Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Green Loop. Today we are sharing dining tips for your Disney vacation.
I know this may come as a shock, but one of my favorite things about my Walt Disney World vacations is the food. Honestly, I look forward to eating at certain restaurants as much and more than doing the rides and shows. I’m such a food person.
However, thanks to being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, I developed some major food sensitivities/allergies. It seemed carb and gluten-heavy foods were a trigger, but more importantly, dairy suddenly became my enemy number one. In fact, I spent almost a week in the hospital last August thanks to one of my favorite local restaurants not honoring my dairy-free allergy needs. Let me tell you, that was exactly no fun.
Needless to say, the experience made me incredibly nervous to go out to eat and it also added a new wrinkle to my Disney vacations.
I’ll admit, it was depressing making my dining reservations. Would they have allergy-friendly options for me? Are those options as good as what I would have ordered before I had to give up dairy? Am I doomed to a week of salads while I enviously watch everybody else dive into the foods that were now off-limits to me? Or worse, what would happen if I was accidentally exposed? Would I now be missing my vacation because I’d ended up in the hospital?
After being nervous to the point of dreading eating during my vacation, it only took one dining experience to erase every one of my fears.
So… Where can people with special dining needs and food allergies eat at Walt Disney World?
The answer is… Anywhere! Walt Disney World is the hands-down best at making sure people with food allergies can eat safely, but still enjoy plenty of options.
If you or somebody in your dining party has an allergy, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you have the best, and safest, dining experience possible.
When making your dining reservations, flag the reservation with your allergy needs
We all know that making dining reservations before your vacation is the best way to ensure you get into your favorite restaurants. For people with allergies, it’s also a convenient way to declare your special dietary needs. Whether you make your reservations online, over the phone, or in person, make sure declare that somebody in the party has a food allergy.
Confirm with the host/hostess that the restaurant knows you have a food allergy
Telling the server to notify the kitchen that you have an allergy is a no-brainer, but informing the host/hostess just as they seat you has some nice perks too. As anybody with a dining allergy can tell you, sometimes the server runs back and forth from the kitchen from your table in an effort to find out what’s safe to eat. Too many times I’ve placed an order that both the server and I thought was safe, only to have the server come back and say it wasn’t, leaving me to scan the menu for something else while everybody else at the table has already ordered.
I found that when I notified the hostess I needed a dairy-free, gluten-free meal, the server would come already prepared with what meals I could safely eat, allowing me to discuss my needs discreetly and, more importantly, allowing me to place my order at the same time as everybody else at my table.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the chef
9 out of 10 times, when we were at a sit-down restaurant, the chef would come out to confirm my allergy needs and make suggestions on what to try, what to avoid, and what could be easily adapted to meet my needs. So don’t be afraid to ask your server to speak with the chef just to be extra sure that your food is safe. I’m not going to lie, there were several times where I was happily surprised to find out a food I thought was off-limits was actually safe (like fried chicken), but I still confirmed it with the chef because it seemed too good to be true.
Don’t assume what you see on the menu is your only option
Like any Disney-obsessed lover of food, I love looking at the menus of the places I plan on eating… Sometimes obsessively. There were plenty of places I wanted to try, but I was worried after checking the menu that they’d have nothing for me. For example, I wanted to eat at the new Art Smith restaurant… But Southern, homestyle-cooking with a dairy allergy? Talk about impossible. But after being convinced on Twitter to give it a try, I went. I’m glad I did because they had a ton of options, all delicious, hearty meals, and many of them were off-menu, and it ended up being one of my favorite meals of the vacation.
Many foods are intentionally prepared in a way to be as allergy-friendly as possible
I had the honor of doing Club Villain, the special ticketed dinner event with all my favorite Disney villains. As the table got up and headed to the buffet, I patiently waited for the chef to come out and tell me how much (or how little) I could actually eat. I was happily surprised to find that all but two foods were dairy-free and gluten-free. The chef explained that most of the restaurants develop their menus with the intention of making them as allergy-friendly as possible, either naturally or with very small changes. Spirit of Aloha was the same way… All of the dishes were dairy-free and gluten-free, save for the bread and a side (and even then, they had allergy-friendly alternatives).
