The good, the bad, and real life – Our Disney World Trip
First, the “good“. We took Bubba and her big sister to Disney World in May. Oh what a world we would live in if all restaurants would replicate Disney’s allergy protocols. I was incredibly impressed. At sit-down restaurants, when you mention food allergies to the host/ess they ask you to talk to your server, who will then ask the chef to come out and speak with you personally. The chef has a special yellow notepad to write on which includes boxes for top allergens. Before we left I had printed and laminated small cards with all of Bubba’s allergies on them. These came in handy! Binders including the ingredients of all their products and tours of buffets with the chef are standard offerings. Several times, items were custom made (off-menu) for Bubba. At quick-service restaurants, there are ingredient binders at the registers and special allergy coordinators are paged to come out and speak with you. They also have the yellow notepads. This same person would be the one responsible for entering the allergy order on the register, personally getting the food from the kitchen, and providing it on a separate tray. Receipts were stamped with a red “allergy” warning and Bubba’s food trays were even a different color. We were able to find a few quick-service locations where special allergy chicken nuggets and fries could be made in a separate fryer.
Bubba had lots of ‘firsts’. First cotton candy. I was able talk to the manager at the confectionary and saw the person make it – no where near the standard peanut-laden food at fairs. First ice cream at an ice cream parlor. Not sorbet. Not a bowl full of allergy-safe candy. Ice cream. The parlor on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom offers Rice Dream and two flavors of Toffuti. Just as at the quick service restaurants, a special person came out to talk to us about our ice cream order, entered it on the register, and then personally went to scoop it for us away from all the other flavors and toppings. They even wore gloves. And my personal favorite, her first cupcakes from a bakery. Eaten on a boardwalk, where all things yummy are consumed. Boardwalk Bakery at the Boardwalk Resort carries Babycakes cupcakes. They were mini, and frosted, and beautiful. Also free of all top 8 allergens, plus sesame, plus all Bubba’s random allergies.
And then the “bad“. Bubba’s food allergies really suck. There are. Just. Too. Many. So even though Disney was amazing, most of their ‘alternative’ allergy offerings were out because of some obscure allergy she has. Delicious allergy waffles? Out because of her pineapple allergy. Vegan pizza? Out because of pea protein. Etc. Etc. Etc. So at quick service restaurants, aside from the baby carrots and grapes offered as sides for kids’ meals, Bubba could only eat the allergy nuggets and fries which I mistakenly assumed would be sold anywhere regular kids’ nuggets were sold. That mistake resulted in my 2yo Bubba asking “where’s my dinner”, “why don’t I get dinner”, and “everyone else has dinner” as I returned to the table with food for everyone but her. Which then resulted in me needing to step outside so she didn’t see my cry. Because that felt like an epic mommy-fail.
My husband and I saw this as a major learning trip for us. We now know that we will need to buy and bring a hot plate so we can make 100% of Bubba’s food when we travel. Although we went to a grocery store to stock up on supplies when we arrived in Orlando, we didn’t plan on providing all of her food. She didn’t complain much about her hodge-podge diet of canned black beans, cold hot dogs, pretzels, and fruit. But I don’t want her to ever have to go through that when she is older and more aware.
Finally, the “real“. People are human. No one is more aware of that than me. Two of Bubba’s anaphylactic reactions were because of clear mistakes on my part. Once because I accidentally put cow’s milk in her sippy cup and another time because I missed an allergy warning on a bottle of cooking spray. She’s my kid and I do my best to be hyper vigilant. Our whole dang kitchen is labeled with red and green stickers for God’s sake. So if I can make mistakes, so can the whole rest of the world.
