Updated for 2014, this is the official Walt Disney World listing of all gluten-free items served at all of the Resorts and Restaurants. Zoom and scroll thru the document below and find your favorite spots!
As much as we may differ, I will always be my father's son, and no matter how far the apple falls from the tree, the apple itself DID come from the tree. Even if I have no interest in fixing up a barn, feeding chickens, and living a half hour from civilization, at my core, I will never quite shake my country boy roots. Yep, I inherited this quirk from my dad, who never in a million years would've enjoyed a crazy vacation like DisneyWorld. (Though rumor has it, he indeed did visit WDW before I was born all those years ago.) However, in 2011, I took in Port Orleans-Riverside for the first time and was immediately melted by its lush vegetation, gorgeous river views, and quiet Southern charm.
Your visit begins at the Sassagoula Steamboat Company, better known as the lobby. The detailing in the architecture here is fantastic, with the building and grounds designed to replicate an old port along the Mississippi River. Check-in is to the right side, while Fulton's General Store sits on the left side of the lobby, where you can, of course, pick up souvenirs, room necessities, and just about anything else. Past the store is Boatwright's, the table service restaurant at Riverside. We didn't eat here, but a look at the Cajun menu makes me wish we did. (And Butterscotch Creme Brulee? You kiddin' me?) And just beyond Boatwright's is Riverside Mill, the quick service dining hall decked out as an old cotton factory with its identifiable wooden crates.
Business picks up when you get outside onto the grounds. The waterwheel outside of Riverside Mill is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the resort, and from there you can either stay on one side of the river to walk to Alligator Bayou or cross the bridge to go to Ol' Man Island. The pool at Ol' Man Island was outstanding. The kids loved the water slide. (And so did I!) A hot tub and the Muddy Waters pool bar is great for the adults, too. Before you get to the next bridge to get back to Alligator Bayou, there is a "Fishin' Hole" where the kids can do some cane pole fishing in the river, too.
We stayed in the lodges in Alligator Bayou, nestled in among the walking paths beneath the trees that seclude this half of the resort from the outside world. It was a little bit of a walk, even for the closer rooms, but I thought it added to the adventure. The rustic interiors, with faux log beds even, were cozy and the ability to get connecting rooms helped us out with our five count party. We were equally distanced from the North and West "Depots," two of the four bus stops around the resort. We checked out one of the five "quiet pools" one evening, and it was a nice, relaxing cooldown after a long day at the park.
On one of our days, our trek to Hollywood Studios went awry early due to unforeseen crowds, so we decided to call an audible and retreat to the resort to explore some more. It was a great call. At the Riverside Levee, underneath the Port Orleans water towers, we rented one of the big Surrey Bicycles and rode around the entire resort, taking in all the views and intermittently riding in and out of the trees. The mansions at Magnolia Bend were beautiful and the landscaping was immaculate. We stopped atop one of the bridges and watched the boats go underneath us. It was the perfect diversion after an unexpected hiccup in our trip.
And speaking of boats, you can rent boats, as well. We didn't do that, but we did catch the "ferry" on a couple of occasions. The river flows out of Riverside down to its sister resort, Port Orleans-French Quarter, so we took the opportunity to detour there and go swimming at the big "Dragon" pool, nicknamed as such by our kids because of the water slide. The river doesn't stop at the French Quarter, though - it continues all the way to Downtown Disney! So we took the ferry all the way down, past the golf course and the Treehouse Villas, enjoying the sights along the way. On the way back from DTD, we actually unloaded at French Quarter and walked the trail back to Riverside, taking in the perfect sunset to cap the day.
Since we returned from this vacation, every conversation about planning our next Disney getaway has included a plea - of differing intensities - from me to return to Riverside. I work in Dallas, I commute in awful traffic on a daily basis, and getting away from the hustle and bustle is a necessity for any vacation of mine. I know what you're thinking: "getting away from the hustle and bustle" and Walt Disney World are mutually exclusive. But this found the ideal compromise between crazy Disney pace and slowdown Southern culture, even if it's just an illusion. We are an adventurous family and like to see new things, but for me, a Southern boy with his daddy's down home genes, Port Orleans-Riverside was absolutely perfect. I'd stay there every time.
