Celiac Disease & Your Disney Vacation

cooke's of dublinFor the growing number of Celiacs (as you know, I’ve just joined you!) travel can be a concern.  What to eat, how to explain and the concerns can go on and on.  However, during the past 9 months, I’ve discovered that vacationing on Disney Cruise Ships and the US Disney Resorts are a Celiac Disease patient’s best buddy.

For this blog post, I won’t go into deep detail – so reach out to me for more info – but I’m going to cite some basics to get the most relaxation out of your trip.  At the Disneyland resort in California, it’s as easy as alerting your server at any sit-down restaurant you go to.  The Chef will then come out to discuss your menu options and personally take down your order.  It’s that easy.  When ordering from the quick service counters, just alert the cashier, who will then bring a chef to the counter for you to do the same – discuss options and take your order.  Most of the restaurants have dedicated fryers so that you can get your dose of gluten-free french fries.  Many times gluten-free buns are also available.

When visiting the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, it’s best to make notes in your dining reservations, as well as alert the host when you arrive at the restaurant. Then the server can get the chef involved.  Counter service restaurants are handled as they are at the Disneyland resort – just alert the cashier.  And for the fried goodness treats you just can’t find too many places, go to Cookes of Dublin, the take-away spot next to Raglan Road.  The gluten-free fried goodness is GREAT!  Fish and Chips, Onion Rings, Chicken Tenders and a gluten-free zucchini muffin or cupcake – didn’t get that far down the menu.

While sailing the seven seas with one of my favorite cruise lines all around – the Disney Cruise Line – it’s a breeze to eat gluten-free and friendly. When making your cruise reservation, just let your travel agent (and let’s hope that’s me:-)) that you are Celiac or Gluten intolerant.  Then when you arrive in your dining room, alert your waiter.  The head waiter will no doubt come over to your table to discuss your options.  Our wonderful head waiter came over every night to the table and let me order ahead for the next night if I wanted to so that they could adapt the menu as needed. They even had gluten-free rolls. (they were ok, as far as gluten-free bread goes – but they filled a bread need on a nigh or two).  And I was very happy to find out that the Mickey Bars have gluten-free ingredients (whenever things come from a factory, you may have the cross-contamination risk) and I ate them several times with no signs of gluten issues.  But use your own judgement on that. And one more bit of “fine print”: the Disney kitchens are not allergen kitchens that are  separate, in a bubble, etc….but they do their best to respect food allergy needs.

Buffets are not out of the question on Disney properties on land and at sea.  When arriving, ask to speak to the chef.  They will come out and walk you through the buffet line and let you know what you can and cannot eat.  Again – they are VERY helpful and ready to assist with a smile.

The bottom line that makes Disney a great place for Celiacs, is that they care.  They don’t make you feel like you’re high-maintenance and being a problem.  They are accommodating, educated about food allergies and do their best to make your meal as carefully as possible.  It’s nice to be able to enjoy a meal not worrying the whole time about how sick you might feel afterwards and that’s worth a pretty penny.

Celiac Disease & Europe; Yes, You Can Still Have a Great Time Without Bread!

no-bread12When diagnosed with Celiac last April, my first thought was “Pas de croissant a Paris? Dites ce n’est pas si”…well, ok, it was in English and I’ve edited it, “No croissants in Paris? No!!!” Much to my surprise, it was not as challenging as I originally thought.

Paris was a challenge in some ways (more on that in a bit), as of course, the focus is on the patissierre and boulengerie crowd.  Steve enjoyed these treats for us both. In France, letting them know you have Celiac can result in strange looks or looks that say, I really don’t care.  However, Italy on the other hand was amazingly accommodating and conscientious with Celiacs.  In fact, they have laws and restaurants take them seriously.  Calling ahead to let the restaurant know is always nice for them, however, I ate at several restaurants, notified them upon arrival and had delicious meals with no consequences afterwards.

