I recently got involved with a discussion about food allergies and other dietary issues when traveling to Disney World. Essentially, this person had a child who was autistic, and, as a result, the child would only eat three different things. The problem was that the parents booked reservations all over the park without looking at any menus, and then were livid when the Disney employees didn’t provide the two items her child would eat. Before I get too deep into this topic, let me say that I believe this is a real issue and that all dietary needs deserve to be met. My daughter has a number of allergies herself, so I know it can be a challenge.
However, in my opinion, this issue was all the parents’ fault. 100% of this problem could have been avoided if the parents had put in the proper amount of research beforehand. After all, they weren’t saying “my child is allergic to tomatoes, so please substitute his tomatoes for something else,” she wanted the restaurants to snap their fingers and make mac and cheese appear out of thin air.
First of all, even if the place next door sells bowls of mac, the servers can’t just run over there and get it – this would be a plethora of food safety violations, I guarantee it. If you get sick on the food, Disney is responsible, so they take food preparation and handling very seriously. Second of all, if the restaurant could get food from another venue, they would have to lose an employee to go fetch the item. It takes a long time to get anywhere is Disney World, let alone to get ahold of another manager and explain your situation, THEN get the items you would need. While this happens it might mean that food is not be getting cooked, orders might not be getting taken or brought to tables, or dirty tables might pile up without someone to bus them. Third, you can’t just get mac and cheese and make it in a kitchen that doesn’t prepare it normally. And you can’t cook it at restaurant A and have a server run over and rush it to Restaurant B, because it would get cold and be subjected to tons of unknown contaminants on the way. Disney World isn’t designed to move food around like that. So, the restaurant you are eating at would have to clean out a station before and after making the mac and cheese IF they even had the proper equipment and trained cooks to make it (remember a lot of the cooks are hourly employees, not highly rated chefs). It’s a completely impractical demand to make. For me, if my child would only eat Mexican food, I wouldn’t make reservations at the Nine Dragons in EPCOT’s China and tell the waitress to make us a burrito. I would go to the Mexican restaurants to begin with and avoid all the insanity I would otherwise be causing.
Here are some of my tips for traveling to Disney with any kind of special dietary need or allergy:
1) Read up! Menu’s are no secret and MyDisneyExperience.com lets you see almost every item that every restaurant sells. There’s no excuse to not be aware of which places sell turkey legs and which do not (as an example, lol).
2) Call in! If you are very worried about a menu item or have a severe allergy, call the restaurant and talk to the staff in advance. Things like nut allergies that do not allow you to eat food that is even prepared around nuts can be very difficult to work around, so it’s important to know ahead of time. Also, other allergies or dietary concerns can be better prepared for if you call in advance. For example, if your children are allergic to dairy and they will want ice cream, you can find out what soy alternatives are available in the restaurants. Sometimes, with advanced notice and a reservation, they can get items like soy milk/ice cream in stock just for your visit, since it doesn’t take a lot to work around this kind of dietary issue.
3) Make smart reservations! It doesn’t matter if you get a reservation to Be Our Guest or T-Rex if there is nothing in there that you or your child can eat. Be practical, and avoid places that could be major problems for you or your child – like taking a child with dairy allergies to an ice cream parlor that doesn’t serve non-dairy alternatives.
4) The staff are your allies, not your enemies! They want you to be happy and to leave the meal with a smile, but remember that they are human and even the powers of Disney Magic are limited. The employees can’t change certain things, they can’t break the rules they are given, and they can’t make things appear out of thin air. These restaurants are set up to have quick turn overs, they can’t stock everything in the world, and they have no control if an item on the menu runs out. Yelling at Cast Members does not change any of this. Politely ask to speak with a manager if there is a major problem with your experience instead, they are the only ones who MAY be able to resolve your issue.
5) Have back-up plans ready! Lets say you got the best reservations ever, at a place you’ve been dying to go to, but you think your child will have a dietary problem with the menu and find nothing to eat. If this happens, and you really want to keep your reservation, feed the child first! Go to a quick service restaurant and purchase something the child can eat, so that way you can still enjoy your awesome reservation and your son isn’t staring at you complaining that they’re hungry. My understanding is that as long as the party shows up for the reservation you do not get monetarily penalized if one person in your party doesn’t order (you could also order just a soft drink to be safe).
6) Pack for yourself! If you have allergies or needs severe enough, or you just want to save some money on dining, bring food with you. Most hotels have mini-fridges and/or microwaves, you can put a cooler in the trunk of your car to revisit later in the day, and you are even allowed to bring a reasonable amount of food and drink into Disney World with you. Yes, you are allowed to bring a small bag or cooler (it must be under 24″ in my understanding) with non-alcoholic drinks and/or food that does not need to be heated into the parks! https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/parks/outside-food-and-drink/ But, you may not take drinks with straws or lids into Animal Kingdom due to wildlife safety issues.
7) You may have to use the word “allergy” to get what you need. Sad, but true. I’ve heard from multiple people who are on a gluten free diet that Disney Parks would not accommodate them if it wasn’t an allergy (likely because it can be difficult to accommodate for allergies, so they do not want to open the door to cater to every dietary choice out there). Still plan and call restaurants in advance, because some venues will not be able to help you at all, whether it’s an allergy or not. For example, I’ve been told that people with nut allergies cannot go to Be Our Guest because the staff has told them that there is no way they can guarantee things are prepared in a nut free environment.
Just plan ahead, read up, call up, pack up and do everything you can for yourself to make your dining experience perfect!