In the US, we are entering Spring Break season, and that means 90% of you (OK, maybe only 77%) are planning to make the pilgrimage to Disney to visit the Mouse and friends. You are definitely going to have a great time! We went last year and shared with everyone what we were doing that week. But, it’s definitely time to share our Top Ten Tips to win at being Paleo (or some non-perfectionist version at least) at Disney World or Land! Seriously, this is going to sound like an ad or something, but I assure you Disney (sadly) didn’t pay us to talk about their parks.
Paleo in the park is possible – these chocolate covered frozen bananas were perfection!
1. It might be more expensive, but staying at the park has advantages!
We ultimately decided that staying on site was best for what we wanted to do. The resort hotels are all very well maintained and have lots of amenities on the site, even the cheapest ones. The Carribean Resort where we stayed had a pool fifty feet from our room, as well as its own restaurant, arcade, beaches around a lake and a lot of walking trails. that wasn’t what sold us though – we found a great deal after some internet sleuthing, which was about the same as staying off-park, but there were SO many perks.
When staying “inside the park” we also got free unlimited short, prompt, frequent shuttle rides from and to any of the parks and resorts; for example one day we took a shuttle from our hotel to a park, then to a different resort whose restaurant we wanted to try, then back to a different park, then back to our hotel.
Additionally, having a resort reservation lets you get into the parks earlier and stay later than other admissions. You’ll also get a chance to book your FastPasses and other reservations early, which is really a boon to you planning your days. Which reminds me…
2. Plan exactly what you’re doing ahead of time to maximize your fun.
Months and months in advance we knew which parks we would go to on which days and where we would eat and what rides we would go on. Having a plan meant that when it was time to book our restaurant reservations and FastPasses, we knew what to do. They fill up fast, so you’d be wise to do your research! That means spending time exploring the website to see all the different options you have. Which probably brings a question to your mind.
We had to book this special gluten-free waffle breakfast at Hollywood Studios months in advance, but it was worth the extra planning! Seeing the little boys squeal with glee when characters came to the table was definitely the best part!
3. Yes, you CAN eat Paleo or nightshade-free or keto or vegan or birdseed only at Disney if you want to!
When we went, we opted for the dining plan, which is only available if you stay in the park. It was another money saver for us. Yes, we SAVED money on the dining plan. We chose the plan that offered one snack, one quick service meal, and one (three course) sit-down dinner per day, per person. This worked out very well for us by allowing small portions of treats as our daily “snack” and it allowed us to empower the boys to make their own choices with their plan, as long as they stayed gluten-free. We then offered them healthier snacks from our bag to round-out any further hunger or that last meal of the day.
It also allowed us to send in our dietary needs ahead of time, so that when we sat down for dinner, immediately the waiters told us that they saw our restrictions and that the chef would be out to explain our options. It was amazing! Every chef was accommodating and never questioned what we needed or why. And every place we went had plenty of choices for us, from lots of vegetables to gluten-free desserts. It truly felt like everyone in the park was dedicated to getting us what we needed.
These Gluten-Free buns were at every restaurant and they were actually pretty good!
4. When you’re at Disney, you have access to every part of it. So explore some of the stuff that’s not in the parks.
On our first day, before even visiting any parks, we went over to the Animal Kingdom Villas to go to the highly acclaimed restaurant, Sanaa. It was probably my favorite dining experience ever, because I could look over my right shoulder and see giraffes eating with me. No joke.
These giraffes were just outside the window of the restaurant. It was so cool!
There are so many cool little spots to explore all over the Disney complex like that and you can absolutely go see them. It would especially be worth your time to head over to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), the free outdoor “mall” area where you can see a ton of unique shops and restaurants. We didn’t make the time to go last year, but made time when we came to Florida last month as a couple and loved it! In Disney Springs you can find treats from the all gluten-free Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC and gluten-free fish and chips from Raglan Road. We also recommend visiting the Marvel and Star Wars stores and looking at the crazy cool poisoned candy apples at the candy store!
So allergen-friendly! Gluten-Free Donuts from the on-site dedicated
gluten-free bakery were served just outside of Africa in Animal Kingdom.
5. Whatever you do, get the wristbands. They’re brilliant.
I can’t tell you enough how impressed we were by the wristband system. Each wristband is linked to its wearer, so we each got one. The RFID in the band has your personal information on it, as well as all your tickets, FastPasses, PhotoPasses, and credit card information. Now that may seem intrusive, but it’s actually great to have with you. Are you always worried about pickpockets in crowded places or leaving some important item behind in a store? Well, we left our wallets at home and walked around completely unencumbered. And if we lost a child? They’d have found who he belonged to straight off and have called us with his location as soon as they could.
