 12-pack of water delivered to your stateroom, some cruisers bring their own water. It must be factory-sealed and in your carry-on luggage. Better, yet, bring a refillable water bottle, which you can fill on the ship and take off with you for port excursions.
- Candy: You can buy candy at the ship’s movie theater snack stand, but you’ll have your gluten-free favorites (and save a few dollars) if you bring your own.
- Reusable straws: Like most cruise lines, Disney offers no straw or paper straws only, and some brands contain gluten.
- Gluten-free sprinkles: Add these to your soft-serve ice cream. Many, not all, Betty Crocker sprinkles are labeled gluten-free.
Visit the Onboard Dining Session on the first day during boarding hours. When you arrive on the ship, ask a cast member where the dining session is being held. Head there to speak with dining leads. Let them know you have celiac disease and they can answer any questions and put you at ease.
You have a few options for your first lunch on board:
- One of the main dining restaurants will be open. You can order off a menu and get familiar with the process of the main dining rooms. Be sure to mention your dietary restrictions when you order.
- Enjoy a buffet at Cabanas (or Marceline Market on the Wish). Ask for the head server, who can walk you through the buffet pointing out gluten-free dishes. The server can bring you safe food from the kitchen, not directly off the buffet, due to cross-contamination.
- Head to the pool deck and order casual, quick-service food.
At dinner on the first night, your assigned server will show you which menu items are gluten-free. Options will be more limited for this first dinner.
After dinner, your server will help you select food for the next day.
Express your dietary needs and any special requests clearly on the first night. Your server will follow you each night as you rotate through the main dining rooms, and can provide a better dining experience with this information.
Have reasonable expectations for embarkation day and then set them very high after that. The first lunch and dinner menus have fewer options for last-minute modifications. But the following days, with advance notice, the chefs can work Disney Magic.
Main Dining Restaurants
DCL offers nightly rotational dining in its three main dining restaurants. The themed restaurants vary by ship. Disney will assign you a schedule that rotates your party through each of the dining rooms at dinner. As you rotate rooms, your assigned server, who knows your dietary needs, rotates with you for every dinner!
Note: You’ll choose a nightly seating time (early or late) prior to sailing. Early dining books up quickly, so make that selection as soon as your Advanced Booking Window opens, if early dining is important to you.
Disney’s allergy guidance notes that the main dining restaurants and specialty restaurants have more resources to meet dietary needs and requests. If you wish to eat entirely at these table service restaurants, each ship has at least one main dining restaurant open for breakfast and lunch.
Tip! Request gluten-free rolls with dinner.
Sometimes you don’t know what you want. We’re used to so few options. Being asked, “well, what would you like?” can be overwhelming. Refer to the regular menus for inspiration or keep an eye out for something that looks good at another cruiser’s table.
If you’re disappointed with a particular night’s dessert, ask for a donut, ice cream, or Mickey bar, all of which can usually be served quickly on the spot.
Disney’s wait staff is generally wonderful. If you are unlucky and yours is not helping you have a fabulous food experience, please politely ask for the head waiter. If you are a bit uncomfortable “rocking the boat”, the head waiter usually does a nightly check-in at each table.
Unrelated to gluten, the art in Animator’s Palate (on every ship but Disney Wish) is particularly spectacular and unique for Pirate Night. You can contact DCL prior to the cruise to request a dining rotation that has you in Animator’s Palate on Pirate Night. Requests aren’t guaranteed.
Gluten-Free Menu Options
Disney Wish has a separate food allergy menu. Some of the allergy-menu dishes are only on the allergy menu and not even listed on the regular menus.
The Disney Dream, Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder have gluten-free items clearly marked on the regular menu.
Menus are available as a hard-copy, traditional menu in the restaurants or via the Navigator app:
Preordering Food for the Next Day
After dinner each night, your server will have you select your meals for the next day. You may order all your meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Preordering is great for the pickiest of eaters (you can order mac & cheese every night) and for the most adventurous cruisers, as it opens up the most options.
While preordering does cut down on spontaneity, it means your food will be ready with the rest of your party’s food, and the chef will have more flexibility in granting your requests.
Don’t like the menu options at the following night’s rotational restaurant? Simply preorder from any restaurant’s menu. Your food will still be served to you at your assigned restaurant.
You aren’t limited to the dishes marked gluten-free. If your favorite dish is on the regular menu, but not gluten-free, just ask if there’s a way the chef can make it gluten-free.
Make Special Requests!
Just ask! The chefs are incredibly accommodating. Let them know what you need. If you want chocolate cake every night, simply ask your server. Make these special requests the day before.
Order pasta. As my favorite food, pasta is always on my wish list. Even if it’s not marked gluten-free on the menu, most of the pasta dishes can be made gluten-free.
Picky eaters are a Disney specialty. Kid favorites like mac & cheese and chicken tenders are available gluten-free. If your child wants gluten-free grilled cheese for every dinner, just make your special request to your server.
