Dining at Disney with Food Allergies

Traveling with food allergies can be very scary and life threatening, especially when others don’t understand the risks associated with cross-contamination or one little ingredient sneaks into a recipe. Many associate food allergies with someone getting a rash and unless they have a family member or themselves suffer from a life threatening food allergy they just don’t see the big deal. 

Food allergies can easily put the allergy sufferer into anaphylaxis requiring IMMEDIATE medical treatment. Traveling away from home can sometimes be frustrating and limiting when it comes to eating ~ and yes, dangerous, too.

Dining Disney Food Allergies

What constitutes traveling with allergies? Is it a weekend trip? Is it if you travel by plane? The truth is any time you leave your house you are traveling with food allergies. Anytime you may have to eat food you didn’t make yourself or wasn’t made by a trusted family member or friend, you are traveling with allergies.

Traveling to Disney with food allergies is one of the easiest, safest and best ways to vacation for an allergy sufferer. Disney understands the importance of food allergy dining and goes out of their way to accommodate allergy sufferers ~ even with buffets (which are a cross contamination nightmare for someone with multiple food allergies).

When it comes to the food allergy community – there are families that only vacation at Disney because they trust that they (or their family member) will have a safe, enjoyable and easy environment to dine in.

Most Disney restaurants offer allergy-friendly menus that address common food allergies and intolerance. Those visiting with multiple food allergies should always have their allergy concerns listed on their dining reservation for table service restaurants.

Your server will know the allergy concerns when you arrive, but take the time to remind him/her anyway. You will have the opportunity to consult with a chef or special diets Cast Member before ordering. 

The chefs at all Disney restaurants (quick service included) will go out of their way, above and beyond, to create a meal for the allergy sufferer that is quite often much better than what everyone else at the table is eating!

Disney suggests that a visitor with 4 or more food allergies (like my daughter) contact Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com after booking dining reservations and at least 14 days prior to your vacation.

To be honest, I never contact Special Diets for my daughter who suffers from 6 different anaphylaxis food allergies. I have never felt the need since every chef or Cast Member we have dealt with in Disney restaurants has been more than capable, accommodating, understanding and outstanding.

We have been visiting since she was an infant, long before most of their allergy menus where in place, and they have always helped and accommodated her food concerns. She has her favorite Disney chefs and restaurants but because of Disney’s outstanding allergy practices, she is rarely afraid to try something new.

If it is your first visit to a Disney property and you aren’t familiar with the process, send an email. The team at Special Diets will assist you in navigating the dining process.

Gluten Free Fish and Chips from Cookes of Dublin at Disney Springs

Table-Service Locations 

All of the table-service restaurants are able to provide allergy-friendly menus and/or alternate meal options. Be sure to notate your food allergies or intolerances when making your dining reservations and again upon arrival at your dining location.

Speak to the chef after seating and before ordering. The chef will tell you what he/she will be able to prepare for you based on your particular allergy.

Quick-Service Locations

Almost every quick-service restaurant offers allergy-friendly menus and other meal options to accommodate food allergies. When you arrive at a quick service location, tell the Cast Member at the ordering station that you need to see the allergy book (a large binder kept under the order stations). This binder deals with common allergens so if you don’t fall into one of the categories listed, ask to speak to a chef from the kitchen or a Cast Member Dietary Specialist.

When your food is ready, it will be presented on a different color tray than all of the other food coming from the kitchen so that all Cast Members know it is an allergy meal. Be aware that your meal will take a bit longer than all the other meals in your party since it is being prepared separately and independently from all the other food offered in the quick service location.

When dining at quick service locations with allergies, it is not recommended that you use the advance ordering app to place your order before arrival.

Buffets 

Restaurants that offer buffet service throughout Disney property are also able to provide allergy alternate meal options. Each buffet restaurant has a common allergy guide that will outline what you can or cannot eat on the buffet based on the common allergens. 

When you arrive at the restaurant and read the allergy guide, you can also speak to a chef or special diets-trained Cast Member to discuss your food allergies.

A chef will also walk you through the buffet to explain what can be eaten based on your specific dietary requirements. If you find there is not possibility of you eating from the buffet (which has happened to my daughter) because of the possibility of cross contamination, the chef will prepare a special plate for you in the kitchen to be delivered to your table.