Our first big meal at Disney was at The Crystal Palace. The chef came out, took me on a tour of the buffet and we had an extensive conversation about Bubba’s allergies and cross-contamination. I made Bubba her special plate and took it to her at the table so she wasn’t up near the buffet. We ordered apple juice for both the girls. Once they were settled, I finally felt comfortable and got up to get my own food which is when my husband came running through the restaurant with Bubba in his arms, dry heaving. The server mistakenly put a kid’s straw cup of chocolate milk down in front of Bubba instead of her apple juice. THANK GOD my husband glanced over as she took her first sip and noticed the dark liquid in the straw. She only had a sip. I’m also grateful for the doctor who happened to be seated next to us, who checked her out while we waited for EMTs. Bubba ended up being fine. But I shook and shook and shook some more. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with our server (who was switched to another table). I was still way too ANGRY. Thankfully my husband was able to muster up a bit more grace and went up to the man to say that everyone is human and that Bubba was going to be ok. The chef heaped fruit and waters upon us to take with us and a customer care representative of some sort brought dolls for the girls and gave us a “priority pass” (aka Fastpass) good for one attraction. I am grateful Bubba was okay, but we had to give her a dose of Benedryl which of course knocked her out. She was a zombie for an hour before falling asleep for another two hours in the stroller. I feel like she was robbed of her first day at Disney and I can’t stand to look at the pictures we have of her poor blank face from that afternoon.
So that’s the real. There will mistakes in Bubba’s future. Which scares the hell out of me. She can never be without her 2 Epi-pens. And Benadryl. And steroids when we travel. I’m grateful for the Epi-pens and their ability to save Bubba’s life. But I hate them at the same time because remembering to bring them everywhere feels like a constant reminder that she could die. Oh, let’s go the playground because the weather is beautiful. But don’t forget the Epi-pens because she could die without them. Time to leave for the birthday party. Don’t forget the present and Epi-pens because…you get the idea.
Where’d we go:
- Crystal Palace – great protocol, enough options to make it worth it
- Columbia Harbor House – allergy chicken and fries
- Main Street Confectionary – a couple options, including cotton candy
- Plaza Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street – Ricedream and Toffuti options available
- Casey’s Corner on Main Street – hot dogs were ok and two different allergy buns offered. One could have worked for us but they didn’t have it in the restaurant so we would have had to wait. They did offer to go get it though. Nobody beats Disney customer service!
- Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe – allergy chicken and fries
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – great chef and great protocol. Maybe just a little too adult for Bubba. The chef custom made potatoes for her, along with bacon and a bowl of fruit. The potatoes were delicious, but covered in herbs so Bubba wanted no parts.
- Sunshine Seasons – we made a special trip here because they supposedly had a whole selection of allergy friendly snacks including infamous dairy-free caramel corn. I found the chef rude. He said “nothing could be made safe” for Bubba and told us fruit was her only option. I asked about the allergy friendly caramel corn sold with the snacks and if he could provide me information about its “natural butter flavor” (which included a statement that “dairy proteins have been removed” – a new one for me). He said he could provide me with no information and that I’d have to contact the manufacturer. Here’s the popcorn.
- Electric Umbrella – we were told this would be our best option. They did serve allergy nuggets and fries, but Bubba was WAY over the nuggets by this point so those were out.
- Hollywood and Vine – great experience. Food was custom made for Bubba off-menu. The chef personally brought her out a bowl full of Ricedream with Enjoylife cookie ears for dessert, along with Sophia crowns for both the girls. Homerun.
- Backlot Express and ABC Commissary – we didn’t eat at either, but these would have been my choices based on hours of allergy blog reading
Here are several websites I used when planning our trip:
- An informational letter from Disney about special dietary requests
- Allergy Free Mouse
- Disney World’s website section for special dietary requests
- I noted Bubba’s allergies when making reservations and also emailed:
- Allergy Eats
- Including a great blog post there with lots of great tips
- The Disney Food Blog
- Huffington Post article about dining with allergies at Disney
- Also, check out the Facebook group Disney Chefs Rock Food Allergies
Please share any additional resources you have for traveling to Disney World with food allergies and I would be happy to include them here.