Like to be surprised? For dessert, ask for the chef’s choice and let Disney surprise you. Or make special requests: flan, creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, orange almond cake, carrot cake, cheesecake, brookies, cookies, ice cream sundaes, and sorbets are all available, with notice.
Savvy gluten-free cruisers make chef’s choice special requests like “chef’s choice cake”, “chef’s choice sundae”, and “chef’s choice chocolate dessert”.
Marceline Market or Cabanas Buffet
Cabanas, on the Disney Dream, Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder, offers a breakfast and lunch buffet.
On the Disney Wish, Marceline Market offers Disney’s take on a Food Market with several stalls serving buffet-style breakfast and lunch.
Don’t risk cross-contamination by eating off the buffet. Request food from the back or place a preorder.
You can preorder your buffet breakfast or lunch with your server the night before to save time and have more options. Let the head server in Cabanas/Marceline know about your preorder when you arrive at the restaurant, and it will be delivered in about 5-10 minutes.
If you don’t preorder, I recommend heading to the buffet about 30 minutes before the rest of your family. The gluten-free food will be ready when the gluten-eaters show up to hit the buffet.
Breakfast offerings include gluten-free donuts, muffins, waffles, pancakes, and French toast, along with naturally gluten-free items, like bacon, omelets, and fruit.
Order Mickey waffles at least once.
Ask your dinner server which day(s) they are serving churro Mickey waffles, and order your gluten-free churro Mickey waffles the night before.
Buffet lunch options include salads, soups, meat and fish dishes, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, fruit, and desserts.
On most nights, Cabanas and Marceline Market, transform into a sit-down, casual restaurant for dinner. Check the Navigator app for the schedule on your particular cruise. Note, your regular server will still be at your assigned rotational restaurant, so make your dietary needs clear to the Cabanas/Marceline server.
Pool Side Quick-Service Options
There is no shortage of kid-friendly food on the pool deck.
A fan favorite is endless soft-serve ice cream. Ask for a gluten-free ice cream cone from the cast member by the soft-serve ice cream machine. The staff will change gloves before getting you a gluten-free cone.
Or make a float. Get soda from the fountain, then add soft serve.
The pool deck has several food counters where you’ll find salad, chicken tenders, pizza, hotdogs on a gluten-free bun, burgers on a gluten-free bun, and fries.
Everything takes a little longer to make safely gluten-free, but the gluten-free pizza can take particularly long, about 15-20 minutes. Order before you are hungry and while the kids are busy with other activities.
Looking for the best celiac favorites around the ship? Check out 18 Gluten-Free Favorites for Your Upcoming Disney Cruise for drool-worthy inspiration.
Specialty, Adult-Only Dining (Extra Charge)
Adults-only dining options are available on each ship. They require a reservation and are not included in the price of the cruise (additional charge).
Specialty Restaurants vary by ship:
- Palo Steakhouse (Wish) and Palo (Dream, Fantasy, Magic & Wonder) are more affordable than the other options.
- Remy (Dream & Fantasy)
- Enchanté by Chef Arnaud Lallement (Wish)
These upscale, specialty restaurants accommodate gluten-free in full Disney fashion, from gluten-free bread service and chocolate soufflé at Palo to wagyu beef and buttermilk chocolate at Remy. You won’t be disappointed if you decide to splurge on one of these restaurants.
Brunch at a specialty restaurant is a great option on a sea day!
These specialty restaurants are popular. Prior to sailing, book an Advance Reservation.
Items marked as gluten-free on the in-room dining menu are limited. But this is Disney! Just ask.
You can usually order Mickey bars 24 hours a day, via in-room dining.
Some items on the room service menu are not marked gluten-free but can be made gluten-free upon request.
Popular gluten-free room service items include Kinnikinnik Donuts, a fruit & cheese plate, cookies, fries, pizza, and burgers on gluten-free buns.
Hot meals may require extra notice and patience, but donuts are available quickly. Sometimes the donuts show up as a whole box!
As you will find all over the ship, special requests are often honored for room service. All I had to do was ask, and berry smoothies were delivered to my room with breakfast.
Gluten-free hot items from room service should be ordered earlier in the evening or the chef may be gone for the night. If Disney can’t accommodate your late-night request, ask for a Mickey bar for your midnight snack.
While most room service items are complimentary, some items, like candy and alcohol are available for a charge.
Even when ordering complimentary items, tips are appropriate for this extra service.
Royal Court Royal Tea or Olaf’s Royal Picnic (Extra Charge)
Olaf’s Royal Picnic (on the Wish) and Royal Court Royal Tea (on the Dream, Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder) are premium character dining experiences for children, available at an extra charge. Your party must have at least one child ages 3 to 12 and at least one adult.
There are other opportunities for character meet-and-greets, that are included in the price of your cruise, without the fancy food experience.
Both the included and extra encounters book up quickly, usually in advance of sailing.
