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Specialty diets and gluten-free dining at Disney Aulani Resort

I'm a market researcher and brand marketer by trade. Quit it all to focus on everything gluten-free. I'm now the founder of Celiac & the Beast, author of Celiac and the Beast, the book (released October 2013) , and working full-...

Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii offers delicious food and a safe place for specialty diets.

Whenever I go on vacation there are always brief (okay, sometimes not-so-brief) moments of panic about food. As someone who must eat a strict gluten-free diet, it’s always a little sketchy to eat anywhere but my own safe kitchen. We face constant challenges when dining out, from asking a million questions about how a food is prepared to a sometimes-unknowledgeable server, to keeping our fingers crossed that nothing gets contaminated in the back of the house where we can’t see. This gets especially hard on vacations.

However, Disney (as a corporation, not just one property) has notoriously done a great job with food allergies. While I haven’t dined at the properties since my celiac disease diagnosis, I’ve heard awesome things from fellow allergy-friendly bloggers. Their chefs and servers are trained to understand food allergies, or at least understand them enough to alert the necessary parties to make sure they are taken care of properly. From stamping a giant "allergy" sticker on my bill to alerting the chefs and modifying anything on the menu, Aulani took care of me for every meal.

Here’s a video of me talking to an Aulani chef about how they work with guests with special dietary needs:

I was impressed that not just one, but most (if not all) of the restaurants at Aulani can cater to a gluten-free guest. My favorite restaurant was ‘Ama ‘Ama. ‘Ama ‘Ama is open-air dining with views of the Pacific Ocean. It gets very busy at sunset time, because everyone wants the picturesque view. They serve breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m to 9:30 p.m.

Below are some of my favorite gluten-free items I ate while I was there:

  • Big Eye Tuna Poke with Rice Chips and Avocado Mousse, $18
  • Today’s Hawaiian Sustainable Catch, fresh from the fish auction and prepared with our Chef’s Daily Preparation, Market Price
  • Today’s Hawaiian Sustainable Catch Tacos with Island Slaw and Salsa, $19

They even offered gluten-free bread before my meals to make me feel "normal" while everyone else got regular bread. While it may seem weird to dip regular sandwich bread in oil and fancy sea salt, it made me feel very special.

Another great option for those with speciality diets is the Makahiki Buffet Table Service. They offer breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. While a buffet is traditionally not the place that someone with food allergies can dine at safely, Disney takes care of their guests. There are a ton of things on the buffet available, but if you have food allergies you always want to meet with the chef ahead of time to see what you can and cannot eat on the buffet. Also, if you are celiac, they can prepare gluten-free items for you in the back that aren’t offered on the buffet. Some of the naturally gluten-free items that I had on the buffet were:

  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Sliced island fruits
  • Assorted yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Omelet bar
  • Pork sausage
  • Baked ham
  • Chicken apple sausage
  • Deli meats
  • Deli cheeses
  • Turkey bacon
  • Bacon
  • Hash browns

You can also participate in "Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at the Makahiki" where you’ll meet Disney characters that interact with you while you eat. This option is open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and is $32 for adults and $18 for those 9 and under. You will not leave hungry or not entertained.

Here’s my video of the Character Breakfast, and my discussion with the chef over my food allergies and how they care for us at Makahiki.

But those aren't the only options at Disney Aulani Resort; there are plenty of other dining options. To see all of the options at Aulani, visit their website here including:

  • ‘Olelo Room (open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
  • Off The Hook, a beachside lounge with drinks and appetizers (open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
  • Ulu Cafe, a newer venue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with an outside patio (open for breakfast 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Little ‘Opihi's, featuring grab-and-go food selections (open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
  • Mama's Snack Stop (open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

Overall, I would recommend Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii to anyone with a specialty diet. While we always have to be as safe as we can be while dining out, Disney Aulani makes it easy for us to leave full, happy and safe.

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