Showing off our cool wristbands on the Rock-N-Rollercoaster!
6. You can save yourself the pressure of taking your own photos with the PhotoPass.
We opted for the PhotoPass for a very small additional fee when with our in-park stay, which at the time seemed an unnecessary extravagance, but ended up a great idea. As you go through the parks, you’ll find lots of people with cameras at strategic locations. If you have the PhotoPass, any photos they take will make it to you and are included, not to mention all of the on-ride photos (see above). We didn’t bother bringing our camera in, because we didn’t have a need!
Taken outside the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom by a friendly photographer!
7. Get your FastPasses! They’re key to a fun day!
Every amusement park of every stripe now has a system for getting people past lines these days. Usually they’re very expensive and not worth it. But Disney offers their FastPasses for every guest and the system is near perfect. Sixty days ahead of time for resort guests and thirty days ahead of time for everyone else, you can go on the Disney website and reserve what three rides per day you definitely want to visit and it will spit out the times you are guaranteed to get on that day. This is so important, especially when busy times mean 90 minute lines for the most popular attractions!
Only by skipping the lines could we get to go on the super popular roller coasters!
8. Pack your snacks! You’ll want them!
Where ever we go, we always bring a backpack of snacks with us and Disney was no exception. We brought water bottles and all kinds of food with us to save money in the park as well as ensure we had healthier options. That included:
- Sea Snax
- Macadamia Nuts
- Fruit Leathers
- RX Bars
- Exo Bars
- Apple Chips
- Pork Rinds
- Trail mix (fruit & nuts)
- Cashew Clusters
- Fresh Fruit (including oranges and kumquats we had just picked the previous day!
We kept all this food in our hotel room, which unfortunately did not have a micro-fridge. If we’d had one, we could have also kept things like kombucha, hard boiled eggs, almond milk, etc. As it was, bringing pantry-like snacks saved us a ton of money!
Getting our bag packed for the park!
9. Lots of gems are lurking in the park! Here are our favorite attractions!
- All of the animal attractions at Animal Kingdom, especially the Kilimanjaro Safaris and Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.
- We went on the super fun roller coaster Expedition Everest probably 4 times in a day.
- We met a fan at a signing who was a part of the Festival of the Lion King performance. Super cool!
- At Hollywood Studios, Finn was a part of the Jedi Training and got to meet Darth Vader!
- An old favorite, but the Tower of Terror is still astoundingly creepy and thrilling.
- We’re all very competitive, so the Toy Story Midway Mania was a lot of fun for us!
- Our family favorite ride was the Rockin’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, poor Wes wasn’t tall enough though.
- All of the cool country areas around the lake at Epcot made for an afternoon of walking and learning.
- The Test Track was a fun experience that ended with a neat coaster.
- Wesley’s absolute favorite ride was Splash Mountain. He still talks about it to this day!
- The Haunted Mansion is still a fun and creepy ride that even Wesley enjoyed.
One of the neat things about all the parks is how all of them are very all-ages friendly. Even the roller coasters were accessible. And there was always something fun for everyone to do!
Finn fights and defeats Darth Vader!
10. It always seems like a lot to plan a trip this big and expensive, but once you’re there, you can relax!
Seriously! The reason you plan is so that you don’t have to worry about anything at all once you arrive other than throwing on some clothes and having a fun day. By the time you get there, all your decisions will have been made and all that’s left is the experience!
One of our favorite rides, that we ALL got to ride – the Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios!
Bonus: Last but not least, here’s our FAVORITE things we ate in Disney park!
We did a lot of research into what the best treats were in whole Disney complex!
- We went to the Port Orleans to the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory for terrific gluten-free beignets
- Our best sit down meal was certainly at Sanaa in the Animal Kingdom Villas where we ate gluten-free naan as we watched the giraffes pass by.
- Wesley really enjoyed meeting his hero Jake the Neverland Pirate at great Hollywood and Vine breakfast brunch.
- While the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant didn’t have the best food, it was a pretty cool experience.
- In Disney Springs, we loved the Irish pub Raglan Road with its gluten-free fish and chips.
We had said this was a once in a lifetime experience that we as parents would “suck up and endure” for the quintessential family right-of-passage of visiting Disney. But, we’re already talking about going back because we all had so much fun!