We recently spent 5 days at Disney World, our first stay there since Zen’s diagnosis. That meant a lot of meals away from home at a wide variety of restaurants. Disney World’s restaurants have a reputation of being great for allergy sufferers. We found the experience to be pretty good but the ultimate quality varied by restaurant.
Quick Service restaurants have an allergen menu available by request but you are still encouraged to order separately so they can substitute ingredients if needed and make sure to avoid cross contact.
Regardless of restaurant type (quick service, casual dining, buffet, or deluxe dining) once they are aware of an allergy a Chef came to speak to us about Zen’s specific allergies and what he felt like eating. After the allergy has been reported at one reservation or hostess stand, it’s entered in our file and it follows us to other restaurants so we only had to speak up at quick service counters. This was convenient because our server was given a paper with a red allergy stamp (like the picture at the top of this post) to be made aware of the situation before we were even seated so there was no wait to speak to a chef.
After speaking to us the chef would then either verify that the item that Zen wanted was allergen free or try to make it so. His food was cooked in a separate area to avoid cross contact and was brought separately from the rest of the food so the plates won’t even touch, this didn’t affect our experience at most restaurants but it did lead to longer waits for food at the quick service restaurant at our resort. At a buffet the chef cooked everything for him from scratch because he didn’t trust anything that was on the buffet line.
Some chefs were more knowledgeable and friendly than others and I found that the more expensive the restaurant didn’t necessarily meant better allergy service.
I could tell that the chefs were not used to such a long list of allergies at once and that meant that the usual substitution on some items were not an option. For example, for a soy allergy they usually substituted the bun on a burger with the gluten free version but that was not an option for our son since that has rice flour and he is also allergic to rice. As a result my son age a LOT of mac n cheese because it was one of the few safe options available at most restaurants, thankfully he didn’t mind but I can imagine how boring that must be.
The one place were allergies were truly a problem was at the club level lounge at our resort. There is no chef on site at that area (with a minor exception for 2 hours of the day) and the staff wasn’t knowledgeable about ingredients in the foods offered at the different buffets during the day. So we had to play it safe on what we knew for sure was ok and didn’t take a chance with most foods. When there was nothing on the buffet that we felt comfortable trusting to be safe the staff was great about getting Zen a yogurt from the back so he could have something to snack on.
Overall, Disney is one of the best places to vacation with food allergies due to the extensive training and experience in handling these situations. This doesn’t not replace being vigilant, asking questions and bringing your own food when in doubt but overall it was a less stressful experience than we anticipated and I was glad that I never once had to touch our Epipen.