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Traveling Gluten-Free in Grand Mound, Washington—A Great Time at Great Wolf Lodge
Melissa Blanco

Melissa Blanco is a freelance writer and blogger who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.  You can visit her website at www.melissablanco.com.

By Melissa Blanco
Published on 09/1/2009
I recently passed a milestone, upon reaching the first anniversary, since my celiac disease diagnosis.  There was no golden coin or award ceremony, but rather a sense of personal accomplishment.

Celiac.com 09/01/2009 - I recently passed a milestone, upon reaching the first anniversary, since my celiac disease diagnosis.  There was no golden coin or award ceremony, but rather a sense of personal accomplishment.  Although it is true that I feel better not eating gluten than I have in years—I still miss my former diet every single day.  I no longer crave gluten filled meals, nor do I feel sorry for myself, as often as I did, immediately following my diagnosis.  Yet, I still find it necessary to justify my condition whenever I get confused looks at dinner parties or potlucks.  There are also the days when I will pass a pizza shop or have a craving for a glazed donut with my morning coffee.  It is in those moments when familiar pangs will resurface and make me long for just an instance that I could put on my gluten shield and indulge.

It was at this time last year, that I celebrated my first summer gluten-free.  I ate at only restaurants with gluten-free selections, I began dabbling in store bought wheat-free mixes, and jumped up and down in my kitchen the day my husband discovered a gluten-free bakery, several towns away.  Last summer was also my first opportunity to travel gluten-free.  It was during those normally carefree months that I attended a Family Camp, at a retreat center, in the mountains.  Although I meticulously planned for the trip; packing clothing, extra tennis shoes, swimming essentials, and toiletries—I neglected to remember that I now had dietary limitations which would possibly have a tremendous impact on the outcome of this family weekend.  Yes, I packed gluten-free breakfast bars and fresh fruit, but that was it.  I didn’t call ahead and ask if they had menu options for celiac sufferers, nor did I plan for lunches and dinners.

Walking into the retreat center dining hall among the smell of fresh baked bread, pasta salad, and breaded chicken made my mouth water like one of Pavlov’s dogs.  I glanced around the table to see salad drizzled with vinaigrette and realized that was all I would be eating for the day.  My head began to ache and tears stung the back of my eyes.  I inwardly cursed myself for my lack of preparation.  I am the mother of three young children, the wife of a deployed soldier, a responsible and organized woman—yet I completely forgot to prepare for a weekend in the mountains, with celiac disease.

I soon learned two of my fellow campers also suffered from gluten intolerance and was informed that there was gluten-free bread and peanut butter, in the kitchen.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked up to the chef and asked him if I could possibly have a slice of gluten-free bread.  He looked at me and responded, “sure, but this is the only loaf we have, so when it’s gone, it’s gone.”  He was completely put off by my request and irritated that three celiacs would arrive at his retreat center, simultaneously, forcing him into a position to alter his meals for dietary restrictions.  I grabbed the smallest slice of bread in the loaf, ensuring that the young boy with celiac would have food to eat, and walked out of the kitchen, in tears.

That was one year ago, and although the date on the calendar has changed, I am still coping with my condition and learning to travel gluten-free.  My husband recently returned from his yearlong deployment to Iraq, and decided it was time to treat the family to a couple days of fun-filled water adventure; with a trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington.  It would be an understatement to say that my children were excited—rather, they were beyond ecstatic at the prospect of water slides, swimming pools, and the giant bucket of water which spills and drenches everyone in its path, every few moments.      

I packed my morning gluten-free breakfast bars, alongside of my toddler’s swim diapers, and we hit the road, ready for an adventure at Great Wolf Lodge.  As I prepared for meals of bunless hamburgers and grilled chicken Caesar salads, minus the croutons, my children began psyching themselves up for the thrill of a rushing waterslide.  I wasn’t sure how food allergies would be greeted at this indoor water park, as was I nervous for a reoccurrence of past experiences.  My ultimate hope was that my Celiac Disease would be understood and recognized for its seriousness.   

