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Old 07-22-2004, 09:31 PM   #1
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Dining Safely: Food Allergies at Walt Disney World

As the parent of a child with severe food allergies, I’m always more than a little wary of eating out in public. Although I luckily don’t have to worry about airborne contaminations or exposures, my 5-year-old daughter Dana has had an anaphylactic reaction after ingesting even tiny amounts of dairy or sesame products.
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Old 07-22-2004, 09:32 PM   #2
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Re: Dining Safely: Food Allergies at Walt Disney World

When we first started planning our trip to Walt Disney World, I was very nervous about how we’d manage the “food issue.” I envisioned a not-so-mini fridge in the room, a portable cooler on our backs, and a suitcase just for safe foods. My nervousness began to evaporate, however, as I began to learn what Disney has to offer guests with food allergies. By providing a wealth of dining alternatives for those with special dietary needs, Walt Disney World can indeed provide magical vacations for all.

Based on my initial information-gathering (from friends and printed sources like PassPorter), I learned that Disney provided “some accommodations.” But as the time for making that first Priority Seating grew closer, I was still concerned about making PS's (priority seatings) in restaurants in which Dana would be able to eat. We would be staying at the All-Star Movies (ASM) resort, so I called the head chef at the ASM food court, hoping to get some guidance in determining which WDW restaurants might provide some safe choices. I was blown away by his response! Not only was he incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, he completely (well, almost completely) allayed my fears, and all without making me feel like the pain that I often seem perceived to be when dining out locally.

For starters, he assured me that at WDW, accommodating special dietary needs was routine. By asking me questions about Dana’s susceptibility to airborne exposure, specific ingredients, and requirements for food preparation, I could tell immediately that he “got it.” Dealing safely with food allergies isn’t exactly rocket science, but I’ve found that people either “get it” or they don’t; and if they don’t, I simply can’t provide enough instructions to cover any/all possible scenarios. But he clearly understood which immediately put me at ease. I quickly came to realize that we’d be able to have a “normal” vacation like other people -- that asking about allergens was no big deal, that chefs across WDW were all highly knowledgeable and willing to deal with special dietary needs, and that -- most exciting to us -- we’d be able to eat just about anywhere we wanted to go. All that we needed to do was provide “a little advance notice.”

The chef told us that Dana would even be able to have a choice of foods in the food court, though it might take a little longer to prepare them, and encouraged me to let him know if we had any questions or concerns when we were there. And, as we made each PS, the cast member noted our special dietary concerns and reminded me to contact the individual restaurants 7 days prior to that meal.

As an example of the wonderful service and understanding that we encountered, our first meal was at Chef Mickey’s, a special surprise for my Dana. When I checked in at the podium, I asked to speak to the chef as I’d been instructed to do when I dutifully called seven days in advance. After asking me specific questions about Dana’s dietary restrictions, he walked me down the buffet lines, talked about each and every dish, and told me what she could and could not eat. When we encountered foods that she couldn’t eat, he asked if that was a food she liked and, if so, suggested alternate ways that he could prepare special portions for her. Moreover, he assured me without prompting that his staff would be sure to take such precautions as cleaning the cooking surface, using separate utensils for her, etc., in order to avoid accidental contamination by allergens. He even offered soy milk and non-dairy ice creams for dessert. For the first time in her life, Dana could go into a restaurant and eat just about anything she wanted that was on the menu -- and dance with Mickey and Minnie to boot. It was truly a magical evening!

The rest of our trip was equally enjoyable. She had a delightful dairy-free breakfast with princesses and more at character dinners, soy milk and “her” ice cream upon request, and we even knew which carts and counter-service dining spots offered “safe” food for more spontaneous dining (thanks to tips from the ASM chef). We learned to ask for the head chef at each restaurant, and we tried to dine at off-peak hours so that the extra time needed to prepare her foods wouldn’t make much of a difference to us.

The only problems we encountered were at non-Disney owned restaurants, though not all. Although we’d eaten at a Rainforest Café in Connecticut with no problems, we had a poor experience at their location at the Animal Kingdom. I had trouble getting a knowledgeable person on the phone when making my 7-day advance call, and we had even more trouble finding someone at the restaurant when we were there who seemed even somewhat understanding of our needs. After waiting over an hour for our food at an off-peak time, we still weren’t entirely confident that Dana was served foods that were safe to eat (and luckily had enough snacks in our bags to give her). We also discovered that only the Disney-owned restaurants stocked non-dairy supplies like Soy Dream or Tofutti, but we were at least able to feed her safely and confidently anywhere else that we went.

I realize that there are far worse things than food allergies, but until you’ve known the gnawing anxiety of trying to feed someone with life-threatening food allergies away from home, you won’t really appreciate the extraordinary relief and pleasure we took in each Disney dining experience. And while fortunately Dana’s allergies aren’t as severe as others, I’m confident that she’d be safely fed at WDW even if airborne contamination were an issue. I’m not sure what difference it really made to call each restaurant seven days in advance, particularly since I was told that most Disney restaurants often have non-dairy beverages and desserts on hand, but I’d do it again anyway.

It was a truly amazing, magical and safe vacation. And we can’t wait to do it again!

By Dr. Marla Shapiro
Guest Columnist
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Old 07-30-2004, 06:52 PM   #3
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Re: Dining Safely: Food Allergies at Walt Disney World

Has anybody done the Ice Cream Social at Epcot with somebody who has milk allergies? My son breaks out in hives and cannot breathe if he eats any "raw" milk products, such as ice cream, milk, cream, cheese. The ice cream social sound fun, but am I being unrealistic in thinking that WDW will be able to accommodate his food allergies at an event that features ice cream?
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Old 08-01-2004, 01:56 AM   #4
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Re: Dining Safely: Food Allergies at Walt Disney World

I know what you mean. I just discovered my food allergies. If you have seating at any shows call them 72 hours in advance and they will have a menu available.

I found that most locations were able to answer any questions I had about contents. I would say always ask before you buy.
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