I have about 3 blog posts in the works, but lately I have been in such a funk that I cannot focus on the content they are about.
There is a confession to make here. I am a former Disney Cast Member. Being one was a badge of honor, performing the roles I had the opportunity to was a gift I cannot even begin to explain, and the joy I had on a daily basis almost outweighed the pain that my body was developing.
When I left, it was because I had limits and expectations on what my life should be that were completely based on what other people thought and what I thought it should be. Not because leaving would make me happy, but because I needed to “grow up.”
There were blessings in leaving: being close to the members of my family who were already diagnosed with Celiac when my diagnosis happened, being able to spend 8 hours with my Grandmother the day before she passed, getting to perform in a variety of productions in the Chicago area while meeting some incredible people, and only being 3 hours from my family. There have been some bad things as well, but that is another tale.
Except, I never really let it go. Every year like clockwork, from 2007-2012, I flew back to work for a week as a seasonal cast member, to recharge my batteries with the love and happiness that I had doing the job I did there, to see friends, to make new ones, and to soak it all in.
April 14, 2012 was my last day as a cast member. I donned my blacks for the last time, took my voyage, and then said “goodbye.” Not because I wanted to, but because the rules on being seasonal had changed, and there was no way I could make it work while living in Chicago.
I miss it. People tell me I need to do what makes me happy and what I am good at, but to be honest with you, I am not sure what that is. I know the things that I enjoy doing, but I know my happiest time was when I was going into work every day and performing. I could be in the grumpiest mood, not feeing well, swear that I was living in a sauna, but as soon as the music started and I stepped onto whatever stage it was, it was like my world receded and for however long I was on stage, there was only that.
If this does not make sense, I apologize. Tonite was a night where I just needed to put thoughts down and get them out. If you want to read about my adventures eating GF as a guest as WDW try this.
And I am going to leave you with the last thing I do on every trip to my happy place:
I have been trying to write this for a couple of days now, and keep hitting a brick wall when it comes to the best way to organize my thoughts. I finally decided that I am going to lump the things together and pray that it makes sense.
1) Guest Relations will no longer give out a list of the Gluten Free options available in the park. This is because ALL restaurants will have GF options and sometimes they change so frequently it is difficult to keep that list up to date. While I applaud the fact that all dining establishments will have GF options, sometimes that option is a plain old, run of the mill, boring, garden salad. At least, that was my experience at The Golden Horseshoe where all of the food options were deep fried. YUCK.
2) If all restaurants are going to have GF options available, there needs to be signage available so that people know what options are available GF. When I was there in February (not a busy season), the line at Jolly Holiday was still 10 minutes. If I had been able to know what I could eat in advance, then I could have used the time I stood in line to make up my mind. Instead, I had to wait until a manager came out (not complaining about that, in fact, that is one of the things I greatly appreciate) to let me know, then decide between my options. When I asked about desserts (because it is a bakery and there were many baked goods on display), I was asked if I saw their sign. I hunted and I finally saw, in about a 2×2 square: “Gluten Free Options Available.” TINY SIGN! IN A CORNER! And it did not say what was available.
3) This is something I experienced at WDW and I think DL needs to incorporate it. At counter service locations at WDW, when you mention you have a food allergy they bring out a binder. This binder has a copy of the ingredient label from EVERYTHING you may be eating. That way, you can look for other allergens and make an informed decision. This is especially important and necessary when people have multiple food allergies.
4) I liked that the staff took the time to prepare my food in a safe environment. If it was warmed up, they ensured that it was in something clean and not contaminated. That level of care and concern is amazing and hard to find.
5) Ok. Peeve of peeve. The incident that irritated and pissed me off like no other. First off, knowledge. The fact that the chef in charge did not know everything that was available GF, but acted like he did, therefore putting my health into danger — not cool. It is important that you know everything, and if you do not know everything admit it and find the answer. The fact that he blamed his delay in getting to me on it being busy in the kitchen? Not good because I know that park will be much busier during the Summer and over Christmas. Another part of this peeve is that the chef with the knowledge was at another location. I do not know if it was scheduling because someone was out/on vacation, something being done because of budget cuts, or what, but it would be nice to have someone on hand to answer guests questions/concerns at all locations.
6) It was a pleasant surprise when I was in the Marceline’s Confectionery and wondered out loud if any of them were GF. The cast member who heard me stepped right up and let me know that, unfortunately, I could not have any of their treats as the pans are coated in flour. I stood there, torturing myself for a couple of minutes, when she returned and let me know that I COULD have the chocolate dipped pineapple wedge. AWHA!?!??! What is this?? My mouth had never heard of this. OF COURSE my chocolate craving, pineapple loving self was going to try it. SO GOOD!!!! And bonus points to the Cast Member who made the recommendation!
I am trying to think if there was anything else that I really wanted to say. Overall, I would say that if I were to rank my Theme Park Dining Experiences, WDW would be first (those binders seal the deal), DL would be a close second, and Universal Studios Florida would be a so far distant third it is 3 states over stuck in traffic.
Thanks for reading!
So, the other day I wrote about my experiences as a guest with Celiac Disease at the Walt Disney World Resort. Today, I am going to pull a bit of the curtain back and share life as a Gluten Free Cast Member. And sadly, as fantastic as my experience is whenever I am in the park as a guest, it is just as bad as a cast member.
First off, I must make it absolutely clear that Disney uses a third party provider for their employee cafeterias. This outside vendor is the one with employees that are, in my opinion, not well versed in cross-contamination, ingredients, and other things I feel I have to look for before I eat.
