Today over on MiceChat, I discussed doing Walt Disney World with food allergies after experiencing dining at Walt Disney World a few times last year with my sweet friend, Clara Bell aka CB, and her family. Now, they have a laundry list of allergies and are WDW locals, so I’d definitely put a good amount of stock into what she has to say about dining at Disney when you or someone in your party has dietary limitations. Between the two of them, CB and her daughter must avoid onions/shallots/chives, wheat/gluten, corn, soy, peanuts and tree nuts and, wait for it…chocolate. You’d be surprised to see the amount of things onions are in. That’s really what shocked me when we were chowing down at 1900 Park Fare. Luckily the chefs at Disney are great at accommodating allergies!!
Check out the article on MiceChat and the full interview right here on Magic, Memories, Mayhem!
Magic, Memories, Mayhem: How long have you been dealing with food allergies?
Clara Bell: I was diagnosed with food allergies at age 4, so all of my life. My daughter was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy at age 12 and quite a few other food allergies at age 13.
MMM: What are the biggest challenges in general?
CB: The biggest challenge for us has been finding safe foods when we eat out. We can’t control how something is prepared so there is always a risk of cross-contamination. Some restaurants are very allergy friendly and some are not.
MMM: How does Disney address food allergies?
*Disney now offers allergy menus at table service restaurants. Guests can choose to order from this menu and/or speak with the chef. Allergy menus do not cover all allergies, so I’d suggest still taking time to chat with the chef.
CB: Disney goes above and beyond to make sure that there are a variety of safe options for us to eat. When we book a dining reservation at Disney, we note on the reservation that we have food allergies (check out how to do this via My Disney Experience here). When we arrive at the restaurant, the server will make sure that the chef comes out to address our allergies directly. The chef will ask us what interests us on the menu and then will let us know if that selection is safe for us or if they can alter it in a way to make it safe. If not then they may offer alternate suggestions or even make something totally off menu.
MMM: I know you’ve mentioned that as a local, Disney is one of the easiest places to eat. Can you give us some examples of how they’ve accommodated your family?
CB: Our options [locally] for my daughter’s food allergies are pretty much limited to 3 chains – Olive Garden, Sweet Tomatoes and Chipotle. Those get old so we often venture the 15 minute trip to Disney to eat because we know that they will make sure her food is safe. At this point we know many of the chefs by name, and they go out of their way to fix us something delicious! We have the Tables in Wonderland card [available to Walt Disney World annual pass holders] which saves us 20% at most table service locations.
MMM: How about quick service (QS) locations? Are they as accommodating?
CB: Some quick service locations are as accommodating but not all. There is one quick service restaurant in each park that is designated as the central location for food allergies. In Magic Kingdom it is Cosmic Ray’s. In Hollywood Studios, it is the Backlot Express. At Animal Kingdom it is Flame Tree BBQ and at Epcot it is Sunshine Seasons. Each counter service restaurant has a book of ingredients for every item on the menu. They are very limited in any variations that they can prepare due to the limited items in each kitchen. There are some locations that simply can’t do much with my daughter’s allergies. There is not a single item that is safe for her at Pizza Planet, so we know to head to Backlot Express for a turkey sandwich on a gluten-free roll instead. Also, at the counter service restaurants, you don’t talk to a chef about your allergies, you speak with a manager. Some restaurants have a dedicated fryer for gluten allergies and some do not.
MMM: That’s interesting. I don’t think we’ve eaten QS with you guys often.
CB: We have learned where we can and can not go. At Columbia Harbor House, my daughter can have the steamed broccoli and nothing else.
MMM: Poor girl! How about resort QS locations?
CB: Resort QS locations are a little different. You will still speak to a manager but sometimes we have had the chef come out as well. Again, they are very limited in alternate ways of preparing dishes but they are usually located next to a table service (TS) restaurant and sometimes they can borrow ingredients from the other kitchen. Our favorite resort QS is Contempo Cafe. My daughter can have the salad there, but the manager has to go next door to Chef Mickey’s to get oil and vinegar dressing for her. She can also have the homemade potato chips since they are fried in a dedicated fryer.
MMM: That’s great! Have you ever had a not-so-good experience with Disney dining?
CB: Yes. Pizza Planet was less than helpful and pretty much told us “tough luck” when we couldn’t find anything for my daughter to eat there. Teppan Edo can be quite challenging, as well, and the managers do not like to change or substitute anything without making sure to charge you extra even if you are getting less food. The chefs at Teppan Edo have always been very gracious and understanding, though, so that usually smooths things over.
MMM: What about sweets? Can someone with allergies indulge at Disney?
CB: Absolutely! At every single TS restaurant we have eaten at, the chefs have made sure to have a selection available for my daughter that is safe. The chef at Cape May was frustrated with the lack of dessert options available that didn’t contain some sort of corn (cornstarch or corn syrup), so she personally sought out these amazing cinnamon sugar doughnuts specifically for her corn allergy customers. My daughter was over the moon when she found out she could have doughnuts!
MMM: That’s awesome!!
CB: She [my daughter] is begging me to order some. It would cost almost $20 for 6 doughnuts though!!!!!
CB: Yeah, no kidding. Eating gluten-free is not cheap.
MMM: QS sweets options are limited, yes?
CB: Yes QS sweets are usually not an option since they are pre-made and can’t be altered or made fresh in the kitchen. Some QS locations have gluten-free options such as cookies or brownies but for us they aren’t safe because they contain one of her other allergens such as corn, soy or nuts.
MMM: How about any of the bakeries? Main Street or World Showcase?
CB: Those are all pre-made as well and not able to be ordered to suit. Personally we avoid anywhere that we know is going to be an issue. I don’t want my child having to sit there and eat nothing while we all have a tasty snack. We try to only patronize the locations where we know she can eat something she likes.
MMM: Alright, let’s end on a high note. Top three places to eat at Disney with allergies. Go!
CB: 1900 Park Fare, Cape May Cafe’, The Plaza.
And while I was tempted to feign an onion allergy on a later trip to 1900 Park Fare, I resisted. There are guests who’ve faked allergies just to get these fun creations at table service restaurants. Yeah, some people will post anything when they have a computer to hide behind. The chefs really take time and care when looking out for guests with dietary needs, so let’s not waste their time because we want a fruity, chocolate-dripping tower of goodness, ok? Ok!! If you really want to have allergen-free treats at your table, CB has volunteered to join you for dinner. She can be there in 15 minutes. 😉
Huge thanks to CB for sharing all of this info!!