The premium experiences are pricey and deserve the extra effort of an allergy consultation. Discuss the menu with cast members at the Onboard Dining Session on embarkation day.
There are food activities in the kids’ club that involve gluten, such as cookie decorating.
These activities are pre-scheduled and in one area of the club. Cast members clean up thoroughly after the cooking events.
I simply make other plans for my daughter during those activities, so she isn’t in the kids club feeling left out. If your child would rather be in the Kids Club, there are plenty of other activities happening for kids not participating in the food project.
Outside snacks are not allowed in the kids club.
However, lunch and dinner are served there. Work with your regular server from the main dining restaurant rotation to pre-order a gluten-free meal with your child’s favorite foods.
Eating successfully gluten-free and free of cross-contamination (which for celiacs is the only kind of gluten-free there is) can vary by location.
If you are on a Mediterranean Cruise, you will find a higher level of celiac awareness at the ports. In the Caribbean, it’s more challenging.
Research your destinations in advance. Use the Find Me Gluten Free App for reviews or reach out directly to restaurants on/near your excursion to determine if you can be accommodated. Find Me Gluten Free has a free version and a paid, premium version. (Use the code GOGLUTENFREELY for $5 off the premium version.)
Consider shorter excursions, so you can get back to the ship for meals. For example, my family opted for a half-day dolphin encounter over an all-day experience.
Eat a big breakfast on the ship.
Pack snacks. Crackers, protein bars, nuts, chips. Disney only allows pre-packaged food back on the ship, so just open what you plan to eat or expect to toss already opened products.
In a pinch, ask for prepackaged Udi’s muffins or Kinnikinnik Donuts and take them off the ship for the day. Discuss options with your server at dinner.
Check port restrictions for your destinations. Some ports will not allow you to take anything off the ship. Others will allow only prepackaged foods. There are often restrictions regarding fruit, meat, and dairy.
Head straight to the pool deck for a late lunch when you return to the ship.
If you are close to the port (not always possible), you can head back to the cruise ship for lunch, and then venture back out for exploring in the afternoon.
Castaway Cay, Disney’s Private Island
Preorder your food for Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.
Choices typically include burgers, hot dogs, chicken strips, BBQ chicken and ribs, salmon, rice, corn on the cob, french fries, veggies, baked potatoes, potato salad, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, and spice cake.
Allergy meals are picked up at Cookies 1 on Castaway Cay. They are made on the ship and then brought to Cookies 1.
Order more food than you think you’ll eat. They’ll have it ready for you, but they can’t make more on the spot if you decide you want a burger to go with your ribs.
Soft drinks, soft-serve ice cream, and pre-packaged potato chips are available on the island.
Debarkation Day breakfast has fewer options, for everyone, but especially for guests with special diets. Here are some options:
- Sit-down breakfast in a main dining restaurant with your regular server.
- Buffet breakfast at Cabanas or Marceline Market. Options are more limited than on other days.
- Order an extra dessert on your last night, get it to go, and eat it for breakfast.
- Order Kinnikinnik Donuts from room service before midnight the night prior.
Note: room service is not available on the last morning.
With either the main dining restaurant or buffet, preorder your breakfast with your dinner server, so it gets a little extra attention in the rush of debarkation day.
Traveling by car or continuing your vacation at a nearby hotel makes it easy to stop by a safe restaurant or a grocery store after disembarking the ship.
For those heading straight from the ship to the airport, it is more challenging. Here are a few easy options:
- Pack enough prepackaged snacks (nuts, crackers, protein bars) to last for your travel day.
- Pair your prepackaged snacks with fruit, cheese, meat sticks, and yogurt purchased at an airport shop for a picnic-style meal.
- Starbucks, ubiquitous at airports, sells fabulous gluten-free marshmallow dream bars for dessert. They are like a rice crispy treat, but better.
- Consider airport restaurant options. For example, Orlando International Airport has Chipotle, Jersey Mike’s, and Chick-fil-A, depending on your terminal. These three restaurants are not dedicated gluten-free but have good gluten-free protocols. Always ask about cross-contamination and safety protocols when ordering. Note that airport restaurant locations usually have smaller kitchens and limited menus, so stick to a picnic if they don’t pass your safety questions.
- Pack gluten-free Ramen in a cup for the flight home. Ask your flight attendant for hot water, and you’ll have a hot meal.
Disney Land & Sea Vacation
A Disney Land & Sea Vacation is a back-to-back visit to Disney parks AND a Disney cruise on one amazing vacation.
Most often, the land portion is a Walt Disney World trip tied to a cruise out of Flordia, but you could easily add Disneyland in California to a cruise departing from San Diego, or a Paris Disneyland stopover to a European Disney cruise.
If you are going to splurge on an over-the-top Disney Land & Sea Vacation, I recommend doing the land portion first. The parks are just as safe for gluten-free food as the cruise ships, but they require a lot more work, planning, walking, and long days. The cruise ship feels more like a relaxing vacation and is the perfect way to end your Disney dream vacation.