My kids LOVE to see me make a fool of myself, and at Disney, I’m always more than happy to oblige. I’ve been selected as an extra in the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios. I was chosen to participate in the Flights of Wonder bird show at the Animal Kingdom. I'm about to tell you the story of a third instance. If you want to get selected for such audience-interactive activities, here's my advice:
EXPERT TIP: To increase your chances of being picked for these sorts of acts, look like you’re having fun, be energetic, and wear a (what I once thought was ridiculous, but now think is pretty awesome) custom made Disney vacation shirt that matches your party’s attire. If you’re there celebrating a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, or even if it’s just your first time visiting, stop by City Hall in the Magic Kingdom (or the equivalents in the other parks) on your way in and ask for some complimentary buttons to celebrate the occasion. Then, show off those buttons – there’s a REASON they give them to you. The cast members at the park LOVE that stuff and are trained to look for them! Of course, there’s no guarantee that these tactics will help you get selected for audience interaction, but it definitely increases your chances, and, if nothing else, makes for pleasant chit chat with cast members when you are out and about and waiting in lines. Here is an awesome example of what can happen when you “play along.”
The most enjoyable day I’ve had at WDW came at the Magic Kingdom shortly after New Year’s 2013. It was our last day at Disney, we were flying out early the next morning, but after being prepared for one final chilly day, with torrential downpours expected in the afternoon, the storm never materialized. We had sunny skies and warm temperatures all day – easily the best weather we’d EVER had at Disney, so we stretched our day as long as we could.
Right after lunch, we swung through Tomorrowland and stopped into the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. If you haven’t been to the Magic Kingdom and done this, it’s an animated comedy routine that incorporates members of the audience into the bits that they do. One of the running gags of the show is “That Guy,” where they pick (usually) one of the dads out of the audience to be the party pooper of the crowd and continual punchline. You can see where this is headed…
At the Laugh Floor, there’s no volunteer process. They eyeball the audience members for the show as the crowd waits and enters the theater, so again: fun, energetic, crazy shirt, buttons, etc. And, for the Laugh Floor, they’re looking for a good patsy to be “That Guy.” And sure enough, two minutes into the show, they slam the spotlight on me and there I am, up on the big screen, being laughed at by the rest of the crowd, most notably my family sitting right next to me. It’s a blast, you get laughed at a half dozen times, the show runs 15-20 minutes, and it’s over.
UNLESS YOU’RE “THAT GUY!” Because if you’re “That Guy,” the show can continue on ALL day long...
At many of the audience-interactive shows, you’ll receive a trinket, a certificate, or something as a little bonus for being part of the show. As we left the Laugh Floor, a Cast Member found me and gave me a sticker for being a “good sport.” And the sticker, about three inches in diameter, announces “I was THAT GUY” at the Laugh Floor. It’s a sticker, and adults don’t wear stickers, but again, to get a laugh out of the kids, I proudly slapped that sticker on my shirt, as visible as possible, and we went about our way.
Remember, there’s a REASON they give you these things. Little did I know what I had done.
Minutes later, as we go to ride the AstroOrbiter, the Cast Member directing traffic at the elevator spots my identifying sticker and clears some space for us as we walk in: “Everybody, make room for That Guy!” I got a good chuckle out of it, figuring that the crew at the AstroOrbiter is familiar with the Laugh Floor hijinks since the two attractions are within a 45 second walk from one another. But it didn’t stop there. We weren’t anywhere close to being done.
Our party split up, and I took the older kids over to Space Mountain. As we boarded our vehicle, one of the Cast Members checking the restraints pointed out my sticker to the guy handling the loudspeaker, who proceeded to make a huge announcement to the hundreds of people waiting in line behind us: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a celebrity riding with us today. It’s... That Guy!” And then the other Cast members proceeded to boo me. The kids thought this was hilarious! Even after we got off and wandered around the Space Mountain store, the lady at the counter gave me grief, too: “Really? You were That Guy?”
