Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disney World and Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies: It Really Is the Happiest Place on Earth

For years, I've heard about how nut allergy-friendly Disney World in Orlando, FL is and I can now say that I know it to be true firsthand. A couple of weeks ago my family finally went to Disney and while it was just a fun time overall, the approach to food allergies it what made the experience even more special for my entire family.

I know that summer is winding to a close, but for any of you contemplating visiting Disney World in the future, I thought I had to share this summer vacation story. Disney World does their best to help and accommodate guests with food allergies. Even better, they do it in a friendly and knowledgeable way. Here's our experience:

When we first arrived at Disney after a long road trip, it was very late at night and everybody was hungry. We wound up in Tomorrow Land in one of the few late-night Magic Kingdom restaurants, Cosmic Ray's, and spoke to one of the workers. Without batting an eye, she brought out a binder with all of the foods that people with peanut/tree nut allergies could eat -- it was so detailed it even had photos of some of the ingredients used and their labels so you could read them yourself. And that really set the tone for the rest of our trip. We were pleasantly surprised at how well nut allergies were handled at the different parks and restaurants.

Everywhere we went, food allergies were handled in a very professional way. Everything was very well thought out -- more than I've ever experienced. For example, we were able to get into the Be Our Guest (Beauty and The Beast castle) for lunch one day and you ordered using a touch screen. The meal was then delivered to your table (in Disney lingo this is "counter service."). During the touch screen ordering process, you were able to enter what food allergies you had, if any, and then the screen showed you what items you were able to order. It made the entire process much easier for us, that's for sure! In addition, a Disney chef came to our table to discuss our order and answer any questions. The best part: my daughter was able to have a delicious chocolate cupcake with amazing chocolate filling and decoration including a chocolate piece that said "Be Our Guest" in gold. Yes, a cupcake. If you deal with nut allergies, you know what a big deal that is. Apparently certain of the desserts at Be Our Guest were baked on site in separate areas. So, bring on the cupcake!

We even got to visit Gaston's Tavern later that day, right near the Beauty and The Beast Castle. Again, they referred us to a binder with thorough food allergy info. Guess who got to enjoy a ginormous cinnamon roll? It was wonderful to be able to serve my daughter some baked goods and sweets that are normally off-limits due to cross-contact.

A view of the Beauty and the Beast castle tower and spires.
We were fortunate to have been able to book another character dining experience, this time with an advanced reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table located in the iconic Cinderella castle. You book your reservation online and again, you are asked at that time to enter any food allergies in your reservation. At this character dinner (which was pricey, granted, but you get several souvenirs including a professional photo with Cinderella, photo ops with 6 princesses, take home souvenirs, and pretty much everything a princess could want), the chef came to our table and talked about the food in detail. He explained how he would go about creating a safe meal, a few substitutions he would do and how the kitchen worked. He knew his stuff and he persevered explaining everything to us even though the place got very noisy as someone got engaged at the restaurant as he was talking to us :)) He was very sweet to our daughter and delivered the substituted food to the table himself. Pretty impressive. Kudos to you, Chef Carlos.

Snow White came to chat at Cinderella's Royal Table.

Now,my  daughters are older -- 11 and 14. They're not tiny little kids anymore but at Disney it doesn't matter. Everyone gets to be a kid there and treated to a good experience. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of everyone we dealt with.

This  is where we ate at Epcot. Tres bien.

We also visited Epcot. Now, of course we avoided the Chinese food there, but we did walk into a French bistro with no reservation. Again, the chef came out, substituted some bread for an allergy-safe bread (it was gluten-free, too and my daughter said it was tasty) and suggested safe menu items. He displayed an excellent understanding of cross contact so we felt very good about the whole thing. And lo and behold, while were eating, Belle (she's French, of course) walked by us right outside the window. Talk about serendipity.

To be clear: you can't eat everything at Disney World if you have a peanut/tree nut allergy. However, the clear labels, the detailed binders and the knowledgeable restaurant and food service staff will do everything they can to explain what you CAN have and how they can provide you with a happy, allergy-free dining experience. Even the "walk up" restaurants, for the most part, had decent options for our daughter. And like I said before, they take cross-contact seriously. With hundreds of restaurants at Disney, I obviously didn't visit them all but the ones I did were awesome.

