Disney World with a multiple food allergic child

[This AllergyEats Blog post written by Lisa Giuriceo, Facilitator of the Food Allergy and Asthma Support Group of North Jersey]

 

Food Allergy Friendly Restaurants at Disney

 

I have a 10 year old daughter with multiple food allergies to wheat, eggs, fish, peanuts, oats rye, barley, sesame seeds, peas, and green beans.  When our daughter was first diagnosed with potentially life threatening food allergies at 9 months old, our life was turned upside down but my husband I wanted to provide our baby girl with the chance to live a full life while we managed her food allergies.  We had learned that strict avoidance of the allergen was necessary and that we could never be without her epi-pen.  We love to vacation and we had no idea how we were going to that with our daughter’s food allergies; until we read an article in Living Without magazine that highlighted Disneyland in California as a place that catered to children with food allergies.  After reading the article, I called Disney World in Florida and was told that they did indeed accommodate children with food allergies.  My husband and I decided it was worth booking a trip to see if it could be done.  We booked a room at the Wilderness Lodge with a full kitchen just in case things did not work out and we needed to cook meals for our 20 month old daughter.

Prior to our arrival at Disney World, we made reservations for table service meals and listed our child’s dietary needs to the agent.  We were also given a special phone number to call at Disney.  At that number, we were able to speak with the chefs and they were able to tell us what brands they used of such staples as bread, so we could try them prior to arrival and be sure that our daughter was okay with them.  (Remember, nine years ago, food allergy friendly items were not as readily available in local supermarkets as they are today.)  We found many items that our daughter eats now, including Van’s wheat free waffles, Enjoy Life cookies, and Ener-G brand gluten free bread from speaking to the chefs at Disney World.

Our first trip to Disney was a wonderful experience; the chefs at each of the table service restaurants we attended were more than accommodating.  Each of the chefs came to our table when we arrived and allowed us to go through the list of our daughter’s allergens as we presented them on a chef’s card.  I cried tears of joy as my little princess was served a plate of delicious food the same as all the other children.  We took photos of our daughter with each chef at the restaurants we visited and Disney has become our vacation spot each year since that first visit nearly nine years ago.  It is the only week of the year that my husband and I do not cook.

After visiting Disney World so many times over the past nine years, my husband and I have come up with a formula that works best for us. We book the deluxe meal plan with our trip.  This plan allows us the option of having only table service meals, where a chef comes to the table and prepares the meal for our child.  The meal plans that offer counter service options do not work for us because our daughter has so many allergies.  We book a nice lunch or breakfast and then we book dinner at a signature restaurant fine dining restaurant.  Remember, we go to Disney for the service that restaurants provide to our daughter and this plan provides my husband and me with the opportunity to eat a gourmet restaurant each night of our vacation too.  Our daughter also gets the “star” treatment at many of the signature restaurants.  It is very funny, our daughter’s safe meal is grilled plain chicken, steamed broccoli, and a baked potato.  Now that she is a little older, the chefs at the signature restaurants talk to her and offer to make more tantalizing safe dishes as grilled steak, corn on the cob, pork chops, hamburgers, etc.  Our daughter was so thrilled when a chef presented her with grilled purple fingerling potatoes.  We now purchase them in local markets at home when they are available.

As wonderful as Disney is to visit with a food allergic child, they are not perfect – but they are the closest thing to food allergy utopia that we have found.  They provide food allergic patrons with the opportunity to communicate their allergies to a restaurant when a reservation is made and they have many procedures in place to ensure that a safe meal is served to that patron.  As wonderful as they are, I would recommend staying away from Dinner Shows if you have multiple food allergies.  At these venues, the menu is set and they have set times to get the people in and out – they really do not have the time to meet the needs of food allergic patrons.  We attended the Luau and it was a nightmare, we got there and there was a green bean salad on my daughter’s plate, she refused to eat anything there because she did not trust the chef after this mistake.  We did stay for the show but none of us ate the food.

Never be afraid to communicate the needs of your food child to a chef or manager when you dine at Disney or anywhere else.  Open communication is the key to a wonderful dining experience for you and your child.  I joke that we are only the people who go to Disney that take pictures of our child eating at a restaurant.  I have nine years of photo albums filled with our daughter eating wonderful meals at Disney that were prepared by wonderful chefs.  We visit Disney each July and they continue to meet our needs.  Some of our favorite Disney restaurants are Tusker House in Animal Kingdom, the California Grille in the Contemporary, Tony’s Town Square in Magic Kingdom, Ohana’s in the Polynesian, all the table service restaurants in the Grand Floridian, Askerhaus in Norway in EPCOT, and the Sci-Fi Dinner Theater in Hollywood Studios.