I have found at the Disney buffets when this has happened, my daughter has received much more food than she would have normally eaten from the buffet.

Making a Special Dietary Request

Reserving Online – When reserving a table online, be sure to indicate all food allergies and intolerances at the time of booking.

Reserving by Phone – Please inform a Cast Member of your dietary requirements when making a dining reservation over the phone. 

At the Restaurant – Inform your server of any restrictions upon your arrival. You have the opportunity to consult with a chef or special diets-trained Cast Member if desired.

After receiving your dietary request, Disney will use all reasonable efforts to prevent the introduction of your allergen of concern into your food through close attention to sourcing, preparation and the handling processes. However, Walt Disney World Resort cannot guarantee that a menu item is completely free of any allergen. It is ultimately up to your individual discretion to make an informed choice regarding whether to order any particular item.

Always inform the server of any restrictions upon arrival – even if you have noted your restriction on your dining reservation.

Personal Food Items

Any guest with food allergies is allowed to bring food into Walt Disney World theme parks and dining locations. When entering a park, simply inform the Security Cast Member at bag check that someone in the party has a food allergy and you are entering with your own food for that purpose. Cast Members are prohibited from storing, preparing, cooking or reheating any food brought by Guests into the hotels or theme parks so be sure what you bring with you is “ready to eat.”

Refrigerating and Heating Personal Food Items

Guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel who have items that need to be refrigerated may use the small refrigerator in their room or call Housekeeping to request an additional small refrigerator (subject to availability). Microwaves are available in most food court locations throughout the resorts.

Although Disney does not guarantee they will always be able to meet a dietary request, my daughter has never had a problem with being taken care of.
 
Of course, it is ultimately up to you and your own discretion to make an informed choice for yourself or your child, based upon your individual dietary needs.
 
Tip: Don’t miss Erin McKenna’s NYC Bakery at Disney Springs for allergy friendly desserts! Erin McKenna’s is an entire bakery full of tasty sweets made especially for allergy sufferers and is a must stop for my family on every trip!
 
If you follow a Gluten Free diet, but don’t have other allergies, here are my recommendations for the Best Gluten Free Eats at Walt Disney World.
 
 



The Ups and Downs of a Visit to SeaWorld Orlando

I was provided with free admission to SeaWorld Orlando for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

seaworld orlando pros cons

I recently visited SeaWorld Orlando for a day. This is the first time I have visited in about 25 years so I knew the park would be totally different from what I remember. I was looking forward to seeing all that SeaWorld offers.

Here is some advice for enjoying your day at SeaWorld!

Arrive early. If you want to have the opportunity to see all of the shows during the day, it is best to arrive at opening. You won’t want to miss any of the shows and you’ll want to space them out throughout your day. Each show runs several times throughout the day and you will want to space them out so that you can enjoy other attractions. 

Purchase a refillable sports bottle or cup as soon as you arrive in the park. Well worth the cost especially in the heat. When you purchase the refillable sports bottle or cup you are allowed refills throughout the park all season for .99.  They range in price from $7.99 (for a basic cup) to $16.95.

Eating at SeaWorld

Be prepared if anyone in your family has food allergies. Since we visit WDW often and my daughter is able to eat very easily throughout WDW property, I never considered her food allergies when we set out for SeaWorld. Now that she is an adult and I don’t have to monitor her food I sometimes am more lax than I should be. If someone in your family suffers from food allergies visit guest services right inside the main entrance as soon as you arrive to get an Allergen Information Card. This card contains information on where you can eat based on your dietary needs, as well as a chef card for you to fill out. 

To be honest, I was very disappointed in the allergy food meal process here. After obtaining the information at guest services and speaking to the employees, my daughter wasn’t comfortable eating at any of their dining spots. According to the card we received she could have only eaten at one restaurant in the park, which recommended reservations (that we couldn’t get). They have no separate facilities or practices to avoid cross contamination. Since her allergies are life threatening, she decided not to eat at any of their facilities all day instead snacking on pre-packaged chips. I was also disappointed in the cost of these snacks – a 1.5 ounce bag of Lay’s Chips – the size you would put in the kid’s lunch box – just under $3. (I found the cost of all food at the park extremely high).

