By The Clever Diva
Most people look forward to vacationing and travelling to new places. But, if you have food allergies, you will view travelling and vacationing differently. My husband has a severe lactose intolerance. Even a bite of food that contains a tiny amount of whey, will curtail his vacation fun for days. At home, we have a few restaurants that we “trust” to tell us what is in their food. We avoid chain restaurants because they often have little what idea of what is in the foods they serve. As the cook in our house, I make almost every meal my husband eats, from scratch. Now, imagine taking that scenario on the road.
When I first suggested that we go to Disney for 10 days, my husband was imagining living on granola bars for 10 days. And he wasn’t terribly excited. And then I opened his eyes to the Disney’s progressive attitude about food allergies/intolerances. Now he looks forward to enjoying so many wonderful meals on our trips.
There are 3 levels of food service at Disney, and they all approach the food allergy issue in different ways.
First, at a table service restaurant, the host will usually see the note about the food allergy on the reservation. That information is conveyed to the food server, and the chef will usually appear at your table to discuss the meal. There is more to follow later in this article.
Second, at a quick service dining location, the manager will usually be summoned. The manager will have a book listing of all the ingredients for all the items on the menu, and will usually allow you to look at the book. The manager will discuss the options – like leaving off a sauce, change out the bread for a gluten-free product, etc, and often oversee the preparation and delivery of your meal. During Food and Wine, the temporary kiosks generally operate along these lines, and we have been pleased with our experiences.
Third – food carts and small snack locations are a little more inconsistent. In theory, there should be a book of ingredients, for all the items sold at the location. There usually is, but sometimes the book can’t be found. Sometimes you can review the book yourself, although other locations want the manager to be involved. But, most carts and small locations don’t have a manger onsite. Instead, the manager circles between several locations, and might not be available in the 3 minutes you have available. That can be frustrating. There are a few “allergy” kiosks that stock lots of clearly labeled snacks for all sorts of allergy issues, and we visited the one at Animal Kingdom, and found quite a variety of snack items.
Although my husband manages pretty well at quick-service locations and food carts, he really feels supported at table service restaurants. We love meeting the chefs at the restaurants! And the chefs at the Signature restaurants go out of their way to make my husband feel special. Sometimes the encounter is fairly simple and straightforward, but we have had some memorable moments.
At Cinderella’s Royal Table, in the Castle, the chef spoke in Old English, and never broke character, even when discussing soy products. We all had a good laugh! And he made my husband a most amazing dessert from milk-free ingredients.
We told the story to the chef at 1900 Park Fare, and he was determined to outdo the Cinderella chef, and brought my husband an amazing towering treat that included gummy worms.
At The Wave, the chef gave us his card, and told us to give him some advance notice next time, and he’d come up with something really special. My husband thought the meal he was served, was already pretty special. And we have always been charged prices that are similar to items already on the menu, so don’t feel like this extra service will cost you extra.
At a buffet meal, the chef will usually take the person with the allergy, through the complete buffet, pointing out what is “safe” and what should be avoided. If a “safe” food area looks messy, or you are just plain concerned about cross-contamination, and you really would like to have that item, the chef will offer to prepare a plate of the item back in the kitchen to be sure it will be satisfactory. Often, the chef may offer to prepare a dish that isn’t on the buffet, in addition to bringing out special breads, butter-like spreads, etc. In our experience, the special dishes came out of the kitchen very quickly. And if you want more, just ask.
How do you get this special allergy service? If you have a “typical” allergy, you can check off a block when making your Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) online, or tell the Cast Member making your reservation on the phone. Online, it’s as simple as checking the “Add” button next to “Add a Special Request”. On the next screen, you can choose from fairly common allergies or food sensitivity – milk, corn, peanuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, wheat (gluten), soy, or tree nuts. If you forget, and arrive at the restaurant, tell the desk as soon as you arrive. If you REALLY forget, and we have, tell your food server to summon the chef, but you’ll wait a little longer.
If your situation is a little more unusual, you can contact SpecialDiets@DisneyWorld.com online or by phone at (407) 824-5967, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. We haven’t found the need to do this, but I’ve heard that they are very responsive.
There are some downsides to having an allergy at your dining table. No food can come to your table until the chef arrives to speak to person who has the allergy. Not even a basket of bread. Usually, it’s not a long wait, but it can be 10 minutes, and for hungry children, that can be an eternity.
At a place like the Lilo and Stitch character breakfast, I’ve watched those plates of fruit on every table, and wish we had ours. At buffet meals, we have abandoned my husband, while he sat, dutifully waiting for the chef to arrive. At counter service restaurants, the allergy food will take longer than the other food to come out from the kitchen. You are often told to stand to the side, and wait, while the rest of your food is handed to you first. And that’s after you’ve waited for the manager to come to talk to you. Even if the ingredient book is available, only the manager can show it to you. At food stands and kiosks…well, that’s why we often carry our own snacks.
Overall, we are thrilled with Walt Disney World’s approach to food allergy/sensitivity situations. We really wish that more restaurants would take take food allergies and sensitivities more seriously. But, maybe it wouldn’t make WDW fell so special. And then I’d have a harder time convincing my husband that we need to go so often…