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When you have a child with a food allergy, you quickly find out that things no longer are simple. Ordering pizza on Friday night or going to a buffet is out of the question. Trying to eat at a normal restaurant involves lots of online research before even walking in the door.
When we decided that we wanted to go to Disney World on a family vacation, I instantly started to get concerned about how to navigate the food situation. Navigating a place like Walt Disney World with food allergies was going to be a whole other challenge.
After a little time Googling, I quickly found that Walt Disney World has all kinds of different food options available. They seemed to be one of the most accommodating places on earth.
When we made our first attempt at finding a snack, I quickly found out that the internet may have overhyped. While there are still plenty of options for everyone, they are a little hidden.
5 Tips for Navigating Walt Disney World with Food Allergies
1) Plan ahead
This is a no brainer what traveling with a food allergy. But with Disney, it a whole other juggling act. You have rides and fast passes to manage. With cranky kids and grownups, everyone wants something different. Add in a Food Allergy and there is a whole other list of complications. Having a good plan in place is the only way you will survive.
My husband’s sole concern was planning out the rides, fast passes, and our schedule. If we didn’t stay on schedule, we wouldn’t make our FastPass times or dining reservations.
My concern was to scout out the food scene. It wasn’t long before we decided that we needed a bite to eat and we were at the wrong end of the park. I had read about a fabulous Dole Whip product that was virtually allergy free, but it was nowhere in sight. If we planned around the food more, we would have been in the optimal spot.
** The Dole Whips can be found at the Tiki Juice Bar right outside of the Tiki Room in Adventure Land.
2) Make Some Reservations
The easiest place to find Allergy Free options are in restaurants. You WILL NOT BE ABLE TO WALK INTO THE RESTAURANTS. We planned our Walt Disney World trip last minute. I wasn’t even sure we were going until 30 days before we left. With that short of notice, there were few restaurants available. If you want to get into the restaurants at a normal hour, you need to make your reservation 180 days beforehand. When making a reservation, include that you have someone with an allergy, and they will get a specialty menu.
One downside to making a reservation is that you are now locked into that dining option. There is no spontaneity. You also have to make sure to get to your reservation at that specific time.
I found out in Disney that sticking to a timeline can be challenging. Some lines look shorter than they are and getting around the park can be tricky. Whatever you do, make sure you are on the correct side of the park when the parade starts up or you will be stuck in an endless maze of barriers!
If you miss your reservation, you will be charged a cancellation fee. If you don’t think you will make it in time, give the restaurant a call. While they have policies in place to help prevent people from making reservations and skipping out, they will do their best to accommodate you. These are all things to keep in mind when making your reservation.
3) Alternative Dining Options
Since most people cannot afford to eat all their meals at a restaurant, you’ll have to find some other options in the park. This is where things get a little trickier. You’re looking for ‘Quick Service’ locations that offer Allergy Free options.
Since everyone had a different allergy and sensitivity, you must talk with the staff. They will bring up a manager and ensure that there is something you can eat.
To avoid cross-contamination, Walt Disney World serves individually wrapped veggie and fruit cups at most locations. Chances are if you have food allergies, these will become a staple of your dining options.
My daughter’s allergy is not too bad, so we were not concerned about cross-contamination too much. We ended up sticking with fried foods. A lot of other individuals on Allergyfreemouse.com have had mixed success with talking with the managers and the wait times for food. It will depend too on if it’s peak season and the time of the day. For the most part, the staff is very accommodating of allergies.
4) Bring Snacks
All of these things are great, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Depending on how busy things are, it can be hard to get quick service for your impatient family. And while they have options available at a lot of the locations, it may not be something you want.
If that is the case, I recommend bringing snacks in your backpack. Disney allows guests to bring in outside food or beverages. The only objection is to Alcohol and coolers.
Traveling with a 3 and 6-year-old, snacks are kind of a staple in our backpack. We made sure to include plenty of snacks that wouldn’t melt. That included Lara Bars, Raisins, Peanuts, Starbursts, and Gum.
If you don’t want to fly with these items, or have things like drinks that airport security may frown upon, consider shipping your items to the hotel you are staying at. Before doing so, double-check the hotel’s policies and procedures on this practice.
5) Know your products
Whenever possible, research the restaurants before visiting. Allergy Free Mouse has put together a list of the Top 8 Food Allergies. The best part about the list is that they include the major products that are listed a ‘Free’ of that allergen. Knowing what products you can eat make getting through these lines a little faster in the park and then you can get back to what you really want to do.
Wald Disney World does an amazing job of trying to accommodate everyone’s needs and make sure that all of their guests have a magical time. But you have to be prepared. Have you had any experiences with Disney World and food allergies?