With many people starting to think about Spring Break already (heck, in this weather, isn’t everyone?), I thought now would be a perfect time to share a post about visiting Cancun with food allergies – yes, the family friendly side. AllergyEats friend Kerrie Lorenzo was kind enough to share with us details of her family’s 2013 Spring Break experience there. Note in advance the significant level of dietary restrictions of both Kerrie and her daughters. Kerrie is allergic to dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, basil, oregano, fermented foods, mangoes, melons, alcohol, cane sugar and more; her daughters have allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, kiwi, and pineapple between them. Kerrie describes many of their reactions as severe, including anaphylactic. Here’s her story.
Travel to a foreign country can be daunting, especially with two daughters with severe food allergies plus my own food allergies and intolerances. So when we contemplated our choices for Spring Break, Cancun was not at the top of my list. But then after reading an inspiring book, The Allergic Girl, I decided our family would become foodie adventurers and head overseas.
Now when we travel for Spring Break we are luckier than most – we often choose to stay at our timeshare resort. This time was no different; we picked the Starwood Property Westin Lagunamar right on the beach in Cancun’s hotel zone.
This hotel zone is on a little peninsula out on the ocean. It’s a row of resort and upper end hotels interspersed with the Mayan Museum, a few Mayan ruins, restaurants, marinas and travel agencies along with a large mall. You can find anything you need at this mall – from an Apple Store to Radio Shack and Mexican sombreros to Louis Vuitton purses – it’s all there.
In preparation for our trip, I contacted the hotel via their concierge email address. I got a response within a few days from them indicating that our family’s food allergy concerns had been forwarded to the chef. I have to say, the chef’s response did not instill confidence in me at the time. As a matter of fact, I was on pins and needles for most of the trip. Yet what didn’t happen on the trip speaks a thousands times over for the success of our vacation: we had no reactions!
The chef only emailed me back with information on some available gluten-free options – bread, cookies, pastas and special hot cakes. This didn’t help with the nut allergies, so we packed a suitcase full of foods and two sets of epinephrine injectors per person. You can bring labeled, pre-packaged goods into another country quite easily. I also had some homemade muffins and three things of frozen turkey, chicken and buffalo meat dishes. To cover these items, I added in a note from our allergist. Her note also covered all our Benadryl, epinephrine injectors and Claritin. In addition, I packed cheeses and meats, Sun Butter packets, snack bars, dried fruit, apple sauce to-go packets, Pop Tars, tofu, mushroom soup, dried Quinoa noodles and our breads. I was prepared for any situation!
In the end, we used very little of the items and really could have gotten away with bringing much less. The girls ate waffles in the hotel along with bacon, juice and fruits. They had pizza, quesadillas and tacos at the pool restaurant. A little introduction to Strawberry Virgin daiquiris proved a highlight as well. They ate pizza in the Kids Club for parents night out as well.
Since I had the food, I made sandwiches for our day trips. This was a good thing because the Mexican buffet lunch during our Chichen Itza tour was a little off-putting (although there were servers dishing out the food, so as buffets go it could have been more safe than usual). We just never talked to anyone we thought could handle our needs well enough, even with my daughters’ translated allergy cards.
Another day, we did the Jungle Tour. No food involved – just sun and water. Make sure to pile on that sunscreen after snorkeling! We didn’t and suffered for it the days afterwards. I fed the girls snack bars on the boat to keep them happy on the ride home.
Our other paid excursion was a swim with the dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium inside the La Isla shopping mall. There is a restaurant inside, but we weren’t hungry after our morning swim with the dolphins. We instead went back to our hotel and swam in our pool some more. Then we ate at the hotel restaurant.
There are all kinds of restaurants familiar to residents of the US available in Cancun. We saw Outback Steakhouse, McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza. We also saw a Wal-Mart and I know a Costco is available as well. Our hotel manager said a new grocery store along the lines of a small mom-and-pop health food store opened recently as well. She was telling me about it from a vegetarian’s point of view. Due to the Easter holiday, we missed shopping there. Next time, I’d try and plan a trip there. Yet at the grocery store and at the hotel shop we went to, both had gluten-free items, organic choices for packaged items and rice milk and coconut milk. If you can read Spanish or understand it with your French language background, you will be able to decipher the safety of most products. Some products are even labeled for food allergies. Kellogg’s has a presence there and they list food allergens on their Mexican products as well. (Kudos to them.) So there were lots of options without even needing my suitcase of food.
We didn’t explore much outside of tours and activities that were easily accessible by wheel chair. I was recovering from an injury – so although it didn’t completely stop us, we missed a few things because of the situation. Our concierge was fabulous at helping us find appropriate activities for me and for the ages of our kids. I loved the help and it didn’t take much time at all to set up on our second day. She even suggested a Mexican restaurant that had a menu marked with things containing gluten. We missed it because we were too busy enjoying the pool and ocean activities, but you should know there are places that can accommodate your needs, especially along the hotel zone.
We did go shopping at Market 28 and found lots of deals there. We bought Cancun bags, tees and jewelry there. After all that shopping, we wanted to eat. We received a recommendation to eat at a small place called Restaurant Veracruz, conveniently located right in the center of all the market shops. The food was fabulous. They read about the girls’ allergies from their cards and assured us that they had no nuts in their kitchen. The girls tried the chicken tacos and loved them. I ate the rice and grilled shrimp – although I may have eaten a bit of butter. I survived – luckily dairy is one of my intolerances and not a life-threatening allergy. My husband loved the traditional Mayan dish. Our oldest loved the Strawberry soda treat as well. We saw another family with fresh coconuts. They were being sold on a street corner near the big grocery store in that area. They were too far away for us on crutches, but would have been fun to try. The vendors are all friendly – just ask them what you are seeking and they will send you in the right direction.
So next time we go – yes, we are already thinking about another trip in about 4 years, maybe – I might bring a box of pasta, a few slices of bread for a day trip and a few snack bars. No need for a food suitcase whatsoever!
Thank you so much, Kerrie, for sharing your experience and I’m glad you had a safe and happy trip!
How about all of our readers? Have any of you been to Cancun with food allergies? Were your experiences similar or different from Kerrie’s? How about elsewhere? Have you found international resort locations to be allergy-friendly or not? Please share your experiences, thoughts, comments, and views in the Reply box below. We really want to hear from you!
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