Before I dive into the details,  let’s get my tips for traveling gluten-free out-of-the-way.  Always pack lots of gluten-free bars from home.  I brought little trail mix/nut packets as well.  During the day, it’s very easy to find lots of fruits at markets and stands as well.  Download the iTranslate app – it will come in handy when needing to communicate on the run (for everything, not just gluten talk).  Print up/download the Gluten Free Travel Cards at http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/ (donate if you can – great site!).  Google “gluten-free Europe” and you’ll find a ton of very helpful blogs and websites. Read up and you won’t fee so overwhelmed.
il piccolo bucoHands down the best restaurant we ate at in Italy was Il Piccolo Buco in the Trevi Fountain area.  Steve’s meal was delicious and my risotto was unforgettable.  The caprese salad was full of flavor and the service is the best!  Say hi to Luca and Momma from us when you go.

Barcelona’s La Boqueria on the Ramblas was a haven.  In the morning I found a wonderful counter with an egg, potato and cheese bake that was filling and perfect to keep me going.  During the day we found fruits and juices (and if you go in the last hour or so, a lot of things are reduced!).  

In Paris, things were a bit more challenging – especially for breakfast.  But Steve did locate a boiled egg for me on the run.  On another day I had a nice omelette.  And for dinner, Steak Frites! We ate at 2 different locations of 20140906_214118Le Relais de L’entrecote since all they do is Steak and French Fries.  The sauce was deemed gluten safe by the waitress and I enjoyed my meal each evening.

If you’re going to Disneyland Paris, you will not get the same Disney Celiac treatment that you get in the US Parks or on the ships.  They only have pre-packaged, one-size fits all non-allergenic meal that I did not even try.  I would have eaten a tree branch before I ate that.  So I suggest a hearty omelette and potatoes breakfast. Find a salad for lunch and we found Restaurant Hakuna Matata for chicken and rice (no sauce).

The key to enjoying any vacation with Celiac (and other allergens) is to be prepared, have snacks with you for those crisis moments and research. Bon Voyage my Celiac friends!

Bella Amalfi – Our day of indulgence

Oh bella Italia, how we could cheat on our other vacation hot spots with you….I’m not going to spoil the amazing views we absorbed with tons of useless words.  These images breathe more poetry than I could ever hope to create.  (Full Album) However, I will tell you all, that if you are EVER in the south of Italy (Naples, Rome, Sorrento, etc) and you don’t book Giovanni and his team at Lovely Amalfi Coast Tours, then I will never speak to you again.  This is a no-brainer; your day will be effortless – he picks you up, whisks you away, takes you to the best of the best.  This is not a bargain expedition, but it’s a quality, indulgent day of memory making.  So if you don’t book Lovely Amalfi, then just don’t tell me you were in Amalfi – exclude me from your Instagram posts and your FB chatter, because our friendship will be over.  Dramatic? Yes.  True? Most Definitely.:-)

Positano

Our view of Positano at lunch

Our view of Positano at lunch

Beach view - Positano

Beach view – Positano

Positano walkway to the beach

Positano walkway to the beach

Ravello

Ravello

Amalfi

Amalfi

On the way to Sorrento

On the way to Sorrento

Lemons! The size of your head:-) Limoncello!

Lemons! The size of your head:-) Limoncello!

Could the Disney Magic be more Magical?

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Yes, it finally happened.  Our Mediterranean cruise on the re-imagined Disney Magic.  This could easily turn into a novel, so I’ll hit the highlights.

Embarkation was in Barcelona for us, but it was the same process as they have in Florida.  We checked in around 10:30 AM and were in group 11.  Once things got started around 11:45 AM, it went very quickly.  We were on the ship in about 20 minutes.

Make sure you download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App before you leave (iPhone and android).  Keep your phone in Airplane mode!  It’s a great way to keep track of the activities you have ” (an alarm sounds 10 min before the activity) and if you like one event, it tells you about when you can find that same event throughout the week.

20140830_172723We love the Wonder andMagic for the Adult pool.  Of course the Dream and Fantasy are grand, gadget filled ships, but the Magic has a larger, more traditional adult pool – more water space to share with the 18+ crowd.

The After Dark area has some great spots too.  The mellow Keys Piano Lounge, Fathoms (all kinds of fun, karaoke, dancing) and O’Gill’s, which became our home port every evening.  Trivia hotspot, board games, live music and snacks!  Don’t forget to stop by the Sea Treasures shop near O’Gills and look for Oksana. Tell her Steve and Heidi sent you and say hello.  You can get your duty-free purchases in here!