We also visited Universal Studios and Harry Potter World/Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley and they had similar binders which were very helpful. However, my daughter could not have the much talked about beverage -- Butter Beer. They had it listed for cross-contact with peanuts/tree nuts but at least they warned us, which we all appreciated. We at at the Three Broomsticks Tavern (I think that's what it was called. It was a long day. :) Also, the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley seemed to have similar menu and set up. Just check with the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and they will steer you towards their allergy info.

By the way, here's how to make Butter Beer at home. Take some cream soda, add a couple of spoonfuls of butterscotch ice cream topping or syrup (I use Hershey's, please read labels!) and swirl it together. Add some ice. Top with whipped cream and some more butterscotch.  Yum.

I hope I was able to shed some light on Disney World for anyone thinking about going there. Of course, everyone has different needs so I encourage you to visit the Disney World web site as we did to get started with your plans. When you see how they handle things, it makes you realize that nearly every restaurant could approach things the same way with the right education.

Disney gets an A+ from my family. Hope to see it again -- soon!

For more info on managing daily life with nut allergies, check out my e-book, available on Kindle and other formats (see the right side bar of this blog for more info.) Thanks to everyone for your great feedback on my book!


Lynn said...

Disney is great with allergies! Last time I went a chef walked around with me and told me everything that was safe. Can't wait to go back.

DramaMama said...

So glad to read this as we may be going again this October. We were there last December but that was before my daughter was diagnosed pa, TA and apple. She did not have a reaction while there. But now we need to be careful if we go again. I had read somewhere that the Mickey shaped ice cream bars are not safe, which will crush my daughter. What would be a safe alternative??

Jenny said...

Lynn, I'm so glad you had a good experience, too. It's very reassuring to have chefs talk to you personally about what you can have or how they can safely substitute. Disney is amazing that way. It does kind of spoil you for every other place. Thanks for stopping by the blog! Best, Jenny

Jenny said...

Hi DramaMama, Wow, I'm not sure of an exact substitute for the Mickey bars. I don't think we ever saw one the whole time we were at Disney, so they should be relatively easy to avoid. Our family avoids ice cream shops, even at Disney because of the cross-contact so maybe they were available in the ice cream eateries. My advice for sweet treats is to visit Belle's Be Our Guest restaurant for lunch or if you can get a reservation, dinner. For lunch you just walk up and get in line and that's how we got in.Anyway, Be Our Guest had several baked treats that were deemed safe for nut allergies including the amazing chocolate cupcake my daughter enjoyed. Gaston's Pub also has a really good cinnamon roll that was safe for nut allergies as well (that I mention in the post.) Desserts can be tricky at any restaurant, even some at Disney, that's why we were so thrilled with Be Our Guest. Hope you enjoy your next Disney trip! Also, check out -- they have a section for Disney World. Best, Jenny

Julie said...

The cinnamon roll is safe? Happy Dance. Happy Happy Dance.

Jenny said...

Hi Julie, :) I know!! Be sure to check with staff at Gaston's Pub in case of changes, but it was fine while we were there.

Maggie said...

Disney World truly is a magical place. Everyone there had so much great knowledge on food allergies! It was great, and really added to the magic of Disney. I blog about food allergies

Unknown said...

I know this blog was a year ago, but the butter beer comment about peanuts/tree nuts flagged me. We're going to WDW and Universal in a few weeks and I'm looking at personal blogs about what others experienced.

I decided to email Universal and this was their response: There are not peanuts or tree nuts in the Butterbeer or the topping, and nuts are not processed in the same facility as Butterbeer. A guest with peanut or tree nut allergies can enjoy the Butterbeer!

Jenny said...

That's great! Maybe they changed it. When we were at Universal, they referred us to a menu with ingredients/cross contact info. It said it had cross-contact risk. I'm hoping they have changed this--it would be great to enjoy a Butterbeer next time we visit.

Unknown said...

I just talked to someone at universal and the confirmed there is a cross contamination risk with the butter beer and cannot guarantee it will be but free, so I am having doubts about letting my son have it.

Jenny said...

Hi Justin, It's possible that they changed the formula back and forth or even the way they label it. Obviously, if they're saying they can't guarantee it, you have to go with what they're telling you. When we were there, they told us there was cross-contact with peanuts/tree nuts so we skipped it.

However, there's lots of other good food and stuff there, so have fun!