On our first trip we asked one of the chefs why they do such a wonderful job accommodating food allergic children at Disney World, he said, “We want the repeat business.”  It would be wonderful if other resorts would take this cue from Disney and realize that if they accommodate food allergic children and their families, we will return with pleasure and continue to be loyal customers.

 

What an awesome post!  Thank you Lisa for sharing the touching story of your first visit, the tips you’ve learned, and your recommendations (of do’s AND don’t’s).  This is a blog post that I will certainly share with all those food allergy families nervously considering a trip to Disney World for the first time.  (And to learn more about the man who revolutionized Disney World’s food allergy program, please read “Meet Chef Joel Schaefer, pioneer of Disney World food allergy initiatives.”

 

So what do you, our readers think?  I know most of you who have visited Disney World have returned with great joy and appreciation.  Have you gone through similar experiences as Lisa?  Do you agree or disagree with any of her tips or recommended restaurants?  What else do you think “first-timers” should know?

Please also remember to rate all of your restaurant experiences at our parent site, AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com).  It takes just one minute to rate a restaurant, but each of those ratings makes AllergyEats a more valuable resource for our entire food allergy and intolerance community.

And in keeping with this blog post, please note that we launched AllergyEats Disney World (www.allergyeats.com/disney) last November to provide the same peer-based rating system for restaurants in and around the Disney World parks.  So please consider helping future visitors by rating those dining experiences as well.

Comments

    Author:
    Kate Y.
    Written:


    We have always visited family or camped, so that we’d have better control over what our multiple -allergy son would eat. In 2010, we took our 2 kids on their very first “real” vacation to Disney World. It was the most amazing experience. The chefs would come out and ask him what HE wanted to eat. When I would respond asking what CAN he eat, they said it’s better to start out finding out what he would like to eat. They always made it happen… ribs, fried chicken, roast beef… you name it! He was so excited to get desserts in every restaurant (that’s NEVER happened for him), including soy ice cream. We commented that we wish the whole world was run like Disney. It was the most relaxing week I have had since giving birth to my son (since his reactions started at 6 weeks, and it took another full 2 years to properly diagnose him, back in the early 2000s). Thank you, Disney!

    Author:
    Susan C
    Written:


    Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your Disney experiences and recommendations.

    Author:
    Maureen
    Written:


    I agree. Disney is WONDERFUL for food allergies. It is also wonderful for medication accommodations (having a medication that has to be kept at a steady cool temperature, they are very willing to help/work with you)

    Author:
    Joyce
    Written:


    We have returned to Disney several times for the same reasons. Both my kids have food allergies and take back to Disney just for the dinning experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Author:
    Stephen S
    Written:


    Lisa, We too have a child with severe food allergies; Milk, Egg, Peanut, Shellfish, Salmon. We were told by a travel agent that the Disney World restaurants would be able to accommodate us without any issues. We chose our restaurants and when we checked in for our reservations we informed them of his allergies. The chef came to our table and didn’t bat an eye when we listed his allergies. Gave us our options and personally brought the food to our table. I believe my wife cried. We too have never been able to go dine somewhere where we didn’t need to bring a cooler bag of food, butter, etc. and this was the first time. We’ve found a restaurant chain that we’ve had success with (Ruby Tuesday’s) that have been very accommodating but there don’t seem to be a whole lot of places out there that we’ve felt comfortable enough that there won’t be any cross contamination of foods. Since then we’ve been to Disney World 2 other times and their level of attention is second to none. Glad you were able to experience the level of service they offer.

    Author:
    Carla
    Written:


    We had a very similar experience 4 years ago when we visited with our two sons, one who is allergic to dairy, eggs, TN & PN. We were with a large group of friends (13 kids, 12 adults in all) and I was very anxious that my son would feel left out because he wouldn’t be able to have the amazing looking food our friends were having. That was NOT the case – particularly at California Grill they prepared something for him that was equal if not better than what everyone else ordered and he even got RED ice cream (raspberry sorbet) for dessert while everyone else just had vanilla! While it does require some up front legwork to make calls, reservations etc. We will absolutely return and I rave about their ability to meet our needs to every parent I meet!