Directly from the SeaWorld site:

SeaWorld Orlando’s Designated Allergen Friendly Location is Sharks Underwater Grill®. Although all of our meal facilities are prepared to assist you with your allergen needs, Sharks Underwater Grill has been designated as the most fit restaurant to serve your special meal. With trained chefs and full service dining, Sharks can offer you a variety of safe options for your dietary needs!

Note: This is a full meal, table service restaurant which was just not what we wanted mid-day for lunch. We would have eaten there if we knew in advance that we needed a reservation so that my daughter could have eaten. It was poor planning on my part that I assume was because of being used to WDW food allergy practices which make it easy for my daughter to eat.

SeaWorld does allow you to bring in special dietary foods if necessary. Again, poor planning on my part. I should have brought food for her to enjoy her day.

Another disappointment when it came to food – my granddaughter wanted a hot dog. Off we went to Captain Pete’s Island Hot Dogs. Well, the hot dog was delicious, however, on the children’s menu there is no hot dog. The only hot dog they offer is a HUGE, foot long, really fat, hot dog that my granddaughter, grandson and I shared. The food was delicious and fresh but not at all kid friendly.

If you plan to spend the day at SeaWorld where you will be having several meals, I would highly recommend the All Day Dining Deal. It is well worth the cost and you will definitely get more than your money’s worth. The cost per adult when purchased in advance online is $35 (plus tax) per adult and $20 (plus tax) per child (higher if purchased in park). The All Day Dining Deal allows you unlimited visits to each participating restaurant once per hour. You are given a wristband which is valid for 1 entrée platter, 1 additional side item and 1 soft beverage or iced tea. Wristbands MUST be worn at all times and shown at each restaurant or food kiosk. Considering what I paid for lunch alone, this deal is outstanding! My lunch purchase was only for one adult and two children (10 yr. old and 1.5 year old) since my daughter couldn’t eat. The cost was close to $30 for one hot dog platter, one PB&J Crustable and drinks.

The Shows

For me, it was all about the shows. Not only are they entertaining and amazing, they are also educational. If you will be spending a day at SeaWorld – DO NOT MISS any of the shows!

Dolphin Arena

Watching each one I had several thoughts about the bad press that is sometimes associated with the creatures at SeaWorld. What I saw at each show (and attraction) was trainers with a true love, understanding and respect for each of the animals. Animals with a true love for the trainers. A mutual respect between trainers and creature.

Everyone should know that SeaWorld is the largest system of rescue and release for marine life in the country. They do it voluntarily. They do it at their own cost. Rescuing one sea turtle can cost thousands of dollars. SeaWorld has the largest and most technologically advanced system for marine life rescue.

Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion Show

The government controls rescues and releases because the animals that SeaWorld rescues all fall under federal jurisdiction. All marine mammals are covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and some, as well as sea turtles and some birds, are covered by the Endangered Species Act. The procedure for rescuing an animal goes something like this:

  1. Someone calls in a sick or injured animal to the National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA
  2. NOAA examines their volunteer network in the area, and asks a facility to assist in the rescue (facilities CANNOT intervene without government approval.)
  3. After either rescuing the animal, NOAA will either request immediate relocation/release or order it sent to a particular facility
  4. Once the animal has been properly rehabilitated, NOAA will inspect and determine if said animal meets the protocol for release.
  5. If the animal is not suitable for release, NOAA will determine the permanent living situation for that animal

I know it’s the marine life at the parks that everyone associates negativity with. I saw nothing but kindness towards each and every animal. Should they live in tanks? Well, that’s a debate for a different day. However, most of these animals know nothing else and there is a good possibility they wouldn’t know how to take care of themselves. They are all treated very well with kindness and love.

Show Tips: Arrive early to get a good seat.  Decide whether or not you want to get wait. If you don’t want to be sure to bypass the “splash zones.” I highly recommend carrying a beach towel all day. The seats in all of the arenas are metal and get really hot in the Florida sun. You can spread a beach towel across your area for your family to sit on. Be prepared for the heat in the show arenas. There is plenty of seating in the shade up higher in the stands.