We met back up with the rest of the family at Main Street, as they had staked out a spot for the parade. I was sitting innocently along the side of the street as the parade marched by, and I caught the eye of Cinderella’s stepsisters. They danced their way over to me, with one of them disappointingly sighing to me, “You just had to be THAT GUY, didn’t you?,” as her sister shook her head in disgust behind her. This was high comedy for the family, as I’ve realized that putting that sticker on my shirt may as well have been a neon flashing light over my head saying “Make fun of this idiot for the rest of the day!”
The hits kept coming. We met some of the princesses shortly thereafter at the Town Square Theater. I managed to slip by Snow White and Aurora unscathed, but after getting hugs from our girls, Rapunzel pounced like a cat on a wounded mouse: “Girls, how’s it feel to know your dad’s That Guy?” And that got everyone laughing again. (Side note: Rapunzel was absolutely awesome, the most fun we’ve had at any character meet & greet, by far. She gave our 12 year old son all kinds of trouble, too.)
Apparently, "That Guy" has trouble getting a table on Main Street, too, as the staff at Casey's Corner groaned at the thought of having to serve "That Guy" a hot dog. Even the custodial crew is in on the gag, as a fellow swapping out trash cans outside Casey's Corner stopped us as we left, grabbed a co-worker and dragged him over to me like I was a rock star or something, "Look! It's That Guy!" Even during the nighttime parade, when the streets are dark, one of the dancers managed to spot that darn sticker from about 12 feet away and make a "That Guy" remark as she pranced by. I was under fire for the rest of the night, with even the PhotoPass photographer at the turnstiles catching me for one final dig as we made our way out.
I wish I could be "That Guy" every single time I go back.
My first visit to DisneyWorld came in May 2009. This was also the first vacation Wendy and I ever took together. She was driving out from Texas. I was coming down from Montgomery, Alabama and meeting her in Panama City Beach, Florida. From there, we would ride together (I left my truck at a friend's house) and make a big week out of it. There was much fun to be had, especially considering 1) I’d never been before and 2) I was going with someone who professed to be a WDW expert. This was going to be awesome.
Then she sent me the checklist.
It came via email, the packing list did. But this was no ordinary packing list. It was a multi-column, color-coded matrix. To this day, it’s still the most ridiculous one page document I’ve ever seen. Wendy had taken account of everything that was going to be needed on the trip, split it in half, and sent the list of what she wasn’t bringing to me. But it wasn’t just a “get this, and bring this, and don’t forget this” sort of deal. It was color coded by who the item was for. Was it for me? Was it for my daughter? Was it for everybody? That told me which suitcase to pack said item in. Each color-coded item was also in a certain column. For the road, for the beach, for Disney. This told me in what order to pack everything. It was – and still is – completely insane.
It also worked to perfection.
Everything got unloaded, in order, everybody’s stuff was altogether, and the community items were in one place, as well. It simplified the organization of our suite upon arrival, leaving us more time to jet to the Magic Kingdom for a half day of exploration. Needless to say, her attention to detail is impeccable. We wandered around Fantasyland for a couple of hours, went to dinner, enjoyed dinner with Cinderella and her stepsisters, then called it a night.
It was the first of five very enjoyable days at WDW, even if the weather was uncooperative to the point of a monsoon basically washing away our day at the Animal Kingdom. We used the downtime to explore our resort, something you should make time for anyway every time you visit. While they are all fun and relaxing, they each have their own charms and personalities, so if you go enough times you’ll find the one that best suits you. Or, you can let the expert tell you, “Mike, you’re gonna LOVE Port Orleans – Riverside,” and then bask in every minute you walk, bike, or sail on the grounds. (Yes, that one’s my favorite.)
Wendy shares her wisdom of WDW and other travel with her thoughts here. Watch out for cameo appearances by her cast & crew!