Your 180 day window is approaching and you’re eager to make those Disney Dining reservations. You have been studying, researching, craving and asking your family where they want to eat. However, you have take something very important into consideration. Food allergies! Which restaurants can and will accommodate dietary restrictions? Is one better than another? Will they offer enough options or are we going to be stuck with bland, boring entrees? Well, our family has been visiting Walt Disney World for over a decade now and our son has had severe, life-threatening food allergies his entire thirteen years of life. While not all restaurants or Disney chefs are created equal, we have experienced some amazing Disney dining magic. To help YOU with your food allergy travel planning, I’ve put together a list of our experiences at Walt Disney World over the years. Perhaps this will help as you begin the magical planning process.
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Our Food Allergy Story
First – perhaps a little background. We are a family of five and our youngest son has severe, life-threatening food allergies to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. (You can read our fun and interesting story here) As an infant, his list was actually much longer and included eggs, wheat, peanut, milk, fish, oat, corn and tree nuts (Phew! Let me catch my breath). It was nearly impossible to eat out with him when he was little. In fact, wherever we went, we usually brought food for him from home.
So, can you imagine what it was like traveling?
Actually, if you’re reading this, there is a high probability that you can…
When we visited Walt Disney World for the very first time as a family in 2007, food allergies were still relatively unfamiliar and difficult to accommodate in public. Oh, the stories I could tell about our adventures. However, during that trip, we came across the very unique opportunity to meet chefs who did get it – I mean…Disney Chefs really DO get it!
Since that trip in 2007, we have visited this vacation destination well over a dozen times…and more so now that we have the privilege of calling Central Florida home. As we have been able to dine at Disney restaurants with a great deal of food allergy success, I wanted to share a small collection of our positive experiences.
T, but what about the NEGATIVE experiences? Why not share those, too?
Listen. I’m not going to share the negatives here. Why? Easy answer ~ that’s not my goal with this post. I wanted to create a piece that provided stories of hope so that the reader could walk away with a smile on his/her face versus an “Oh, my gosh ~ I’m terrified to eat there!” I mean, let’s be honest. The negatives are more than likely a one time, one chef kind of a situation and I don’t want to steal the possibility of magic happening for you should you choose to dine there. So – we’ll talk positive food allergy experiences today. Sound good? Let’s go!
The Disney Chef Who Started It All
So, yes, there is a “first chapter” to this love affair with Walt Disney World ~ one particular chef who sparked the connection and became the person who gave us reason to trust Disney Chefs.
At the time of that first family trip in 2007, our youngest was 18 months old. He was well within that “eat free, play free, stay free” age. However, he had also just recently been diagnosed with food allergies after going anaphylactic in a restaurant on his first birthday (did you catch that part in our food allergy story?).
Trust me, I was a little nervous – no, a lot nervous ~ about bringing him to a place where the potential for cross-contamination and reactions was high. The only reason I got through the planning process with my sanity intact was because the Cast Member in Special Diets set me up with pre-trip phone conversations with a chef from each and every one of our reserved restaurants that trip. (I share more about Special Diets down below)
One of those chefs was Chef George Paterakis, who was working at Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort at the time. Weeks before our trip, Chef George and I had discussed menu options over the phone and he assured me that he would do everything he could to make our meal magical.
The morning of our actual reservation, I kid you not ~ we were literally blown away with the knowledge and care poured out over us. We felt as if we were actually drowning in pixie dust at one point.
We were completely stunned.
- First, our son was given a plate filled with bacon, sausage, various fruits and Mickey waffles!!!! Mickey waffles!!! He was in his tiny little glory and we saw no blotches, hives, swelling or choking!
- Second, Chef George did something extra special that went above and beyond our expectations ~ or even our wildest dreams.
While I vividly remember Chef George making several trips over to see how our son was doing with his meal, it was his last visit to our table that made the moment. He asked that, before we leave, he be notified so he could give us something to bring back to our room.
So, as we were packing up our bags and getting ready to head out, Chef George approached us with a large container. Inside that container were four GINORMOUS blueberry muffins that he had prepared prior to arrival. These blueberry muffins were made completely food allergy-friendly and specifically for OUR son!!
