The Disney Chronicles: Dining out with 3 food-allergic children – Day 7
All good things must come to an end. For a vacation that started with some unwelcome hassles and trying inconveniences, it certainly turned out to be a great one! We ended with a very long Day 7 at the Magic Kingdom, including a late night revisit with my 3 older children – a great finish.
In addition, we made it through the whole trip food allergy-safe! On our last day, we enjoyed our first breakfast outside the room and a late dinner at the famed Chef Mickey’s.
Given a lack of early plans today, we decided to venture out of our room down to the Roaring Fork for breakfast. The Roaring Fork is a quick-serve, cafeteria-style restaurant within the Wilderness Lodge hotel. It’s not a place that visitors staying elsewhere are going to seek out, but I think our experience is worth sharing to help measure how far down the “food chain” Disney’s allergy-friendly policies reach.
And in this case, the reach was good. While the cafeteria model doesn’t seem like the optimal choice for us, the staff at the Roaring Fork demonstrated the same care and concern for food allergies as other much finer dining establishments within the Disney complex.
Upon reaching the counter to place our order, we informed the server about our food allergies. Following the Disney playbook, she immediately called over a manager. We went through our family’s allergies with him and he addressed them one by one (unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name). First, there are no nuts in the breakfast items, though that wasn’t a surprise. The real trick was taking care of our dairy and egg allergies, especially given a breakfast menu rich in those foods. Fortunately, the Roaring Fork keeps Vans waffles on hand for just such an occasion. Okay, store-brand waffles aren’t exactly a gourmet entree, but it enabled all of us to have breakfast outside our room, and that’s much more important to my younger kids. They don’t know, or care, that the waffles weren’t a “special Disney preparation.”
I was still worried about cross-contamination with all the eggs and dairy flying around the kitchen, but there too the Roaring Fork was ready. The waffles were prepared separately and covered immediately with a clamshell top, so no one else’s meal would contaminate these.
Again, the Roaring Fork is not designed to be the measure of a gourmet restaurant, but we were very satisfied with how they handled our food allergies, allowing us to have a safe and relatively easy meal outside the room.
For dinner, it was finally time for us to visit the famous Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort. This is a buffet-style, “character” restaurant that is extremely popular (causing us to have to settle for an 8:20PM reservation). This is also the one restaurant I remember very well from our last Disney visit, five years ago, due to their amazing allergy-friendliness. What stuck out then, more than anything else, was a chef who basically said to us “What would your son like to eat?” rather than just showing us what was safe for him and what wasn’t. I couldn’t wait to have this same experience again and see what our chef would whip up for my kids this time!
Unfortunately, it is with great sadness that I have to admit that we came away disappointed. Whether it was the comparison to our prior great experience, the lack of safe options for my middle son, or something else, I’m not sure. However, this was certainly not the magical experience it was last time.
On the positive side, the experience started out like just about all of our pre-reserved Disney meals. We show up, our allergies are recognized by the hosts, we’re seated, and a manager or chef comes to talk to us about our allergies. In this case, we were visited by Chef Rob from Vero Beach. After assuring us that nuts were only used in the carrot cake dessert and peanuts only in the Reese’s Pieces that are on the ice cream bar (watch out for that), we move onto our egg-allergic daughter and our son with peanut, tree nut, dairy, non-baked egg, and sesame allergies.
Here, Chef Rob did what they always do for food-allergic parties at Chef Mickey’s – he walked us through the buffet line. Yet this is where the disappointment started.
As we walked, we heard a lot of “can’t have this, can’t have that” or “not safe for him/her.” That wiped out virtually all the “kid-friendly” items! Further, we really weren’t proactively offered any options that weren’t in front of us (except that the pasta could be set aside before cheese was put on it). In any other buffet restaurant, I wouldn’t have an expectation of individualized attention… but this is Disney… and this is Chef Mickey’s… this is what they do!… usually.
So while my middle son had plenty of options – salad, chicken breast, carved turkey or beef, salmon, ribs, veggies, rice, beans – he didn’t have any of the “fun” options my other kids had. Fortunately, he likes ribs. We were able to add some rice to that and call it a decent dinner.
On the positive side, they did have “special” desserts for my food-allergic children. Chef Rob brought out delicious dairy-/egg-/gluten-free cupcakes (and rice-milk ice cream was also offered), which my son and daughted wolfed down very happily.
On the negative side, and in this case I mean really negative, not just “below expectations,” I was shocked at the beginning of our “buffet tour” (in the salad area) when we were told that the Italian dressing was safe. Why? See the following picture.
Now, does this look safe? Does it matter what ingredients are in the Italian dressing? No. There is an incredibly high cross-contamination risk here – that much is obvious. And this is why buffets are so difficult for food-allergic individuals. But this is Disney’s Chef Mickey’s! They take care of everything here, don’t they? Suffice it to say that I was really surprised when we were casually told the Italian dressing was safe.
In the end, there were plenty of food options for everyone, we all had safe meals, and we each enjoyed a satisfying dessert. (So let me be sure to emphasize that Chef Mickey’s was certainly able to accommodate our 3 food-allergic children.) However, the experience did not live up to our expectations. Sure, the comparisons to our prior experience and others’ stories set the bar high, but even so I had expected something closer to the usual incredibly impressive Disney level of service. Maybe this sounds like I believe we are “entitled” in some way. I don’t. I am simply disappointed, given their reputation, that we didn’t “feel the love” a little more.
So did I expect too much? Am I sounding entitled? How have your experiences been at Chef Mickey’s? If you’ve been there, would you go back? Given the popularity of this restaurant, I really hope your will share your thoughts and comments with the rest of our readers by clicking on Reply below.
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