Rides and Attractions

If there are little ones in your family, you will definitely want to stop at Shamu’s Happy Harbor. All of the attractions here are for the kids, including Shamu Express, Swishie Fishies and Seven Seas Railway.

The entire family will love Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and Dolphin Nursery, and the Sky Tower which is a 400 foot tall tower that provides a gently rotating 360 degree view. For the more adventurous, don’t miss Kraken Unleashed, Mako, Journey to Atlantis and Wild Arctic.

There really is so much more but our day was full. I would say you definitely need more than one day to fully enjoy and experience all of SeaWorld Orlando.

Overall, we had an awesome day (aside from the allergy food) and we will definitely head back to SeaWorld again and will be better prepared for our next visit. The park is beautiful, the employees are outstanding and helpful and the shows are phenomenal. The marine life inter-action was a big hit with my grandchildren and the shows were fabulous.




Best Gluten Free Eats at Walt Disney World

My daughter suffers from a life-threatening wheat allergy (one of many allergies) so must be gluten free at all times. We have always found Walt Disney World to be the best place to vacation because of her food allergies. For Celiacs and others who refrain from consuming gluten there are few better vacation destinations than Walt Disney World. The Cast members are well informed and understanding. If you have a reservation at a table service restaurant, note that you have a gluten restriction on the reservation. Even if you don’t, the chef will happily address your concerns before preparing your meal. There are few substitutions that can’t be made. Many surprising dishes are made gluten free by request, including fried foods and pasta.

gluten free wdw

Within Walt Disney World there are some places that for one reason or another, you should definitely pay a visit to if you are on a gluten free diet:

Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC

This is a gluten free, vegan and kosher bakery located in Disney Springs. This is the place for gluten free/sensitive guests to get their fix of a variety of baked goods, including donuts, cupcakes, cookies and brownies. Erin McKenna’s Bakery also distributes goods to Animal Kingdom and resorts around Disney World including Beach Club, Art of Animation and Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Raglan Road and Cookes of Dublin

Also in Disney Springs is Raglan Road, an Irish pub that is very accommodating. They also have an attached quick service spot, Cookes of Dublin. Some of the best gluten free substitutions in Disney World are right here. Among them are the fish and chips and the most amazing onion rings. No trip is complete for my daughter without a trip to “Cookes!”

Gluten Free Fish and Chips at Cookes of Dublin

Gluten Free Onion Rings at Cookes of Dublin

Yak and Yeti

It’s Probably no surprise that Animal Kingdom is one of the best places to find food that is just naturally gluten free. The menu is extensive. They’ve got Salmon, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Tofu Tikka Masala, just to give an idea of range. The most popular item among the majority of guests is probably the Kobe burger. You don’t have to worry about eating a burger patty wrapped in lettuce, either. They use Udi’s buns.

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen

In-keeping with a similar cuisine type as Yak and Yeti Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen has a versatile allergy friendly menu. While most items on the menu are gluten friendly, be sure to note what allergies are listed below each menu item just to be sure. Virtually every entree is free of gluten except for the Crew Stew, but the must try is the ‘”Tastes Like Chicken” Because it Is!’  It’s breaded in a gluten free batter and fried to crispy perfection.

Gluten Free Fried Chicken at Jungle Navigation Co LTD Skipper Canteen

Nomad Lounge

Back at Animal Kingdom there is one special spot. The Nomad lounge has a very gluten friendly menu and can easily make the minor substitutions necessary in some cases. For example their cheese plate is phenomenal. There is a very small bread component that can be easily done away with. Nomad Lounge is not on this list because of it’s fantastic cheese (or the Tempting Tigris). It made the list because you can actually get Churros here. That’s right, Churros! I saved the best for last. No more salivating at every cart you pass and wishing upon a star, because the biggest staple in Disney snack history is finally available sans gluten!

Do you follow a special diet? What are your favorite “go to safe” special diet snacks at Walt Disney World? My daughter’s is the popcorn!