I ~ was ~ in ~ tears.
No joke. Nobody had EVER done that for us to that point. Nobody. Not family, not friends, no restaurant, no one. Food allergy mamas ~ you know that feeling your heart gets when someone “gets it.” Right? Yup – Chef George “got it.”
So – that moment ~ that magical and pixie dusted moment ~ was the pivotal point where Walt Disney World became our home away from home. Because of Chef George and the many other chefs we met after him, we determined to move down to Central Florida at some point in life. This place understood the intricacies and delicate nature of our son’s health condition.
It was pure magic.
Our Family’s Food Allergy Friendly Disney Experiences
It would be my wish if everyone managing food allergies could experience that same kind of magic. No, I can’t promise it, but what I can do is share the experiences we have had and then pray you have the same (if not better – that’s okay with me!! Just as long we all remain safe!). Now, the criteria for the following list may be different for each family. For instance, we are managing allergies to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. We don’t have to worry about dairy, wheat, soy or any of the other Top Eight (and beyond). The list could also fluctuate based on time of the year, food preferences and what chef may be handling the meal.
Over the years, we have dined at dozens of restaurants on property, but a few have really stood out to us. These experiences are what have given us reason to keep going back time after time.
Disney Dining – Table Service
Trail’s End Restaurant at The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (or anywhere Chef TJ can be found)
So many stories have been told about the amazing Chef TJ!!! I can’t believe that it took us so long to actually find a way to dine where he was cooking. Chef TJ is not only brilliant when designing a meal for someone who has food allergies, but extremely creative. During our particular visit, our son started his meal with a ginormous salad (there were Cheetos in there!!). This was followed by a tower of protein and a skyscraper of sugary sweets ~ all made safely without eggs, peanuts or tree nuts.
Chef TJ can work with just about any combination of food allergies. If you have the privilege of having him prepare a food allergy friendly meal for you, know that you are in for a magical treat!
1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
In 2014, we decided to give this adorable buffet in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa a try. The two older boys’ appetites were quite fierce, so we wanted to get our money’s worth. Prior to the trip, I can remember speaking with one of the chefs at this venue, who then relayed the information to the chef working the night of our reservation. This place is well known for a particular and unique cold soup ~ strawberry soup. Well, that night, Logan was able to dine on some of that delicious strawberry soup, as well as pasta with red sauce.
Note: Be careful with pasta if you are ultra-sensitive, as there may be disclaimers and brand manufacturing practices regarding egg.
This particular experience went very smoothly and without issue. I had spoken with the chef ahead of time, so he was well aware of our situation prior to our arrival. He came out, introduced himself, discussed the process and then took the youngest and me on a tour of the buffet. Our son picked out favorites and the chef brought out exactly what he ordered.
Rose & Crown Dining Room in the United Kingdom at Epcot
We have had THREE positive experiences with THREE different chefs here over the years – none of these experiences negative. This kind of says a lot about this particular venue. Over those three visits, our son has had a variety of entrees – from a deliciously tender steak with mashed potatoes to corned beef and cabbage. Oh, and how could I forget the crock of potato leek soup!
During each of the above visits, the Chefs were also amazing when it came to creating a delicious dessert. One of the biggest complaints these days by food allergy families is that many restaurants do not have equitable desserts for Guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. This is why we always have a dessert in his bag as a backup plan (such as Enjoy Life candy bars!!).
Many times, Guests in this scenario are stuck with perhaps one or two options ~ many times fruit. So, we absolutely love it when a chef goes out of his/her way to create a masterful plate of sweet treats for our son to enjoy.
Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Now THIS was another magical moment in history.
The first time we dined at Tusker House was during a very special pixie dusted meeting we had with Chef Michael Thompson. Chef Michael had agreed to meet with us to discuss food allergy accommodation for a report our son was doing in Health. This was in 2012, so they were still in the planning stages of allergy friendly menus and the Garden Kiosk was still up at the park. Chef Michael sat down with us at Tusker House for breakfast and gave us his undivided attention.
Did you read that? Yes, breakfast!