As on all Disney ships, you can bring your own alcohol on board, as long as it’s in your carry on luggage. Since sodas are free and can be accessed 24 hours on deck 9 aft, you’re free to mix some drinks in your cabin.

For everyone in your family or traveling party, there is a never-ending slew of things to do and people to see.  The cruise staff was great and Miguel was a wonderful MC at many of the activities.  Look for him if you’re on the ship – maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to be on one of his sailings.  Lots of well-timed meet and greets with the characters, family game shows and the high quality stage shows that you see in Disney parks and on Broadway in the Walt Disney Theater.  Check out the refillable popcorn containers at the snack locations near the theater – you get refills at a discount.

Aqua Dunk

Aqua Dunk

Speaking of fun for everyone, well when I say “fun”, Steve may debate me on that one…ahem, yes, Fun for everyone (48″ or taller) – the Aqua Dunk!  You stand on a platform and are quick released into a straight drop in a short but fast water slide.  The anticipation of the drop is what gets the adrenaline going.  You’ve got to try it, if for nothing else, to say you did!  Try going on embarkation day for a shorter line.

The family pool areas and splash zone seating fills up early and can get crowded, so make sure someone in your party gets up early.  There is seating on the deck just above the pool areas too with a nice shaded area, so don’t be afraid to walk up a flight of stairs to check it out.

The Palo brunch (adults only dining)  was amazing as always.  The reservation fee is $25 and well worth it.  I hear dinner is great too – but we never miss the brunch. Several kinds of eggs benedict, pizzas, chicken parm, a seafood table, a desserts table, pastries, meats, cheeses, crudite…….Need I go on?  If you can’t get a reservation online before hand, don’t despair.  Always check with the dining reservations desk they set up on day one to check for openings and put yourself on a waiting list.

And now for the worst part of the trip – leaving the ship.  We hated to leave.  Fleeting thoughts of calling in for 2 more weeks off and joining the Transatlantic journey came and went with a glass of champagne.  Our journey on the Magic continued to confirm our preference for Disney as a cruise line with exceptional service.  I can’t wait until my clients sail in February.  Now if you want that novel, just send me a request!

Overseas Travel Essentials Part 1

So it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been booking trips left and right – Spring Break, Disney, Cruises and on top of that – My own trip!

This is the year thluggageat we head to Europe for Disney Cruise through the Mediteranean and end up in Paris with a trip to Disneyland Paris of course! For me, half the fun is the planning and preparation. Since we’re going to be moving around, I wanted to find the best sized suitcase. There is no way a carry on would do – we need something to drag on and off of trains. After researching pricing on ebags.com and amazon, I found great deals on 24″ Jeep Spinner bags at Tuesday Morning. In the past we’ve found great luggage deals at Ross and TJ Maxx as well.
world adapter

To power all of our essentials including my ipad, where I will document and post all the fun games from, we need an adapter that works in several countries – Spain, Italy and France. I found a great option on Amazon – the Digipower ACP-WTA World Travel Adapter with Built-in USB Charger.

And last but not least, for the long flights, some good lumbar support that doesn’t take up room and Amazon again comes to the rescue – the Design Go Go inflatable pillow.  Now to save up the other essential – spending money!  Happy Travels!pillow

Hawaii 2.0 – True Relaxation From Waikiki To Aulani

sheraton 2

In the words of Depeche Mode, “I just can’t get enough”.  So to quench our thirst for aloha we  returned for our Anniversary trip to wonderful Oahu.  This time we decided to get our fill of Waikiki at the start of our holiday and then wind down during the second course at the always relaxing Aulani.  With the plethora of properties in Waikiki, you can be overwhelmed.  If you are looking for bargain, there are plenty to be had.  If you’re looking for the most amazing 16+ Infinity edge pool with a killer view, floating bean bag chairs, poolside service and “cheap” (60 bucks for the day) cabana type chairs, several food options, Baskin and Robbins, shopping and easy walking distance to everything Waikiki, then look no further – Sheraton Waikiki is it.