 

 




Advanced Ordering System at WDW Quick Service Locations

 

This week on the Disney Parks Blog hidden at the bottom of an article about the food that will be available at the new Satu’li Canteen at Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we saw a one paragraph announcement about an Advanced Ordering System that will be used through the My Disney Experience APP when this restaurant opens at the end of May. A similar system is used for both breakfast and lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

This will be a new convenient option to order and pay for meals on-the-go within the My Disney Experience app which will allow you to bypass the queue to order when they arrive at the restaurant. Using the app, you can select menu items, customize your order and pre-pay for their meal. When you arrive at the restaurant you will tap an “I’m here” button in the app, which will notify the kitchen to prepare your meal. When ready, you will receive an alert through the app to pick up your meal at a designated window.

Additional fast-casual and quick-service restaurants will begin to offer Mobile Order later this year.

I have not yet been able to find out if food allergy sufferers will have the allergy menus available when the APP expands to additional locations. My daughter has multiple food allergies and her food often takes much longer than everyone else’s to prepare at quick service locations. I often feel like we are almost finished with our meal before her meal is ready. Being able to order an allergy meal through the APP would be ideal for my family. I am waiting for a follow-up response from the Special Dietary team at Walt Disney World and will let you know the outcome. UPDATE: It is recommended by Disney that an allergy sufferer not use the APP. They feel it would be safer to speak to a chef/manager at the dining location when ordering food for dietary restricted meals.




Food Allergy Chronicles: The Cost of Allergies Part 1

Cost Allergies

Back in May I wrote about the EpiPen Problem 

The Cost of Allergies:

There are two ways to look at this question, the literal and the not literal. To look at it one way they will cost you freedom, relationships, confidence, trust, your want to socialize. All those things are fixable, you can get over them by learning to manage your allergies to the best of your ability. In the literal sense though allergies cost money. Lots and lots of money.

With the recent media outrage over Mylan and the cost of EpiPens the general public is getting a small sense of what those cost look like. I say small because it’s literally just a portion. Add to that cost doctor’s appointments, other medications, and the ever important food. And yes our food costs more . . . a lot more.

EpiPen prices are at an all time high of about $600 dollars for a 2 pack. Most families of small children need at minimum a pack at school and a home/for carry pack. As an adult I self carry everywhere so I only fill one 2 pack at a time. I would prefer to have a set for work and a set for home but it’s not a feasible option. Now assume you have a perfect year and you don’t have to use the medicine you won’t have to spend anymore money until the following year. (EpiPens have a yearly expiration date and need to be replaced accordingly). In my case I have not had a perfect year. I have had a remarkably not perfect year and I am on my third 2 pack. You can probably do the math on that.

On top of my auto-injector I carry Benadryl and 2 inhalers. These also cost money, not outrageous but an expense. Now if allergies are part of an autoimmune disease add in that cost. Perhaps a round of steroids for various issues. In order to keep those prescriptions current,  you have to go to the doctor. Is it a specialist? What’s your co-pay? Have you met your deductible?

Everyone has to eat. Everyone deserves to enjoy eating. Everyone should be allowed a variety every now and again. Allergy free food is expensive, like 2 or 3 times the price of a allergy full counterpart expensive. Usually for much less food as well. A loaf of bread is $2-$3…a loaf of gluten free bread $6-$8 and you get about 6 to 8 slices. Top 8 free cookies- $6 for 12, Chips Ahoy- $4 for 36. Now I understand that some people will say that we don’t need those things please remember neither do you or your children. Generally if people are looking to save money they buy store brand or generic. You know what’s in cheaper food….fillers. You know what’s in fillers…allergies. Cheap oatmeal has wheat. Cheap sauces and dressing have soy, and cheap anything is definitely produced in a facility that has some combination of allergies in it. Even Chick-Fil-A, who are getting ready to debut the first gluten free bun in a fast food restaurant, is going to charge an extra $1.50 for gluten free sandwiches.

This isn’t meant as a complaint in anyway but I think people need to realize it’s a lot bigger than just EpiPens. FARE had estimated some time ago that they thought the financial burden of allergies was about an extra $5,000 a year. Given the EpiPen cost alone it’s probably more likely close to double that or $10,000. The average American family makes about $50,000 a year, making the cost of allergies as much as 20% of their income.

Next week I’ll talk about some tips to save money . . . Stay tuned. Together if we make enough noise we can make the changes we need.