    Author:
    Sara
    Written:


    Our family too has returned many times to Disney World for the same reasons. Same recommendations here 1) reservations everyday for sit down table service for breakfast, preferrably at a deluxe hotel(even if you don’t stay at one you can still dine there!) 2) reservations for dinner at a sit down fine dining restaurant everyday. I mean the very nicest restaurants! They are very worth it for your child’s safety. You used to call each restaurant seperately and personally speak to a chef ahead of time. Now you send requests and questions via email after making your reservations online. When making your reservations be sure to check all the special allergy boxes! Your emails are then sent to each kitchen. I still follow up a few days before the trip to make sure if I haven’t heard anything. Then, the chefs usually call me now! Favorites: Artist Point, Citricos, Il Mulino, Narcoossee’s, Shula’s(not a Disney owned restaurant, but very accomadating. They even baked us our own safe sourdough bread last month). Favorite breakfast joints: Kona Cafe, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Captain’s Grille

    Bottom line is…it takes lot’s of work and time ahead of your trip. Give them plenty of heads up time, even if they say they are very prepared. If there is something special you would like for your child, they can usually get it with enough notice. After all, it’s the happiest place on Earth!

    Author:
    Linda
    Written:


    We found the same thing at Disney with a child with a milk allergy.

    It was fabulous to have a vacation with out any “reactions” to food that was supposed to be ok and wasn’t.

    We had breakfast with Mickey and they made her dairy free waffles–which went over really well.

    It was fun for her to be “special” in a good way and have choices of foods instead of having to settle for the same

    old food. She enjoyed all the new foods she (and Mom and Dad) felt safe with. We also bought the dining card and that was

    a wise decision–will do it again on our next visit.

    It was the best for us to watch our daughter pick new foods and not be scared when meal time rolled around.

    We also have had fun looking for some of the packaged cookies since we have been home. She is always excited to find something new and safe.

    I found being very up front about what her needs were helped immensely. Remember that you are the child’s advocate and they will then emulate the way you deal with their allergies. It is something they may have to live with and they shouldn’t be limited because of them.

    Author:
    Sophia Lyons
    Written:


    Yes, I have multiple allergies also, so Disney World did a wonderful job. Dreams
    Do Come True!

    Author:
    Raquel
    Written:


    We also have found Disneyland, DisneyWorld and Disney cruises to be a place where our daughter (who cannot have pn/tn) is treated like a princess. When we go to California, even if we do not enter the parks, we always go to dinner at a Disney hotel restaurant where our daughter can eat just like us. On the cruise, she ate so many new foods, and additionally the kids staff all had epi and allergy training. I agree – Dreams Do Come True for Princesses, Princes and their parents at Disney!

    Author:
    Jill B.
    Written:


    I think that Disney is EXTREMELY ACCOMMODATING when it comes to food allergies! All restaurants should really adopt their level of customer service and safety for ALL. But unlike the blogger we were able to eat safely and enjoy the dinner shows. The chefs at the luau and hoop dee doo review each called me about a week or so before the trip and worked out a very specific yet similar meal to what is generally served. It was great. My son was over the moon about it, and believe me we have lots o’ allergies to deal with (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut and sesame). The entire food scene gets at Disney gets an A+ from me.

    Author:
    Gaylin
    Written:


    I have been on 9 Disney World vacations in the last 10 years, people keep asking me why I keep going back. I tell them because I can eat safely! I am allergic to all grains, including rice.

    I have never left a restaurant hungry and only had one minor hive reactions – never figured out what from.

    And when I did have a slow reaction from food eaten at a non-disney resort for breakfast and needed help 90 minutes later while at Epcot, wow service to and from First Aid was excellent and free.

    The best allergen-free dessert I had made for me was also at The California Grill. An amazing concoction of banana, vanilla ice cream and freshly made caramel. Awesome.

    Don’t be afraid to go to a buffet, they will have a chef walk you through the buffet line telling you exactly what is safe. And remember at Boma, they will make you gluten free Zebra Domes!

    Author:
    Melissa
    Written:


    Thank you for this lovely article! When we traveled in 2010 we were floored! Our dairy allergic/cinnamon allergic child was able to have wonderful meals – even Rice Dream Ice Cream made into a “fudge” sundae just like big brother’s! We had great success with CS after legwork on my part and the CM who helped us check-in to the Contemporary. He highlighted the CS with dedicated allergy fryers and our son was able to have chicken nuggets and french fries (previously no-nos because of cross contamination). It was very important to him that get to eat foods similar to big brother’s choices.

    We’re looking forward to our return visit this summer and I’ve already started the legwork with deciding our ADR’s. We now have two allergic children (the middle has an anaphylactic reaction to dairy) and multiple allergies. This trip I will be taking our allergy cards to hand out to the Cm’s at the restauraunts to attach to our meal ticket. It worked out really well last time because the Chef was able to approach our table already knowing the boys’ favorite foods, as well as their allergies.