It’s been recently renovated and the rooms are fine.  Nice and large, basic, comfortable.  But the property as a whole is great.  The infinity pool ha been voted “Best Pool in Waikiki”.  Plus, join their Starwood Preferred Guest program and receive an adorable Gift Bag that you take to their Starwood Amenities Shop and fill up.  You’d be amazed at how much fun that is.

While in Waikiki, take advantage of the happy hour at the Top of Waikiki, a revolving restaurant and bar.  They have an early happy hour and a late happy hour. $5 drinks and unique view of the sunset.

Now for phase 2 of the trip – Aulani.  40 minutes to the west of Waikiki lies Ko’Olina.  Many of you read my first post about our trip there last year and if you didn’t, well then, you’ve got some homework!  So I’ll hit the highlights of the updates they’ve done to the property and some of our new discoveries.aulani 2

The updated Ka Maka pool area is the main focus of the updates.  There is a beautiful Infinity pool for the family with an adorable cove area.  Also for the keiki (kids) there is a splash pad zone as well.  In the much needed dining improvement category, they have added the Ulu cafe – it’s a counter service restaurant that opens early and closes around 9 pm, so you’ve got some alternatives now!

Since we were at the resort longer this time, I did purchase the refillable mug (aprox $19).  There were several stations available in the Ulu cafe, outside of Ama’ Ama and near the center of the pool area near the Lava Shack.  I feel like I got my money’s worth in diet coke, lemonade and hot chocolate.  Steve discovered that the Ulu Cafe serves 100% Kona coffee, so he had an alternative to Ama’ Ama for breakfast and his Kona addiction.

IMG_20131102_124633This time around, along with immersing ourselves in the pools, napping away in the afternoon breeze, getting incredible massages at the Laniwai Spa and going on all of the water slides and lazy river, I decided to give the Rainbow Reef a try.  It’s a great way for new snorkelers to get their feet wet and get used to the sport.  The Rainbow Reef area has day long and full stay passes.  I would recommend the one day pass, as it’s a small reef.

We had adjusted enough to the time change to enjoy the resort’s Starlight Hui show.  The production combines Disney showmanship with Hawaiian culture, with lots of pre-show activities for the kids and a post-show dance party for the family with some familiar friends.  It’s a “don’t miss” while you’re at the resort.

Our trip was nothing less than relaxing and with tears in my eyes (again!) we left Oahu – “A hui hou kakou Until we meet again.”

A World of Treats! 2013 Epcot Food & Wine Festival

food and wine collageThe Food & Wine Fest is the adult Disney World – wait, we ARE at Disney World! Yes, the Food & Wine Festival is an Adult treat at Epcot that shouldn’t be missed.  It’s Epcot x 30 (the number of kiosks they add to the world showcase).  Now, the kids will have a great time too, just not the wine part…Here are my tips to enjoying the Festival which will be going on until November 11th.

cardFirst – purchase the wristlet gift cards.  They make it very easy to purchase on the go. Check at the stores when you first enter Epcot so that you don’t have to double back

.Second grab a passport – it’s fun to carry around and each kiosk will stamp it for you as you eat and drink your way around Epcot.

You’ll want to pace yourself – do a lunch version where you head one way and a dinner and enter the showcase the opposite way to see everything.  Or break it up in to a few days if you’ve got a hopper.

We enjoyed everything really, but the selections we visited several times were the China Kiosk for the Mongolian Beef in a Steamed Bun, ummm yeah, no picture because we ate that one before remembering to take a pic….The Grapefruit Beer at the Beer Garden near Germany and the Kielbasa & Potato Pierogi with Carmalized Onions in Poland are great!

The Refreshment port has a limited edition Orange Dole Whip and a version with Creme de Cacao too!  And the list goes on and on…If you don’t make it there this year, put it on your calendar to attend next year – it’s worth the trip! And if you’re concerned about gaining a few, plan to attend at the tail end and run the Food and Wine half marathon and family 5K events.  It’s another combo of my favorite things – Eating & Running!

Bon Appetit & Bon Voyage!