Going to theme parks has become a common occurrence for many people (as evidenced by this year’s record-breaking attendance figures for several major parks). Thus, with so many people heading to theme parks, there are bound to be a certain percentage of people with food allergies. Occasionally it can be tough or even somewhat embarrassing finding a proper meal for someone with a food allergy, and while we’re finding more solutions every day, work still needs to be done.
More pertinent to this article, it’s estimated that one in one hundred people suffer from celiac disease and that 2.5 million individuals are undiagnosed. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which damage to the lower intestine can occur by ingesting gluten. It can also be passed down genetically from one person to another, and the only way to avoid damage to oneself is to abstain from eating wheat, soy, barley, and rye. This means that foods such as bread, beer, and any pastries with flour must be avoided at all costs.
With such huge numbers, you would think that Universal Studios Hollywood would be extremely cautious and knowledgeable on the subject of keeping people safe by serving them the proper food. For this article I will use celiac disease as an example, but there are a variety of food allergies out there and each is just as serious as the last. What follows is my experience in trying to find safe food in the park for my girlfriend who is affected by celiac disease.
Let’s start with the allergy menu that Universal provides. You can head to Guest Services to pick one of these convenient guides or go to Universal’s website. It supplies information for both gluten-free dining as well as vegetarian option. The menu features a good deal of eateries but hasn’t been completely updated to reflect the park’s latest additions and revisions, which – as you might imagine – causes potential problems for guests that have food allergies.
Hollywood Grill no longer exists, Mel’s Diner no longer has Chicken Caesar Salads or Portobello Mushroom Burgers, and perhaps the most perplexing: Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck advertises that corn tortillas are the only edible food item for those with celiac. That means you can’t eat any of the meats, nachos, or even chips. A bit of an odd inclusion to the gluten-free menu, considering all guests may eat are plain corn tortillas. As for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, well, the land itself is completely absent.
Arguably the best food in the park is at Three Broomsticks, and it’s proven to be a difficult location for anyone with celiac. Although the team members usually try their best to assist, the lack of a menu forces us to ask for help upon each visit. Sadly, a general theme across the entire park has been that most team members have no idea what’s safe to eat at any of the eateries. Some team members say the ribs are safe, while others have told us to avoid them. Barbeque sauce sometimes contains wheat, so there is no way for us to know for sure. One team member told us that the Shepard’s Pie was safe to eat, while others say the pie contains gravy with flour. Another told us the Bangers and Mash was a safe bet, but we already knew that the bratwurst was braised in beer.
Another troublesome location has also been Mel’s Diner. Although the team members were again polite and friendly, it’s still unnerving to ask if the chili is gluten free only to be told “I think so” by an employee. We eventually ended up leaving without a solid answer because we were just told there was no chef on the premises. Because of all these issues, we rarely eat at the park, instead choosing to dine at CityWalk or off Universal property entirely.
So what can be done to help those afflicted by celiac disease? Personally, I would love to see each eatery have its own special menu with at least one or two choices for those with dietary needs. Not just celiac, but also nut, dairy, and any other ingredient that might affect someone who suffers from food allergies. Although there is an allergy menu at the front of the park, it’s preferable to have a menu available at each restaurant.
Another recommendation? Training – specifically the importance of food safety when it comes to allergies. Cross contamination is a real threat, so something as small as neglecting to change one’s gloves, or giving the wrong advice on a meal could create a serious health issue for an uninformed guest. Conflicting information has been a real trend that we’ve outlined above, and any additional training that would help mitigate this would be appreciated.
We’ve always been fans of Universal, and that’s the primary reason why it can be frustrating when it’s so hard for us to find a safe meal. We love the theming of the Three Broomsticks’ English fare, the idea of eating at a real life Krusty Burger, or even digging into some chili cheese fries at the authentic fifties style Mel’s Diner, but we just need a little more information to help us determine what is safe to eat.
What do you think? Have you had any issues dining at Universal? Let us know in the comments below.