    Author:
    Adrienne
    Written:


    We had a much, much different story with Disneyland. We asked if the chicken strips had dairy in them and were assured they did not. Immediately after eating a chicken strip my granddaughter started throwing up. We realized that she had gotten contaminated and immediately gave her benedryl which didn’t help. A doctor saw our distress and came to help, but a Disneyland doctor also showed up and shoo’d the “real” doctor away. She had us go to the first aid area so that my granddaughter could rest on a cot. No medical attention was given. My granddaughter’s reaction was getting worse and we grabbed her out of the first aid room and rushed to the hospital where she immediately received epinephrine shots. Had we left her under the so-called care of Disneyland, she would have died. The only good thing about this episode is that it made such a dramatic impression on our 2-year-old, that she has been extraordinarily vigilant about what is offered to her. By the way, Disneyland was not nice about any of this, not even offering some tickets so that we could try again. They are evil.

    Author:
    CJohnson
    Written:


    Disney is amazing! My experience was much like many of those posted above. Our son is so severely allergic, he cannot even have food processed on the same equipment as nuts. Everything he puts in his mouth must be from a dedicated facility. At Disneyland the chefs prepared special meals for him in a dedicated kitchen where cross contamination was not a risk. I would give anything to have these kind of options in our day-to-day life. It is important to note that doing the legwork/ calling ahead to make the staff aware of your allergies. You can also receive a map at City Hall when you enter the park which lists food allergy options. I am forever grateful to Disney for understanding the difference they are making in the lives of our children!!!!!!

    Author:
    Michelles
    Written:


    Having 2 children allergic to wheat, dairy, egg, soy, corn, peanut and tree nuts, Life feels Soo restricted!! I had No idea Disney has gone above and beyond with Including such amazing options!! I am So Grateful for the story and comments!! Now have visiting Disney on our Wish List!!! Thank You!!!

    Author:
    Nina
    Written:


    I am 38 years old with a severe dairy allergy. My husband and I took our daughters to Walt Disney World resort last summer for a week. It was the first time in my life I’ve eaten out and not been afraid that something supposed to be safe was going to make me sick and ruin the trip for me and my family. My husband took pictures of me eating dairy-free treats in each of the restaurants. It was amazing to have a chef ask what I wanted and not tell me the two or three items I could have. My daughters can’t wait to go back, not just for them, but because mom can eat like everybody else and not be scared of getting sick.

    Author:
    Rachel
    Written:


    Thank you so much for this article. My 15mo was recently diagnosed with egg, milk, and peanut allergy and I have been an emotional mess. Disney is one of my favorite places, in fact it’s where my husband and I honeymooned. I am so excited that it will now be a safe vacation spot for my family from here on out as well.

    Author:
    Maureen
    Written:


    My 2 year old daughter is allergic to dairy,eggs and peanut. My family and I will be visiting in May and I am so excited that she will be able to eat in the restaurants!!!

    Author:
    Tricia
    Written:


    Is there a certain hotel that you would recommend for multiple allergy child?

    Author:
    Tammy
    Written:


    Thanks for this!!! We’re planning a trip to Disney and are contemplating staying on Disney property. My kids are allergic to milk, wheat/gluten, eggs and nuts. I much prefer getting advice from other parents of food-allergic kids than from the Disney websites, because they’re so confusing.

    Author:
    Teresa
    Written:


    This is so helpful and reassuring! We will be traveling from Alaska next March 2015 – my 15 yo daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk and soy and my 10 yo son is allergie to all nuts. They are SO excited knowing that we don’t have to stress about what they’ll eat. It’s really worth getting up at 3 am to make our dinner reservations just knowing that they will be well cared for.

    We are especially looking forward to having the kids try BabyCakes NYC products thought I hear they closed their store (but still serve their products throughout DW). Does anyone have recent experience with obtainining their baked goods at DW? I plan to take pictures of my daughter eating her first-ever donut and I already have tears in my eyes just thinking about :)

    Thanks for all the helfpul hints – I’ll check back often.

    Author:
    Sherry lifewithallergies.net
    Written:


    This is a great story and reassuring for those who worry about going on a holiday. It is quite difficult especially when you wanted to book for a holiday to have some leisure time hoping that it would not turn out a disaster. Thank you for sharing this to us.

    Author:
    Sharron
    Written:


    As an adult with a treenut allergy Disney is my favorite vacation in the world. I will be traveling to Europe this summer and scared to death. I hope DisneyParis is equal to the USA.

    I have shared my experience with others who have children with allergies and will continue to do so.

    Thanks for sharing.

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