The Disney Chronicles: Dining out with 3 food-allergic children – Day 2
Successful Disney Dining on Day 1!
We made it! We survived our first full 24 hours at Disney! (Those who have 5 children understand the enthusiasm in that statement.) While the overall experience here has been slightly less than magical so far (see the addendum at the end of this entry if you’re interested in that story), at least the dining has been successful.
Today’s dining was relatively simple. We started with the breakfast of champions – Pop Tarts in the hotel room. Don’t pass judgement – I know you do it too! (Obviously no allergy problems there or we wouldn’t have brought them.)
Continuing our theme of healthy dining, we stopped at a concession stand for lunch while in the Magic Kingdom. Hot dogs for all! Woo-hoo!
As our hot dogs were being put into buns, I picked up one of the plastic bags the buns were packaged in and was beginning to look at the ingredients when one of the concession employees saw me and said “Hey, I can show you the list of what’s in everything here.” “Not necessary,” I replied, but how could I not be impressed that even at this little stand, Disney had a full list of ingredients for each food item and at least one employee who was alert enough to notice a food-allergic parent. Good job, buddy. Sorry I didn’t get your name to make you famous here.
In any case, the buns had dairy, so my middle son had bun-less hot dogs for the umpteenth time. Frankly, I think he now prefers them that way.
For dinner, we finally decided to feed the children as if we’d like to have them around for a few more years. We kept it simple and went to the Whispering Canyon Cafe in our hotel, the Wilderness Lodge. (Lissa recommended this restaurant in the comments section of yesterday’s blog entry without knowing we already had the reservation.) Well Lissa, I’m willing to give this one thumb up for food-allergic diners, but not two.
On the positive side, the hostess knew exactly what allergies we were dealing with as soon as we arrived. Excellent. When we were seated, a ticket was left on the table for the server. This ticket, like yesterday’s at the Crystal Palace, was there to notify the waitress that our table had food-allergic diners. Unlike yesterday’s, “ALLERGIES” was not prominently stamped at the top. No matter. In this case, more information was presented for the server. See for yourself:
So far, so good. And then we get the menus… and my big disappointment. The menu choices are simply too limited, particularly on the children’s menu. I kid you not when I say that the kid’s menu had 5 choices: chicken strips with pasta, another chicken dish, fish, ribs, or cheeseburger. That’s it. The adult menu was also quite limited in its offerings as well. Now, let me be clear that my disappointment is not due to the lack of dinner choices per se, but because the fewer items on the menu to begin with, the even fewer options food-allergic individuals have to choose from.
That said, the knowledge about food allergies, the willingness to accommodate, and the positive attitude that are the hallmarks of Disney were once again evident. Chef Lorene came to our table right after we were seated (I missed where she was from – sorry, Lorene) and walked us through the options for each of our food-allergic kids.
Our son with the peanut and tree nut allergies was golden. Everything on the menu was safe for him (FYI, he orders from the adult menu), though both Chef Lorene and our server did mention cross-contamination and airborne particles. Before I got too concerned, however, I realized that they were already referring to the desserts. The Whispering Canyon Cafe brings in about 1/2 of their desserts from an off-site location that also processes nuts, and the staff wanted us to have all the information we needed to make an informed decision. Well done. And again, my son was fine with everything on the main dinner menu and had a great, safe meal.
For my egg-allergic daughter, Chef Lorene simply suggested we avoid the pasta (leaving a whopping 4 choices left on the kids menu). Fortunately, she’s only 1, so we were able to feed her from our own dishes. (She refused to eat, but isn’t that par for the course at this point on a family vacation?)
Last comes my son with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and sesame. As mentioned above, nuts aren’t a problem with their main menu, and they don’t use sesame in anything. With respect to dairy, Chef Lorene began making suggestions about what he could eat. “Chicken, ribs…” Stop! My son heard ribs and made up his mind. Ribs it was. We ordered him small potatoes on the side instead of fries (see, we do care), and he had fruit and veggies too. It was a great meal for him, so kudos to Chef Lorene and the team.
Dessert was tricky. We decided to just take the easy option of Divvies cookies for both my boys – nice that they keep these on hand. Again, there are cross-contamination concerns with their regular dessert menu and peanut and tree nuts, depending on how sensitive one is to “may contain”-type statements (everyone’s different in this regard). However, my dairy-allergic son would’ve had a few other options: rice milk ice cream again (he loved yesterday’s) and raspberry sorbet. I forgot to mention yesterday my surprise that the Crystal Palace didn’t have sorbet on hand, with everything else they did have; however, the options tonight were enough.
