Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eating Gluten-Free at Hershey Park

Staying Amused at Amusement Parks

Presumably we all like going to amusement parks to be amused. But there is nothing amusing about not being able to find safe food to eat while there.

In this case, safe means gluten-free.

I've had difficulty finding gluten-free food in some amusement parks, but have heard rave reviews of others. These raved-about amusement parks provide great gluten-free options.

So when we knew we were headed to Hersheypark, I was curious to see into which category it would fall.

Gluten-Free Flop or Gluten-Free Fabulous?

Or somewhere in between?

First step: Check their web site.

Easy enough from home, before ever even looking at the door.


Hersheypark is a an amusement park with a full range of roller coasters.

Not just the little kid variety, as I had once imagined. Good, big, fast roller coasters. With height limits.

And they have plenty of food options, as you might expect, of the amusement-park variety. The web site does a pretty good job of listing all your options, including a separate link for allergens.

They even list all of the specialty items they have available. Gluten-free hamburger, hot dog, and sandwich rolls. Gluten-free chicken tenders. Gluten-free french fries. Gluten-free pizza! Gluten-free cookies!

Now we are talkin'!

Each of these specialty items is listed with the locations at which each is available. Not all are available in all locations. Far from it.

The key is to do a bit of thinking ahead of time if you know which of these items you might be interested in eating. Then identify the eatery that has your preferred item. Find the map, locate this particular eatery.

Now you are set to make a plan around the park and land at your chosen eatery when you are hungry!

Because, of course you plan your entire day at amusement parks in this way.

No... probably not. But a bit of planning is very helpful.

We did not plan our visit around my food needs, or even choices, but this is where we ended up for lunch.

Dietz & Watson Country Grill in Pioneer Frontier, featuring gluten-free rolls upon request. See? See it there on the bottom of the Combos menu, in near microscopic print?

Well, I can see it and I did see it and I did want to order something with a gluten-free roll. I did want to try one of these gluten-free sandwiches! Choices! Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Quarter Pound Hot Dog, Sausage Sandwich, Cheese Steak. I suspected that the Chicken Strips and the Crispy Chicken Sandwich would not be gluten-free, since the chicken seemed to be breaded.

But that's okay. Look at all those other options!

I ordered a gluten-free cheesesteak sandwich and a gluten-free salad. And then the cashier taking my order asked me, "Chicken or Beef?"

Huh? Whadda ya mean?

"Excuse me?"

"Chicken or Beef? For the Cheese Steak Sandwich."

Huh? I'd never anticipated a choice for the type of meat that goes on a Cheese Steak Sandwich. Isn't it always steak? Also known as beef?

But I wasn't thinking anything at that particular moment. I was so hungry and giddy that I was going to be able to eat a gluten-free sandwich that I had an out-of-body experience and heard myself say,


Did I mention that I was deliriously hungry and not thinking? I couldn't even properly parse her question, let alone conjure up a reasonable response. Hence, the nearly nonsense response I gave.

If only I had been able to think! I would have ordered beef, of course, for a Cheese Steak Sandwich. But no. I wasn't thinking.

Oh well. I was able to verify that it needed to be gluten-free. She understood that. And that is just about all I focus on in these situations. Gluten-free, gluten-free, gluten-free. Please don't make me sick and make me feel rotten the rest of the day and ruin the day for everyone!

She got the gluten-free part without trouble and immediately someone operating the conveyer counter of building sandwiches came forward and offered to make it, all the while pulling off his food service gloves and extracting new ones from the box of fresh gloves.

Clean gloves! Awesome! They really do know how to prepare gluten-free sandwiches! Hurray, hurray, hurray!

The rest of our food was served up in no time, but I continued to wait for my gluten-free cheese bird sandwich. Orders were taken from others who had been in line behind us. And I continued to wait. Orders were served to others who had been in line behind us. And I continued to wait.

And the cashier asked me, "Sorry. What are you waiting for?"

"The gluten-free Chicken Cheese Steak Sandwich."

"Oh, right. They are working on it."

And I continued to wait. And the rest of my group fetched ketchup and mustard and relish and napkins and straws and more ketchup.

Finally, my gluten-free Cheese Bird Sandwich and Garden Side Salad were ready.

The Cheese Bird Sandwich was hot and fresh and made to order on a gluten-free roll! Cheesy and gooey and yummy! It was quite good, in spite of being chicken. Tasty, in spite of being chicken. Flavorful, in spite of being chicken.

The gluten-free roll was on the small side, but the cheese bird filling was plentiful and overflowing. It was all very good!

The side salad had been pre-made earlier in the day and was served with my requested packaged blue cheese dressing. I read the labeling carefully and yes, it was gluten-free too. No, it wasn't bleu cheese dressing. It was blue cheese dressing. So be it. It was gluten-free.

This turned out to be a better lunch than I had expected, in spite of it being chicken! Not fabulous, but enough gluten-free choices, enough attention to gluten-free preparation needs, and enough gluten-free roll options all made for a good, gluten-free eating experience.

Not fabulous, but far, far from flop.

Congratulations, Hersheypark, you are Gluten-Free Good!

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