Why is that important to say? Well, by that point in life, our son had developed a frightening airborne component to his health situation. This development kept us from having breakfast in a restaurant for nearly six years! He would walk into a restaurant with egg in the air and, within seconds, his ears would swell, hives would develop and blotches would appear. It was insane!!!!
In any case, I was juuuuuuust a little bit nervous….just a little bit. However, Chef Michael took care of everything ~ including where we sat, who served us and who prepared Logan’s meal.
That morning at Tusker House, Logan feasted on various fruits, more Mickey Waffles and tons of protein. He even gave jungle juice a try.
Not a fan ~ but he was glad it was an option!! He certainly did not leave hungry, though!
Since then, we have had several meals at Tusker House over the years, Logan considering it one of his favorites. Each time after the initial visit, we had a chef take us through the buffet to make specific selections. The chef would then prepare Logan’s meal in the back separately from everything else. He has always been served a delicious, bountiful food allergy friendly meal there.
This is another buffet experience that was just over the top! Chef Pamela went above and beyond to provide Logan with a smorgasbord of choices. Just like our experience at 1900 Park Fare and Tusker House, the chef first reviewed the menu and then took us on a tour of the buffet to see options with our own eyes.
Our son was able to try butternut squash soup (some of the best!!) and dine on ribs, which were not even on the buffet that night.
Now, this is one of those places where dessert was a little more difficult. Fortunately, our son was so full that it didn’t really matter. Chef Pamela did, however, bring him a dish of raspberry sorbet with two cookies placed like Mickey ears.
Related Post: Read more about our visit to Boma here.
The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom
Here we go – yet another buffet! I think we like the buffets because the chefs do tend to bring out an enormous amount of food for him to enjoy all at once. I’m sure this is a help to them, as well, since it means they aren’t going back and preparing new plates every time one is finished.
At Crystal Palace, the same process occurred. We reviewed options, went on a tour of the buffet, made choices. The chef came back with a plate packed with fruits, salad items, pork and mashed potatoes ~ everything that he loved at the time. Oh, my gosh ~ that kid could eat salad from morning until night. It was one of his favorite things to devour!
Grand Floridian Cafe at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
I think we loved this place because they gave Logan something different. In the early years, a lot of the choices at non-buffet restaurants centered around allergy-safe chicken fingers, baked chicken breast, grilled chicken tenders or a burger (without the bun because for some reason they only used buns that contained egg). Not to mention – broccoli was always the vegetable of choice.
As Disney chefs received more and more training, the options and creativity began to increase. For instance, at this restaurant, Logan enjoyed a delicious chicken wrap (the first one he had at Disney!!) and a dessert plate filled with fruits to dip into a bowl of chocolate.
Oh, my ~ I was sooooooo jealous! Chocolate!
Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Another place we were able to find a new option for Logan was at Kona Cafe. We were a little nervous at first when we booked this reservation because we weren’t sure if the cuisine could be accommodating. However, the chef did a magnificent job working with what our son wanted to eat. We reviewed the menu together and discussed all the possibilities, ultimately choosing pork tacos. This was another first for him at Walt Disney World.
Chef Mickey’s is going to have the same story as the other buffets, but it warrants mentioning because it is a pretty popular venue for families. The chef took us around the buffet and Logan gave a laundry list of foods he was craving that night. I remember that visit so vividly because he was acting like we had not fed him in days!
Growth spurt, anyone?
When the chef delivered Logan’s food allergy friendly plates, she was carrying at least THREE of them in her hands. THREE!! Yeah, she wasn’t messing with a growing boy’s appetite! My goodness!
Disney Dining – Quick Service favorites!!
Soooo ~ we don’t do Quick Service very often with Logan. It’s just not something he is comfortable with doing (he doesn’t eat at fast food restaurants either). However, there have been a few occasions where we have dined at a quick service venue in one of the Disney Parks and were met with tremendous success. Two particular instances come to mind and I wanted to add these just in case you were curious.
