One of the hardest things for food allergy families is taking vacations. And what do food allergy parents need most of all…a vacation! You can see where the dilemma develops. The one thing we need the most is the one thing that stresses us out the most. For many food allergy families, especially ours, staying home is comfortable and safe. It’s our safe haven and our refuge. It’s the one place where I can truly let down my guard and not worry about a reaction (although it’s never far from my mind as reactions are possible anywhere). We’ve tried taking a number of trips over the past couple years and the only trip that has been successful each and every time has been when we go to Walt Disney World.
In full disclosure I must tell you that I’m a total Disney child! I grew up taking lots of family trips to Walt Disney World and when we pull into our resort and they greet us by saying, “Welcome Home,” I truly feel like I’m home. Well…in a home away from home sort of way. So, I do really enjoy vacationing at Disney World. However, following my little men’s food allergy diagnosis traveling to Disney for vacation has truly become just that…a vacation for me. It’s a place where I don’t have to prepare any meals and I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to find food for them. Let me share a bit about our time spent at the Magic Kingdom and give you some tips to help make your trip smooth, hopefully reaction free and above all else…magical!
Before you go:
- Be sure to notify everyone about your food allergies as you make your reservations.
- Whether you are booking the trip yourself or working with a Disney travel agent (my favorite is Hi Ho Vacations). Every time you book a dining reservation, mention your food allergies. This way the chefs know in advance.
- Pack easy snack options for your food allergic ones so you have something to take into the park with you.
- All of the vendors selling ice cream and popcorn will have a fresh fruit option, like bananas, but beyond that they may not have a snack option for you. (This depends on your allergy – for my youngest, he couldn’t find anything.) You can always stop in at one of the dining locations and find something but many times you are grabbing a snack on the run to another ride or event. We drove to Disney this past time so I just packed extra packages of our favorite crackers, pretzels, raisins, fruit snacks and applesauce. I carried them into the park and made it easy for those times when my little men were hungry. If you are flying and don’t want to pack these snacks in your luggage, contact Garden Grocer and have the food you need delivered to your resort.
- Be sure you have all medicine with you.
- Don’t forget your meds. This may seem like a silly thing to say as I’m sure you never leave home without them, but sometimes the things I forget when I’m packing for a trip are the things that seem like the most obvious (like underwear). If you are traveling to Disney during one of their hot months, be sure that your EpiPens can stay cool. You may want to consider purchasing an insulated carrying case, like the ones made by AllerMates.
- Take lots of disposable wipes, a high chair cover and disposable place mats.
- It you are going for reaction-free then you can never been too cautious. Every place we ate I would cover my youngest’s high chair with this cover, I’d wipe down the table with wipes and then I’d attach a disposable place mat. This may seem a bit extreme or overly protective but let me just say that we never had any allergy issues…we were 100% hive and reaction free.
The Magic Kingdom bookended our weeklong trip to Walt Disney World. It is by far my most favorite park and the perfect park for young children. We took our own strollers so I didn’t have to worry about how and when the park strollers were wiped down. We began our first day in Fantasyland riding everything from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to Dumbo the Flying Elephant to It’s a Small World. We had lunch in Tomorrowland at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe.
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe is a Quick Service Restaurant. For more information on what a Quick Service Restaurant is, what it entails and where others are located, check out the Disney Dining Plan. A Quick Service Restaurant is just that: a place where you place your order, pick up your tray of food and find an open table. Much like a school cafeteria but with exponentially better food. When it’s your turn to order, be sure to tell them that you have food allergies. They will call over either the manager or chef. They have a binder filled with ingredient lists for all of their products and will help you place your order. It’s best if you have an idea of what you’d like to have based on the menu. My oldest (egg allergy) had chicken tenders and fries. My youngest (dairy, soy, peanut, tree nut, coconut, fish, shellfish and sesame allergies) had a hamburger and fries. Both boys devoured their food and we were back riding rides in no time.
While we are on the topic of food, let me share with you the other restaurants we ate at during this visit. One of the mornings we had breakfast at The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and Friends. The breakfast is a buffet. If you are a food allergy parent reading this, you may have just rolled your eyes and stopped reading at the sight of the word “buffet” as those are ALWAYS off limits…but don’t! When you check in for your reservation (strongly encouraged to make a reservation for this before your trip) remind them that you have food allergies. Then once you’re seated, tell your waiter/waitress that you have food allergies. The next thing you know the chef will be at your table asking you about the allergies. Once the chef has a good idea about the allergies he/she will then walk you through the buffet, item by item, and show you what foods are “safe” depending on the allergen list you provided. The chef will make notes as to what foods you’d like to have and then he/she will bring you a plate of those foods from the back, making sure there has been no cross contamination. They will even make allergy-free Mickey waffles. AH-MAZING! Have I mentioned how much I love the Disney chefs? I DO!
The last restaurant that we ate at during this trip was Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frotierland. This is another Quick Service Restaurant. Both boys had hamburgers, fries and applesauce. I will warn you that this restaurant serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was a little concerned…okay I was A LOT concerned that there were peanut proteins lurking on the tables and chairs. I helped my youngest (peanut allergy amongst others) eat his burger and fries in the stroller. This way I could protect him from coming in contact with any stray peanut butter.
The rest of the trip was just like Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way.” We rode lots of rides, many of them twice, as the lines were no more than 15 minutes long. We watched live shows featuring many of our favorite Disney characters in the front of Cinderella’s Castle, got autographs and photos taken with our favorite characters and my all-time favorite, had front row seats for the Main Street Electrical Parade. A couple other things you won’t want to miss, the Celebrate the Magic Show that features Tinker Bell and the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show.
I did take lots of wipes with us and used them frequently during our time at the park. I would wipe down each table that we planned to eat at. I put down disposable placemats for my little men (for extra piece of mind). I also wiped my youngest’s hands down after each ride. He is still incredibly contact-sensitive to many of his allergens. I wanted him to get to experience everything without me telling him not to touch things. And you know what, we must have done a good job because we were 100% hive-free for our entire trip. Perhaps Tinker Bell visited us while we slept and sprinkled her pixie dust over us…either way it was a magical trip.
Please let me know if you have other questions. I don’t know everything but I’d be happy to answer any questions that I can. Have you traveled to Disney for a family vacation? What was your favorite part?