Disney World with Food Allergies: Mother’s Experience

Guest Post by Lisa Meili

Note from Julie Matthews: After writing an article for the Autism File Magazine on traveling with food allergies (out in the June/July issue), I spotted this incredible post from a mother on a GFCF board.  After reading a lot out there on traveling with special dietary needs for my article, I knew a gem when I saw it!  This is an incredibly informative piece from Lisa, and I’m grateful she has offered to share it on Nourishing Hope for all of you to enjoy!

Last week, we went to Disney World.  My kids have a lot of food allergies.  I am allergic to milk products.  I thought I would document our dining results while it was fresh in my mind so that I can share it with others.  This kind of information would have been helpful to me before we went.  Overall, once we learned the system, we had mostly good experiences.

BACKGROUND

My two kids’ diet is free of gluten, casein, soy, peanuts, preservatives, and all things artificial.  I am dairy free.  We decided to try to eat all of our dinners and some lunches at Disney.  We stayed in a cabin at Fort Wilderness campground so that we could have access to a kitchen.  We took food with us for breakfast and for the kids’ lunches.  We ate all of our breakfasts in the cabin.  At the beginning of the week, we took their lunches with us into the park.  Later in the week, we bought their lunches from Disney.  (We also took a lot of healthy snacks with us.)

TYPES OF MEALS

If you buy the basic meal plan, there are 3 types of “meals” included for each person.  This includes:

  • 1 quick service meal per day.  (This is where you get in line, order with the cashier, and then carry your own food to table.)
  • 1 table service meal per day (This is where you sit down at a table to order and the food is brought out to you.)
  • 1 snack item per day

QUICK SERVICE STEPS

The steps that you need to follow if you have food allergies are:

  1. Go into the restaurant and find a manager.  They are usually walking around the lobby area.  If you cannot find one, ask a cashier to locate the manager.
  2. The manager will bring you a book that includes every food item that they have available in their store.  It lists the ingredients for all food items.
  3. You pick out what you want and tell the manager.
  4. The manager goes with you to the cashier and together you place your order.
  5. Wait at the counter until your food is prepared and brought to you.  At some locations, the manager would tell us to go ahead and sit down and they would bring our food to us.  Your food will take longer because they cook it special.

 QUICK SERVICE COMMENTS

  1. The food items available vary from one restaurant to another.  Most have burgers and Udi’s buns available.  For sides and dessert, most have a bag of carrots and a bag of apples.
  2. One place had some incredible chicken fingers that we could have.  But not all places carried them.  One store said they were going to start carrying them, but had not yet.  Their gluten free chicken fingers had both milk and soy in them.  (Restaurantosaurus is the place that had the really good chicken fingers.)
  3. One place did give us a voucher to get a dessert at a snack cart since all they had to choose from for dessert was the apple slices. (more on snack cart later).
  4. Some cashiers are more knowledgeable than others.  One caught the fact that I was ordering a sandwich that had cheese in the bread and had them prepare it on different bread.  I had not consulted the manager and the food book because normally breads do not bother me.

 TABLE SERVICE

  1. It is helpful to make reservations ahead of time for all table service meals.  But don’t’ expect them to have done any preparation unless you somehow contact a chef at that restaurant ahead of time.
  2. Assuming you made reservations, your ticket that is put on the table will indicate that you have food allergies.  If you did not make reservations, inform the waitress that you have food allergies as soon as she comes to your table.  The waitress will inform you that a chef will come by to discuss the options with you.  The sooner the chef comes to your table, the better.
  3. The chef will come to your table and share with all of the food choices and take your order.  The waitress will take the food order for anyone that does not have allergies.

 TABLE SERVICE COMMENTS

  1. You will probably have to wait a while for the chef to come to your table.  At all of the places we ate, there were apparently many families with food allergies and only one or two chefs that could come meet with you.
  2. Some chefs are more knowledgeable than others.  One place the chef brought out Rice Dream Ice Cream to see if it was OK.  I pointed out to him that Soy Lecithin was in the ingredients.  He did not realize that.
  3. Some chefs will bring the package out for you to read the ingredients.
  4. One chef went on-line and looked up the ingredients of something to make sure it was safe for us.  This resulted in us waiting a long time to eat, but the food was safe.
  5. Some places have more variety to choose from than others.  For dessert, some places only had apples or grapes.  Another place had Enjoy Life Cookies, some safe gummies candy, and Enjoy Life Chocolate bars.
  6. I complained at one restaurant.  The manager that I spoke with told me that if you have a particular item that you want, you can contact the restaurant ahead of time and request that item.  Sometimes the chef will be able to accommodate this request.  She stated that one chef drove to the local Whole Foods to purchase something for one family.  We never made a special request.
  7. Some restaurants serve more expensive food and therefore you have to use two table services credits for the meal.

SNACKS

Many things can count as a snack including a bottle of water, a bag of apples, and a bag of carrots.  We were happy to discover that most snack carts had Edy’s Strawberry Fruit bars that were safe for me and my kids.

