We took our daughter, Caroline, for her first trip to Walt Disney World when she was 7 months old. This first trip was before we knew about food allergies, when she was still mostly on the bottle and throwing baby food and Cheerios on the floor. The second trip a year later was a bigger concern. I am a detail person, so I did exhaustive research and preparation to make sure that everything would go smoothly and safely. I have learned more with each trip since and am happy to share all I’ve learned with you – the most important thing to know is that it can be done, and it can be safely.
First of all, when you (or your travel agent) call Disney Dining (407)WDW-DINE (hopefully 180 days out from your reservation to get the best availability) to make your dining reservations you will tell the reservationist over the phone that someone in your party has food allergies and that you would like all the reservations to be flagged. They are very well-trained on this circumstance and will know what to do. Provide them with as much detail as possible regarding what your child can and can't eat, they will enter everything into the computer and it will be sent to every restaurant for which you make reservations. At the end of your call they will also provide you with telephone numbers for the Special Dietary Needs departments (main number: (407) 824-5967) at each of the parks or resorts where you will be eating. Go ahead and call and leave a message with your contact info, someone will return the call shortly and send to you via email the most current forms to fill out and return. You will need to have your dining reservations confirmation numbers to fill this out. I would wait to send it back in until about 2 to 3 weeks before you leave for your trip just in case you decide to make any last minute additions, changes or cancellations to your reservations.
Wait. Are you already feeling overwhelmed? This is where working with a Disney Authorized Vacation Planner will really pay off. We are used to dealing with these details and can either help walk you through it, or simply handle all the paperwork for you!
So, what does all this prep work do for you? When you arrive at each restaurant during your vacation the cast member (Disney employee) who checks you in should verbally confirm that you have a food allergic person in your party and let you know that the chef will be coming to your table to speak with you prior to any food being served (if they don’t, speak up!). This will be the head chef in the kitchen, so if it takes a few minutes try to be understanding - it's worth the wait to talk to the person who is absolutely in charge.
Depending on the style of meal, the chef will either go through the menu and let you know which items have the allergens and which don't or they will walk with you through the entire buffet line and detail which items are safe and which aren't. Every Disney chef we have ever encountered has an extraordinary understanding of the threat of cross-contamination, particularly in the buffet. Often, they will prepare the offerings you select separately in the kitchen and bring it out to your table to eliminate any risk of cross-contamination.
Many times they can and will offer safe alternatives to what's being offered, too. For example, every single breakfast that we had on Disney property was supplemented with Van's Waffles. This is the main reason it is so critical to fill out your forms and return them to the Special Diets Team – the chefs can and will order specialty replacement items to be on hand for your arrival, but only if they know you are coming! We’ve done last minute walk-up meals and had hit or miss success with having alternatives on hand. Generally speaking, shipments arrive at the kitchens on Tuesdays, so you have the best chance of alternatives being available without prior notice starting at dinner on Tuesday and decreasing throughout the week as the supplies are used.
The Cast Members who work in Special Dietary Needs can also provide you with an impressively thorough list of foods available at different "counter service" locations that are free of common allergens. Everything from where you can find egg free chicken nuggets on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom to where you can find dairy free ice cream at the Animal Kingdom. These lists change frequently, so be sure to verify and re-verify before you leave and always ask to speak with the manager on duty at a counter-service location before ordering.
If your food allergic child is very young, you’ll need to take the same precautions at Disney World that you do when eating out at home. Eating in a public place is dicey with any toddler or preschooler. They're loud, they're unpredictable and they tend to throw things like food and tantrums. However, despite knowing all of this, millions of families still manage to eat out in public with them every day. We, as parents of kids with serious food allergies, should have the same right in inflict our little tyrannical toddlers on the wider world of peaceable diners as every other parent. To be particularly cautious I also bring a travel sized pack of Clorox wipes to clean off the high chair or booster seat and the table and plastic table covers to further reduce the risk. You can skip this if you don't have to particularly worry about possible cross contamination from any previous sticky fingers - it will depend on how sensitive your child is.
If you’re celebrating a birthday or special occasion, be sure to remind your wait staff cast member of your child’s allergy, they can provide safe treat alternatives to the standard cupcake offering. We’ve had great success with receiving Divvie’s brand chocolate chip cookies without any advance warning.
Also important to note, at Disney's Animal Kingdom, the Animal Programs keepers roam the Park throughout the day and at any given time could have nuts in their pocket to use for demonstration and educational purposes while handling birds. Birds are located in just about every area of the Park. Be mindful that these keepers would have nut oil on their hands and remnants in their clothing.
Based on my personal policy of always being over-prepared, I also made sure to have all of our reservation confirmation numbers listed along with copies of the allergy forms that I provided to Disney and printed copies of official Disney policy regarding guests with food allergies. I print them straight from the official Disney website so I can show them in the event that I run into any problems (which I never have). You can find those policies here: and hereMost of all, remember that the extra effort you put into being totally prepared and armed with all this information will pay off with a magical vacation your kids (and you) will never forget. Walt Disney World is one of the few places on earth that is fully equipped and happy to accommodate guests with food allergies. Nowhere else that I know of goes so far to make your experience safe and wonderful.