One concern we had when we first decided to go to Disney or with any outing where we will be dining away from home, is my son’s food allergies. We are fortunate that his are relatively easy to avoid, but still require reading every label and analyzing every menu. He is allergic to tree nuts (thankfully not peanuts which are technically not a nut, but a legume) and shellfish. We are also fortunate that he has never had a severe anaphylactic reaction but that doesn’t mean that we can ever be unprepared.
My concerns were greatly reduced just by researching the extent to which Disney deals with food allergies and other special dietary needs. We first mentioned Braedan’s allergy to the cast member who took our reservations for The Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau at the Polynesian Resort. She noted his allergies on the reservation and gave us a phone number to call at least 3 days before our dinner. When I called the number, I told them when we had our reservations at The Spirit of Aloha, what Braedan is allergic to and my concerns because it was a fixed dinner served “family style” (where they bring big plates of food to your table for your party to share). Although on the menu there didn’t seem to be anything that would cause concern, I did want to question the pineapple-coconut bread and the dessert. I was assured that he could eat everything on the menu, but the bread and the dessert, although not containing nuts, should be avoided. Unfortunately it seems most baked goods on Disney property are prepared at one location and cross-contamination is possible.
For our last two trips with the kids, Braedan was young enough to eat off of the kids menu, and his choices were pretty limited, but perfect for his picky appetite. Shellfish is easy to avoid, even though shrimp, while cooking, is an airborne allergen. We know that Teppan Edo, the restaurant in Epcot’s Japan where food is prepared at your table, will never be an option. Regardless, I always let the server know of his allergies and for buffet meals, a chef would come out and personally walk us through the buffet lines to point out what was and was not safe. (At Boma, in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the chef offered to make Braedan a separate batch of chicken nuggets just to be sure there was no possible nut or shellfish contamination). And even though I felt terrible enjoying the beautiful Zebra Domes at Boma in front of him, Braedan was more than happy with a dish of ice cream or a package of the Divvies cookies. (Prepackaged Divvies chocolate chip cookies are sold all over the Disney resorts and are peanut, tree nut, dairy and egg free.)
Counter service meals were no problem for Braedan, we would just question the ingredients or preparation methods and cast members were knowledgeable and helpful. (Did I mention his picky appetite? He was more than happy with a Wetzel’s Pretzel for lunch.) I had read, in my lengthy research, that there are also booklets available at counter service restaurants listing the ingredients in the foods they serve. These were not obviously displayed, so you may just have to ask for them.
Disney recommends that food allergies or special food requests be first mentioned when you make your dining reservations. It will be noted on your reservations and you will be given your reservation number and a phone number. Use that phone number to contact your dining location at least 72 hours prior to your reservation to discuss your food concerns with the chef or manager. There is also a form that can be emailed to you, that you fill out with all your specific information and then it is forwarded to the restaurants where your reservations are made. When you arrive at your restaurant, tell your server that someone in your party has a food allergy (if they don’t already mention it from your reservation) and they will be more than accommodating to your needs. Ask to talk to the chef or manager also, if that makes you more comfortable. There have been places I have gone or situations I have been in when I mention my son’s allergies and it is treated like an inconvenience or that his allergies are just a “dislike” of those foods. But in Disney, not only were his allergies completely understood, they were catered to. In my opinion there is no place more aware and accommodating of food allergies or special diets than Disney. Just another way we have learned that Disney really is The Most Magical Place On Earth!