Satul’i Canteen at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
THIS place was ah-mazing! Oh, my goodness. You have to read my post about our experience here. The normal routine for us at a Quick Service venue is to find a Cast Member and request to speak with a manager directly. They will normally give us the allergy-friendly menu to review and we will step to the side and wait. When the manager arrives, we discuss the specifics about our son’s food allergies, as well as the severity. From there, we discuss options – even those NOT on the menu (do not feel you have to stick to this menu) and then create a plan.
At Satul’i Canteen, the manager was fabulous! She had a tablet that showed us the foods used to make the various bowls and the ingredient labels for each food. We were able to create a meal that ultimately left my son stuffed and floored!
Do you see that slaw? Yeah – that’s not mayonnaise!! We were shocked that he could have this!!
Needless to say, they spoiled my son rotten and we now know that this quick service option will be our go-to at Disney’s Animal Kingdom from this point forward.
Pinocchio Haus at Magic Kingdom
We had another positive experience at Pinocchio Haus in Magic Kingdom. The same routine was employed and we were able to connect with a manager, who looked right into our son’s eyes (which we LOVE!!!). He wrote down what Logan wanted, had us reiterate that order to the Cast Member at the register (letting them know that it was a special dietary order) and then we were given a buzzer that would alert us when his meal was ready. The manager personally took care of the order himself (which really should be standard in these situations).
When the order was ready, the manager helped to bring everything out so we could ensure no cross contamination would occur. Logan enjoyed a delicious pepperoni flatbread pizza, veggies and a Nesquick (something we save for when we are in the Parks because it’s a special drink he CAN ingest).
Disney Dining – Disney Springs choices!
When I mention Disney Springs, I have to share that there are a lot of third party venues in this section of the Resort. What does this mean? It means that these restaurants are not Disney-owned. While they are all knowledgeable in food allergy management, the delivery of such care is not always sprinkled with as much pixie dust as those owned by Disney. We’ve visited a good handful of them, but three of them stick out as true favorites – places we actually do enjoy visiting on a regular basis.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen
My son really enjoys dining here because they serve him one of his favorite meals!!! While I haven’t seen an allergy-friendly menu (not sure if it’s because they don’t have one or we just haven’t been given one), they have spoken very directly and candidly with us about safe options for our son. We have had several successful meals here over the last few years and my son absolutely loves their Chopped Pork Barbecue Plate. The chef simply made adjustments by substituting mashed potatoes for the mac and cheese and crackers for the biscuit. He has also enjoyed a colorful salad there, as well. Again – this kid loves salad!
You can check out more about our visit to Homecomin’ by clicking here.
This one shocked the daylights out of us, to be honest!! Being a bowling alley, one would think that there would be very few safe options for someone suffering from dietary restrictions. While I admit there isn’t a loooong list of items from which to choose in his situation, Logan was able to enjoy something he absolutely loves to eat. In fact, it was some of the best we’ve enjoyed as a family! After speaking directly to the manager who confirmed things with the chef, Logan was able to enjoy a pepperoni pizza.
Curious what he had for dessert? You can find out by reading more of Splitsville experience here.
This was another venue that left us shocked and smiling. When we arrived at Polite Pig and reached the register to order, I asked to speak directly with the chef. It took a few minutes (that place is always busy!!!) and, while I waited (to the side), I reviewed the binder that had allergy information listed.
In the end, I had one happy little boy that night because he was able to chow down on food that we were all enjoying, as well. He had his own safely prepared plate of pork shoulder (with adjustments).
Disney Dining – Walt Disney World Festivals and Events
It took years for us to figure this one out. No doubt, the festivals and hard ticketed events can be a little more tricky! However, Disney has done so much over the years to learn how to provide accommodating options and I think they are only going to get better.
In 2018, I had the chance to speak with Disney chefs at a special event related to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. I took opportunity during that event to interview one chef and ask him what I could share with readers regarding managing food allergies at an Outdoor Kitchen during any of the numerous Epcot Festivals.
His answers gave me something to smile about and I walked away with so much hope. For years, I have spent time studying the festival foods prior to attending so I could bring something comparable for our son to eat. He has been fine with that, but I have always been curious if there was a way for him to enjoy something unique WITH us.
- Read about my chat with that encouraging chef here.