The Loose Moose Cottage

On the first evening of our stay, my husband suggested eating at The Loose Moose Cottage, to partake of their dinner buffet.  After being seated in a comfortable booth, we ordered our drinks, before I perused our selection of food for the evening.  The buffet was quite organized with a variety of offerings assembled in different ethnic sections featuring Mexican food, Italian food, and Chinese cuisine.  There was a selection of sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and sliced roast beef; a kid’s station with macaroni and cheese and mini corndogs, a salad bar, and a dessert station.  After preparing my children’s’ plates, I approached a chef, as she refilled the nacho tray, and asked if the enchiladas were made using corn or flour tortillas.  She informed me that they were made with flour before asking if there was something she could help me with.

I told her that I have celiac disease, and expected to explain to her what that was; yet was surprised as she began walking down the selection of foods, informing me one-by-one which were safe for me to eat.  As I kept up with her, amazed at her accommodating demeanor, she worked all the way from the Mexican food to the salad bar.  She then walked back to the kitchen and returned with two pieces of gluten-free grilled chicken breast.  As I was thanking her, she offered to make me gluten-free pasta.  When I declined, she told me that if I would like them to make me pasta the following day, to let the kitchen know and they would be more than happy to prepare it for me.

My personal review of The Loose Moose Cottage: The food was good, the service was exceptional, and the atmosphere was accommodating for my family.  The only thing which would have made dining easier would have been if each dish’s ingredients were listed on a sign beside the dish itself.

Poolside Grill

During our afternoon of swimming, we ventured outside where staff were offering grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, along with potato chips and drinks.  The smell of the grill was invigorating—after several hours of swimming, we were starving—so my husband and I decided it was time for a power lunch.  I requested a hotdog, without a bun.  The chef looked at me and asked, “Do you have celiac disease?”

I nodded my head and said, “Yes, I do.”  Then I watched with astonishment as she immediately removed the plastic gloves she had been using, before replacing them with new gloves, and sticking my hotdog on a clean part of the grill.  When I questioned her about her knowledge of food allergies, and specifically celiac disease, she explained that Great Wolf Lodge has a lot of guests with food restrictions and the chefs make every effort to be knowledgeable and helpful.

My personal review of the Poolside Grill: The food was delicious and the staff was informed and respectful.

Bear Paw Café

The smell of the Bear Paw Café began wafting through the air the moment I exited the elevator.  This small café is not to be taken lightly by the average dieter, with the aroma of delicious desserts; fudge, ice cream, baked goods and popcorn.  Typically, this is an area I would avoid; however, I decided that in order to fully assess the food selections of the Great Wolf Lodge, it would only be fair to visit the bakery.  Plus, I really wanted a piece of fudge.

When I approached the person at the counter and explained that I was unable to eat anything with wheat in it and wondered if they had any gluten-free offerings, she smiled and went to find a person more capable of assisting me.  A baker came out from the kitchen and greeted me with a smile, before telling me that her mom has suffered from Celiac Disease for twenty-years.  She then pointed out the assortment of gluten-free fudges and offered to make me gluten-free cookies.  Although I was tempted to take her up on the cookies, I rather, chose a piece of fudge.  I can say, without a doubt—it was delicious.

My personal review of the Bear Paw Café: The fudge was delicious and the service was exceptional.  I do wish there was more of a variety of baked goods for those with food allergies; such as wheat, peanut, and egg-free ingredients.

Camp Critter

For our final meal at the Great Wolf Lodge, we ate at the Camp Critter restaurant.  After a day of swimming, we were all completely famished and felt at home in the warm atmosphere of this sit down restaurant.  The menu had a variety of kids’ meal offerings, as well as adult selections ranging from burgers, to salads, to steaks.  I was once again met with a server who was knowledgeable and sympathetic to my dietary restrictions.  I asked for a cheeseburger, without a bun, and when it was delivered, I was informed that my fries were made in separate oil, to avoid cross contamination.  What can I say; it was All-American dining, and my entire family enjoyed it.

My personal review of Camp Critter: Although the menu did not have a variety of gluten-free selections; the food I chose was prepared gluten-free, cooked well, and the staff was accommodating and helpful.

After two fun-filled days of water bliss at the Great Wolf Lodge, we departed for home, exhausted, and with chlorine seeping out of our swimming suits.  I rate our trip 5 of 5 stars—it was a great get-away, and I didn’t feel hindered by my celiac disease.  And on a side note…my kids thought the water park was amazing.