Special Needs Dining at Walt Disney World Resortby Kylie Chamberlin, contributing writer
Vacationing at Walt Disney World with a person who has allergies, intolerances, or a medically restricted diet, whether this is yourself or someone in your party, can feel like a daunting task. After all, eating out just near home, especially if that person is a young child, can be an ordeal. Even just thinking about traveling far from home and the familiar grocery store and your safe kitchen, is enough to make some travelers break out in a cold sweat.
However, going on a Walt Disney World Resort vacation with allergies is not only manageable, but enjoyable. The resort understands the growing concern of those with allergies, food intolerances, and medically restrictive diets, and is responsive to this need. Disney was the recipient of the FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) Award, which means that such guests have a variety of options while enjoying their vacation.
WDW is more than willing to help accommodate any allergies. No advanced notice is required if you or a member of your party has common food allergies, such as gluten/wheat, lactose/dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, fish, eggs, or corn. Disney can usually accommodate these allergens at most table service locations, as well as some quick service locations. The resort does, however, request that you contact them at least two weeks before arriving, so that a plan can be made for Disney to make every effort to accommodate these special dietary need:
- Guests with multiple allergies or intolerances
- A party with a multiple number of guests with food allergies
- Guests with phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Guests with a metabolic disorder
Disney has a variety of dining options, including table service dining, buffets, and quick-service dining and offers different accommodations. From April to September last year, WDW and Disneyland (in California) made changes and updated the menus of more than 120 table service and quick-service dining locations in resorts, parks, and their downtown areas to have more allergy-friendly offerings. Finding an alternative choice if you have a common allergy is getting to be easier.
At table service dining, guests with allergies or special dietary needs should inform the dining location when they make their reservation and again when they arrive at the location. Chefs can typically make substitutions for guests with allergies, and guests are always welcome to request to speak with the chef or manager about their allergy or restriction before ordering.
At buffets, guests should ask to speak to a manager or chef about special dietary needs upon arrival. Typically, a chef or other cast member will walk guests through the line and point out what offerings would be acceptable for their specific needs or allergies.
At quick-service dining locations, guests can select a variety of options including gluten-free, vegetarian, diary free and so on. Substitutions can sometimes be made in the case of allergies, and selections are usually plentiful so that guests can find something they can eat safely.
Walt Disney World resort guests with special dietary needs are permitted to bring their own food into the parks or into dining locations even though cast members cannot prepare, store, or cook those food items. When security checks your bag, Disney just encourages guests to inform them that they have a guest in their party with food allergies.
Personal food can also be stored in hotel rooms. Guests can request a refrigerator in their room (either at at the Front Desk or by calling), but this is subject to availability and may be an extra charge. While staying at the All-Star Resorts and at the Wilderness Lodge, I had a mini-fridge in my room on both occasions at no extra charge. So it may or may not be included.
My younger sister has an intolerance to milk and I am allergic to cardamom (a spice often found in pumpkin or squash dishes). Our experience in dining at Walt Disney World with these restrictions has been positive. As my allergy is slight, I just stay away from food items. Any item I think may possibly contain cardamom, I either avoid, or just inquire with the cast members, who will check with the chef (if necessary) and let me know. This is a viable option if the food allergy is slight, or is an uncommong ingredient, like mine. I have a friend whose son is allergic to strawberries, and she simply stayed away from those items while on vacation.
As for my sister, they were more than happy to offer other choices for her. For example, when kids meals included milk as a beverage, they would substitute juice or soy milk in some locations. Most quick-service locations already had those offers available on the menu, and cast members were very pleasant throughout the entire process.
You can browse any menus online or using the Disney Parks smartphone application as well, to see what choices they offer before heading to a restaurant. This is a great tool for quick service places, which may not be able to accommodate as much as table service locations. Also, if you do not want to bring food in your suitcase, some grocery stores in Orlando will also deliver food to your hotel for a fee. In addition, many Deluxe Villas have full kitchens, including the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge, Beach Club, Grand Floridian, Boardwalk, Contemporary, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Many Moderate or Deluxe resorts also offer rooms with kitchenettes. For severe allergies or many allergies, rooms with this amenity may also be a good option.
Dining with allergies, food intolerances, and medically restricted diets is entirely doable. While they don't guarantee it, they do work hard to make sure that guests with special dietary needs can enjoy dining at the Walt Disney World Resort just as much as other guests. Even with the Disney Dining Plan, the options for guest with allergies or special dietary needs are plentiful.
While it can seem like a daunting task, it's good to know that options are available, and you can bring in snacks and food items as a back-up plan. Experience in the parks dealing with food allergies over the course of my several trips to Walt Disney World has been positive. With a little research and communication with the cast members, yours can be as well.