- You can also read about our personal Outdoor Kitchen food allergy friendly experience here.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
My amazing friend, Angie, invited Logan and me to experience this party for the first time in 2018. Oh, my goodness ~ we had THE most amazing time!!! Now, this is one of those holidays that normally caters to everyone except those who have food allergies. However, Disney goes above and beyond to ensure that those with dietary restrictions have the opportunity to walk away with pixie dusted bags overflowing with goodies and treats, as well.
- Curious about the details surrounding our MNSSHP experience? Read about our night here.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
This I have to admit could use some help. We have not attended the Christmas party in a few years. However, I hear that the options for Guests with food allergies are a little more slim. I do believe that Enjoy Life snacks are made available, but that may be the extent of it. It’s still a great option. However, after having experienced the Halloween party, it’s hard to want to go back to slim pickings. Here’s hoping someone higher up finds a way to improve upon this one. Needless to say, we did not have a reaction during this event. However, we do wish we had brought more goodies for our son to enjoy.
If you have a positive experience at this party, please share your story below!!!
This List is Not Written in Stone!
By no means is this list complete! As I noted above, we have not had the opportunity to dine at every single restaurant on Disney property. Not to mention, what may have been a great experience for us may not be for someone else. Of course, the opposite can be true, as well. Someone else could have had an amazing experience somewhere and we just didn’t. There are so many variables and factors to consider.
The takeaway here is that there is a plethora of dining options around Walt Disney World. Food allergy accommodation is taken very seriously here. My hope is that you can now picture some of the options and narrow down some of your own choices. At that point, you should be able to begin planning how to make this a magical trip for everyone in your family.
Do you have a positive food allergy Disney dining experience to share?
I’d love to hear about it! Let’s help each other out by sharing other Walt Disney World venues and adding to the above list of restaurants with tremendous food allergy accommodations. I remember the days of not knowing where to go and what to do. Let’s not let any other food allergy parent feel that way. Share your positive stories below.
Here is a list of things you can do to help ensure a food allergy safe Disney vacation
(not written in stone, but these have worked for us over the years)
- Research – read blogs, review menus, ask questions.
- Make dining reservations (you can start 180 days out from your first day of vacation) – then do one of two things:
- Call Disney Dining to discuss the details over the phone (have reservation numbers available).
- Email Special Diets (firstname.lastname@example.org) and request the form they provide to better annotate your situation for them. This works well if there are more than three allergies.
- If you are truly worried, ask if it’s possible to connect with the Disney chefs…via email, over the phone, through Special Diets.
- If you have connected with the chef via email, send an email a few days before you embark upon your trip to make sure things are in order.
- Tell your host upon arrival to the restaurant that someone in your party has food allergies.
- Tell your server upon his/her arrival to your table that someone in your party has food allergies. Then ask to speak with the chef directly. If you are handed an allergy-safe menu, take it and review it, but do not feel that you have to be held to those options alone.
- When the chef arrives, discuss in detail the allergies, their severity and safe food options. The chef should go through suggestions and possibilities at that point.
- Always request that the allergy plate be delivered separately (to avoid cross contamination).
- Be sure to let Guest Services know if a chef / server creates a magical experience. They love to hear when Cast Members in any department go out of their way to sprinkle some pixie dust.
- TIP: I’ve shared this before – have food on hand just in case. This could prevent a potential meltdown with littles who have food allergies.
- BE SURE TO NOT EAT UNLESS YOU HAVE AN EPINEPHRINE AUTO-INJECTOR (OR TWO) ON HAND!!!
HAPPY FOOD ALLERGY-SAFE DISNEY TRAVELS!!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. In no way, shape, form or fashion do I advocate or encourage the consumption of potentially dangerous foods, nor would I say that allergic reactions cannot or will not happen at Walt Disney World. I am simply sharing our positive experiences so you know the potential for an amazing, food allergy friendly vacation at Walt Disney World. It is completely up to you to take whatever steps necessary on your part to ensure that your safety or the safety of the individual with food allergies is a priority. AND ALWAYS HAVE YOUR EPINEPHRINE AUTO-INJECTOR(S)!!!