Eating at Walt Disney World With Multiple Food Allergies
Part 1: Introduction-
Disney and the nuts and bolts of eating with multiple allergies
In this multi-part blog I will show you the broad picture of how Walt Disney World catered to our food allergy needs. In part two of this “series” I will talk about quick service dining at the resort and parks. In part 3 I will talk about table-service dining. Finally, in part 4, I will share on how to select a grocery delivery company to suit your party’s needs.
In mid-December my in laws took our family to Walt Disney World. It was their treat, and boy, was it a treat! Believe it or not, before this, I had NEVER been to Disney world. What? There ARE people out there that make it to adulthood without going—so sad, but I was one of the few. When I was ten my family went to Disneyland on our way back to SE Asia (where I grew up). So here I was 20 + years later about to experience the magic in what I imagined, “Costco” size. When we made the reservations in the spring of 2011 for our accommodations it was decided that we would get the dining plan. The dining plan is offered if you stay on Disney property and purchase a magic your way package. There are different options you can choose from.
At the original point in our planning we only had minor food restrictions in our party such as vegetarian diets and a peanut allergy. That didn’t seem too hard to navigate. After some discussion we decided on the Disney Dining Plan. This gave us one quick service (walk up dining) meal, one table service meal, and one small snack (water, popcorn, ice cream bar, drink etc.) a day.
Whew, we thought. The hard part of planning was over. Now we just had to think about packing, strollers, etc. Not so fast. Little did we know that our diets would be much more restricted by December—as a matter of fact completely altered. As some of you already know, this summer we discovered our son has multiple (as in 28 to be specific!) food allergies. We had him on a strict rotation diet for awhile and then continued him on a diet of the non-allergen foods. Then to make it even more complicated, in October I went to the doctor due to various symptoms and was told that I need to be on a gluten-free diet for at least 3 months. Just in time for Thanksgiving, Disney World, Christmas, and New Year’s!! No peanut blossoms, stuffing, pumpkin pie, rolls, etc.
Then it dawned on us, how are we going to eat at Disney World? Our dining reservations at every table-serivce restaurant were already figured out and reserved. To make matters even more complicated, reservations are typically done six months in advance because of the volume of people making reservations. How in the world could we make these changes just a few weeks before the trip? “Is this even possible?” we thought to ourselves. We thought for sure the dining plan would be out of the question. But then, what is a vacation if you are worrying about what you can eat the whole time?
Could we still eat on the dining plan with these dietary limits? Here was what we had to work with:
- Adult with gluten allergy
- Child with multiple allergies including soy, dairy, and gluten (and many others)
- Adult “carnivore” that does not like vegetables
- Two Adult vegetarians
- One baby starting to eat table foods
If I was our waiter I would run for the hills!
Since we were flying we didn’t have the option of bringing a cooler full of food. We weren’t renting a car because the magical express shuttle would be taking us to the property. So, I did some research on grocery delivery companies and eating on the dining plan with allergies. Slowly I became encouraged to reach out to Disney and see what they could do for us. I informed the rest of the family that I thought it would be possible eat at walt disney world with this combination:
- Ordering certain groceries from a grocery delivery company– These groceries included mainly fresh organic fruit, breakfast items like eggs, cereal, bread, almond milk, bologna for the carnivore, and popcorn. More on how to select a grocery delivery company in another blog post.
- Packing a separate bag to check on the airplane full of gluten free, allergy free snack bars, trail mix, cereal,
- Dining plan for two meals a day and snack
I corresponded via email and phone with WDW about our allergies. Within a day or two they responded with a PDF questionnaire and had me fill out a form for the table-service restaurants which we had reservations to.
Tip: Our reaction upon learning we had multiple food allergy restrictions was that we would not be able to eat at Disney. We considered dropping the meal plan and taking a different route. Don’t make the same assumption. Even though it is not readily visible on the WDW website restaurant menus, there are so many things that can be done. This is made possible in that each restaurant has the chef come out and personally assess your situation and helps customize solutions for you. I will be talking about this in parts two and three. In short, make reservations to any table-service (sit down) restaurants you would like to eat at. You can make these up to six months in advance. They fill up quickly. This is hard to do so far in advance but if your kiddos want to meet characters at a certain restaurant you will be happy you did this in advance. At least make a few reservations to the restaurants you really want to go to. We were able change some the week of but this may not be possible during a busier season. If you are a planner, this will help you plan your itinerary.
The next few blog posts will explain how to navigate eating at quick service and table-service restaurants around the resort and how to select a grocery delivery service. Having this knowledge will help make your trip to Walt Disney World and meals truly magical 🙂 .