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GF Adventures at Universal Orlando


For our first trip of 2018, we visited Universal Orlando.  I have to be honest and tell you that I booked this trip for me.  I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan and was dying to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Luckily my son is a big fan too, my daughter is a fan of resorts in general and my husband is generally happy to go anywhere as a family, so I didn’t feel too selfish in my choice of vacation destination!

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

We stayed on-site at Cabana Bay, a fun and colourful 50s/60s themed family resort - complete with bowling ally and 2 retro-themed pools.  The great thing about staying at Cabana Bay is that you get early admission to one of the 3 theme parks (it seemed like it rotated each week) and it’s adjacent to one of them -  the Volcano Bay water park.  

Cabana Bay Beach Resort
When we arrived at Cabana Bay on the first evening, it was pretty late, so we went to the Galaxy Bowl Restaurant and Bowling Ally for a quick bite.  This restaurant hadn’t shown up on any of my searches for gluten-free dining options when I was planning our trip, so I was a bit apprehensive that my son would end up nibbling on a side-salad while the rest of us had our choice of more substantial menu items.  I could not have been more wrong! 

When we told our server that our son was gluten-free, she immediately told us she was going to get the chef to come and talk to us.  After a bit of time, the chef came to our table and asked our son what he would like to eat.  We must have had somewhat stunned looks on our faces, because he went on to elaborate, “I can make pretty much anything on the menu gluten-free.  We have a separate kitchen downstairs with a separate fryer.”  Our son was thrilled to enjoy a gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich with fries and not worry about being “glutened” by cross-contamination.

It turns out that this was also true of Cabana Bay’s other cafeteria-style restaurant.  The Bayliner Diner was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and my son enjoyed gluten-free pancakes, waffles or an omelette for breakfast before we headed out for our park-visits each day.  It took a bit of extra time for him to get his order compared to the rest of the family, but not by much, and the look of pure enjoyment on his face was worth it.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Like a theme park within a theme park, the Wizarding World did not disappoint. With Hogwarts and Hogsmeade connected via the Hogwarts Express train (departing from platform 9 3/4, thank you very much!) it was a fully immersive experience punctuated by thrilling rides that made you feel like you had jumped right into the pages of the books, or into the movies (whichever your preferred medium is for getting your required dose of magic!).  
Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

What made this experience even better was that there were plenty of gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  This was important, because my son and I (…ok, really just me…) had decided to designate one of our vacation days “Harry Potter Day”, which we would dedicate to enjoying all the Harry Potter-themed places, rides and experiences in one glorious, magic filled extravaganza!!!!!… er, where was I?… oh, right, gluten-free options.  

Enjoying Butterbeer
Well, because we had the benefit of early admission to the Islands of Adventure Park, we took advantage of it to enjoy the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride with minimal wait time.  Since we’d foregone breakfast to get there early we decided to have breakfast at…. wait for it… The Three Broomsticks!!! (I’m getting excited all over again, just writing this - if you are starting to feel sorry for my kids, you should, I’m pretty sure I totally embarrassed them with my love of all things Harry Potter - sorry, not sorry, kids!) The Three Broomsticks (and it’s sister pub in Diagon Alley, The Leaky Cauldron) had gluten-free options and our son gladly feasted on gluten-free pancakes after his close encounters with giant spiders, Dementors and a rousing Quidditch match simulation.  At The Leaky Cauldron for lunch later that day, both kids enjoyed trying Butterbeer - also gluten-free!  It tasted like a super-sweet combo of root beer and caramel.

Other Dining Highlights

The Islands of Adventure theme park was true to it’s name, as adventure seemed to lurk around every corner.  We enjoyed various shows and rides and when hunger struck we decided to have lunch at Mythos Restaurant.  Mythos had a lot of gluten-free options on the menu and my son had a delicious burger.  I assume it was delicious, because one minute it was there and the next time I looked at my son’s plate the burger was gone!  The thing that stood out for  my son was that they brought him his own GF rolls and butter to munch on before the main course arrived.  I’m not sure he’s ever experienced that before.

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Citywalk was another cool area located between the 2 theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.  It contained lots of cool restaurants, shops and nightclubs.  Some of the restaurants we dined at included:
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (several GF options and a really fun atmosphere)
  • Antoito’s Authentic Mexican Food (Corn tortillas! ‘nuf said.)
  • Red Oven Pizza Bakery (any pizza can be made GF)
  • Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (ginormous shakes, some of which are GF)
We also tried dining at one of the other on-site resort locations.  Portofino Bay Hotel is a European-themed resort, which evoked a feeling of visiting Venice or another seaside Italian town.  There were several restaurants and we chose to dine at Mama Della’s.  There were gluten-free pasta options, but the staff did not appear as knowledgeable as at some of the other restaurants.  This became apparent when the waiter offered our son a non-GF cookie for dessert.  I had some concerns after that conversation that our son would be suffering the effects of cross-contamination the next day, but luckily he was fine.

That experience was the opposite of the one we had at Cabana Bay, but both have the same lesson - always ask questions and be sure the staff knows that your child has celiac or a gluten-sensitivity - you may be pleasantly surprised (like with Galaxy Bowl), or barely dodge a gluten-loaded bullet (like at Mama Della’s).

I’ve only scratched the surface in describing how much fun we had on this trip, but hopefully I’ve given you enough details to feel comfortable that a trip to Universal Orlando with your gluten-free kid(s) can be an awesome experience!

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this. I had been trying to decide whether to stay at Cabana Bay on an upcoming visit or somewhere else with my son who has celiac...I think you have swayed me towards Cabana Bay. It sounds like an excellent experience all around.

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