When I go down to work now, I make it a point to stop at a grocery store and pick up a few staples. I always buy cereal, for I know getting breakfast is a wash. While there is a short-order cook at the parks ready and willing to do breakfasts, an egg will be cooked in the same space a pancake was 2 people before. So, the short order line is out, as a bun will also go where a chicken breast was cooking. And the fryer is used for everything. Thankfully there is fruit and yogurt available for purchase.
If I am there over lunch or dinner, it is not nearly the nightmare that breakfast is. There is a salad bar, but we all know about the cross contamination there. There is a hot line, but they do not know the ingredients, so you have to wait for them to get the containers for every thing that you may want to eat to find out if it is safe or not. The grill line was already mentioned as a pass. And then there is SubWay. Not my first choice, and I try to make sure I eat either before or after the meal rush has gone through. I always ask for clean gloves and knives when they make my salad. Thankfully I have not gotten sick, mainly because I tend to go with the chicken salads, since the meat is already pre-measured and packaged. Oh, and there is always my good friends, yogurt and fresh fruit.
So, in my limited experience as a gluten-free cast member, it seems I have 3 choices. The first is to bring my own lunch. Staying on friends couches makes this a bit difficult as I don’t generally have time/space/ability/supplies to cook with. The second is to brave the employee cafeteria, read ingredients if the hot line looks like it may have something I can eat, or brave Subway. Or, I can pray that my lunch break is long enough for me to change out of my costume, go to a quick service restaurant, have them make something, eat, change back into my costume, and get to my work location on time.
Maybe it is time for the powers in food service to look at the size of the gluten free population on staff and start making changes to provide them with allergen free alternatives backstage. Any thoughts?
Just my .02
OH! And I will post a follow-up of my experiences when I get back from my latest trip to the House of Mouse
I love Disney. I am a HUGE Disney villain fan. I worked full-time in the parks for 3 years and have been seasonal with them since I moved North. I am getting ready to do my last Disney work trip, as they have changed the rules requiring more availability then I can give. But this is blog is not about that. This blog is about the two Disney’s I have experienced since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease: The side that I experience as a guest, and, tomorrow, what the experience has been like as a cast member.
As a guest, WOW! My first stop of any Disney trip is to Guest Relations of whatever park I visit first. While the list is available online, I love to go in and talk to the cast members and get a paper copy on site in case there have been any changes. This list tells me which Quick Service locations have gluten-free options and what they are. It also lets me know the options available from the stands. So, when the mood hits for a Mickey Ice Cream Bar (seriously, the BEST thing ever), I know that they are safe. If I want to go into a bakery, I know that they have gluten-free brownies and cookies. The ones I have seen sold in the parks come from a vendor, which I recently heard that OMG…It’s Gluten Free.
When the time comes for food and you do not have reservations, you whip out your list, or I believe they have an app for this now,
and head into the restaurant that has what you want. I always let someone know right away that I have food allergies, which gets them the manager/floor supervisor on duty. This person has always been SUPER helpful. They tend to bring a binder that lists all of the ingredients in everything they offer so that you can make sure that you are safe. They then make several mentions when I order that it is gluten free, and often times, go into the back to make it themselves to make sure there is no cross-contamination. The only downside I have ever experienced with this is the waiting for my GF pizza to be cooked. If I was traveling with others, they would have finished theirs before mine came out. But I would be safe. And the last time I was there, the pizza was Annie’s.
And back to dessert! For one of my birthday’s, I went with some of my amazing Orlando people and her parents to Beaches and Cream, an ice cream shop at
the Beach Club Resort. They have an item there called “The Kitchen Sink”. It is literally hot fudge, butterscotch, peanut butter topping, banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, mint ice cream, coffee ice cream, chocolate syrup, marshmallow cream, strawberry topping, pineapple topping, almonds, white & dark chocolate shavings, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, and an ENTIRE CAN of whipped cream. Oh, and since I could not have the following, due to their glutenous nature, they put them on the side for my dining partners to enjoy: cinnamon spice cupcake, angel food cupcake, brownie, candy bar, jellied orange slices, and oreos. Again, the server and the manager came out to make sure that we could enjoy this treat, which took 5 of us to eat, without my getting sick.
The one experience I have had with a full-service restaurant has been BEYOND amazing! One of my favorite Orlando couples made reservations for us to see the HOOP-DE-DOO MUSICAL REVEUE. We made our reservations last minute, so I was not that surprised when they could not find our reservation. I made a point to tell, pretty much everyone involved in the seating process, that I had food allergies. The seater knew, the person who got our drink orders heard, the server heard. They all told me that it was noted and they would let the chef know. (side note, I learned when I had surgery that it really is important to let multiple people know, as I was almost given crackers post surgery). ANYWAY, back to the story. Even though they lost the advance notice, the chef personally came out to our table, introduced himself, and then told me EVERYTHING that I could eat. If I could not eat one of the primary dishes, as the restaurant is family style dining with a set meal, he gave me options for everything. Seriously, everything that I could not eat, I was told, “we can do a or perhaps, b”. Up to, and including, dessert. AMAZING!!!!
I am really excited to be going down to The Happiest Place on Earth for 5 days next month. Disney has always been at the forefront of providing GF options to their guests. And when I am playing in the parks, it is going to be fantastic. And I will let all you wonderful people know how it went and what I experienced.
But when I am working, it will be a completely different story. One that I will talk about tomorrow.