Brands you know and love are readily available
There are several brands I’ve grown to trust, like Enjoy Life, OMG… It’s Gluten Free, and Annie’s. I was thrilled to find that they have a pretty strong presence in Walt Disney World. They’re offered as alternate desserts at quick serve locations and many table service locations. I even found them at some of the resort dining areas! I’ve also found that these companies (especially Enjoy Life) are super responsive to requests via email and Twitter on where exactly you can find them in the parks. Bonus: you can get them at home and it’s an instant food memory when you eat them after you get home.
Research, research, research… But stay flexible
We are super lucky that there are a lot of websites that make researching the best places to eat with allergy needs very convenient. If you haven’t explored Gluten Free, Dairy Free Walt Disney World or Allergy Free Mouse yet, you really should. They are incredible resources that I rely on for a lot of information (oh, and they’re super friendly and helpful in person too, so don’t be afraid to Tweet them for advice!). But, keep in mind, Disney menus change with the seasons and with product availability. So research, formulate a game plan if it helps, but be prepared to make some changes in case something you wanted isn’t available.
If all else fails, remember…
Dole Whips are dairy free, gluten free, vegan, and nut free. Citrus Swirls can be made allergy-friendly as well, so there’s that. And they have dairy free, gluten free Mickey Waffles that taste ah-mazing.
Still nervous? Well…
Here’s a quick list (in no particular order) of the places I highly recommend for their allergy-friendly menu, approachable staff, and generally wonderful nom noms:
- Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show (All is dairy free, gluten free excluding bread and dessert. Allergy friendly replacements available!)
- Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar (I enjoyed Deviled Eggs, chopped pork bbq platter without biscuit, and sorbet, limited dessert offerings for people with allergies, but off-menu sorbet was yummy!)
- Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen (I had the fried chicken and nearly wept it tasted so wonderful. It was altered to be allergy friendly with no issues. Again, limited dessert options for dairy and gluten allergies, but they did offer mango lime sorbet which was yummy.)
- San Angel Inn Restaurante (One of the easiest places to find allergy friendly food, I had numerous options. I enjoyed shrimp over spicy rice, chips and salsa, and a modified enchilada soup.)
- Tusker House (I ate my weight in allergy-friendly Mickey waffles and every station excluding the gravy station had dairy and gluten free options. Chef offered to actually build me an allergy-friendly plate and deliver it to me so as to ensure there was no cross contamination!)
- Blaze Pizza (While I didn’t get a chance to try them, I am ridiculously impressed with their wise assortment of allergy friendly pizzas and toppings!)
- Teppan Edo (Lots of allergy friendly options here for dairy allergies, a moderate amount for gluten allergies, and they were very willing to work with me to find options. At the time I ate there, there were no allergy friendly desserts, though now I believe they carry OMG It’s Gluten Free! cookies.)
- Katsura Grill (Another easy place to go to for dairy and gluten allergies. Almost everything is dairy free! The staff isn’t always knowledgeable about what’s allergy friendly, but there is a book for customer use right at the registers that’s easy-to-use.)
- Any place that serves Dole Whips and Citrus Swirls! (Dole Whips are already dairy and gluten free and Citrus Swirls can be made sans vanilla ice cream swirl, making it allergy friendly for all but the most sensitive of people as there is some cross contamination potential here).
- Resort Hotel Dining Rooms (During breakfast there are a wide assortment of options and as most is made in guest view, you can be sure it’s allergy friendly. For dinner, there are several options, though be sure to ask as many are off-menu).
- All Landry’s Inc Restaurants, including Yak and Yeti, T-Rex, and The Rainforest Cafe (These guys are insane when it comes to making sure dietary needs are met. When I went, the chefs came tableside to discuss options, the manager takes your order, then food is delivered by the manager or a special server. They didn’t even have my plate carried on the same tray as food that had my allergens. It was quite impressive!)
As always, please don’t go strictly by my word for something as important as food allergies. Confirm everything with the servers and chefs before ordering. Better safe than sorry!
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Green | Where to Eat If . . . Loop:
- 1st Stop – The Disney Chef | Dairy and Gluten Allergies
- 2nd Stop – Mousekatools Mom | Healthy Eating at Disneyland
- 3rd Stop – Adventures in Familyhood | Best Walt Disney World Table Service Restaurants for Kids
- 4th Stop – Post 50 Rx | The Best Restaurants to Celebrate Your Disneyland Paris Half Marathon
- 5th Stop – Disney in Your Day | Best Disney Dining for Large Groups