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I used to think that finding a great meal at a theme park was as easy. That was before my beautiful daughter’s life-threatening food allergies. Now, planning what to eat out can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. Not at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Food allergies are easy to manage because Disney takes the needs of the ever-growing food allergy community very seriously.
As an eight-year-pro at reading food labels, understanding cross-contamination, and carrying around life-saving medications and injectors, I know the frustration and fear of going someplace with no access to safe, kid-friendly food. Disney is actually one of the best places to be, no matter your child’s allergy, intolerance, or dietary restrictions. Whether you are nut free, dairy free, or gluten-free, Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise line can help you enjoy a magical and safe vacation, including some very yummy meals.
Important Note: Although Disney pays close attention to sourcing, preparation, and handling of its food, and is truly leading the industry in its response and handling of food allergies and dietary restrictions, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep your child safe. Although extreme caution will be used in preparing meals for your child, there is no guarantee for completely allergy-free food. Disney does not have separate allergy-friendly kitchens and is unable to guarantee that a menu item is completely free of allergens.
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Disneyland & Walt Disney World Food Allergies- Before You Go
Disney helps take a bit of the guesswork out of planning a theme park, cruise, or resort vacation before you even arrive. For guests with single allergies to common ingredients such as lactose or dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, fish, eggs, corn, or gluten, Disney managers and chefs will work with your group to accommodate meals for you at most of the quick service and table service restaurants.
If you are reserving a meal online, be sure to mention your allergies when making your reservation and they will alert the chef in advance, saving you some stress and time on the day of your arrival.
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If you suffer from multiple food allergies, have an allergy to an item not listed in Disney’s common allergen list, have a metabolic disorder, Phenylketonuria, or are part of a group where more than one person suffers from food allergies, be sure to contact Disney at least 14 days in advance so they can accommodate your needs. Simply email Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com after making your dining reservations.
Note: Kosher and Halal meals are available at many restaurants, and you can request these meals in advance.
Food Allergies at Disney – What to Pack
Heading out for a day at Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort with food allergies doesn’t have to be overly complicated. We always pack some favorite allergy-free snacks just in case we can’t find or aren’t near a safe food service option when hunger pains strike. Families with dietary restrictions can bring food into the park with ease – all park guests are allowed to bring any outside food into the park.
All necessary medications are also allowed through security, including EpiPens. Although emergency first aid stations can connect you with life-saving medications and hospitals, be sure to pack all possible medications including antihistamines, epinephrine, inhalers, and more. Pack EpiPens in insulated bags to keep them from getting too hot in the summer months.
Note: Cast members cannot store, refrigerate, heat up, or prepare any outside food. Consider booking an on-site hotel room with a mini fridge (or suite with kitchen or kitchenette!) to store your necessary food items.
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Food Allergies at Disney Parks- What To Do When You Arrive
Depending on the type of food you are looking for, here are some tips for dining at Disney Parks:
Quick Service Food Carts
Every item sold at quick service carts throughout Disney parks has an ingredient list either printed on the package or in a booklet. Most of the time, cast members are aware of it and can find it quickly, and often times it is even posted somewhere for reference. Rarely, a cast member is not sure where to find the ingredients, and we have to move on without a purchase. This is where the packed snacks come in handy.
Quick Service Restaurants
Ask Disney restaurants if they offer allergy-friendly menus. Many do. These options include everything from a gluten-free meal to vegetarian and vegan options. Disney recognizes that many people are on special diets these days and is rapidly working to address this changing food landscape. Disneyland seems to be ahead of Disney World regarding these changes, but Disney World is still doing a good job.
Head to quick service restaurants at least 30 minutes before your kids start to get hungry. Identify yourself to the host, greeter, or first person you encounter as someone with food allergies and they will alert the chef or a special diets-trained Cast Member on duty to your allergy.
This is where a bit of patience is necessary. Depending on the time of day, and how busy the restaurant might be, it could take the chef a while to return to your attention. I’ve had this happen anywhere from 1-15 minutes from my initial contact.
The chef has a binder of every ingredient in his kitchen, with all common allergens listed. The chefs also typically boast a ton of food safety knowledge and will work together to get your child a safe, kid-friendly meal, prepared in separate bowls from the rest of the prepared food (although they likely will not have a dedicated fryer).
Again, because of this special attention to detail, the food might take a bit more time to arrive in your hands. Better safe than sorry is my motto in this realm and I appreciate the care Disney cast members take to ensure my child’s safety.
Depending on your allergies, buffets can certainly provide a wide variety of options. If choosing a buffet, alert the chef to your allergy when making your reservation. The chef will walk you through the buffet and note any items that your child may or may not eat. They can likely make some modifications to a small number of food items in the back (ie. gluten free), but often they are limited to how the recipe is already prepared.
Note: Due to guest interaction at buffets, Disney can’t guarantee that food served in the buffet has not been contaminated by allergens from other dishes.
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Table Service Restaurants
If you have made an advance reservation and noted your allergy, the chef at most table service restaurants has already prepared for your arrival. Even if you haven’t, you can still enjoy a great meal nearly every table service restaurant that accommodates most allergies.
Alert the host upon your arrival and they will make sure that the chef comes to speak with you as soon as you are seated. Although they might not have a substitute for every menu item for your allergy, they actually come really close. Remember to ask for the allergy-friendly menu and ask to speak with the Chef is you are dealing with life-threatening allergies and want to make sure that those preparing your food are very clear on your restrictions. Again, keep in mind that Disney takes great care to keep people safe but they do not have separate kitchens to prepare allergy-friendly foods.
If you’re heading to Walt Disney World, you might want to check out our expert advice on the Disney Dining Plan.
Lead image by: Flickr/EMcClay