This article below is written by my friend Alexia. I just wanted to add a little to it as well since my son is allergic to soy. We have been at Disney World twice now on the meal plan after realizing his allergy and both went fairly well. Disney definitely goes above and beyond in making sure that children and adults with allergies leave happy and not disappointed.
If you or someone in your family has special dietary needs, you understand how stressful going out to eat can be sometimes. When you cook at home, you know exactly what is going into your meals that it is safe for you and your loved ones to eat. If you go out, this obviously changes. There is no worse feeling that when you try to explain your needs to a server only to have them not understand why you can’t eat certain things or be able recommend anything that is safe to eat on the menu.
This is the case in my family. Due to a medication my father takes, he has a lengthy list of foods he cannot have because they will counteract with his medication. We rarely go out to eat because of this. When we do, he is always miserable and never enjoys himself because he is so worried about what he is eating. It’s much easier for me to cook all of our meals instead.
Traveling can be tricky too. We can always pack plenty of safe snacks for in the car or airports, but eating once we are at our destination can be a challenge. When we were planning our October 2012 trip to Disney World, I could see the anxiety of eating out every day sinking in on my father. I did a lot of research before I made any of dining reservations. I was surprised to learn that every single restaurant on the Disney property is more than accommodating of special dietary needs. Here is everything you need to know about dining at Disney with special dietary needs:
First, make a note on your account, or have your travel agent do so for you. When I made all of our dining reservations, there was a spot to put any special notes. This is where I documented any foods that my father couldn’t have. If you are diabetic, have a gluten intolerance, are vegan, or have any food allergies you will want it listed on your reservations. When we arrived at the table service restaurants and explained my dad’s dietary needs to our servers, they already knew. When we checked in at the hostess stand, the hostesses saw the note on our account and explained it to our servers before we were ever seated.
At the buffets, the chef came out walked through the buffet with my dad and explained to him everything that was safe for him to eat. If you have gluten intolerance, the chef will make gluten free dinner rolls or biscuits and bring them directly to your table. There is usually a sugar free dessert option available; however, if there is not one and you request it, the chef will create one and bring it out to you. The reason the chef brings special requests out to your table is to ensure that it does not get mixed up or cross contaminated with another order.
At the table service restaurants, the chef will come to your table and discuss your dietary needs with you as well as your likes and dislikes. For example, my dad hates mashed potatoes (which happen to be one of my favorites). The chefs at all the table service restaurants made sure to never add mashed potatoes as one of his side dishes. Again, the chefs brought his meals out to my dad directly.
The counter service meals were the ones that I was the most concerned about. When you get to the cashier, let him or her know that you have a special dietary need. A chef or manager will then come out to speak with you. When they come out, they will bring with them a binder filled with almost every substitution you could think of for every type of dietary need. It helps to have an idea of what you would like based on what is on the menu. For my dad, it was usually a type of grilled chicken sandwich. Sometimes the substitution was as simple as the type of cheese on it. Other times it was a bit more complex. Regardless, the chefs and managers were always patient and knowledgeable. After his order was placed, my dad was given a pager (similar to the ones you are given at restaurants like Applebee’s or T.G.I. Friday’s when you are waiting for a table). When his order was ready, the pager went off and the manager or chef he had spoken to before brought his order out to him.
Sometimes it took my dad’s special orders a little longer than the rest of our food to be delivered. Other times it was delivered more quickly. It really just depended on how busy each restaurant was at the time and how many substitutions needed to be made. One thing I should note is that we were never charged for any of the substitutions. Even if the chef had to create something completely new that was not on the menu, we were just charged for something comparable. If you are on the Disney dining plan, you will never have to pay anything extra out of pocket for your substitutions.
Eating at Disney World was one of the best experiences we have had since my dad’s dietary needs changed. It was the first time I had ever seen him actually relax and enjoy himself at restaurants. It was also the first time I had ever seen him go back for a second serving of anything at a buffet! I love how knowledgeable the staff is and how they take the extra step of having the chef who prepares the food bring it directly to you. We are planning another trip to Disney World for October 2014 and my dad already has a list of new restaurants he wants to try!
Have you experienced eating at Disney World with special dietary needs? I would love to hear your thoughts!