This series of guests posts comes from reader Kathleen. Her love of Disney and passion for bringing awareness to special dietary needs on her college campus makes her the perfect guest writer for Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW. I’ve been following along on her college journey where she blogs about dining at college with special diets. Check out this great article on allergy friendly dining that she wrote last fall for her campus. Thanks again, Kathleen, for taking us along on your Disney special diets journey! (if you aren’t hungry, you will be after you read these reports)

I’ve broken up Kathleen’s posts, and today we’re checking out her review of Universal Studios Orlando! 

Hi everyone! My name is Kathleen and I’m currently a senior at NC State University in Raleigh. A few years ago, I found out about several food allergies that I have (gluten, corn, dairy, tomatoes, apples and peanuts) and ever since then, I’ve been on the lookout for new and exciting foods to try. Disney is a big deal in our family, and on our annual trip each summer, we love eating at new restaurants to mix things up. This was my third Disney trip with allergies, but my first without dairy, since I found out about that only a year ago.

Kathleen & family

Universal Studios 7/19-7/21

We started out our trip at Universal Studios, to celebrate my younger sister’s recent high school graduation. I’ve had wonderful allergy service at Disney, so I was excited to compare it to that of Universal’s restaurants. I figured I’d include reviews of these places as well, since a lot of people travel to both parks.

After arriving at the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday night, we ventured over to City Walk to eat dinner at Pat O’Brien’s. I’m not sure if it was Cajun or Irish themed – it seemed to be a mix of both – but the menu looked good either way. It had a cool atmosphere too – we were seated in the “piano room,” where a very entertaining lady took requests and performed all kinds of songs.

They did not have a gluten free/allergy menu, but I let the server know about my allergies and she checked with the kitchen to see what I could have. Dining gluten free is becoming easier due to the increased awareness of gluten allergies and Celiac disease, but the corn allergy makes things a little more difficult. When the waitress came back, she told me I could get green beans and either grilled meat or a hamburger patty. I ended up ordering grilled chicken and green beans. It was good, but not anything special. I was a little disappointed with the limited options, but I still enjoyed what I ordered.

Grilled Chicken

The next day, after seeing the amazing new Diagon Alley and braving the Escape from Gringotts ride (after a 1.5 hour wait – not too bad, considering it opened two weeks prior!), we took a break for lunch and ate at a favorite of my dad’s (and mine), Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Having been here before, I knew that they had a gluten free menu so I was able to look at that and had a lot more options than the previous night.

IMG_3198

The server was extremely helpful. She noticed my menu, and asked if I had any questions about it. I asked her about the bread, since a lot of gluten free bread has corn products in it. She checked with the chef, and came back to let me know that it was corn-free! I ordered the Key West blackened fish sandwich, which came topped with cilantro cole slaw. Since the restaurant used soybean oil and a dedicated fryer, I could also get sweet potato fries! I was happy because sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods of all time.

Sandwich at Margaritaville

The sandwich was delicious and the bun was so good! I’m normally not much of a bread person, just because I can’t have many gluten free brands, but this was great. It wasn’t too dry, which was nice. I asked the server what brand it was, and she told me it was Udi’s. I was surprised because normally I can’t have Udi’s baked products because they have corn derivatives in them, but she told me the bun was corn free so I thought that maybe Udi’s changed their recipe.

Unfortunately, I ended up having a skin flare up later in the day, and when I looked at the ingredients online, the buns still had cornstarch, maltodextrin and xanthan gum. If it’s a small enough amount, it won’t bother me, but in this case, it was enough to provoke a reaction. Boo. I guess I’ll still have to continue my search for the perfect gluten and corn free bun. 

That night, we ate at Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom. This place was really cool. I’m not a huge Bob Marley fan, but it was still a fun place to try. Plus, I love Caribbean food, so yay! The restaurant did not have a gluten free menu, but I was eyeing the Jamaican Curry, since I know a lot of curries are gluten and dairy free. When I told the very friendly, very dreadlocked server about my allergies and asked about the curry, he checked with chef and told me the curry was out because it was cooked with tomatoes (unlike the Indian and Thai curries I’m used to making at home – I just made a mental note to make a me-friendly version ASAP when I got home).

Just like Pat O’Brien’s, the only options for me were grilled chicken or fish. I ended up ordering grilled Mahi. (Instead of the Mahi Mahi, can I just have the one Mahi? Because I’m not feeling that hungry) However, I was super stoked to learn that the yucca fries and plantains were safe for me to eat. Now, I love plantains more than any other fruit. In fact, they are probably my favorite fruit. Give me plantains, and I’ll be your best friend. And THESE plantains came topped with shredded coconut. My two favorite foods combined? Done. Heaven. Forget an engagement ring, a guy could propose to me with that side dish and I’d be sold. The fish was really good too. It was perfectly seasoned, and was especially delicious after I added the scotch bonnet pepper sauce. Overall, I was sad that I didn’t have many options, but not too sad, because what I could get was awesome.

Plaintains

The next day, we were all set to leave Universal and head over to Disney World! After checking out, we walked over to have lunch at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. I’ve never seen Forrest Gump (don’t judge me!), so some of the significance was totally lost on me, but I had a great experience nonetheless. I was excited to see that they had a gluten free menu! Plus, the service was incredible.

Our server was so nice, and extremely funny. He cracked me up when he asked me, concerned, what I do for desserts. I told him, not to worry, dessert is obviously the most important meal of the day, and I made it my priority to find some kind of sweet treat whenever I could. I ended up ordering the pear and berry salad with grilled shrimp and no cheese. Since the glazed pecans that normally topped the salad were cooked with heavy cream, our waiter offered to bring me plain pecans. Even better, he told me that they make their salad dressings in house, from scratch, so there were no corn syrup or corn products in the raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I was glad, too, because that dressing tasted just like melted raspberry sorbet. Dee-licious.

Salad

Universal was not as allergy friendly as Disney, but I definitely enjoyed what I ordered. Margaritaville and Bubba Gump’s were the best of the four places we tried, probably because they are chain restaurants and are better equipped to deal with food allergies.

Stay tuned for Kathleen’s review of Disney World! 

If you want to learn more about Kathleen’s experiences as a college student with special dietary needs, you’ll get that chance at the upcoming Food Allergy & Celiac Convention held at Disney World on November 22, 2014.

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