For travelers with food allergies, Disney World really is the most magical place on earth. Where else can a child with multiple allergies walk up to a counter and order chicken nuggets – and know they will be safe to eat? Or lick the frosting off a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free cupcake?
My family and I traveled to Orlando last winter, bringing along allergies to soy, palm oil, nuts, peanuts, barley and most fruits. We had a wonderful time, and my daughter was thrilled to be able to eat in a restaurant.
Any Disney World trip requires some advance planning. Food allergies require just a little bit more.
1. Rent a Suite or Villa with a Kitchen.
Both Disney properties and nearby vacation resorts offer mini-apartments with kitchens. While there are many allergy-friendly food options in the parks, it is nice to be able to get up and eat breakfast at “home,” and save money on some meals by eating in. Having a kitchen also gives you the flexibility to hang around the hotel and swim in the pool when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the parks.
2. Make Dining Reservations Well in Advance.
Disney World is a popular place, and restaurants can be booked months in advance. To make sure you get your top choices, make dining reservations as soon as you plan your trip. Menus are available online. When making dining reservations online, check the box next to “I have special requests or a food allergy.” A window will open that will allow you to check one or more of the big eight allergens, or choose “other.”
3. Make Special Dietary Requests at Least 2 weeks Before Your Trip.
My experience with Special Dietary Requests was very positive. They were friendly and knowledgeable about food allergies. They will send you a form to fill out after you make your meal reservations that they will then send to the chef at each restaurant alerting them of your allergies. They will also send you a list of allergy-friendly foods available at each counter service restaurant in each park. The options change over time, so it is best to request this list before you go. Contact the Special Dietary Requests staff at: SpecialDiets@DisneyWorld.com or by telephone at 407-824-5967.
4. Tell Your Server About Your Allergies When You Arrive at the Restaurant.
In most table service restaurants, the chef will come out to speak to your personally about your allergies and let you know which menu items will be suitable for your diet.
5. Research Counter Service Options.
Many (but not all) counter service restaurants have allergy-friendly options available. These may not be on the menu. For example, the Columbia Harbor House in the Magic Kingdom has off-menu gluten-free, allergy-friendly chicken strips. Contact Special Dietary Requests (SpecialDiets@DisneyWorld.com) for a list of allergy-friendly options at counter service restaurants and food stands. To assure that your food requests can be met, include the counter service restaurants you plan to visit in your communication with Special Dietary Requests.
6. Bring Your Own Snacks Into the Park.
It is fine to bring a backpack with food into the parks. Many people do so to save money on snacks (which can add up) or to make sure their kids are getting something healthy to eat along with the Micky Mouse popsicles they are sure to see – and demand.