So overall, I was once again very impressed with the incredible caring and effort Disney puts into satisfying food-allergic diners (even at the snack stands in the park!) – and that is the most important takeaway. However, I would not recommend the Whispering Canyon Cafe, purely due to their limited menu choices and the difficulties that can create.
Anyone agree? Disagree? We had FANTASTIC comments after yesterday’s blog entry. Please add more here by clicking on Reply below!
Tomorrow, my 3 oldest and I will be taking a detour to Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure (late morning to early afternoon), so don’t expect any lunch reviews more thrilling than today’s, but we will be back in Disney’s Epcot in time for dinner at “Mexico.” I hope you look forward to that review, and I hope someone will spot us sporting our snazzy AllergyEats apparel at one of the parks.
Now please take a moment to rate any restaurants you’ve recently dined at on our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com). Pass word along to others you know who are dealing with food allergies so they can join us in building this fast-growing database into an even more valuable tool for dining out with food allergies and intolerances. (You can also click the “Refer a Friend” box on the AllergyEats home page.
OK, so our first 24 hours at Disney have been anything but magical. May I vent? I don’t know how helpful this information will be for you, but it will be extremely helpful for me.
After a long flight and long car rides (they all feel even longer with 5 kids, including one baby), we arrived at the Wilderness Lodge. We can’t wait to just drop our bags in our room and chill for a short while before we have to leave for a very early 4:50PM dinner (making dining reservations “only” 2 months in advance was clearly last minute). Uh-oh. Problem. The 2br suite we are supposed to stay in has had a flood! For 45 very long minutes, we wait in that lobby for the front desk to solve this problem. I’ve got kids running all around the lobby (thank goodness for the older ones watching them), who eventually start to cry, growing louder and louder and louder still, before finally starting the full melt down, literally, on the floor behind us. I’m just about at my own breaking point when the situation is finally “resolved.” We will have two rooms that night – a 1br and a studio – on the same floor but far apart. Certainly not ideal, but not the end of the world.
But wait, we now realize that it’s almost time for our dinner reservation and we’re still in the lobby. The desk calls Crystal Palace only to receive… well, no answer… and they leave a message. Fortunately, after we reach one of our rooms, the front desk calls and says the Crystal Palace will accommodate us 40 minutes later than our original reservation. Perfect. Uh-oh. Not perfect. We have groceries that were scheduled to be delivered at a time that made sense when we thought we’d be dining earlier. Who’s going to accept these and put them away? Even the front desk doesn’t have an answer! Luck then strikes when the groceries, almost by magic, arrive much earlier than expected, just before we left for dinner. So we can now let that aggravation go away.
However, we now have two sets of room keys, yet no cards with charge privileges. Further, though we are assured that we will have a new 2br room tomorrow, we need to keep one of the original rooms for a while in case we have to bring the baby back early from the Magic Kingdom (likely). Unfortunately, the hotel needs one of the rooms, so before we leave at 8AM, we’ll have to move bags from the studio to the 1br, before eventually moving them to the 2br later. Got it?
Now the fun part. The baby holds off on melting down (though our 3-year-old eventually joins her for a beautiful duo) until we’re ready to leave the park anyway. We get back to the hotel and – boom – the manager who we’ve dealt with on all this has stepped away and everyone else is confused about what’s supposed to happen… so nothing does. Remember that 2 children are absolutely losing their minds! It gets so bad that, 15 minutes later when we’re going to our former room to get everything for our new room, the baby throws up in the hall from screaming so much. Nice. Then the blueberry box breaks open when we’re moving things and… Calgon, take me away!
So here I am typing all this to you from our comfy new 2br and I didn’t even mention that my wife, my father, and 3 of my kids got stuck halfway up the ascent on Splash Mountain. Yes, the ride broke down with them on the incline. An hour later, they were finally off and we were able to get our 2 other screaming kids home. But hey, at least they each got a free fast pass coupon for their troubles on the ride, so that was worth it, wasn’t it?
Day 3 has GOT to be better!
(OK, here’s where I feel obliged to say that the day wasn’t really that terrible – but it’s more fun to embellish. Despite all of the above troubles, we managed to have an excellent time together in the Magic Kingdom for about 4 hours before the Splash Mountain episode. We then rested, ate, and went for a long swim before watching the awesome water parade. And, in fairness, I also have to say that the staff all around DisneyWorld, and particularly at the Wilderness Lodge, really did work very hard to resolve the issues we were facing as easily and comfortably as possible. While it wasn’t a terribly satisfying experience, it would have been much, much worse without the tremendous efforts of the Disney employees, and I thank them for that.)