OUR TABLE SERVICES CHOICES

Plaza Restaurant (Magic Kingdom)

I would not do this one again.  They only choices that they had were the same food items that you could get at a quick service restaurant.  We all had a burger, carrots, and grapes.  We could have eaten this same food at a quick service place and saved the credit for a place that required two table service credits.

Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review (Fort Wilderness)

I would not do this one again. Food is served family style here.  There is a performance on stage while you are eating.  While we enjoyed the show, our dining experience here was pretty bad.  I would not recommend it for families with food allergies.

First, when you sit down, everyone has a salad already on their table that we could not have.  So, while everyone else ate their salad, we waited about 30 minutes for our salad to show up.  There were so many families with allergies and only one chef going around talking to all of the tables.

Because the food is family style, they have very limited choices to offer you if you cannot eat what everyone else is eating.  So, again, while everyone ate their main entrée, we waited and got our food when everyone else was almost done.  Then they quickly tried to get us to eat our dessert and get us out of there.  My kids were not happy with their food at all and left hungry.

The tables are small and there was not room to keep the regular food away from my kids.  We also had a very rude waitress, but another waitress kindly stepped and tried to help us solve our table space problem.

Garden Grill (Epcot)

We had a great experience here!  I would recommend it.  Four different Disney characters rotate around and come to your table while you eat and you can take pictures with them.

The chef that we got and the waiter were both very knowledgeable of food choices. They had more to choose from and we found enough to fill up our kids.  They had warm Udi’s rolls that were very good!  They had several different dessert choices.  The chef did everything he could to make us happy.  He came out to our table several times to check on us.  It may not be the same with every chef.

Fulton’s Crab House (Downtown Disney)

We had a great experience here!  I would recommend it unless you have seafood allergies.  This restaurant serves a wide variety of food so there was more to choose from.  The chef that we got was very accommodating and willing to prepare a combination that made each kid happy.

Cinderella’s Royal Dinner (Magic Kingdom)

We had a great experience here!  I would recommend it!  You get your picture taken with Cinderella before you go in and get copies included in the price.  It is expensive.  Four different princesses come to your table and you can take pictures with them.

Our chef was very knowledgeable and had enough variety to choose from that we all were happy.  They brought extra food to my son who is 10 and eats a lot.  They had cup-cakes made from Namaste cake mix which was a huge success with my kids (after all of the apple slices and grapes at other places).

 OTHER

  1. We did give our kids extra digestive enzymes to help in case of cross-contamination or if something was not actually allergen free.
  2. You can order food ahead of time and have it delivered to your room at www.gardengrocer.com.  They carry some allergen free items like Enjoy Life Cookies.  They carry a granola from Bakery on Main that is gluten/casein/soy free and we loved it!
  3. In Downtown Disney, there is a Baby Cakes located in Pollo Campero.  They carry GFCFSF desserts.  We purchased both some chocolate chips cookies and some cupcakes.  We all thought they were wonderful!
  4. We took our own ketchup with us each day.  We used these tiny zip lock bags that you buy to put pills in.  My kids will eat more things if they can dip it in ketchup.
  5. We took two boxes of food with us. We checked these with our luggage.  For us, this was cheaper than shipping it overnight.  We buy meats from Applegate Farms that come in a Styrofoam cooler inside of a shipping box. We save these and use them when we travel.  One direction, one box was opened by security but sealed back.  The other direction, neither box was opened.
  6. Several places I suggested that they need to add some items to their choices to accommodate more people with allergies.  I suggested that they need to carry Earth Balance that is soy free.  One place had the dairy free, but not soy free one.  I explained that they could accommodate more people if they just switch to the soy free one.  I also suggested that they carry So Delicious Ice Cream.  I explained that soy is in Rice Dream and is one of the top 8 allergens.  But coconut is not one of the top 8 allergens.
  7. The whole park is peanut free (and nut free I think).  One chef said that the people who purchase may think that coconut is in the nut family, although it is not.
  8. Our diet for the week was much higher in carbs and natural sugars than we would normally eat.  They had very limited vegetables available that my kids will eat.
  9. Other- I normally get motion sick on a lot of rides.  I used these acupressure bracelets that a friend recommended.  I do think that they helped.  Some rides did not bother me that normally would.  But, don’t ride the Mission to Space- Intense/orange if you get motion sick.  I decided to take the risk and try it.  Big mistake!
  10. I am going to try to figure out who at Disney I can contact to provide my feedback.

Lisa Meili is mother to DD – 7 and DS – 10.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee, Flickr, Creative Commons

 

Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

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3 responses to “Disney World with Food Allergies: Mother’s Experience”

  1. Bethany says:

    It sounds like overall you had a good dining experience. We were there in Dec. and were very pleased with how disney accomodates to those with food allergies. You can read about our experience here: http://modernhomemakers.com/2012/01/eating-at-walt-disney-world-with-multiple-food-allergies/
    I think bringing your own food to supplement is key. Good to know on the Hoop-dee-doo Review. We will remember this next time we go (which we hope isn’t too far into the future).

  2. Liz says:

    We would love for you write a review for our website devoted to food allergies and Disney. We cover Disneyland, WDW, and the Disney Cruise Line. Please come check us out!

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