The backlash to dining out with an allergy is real, people. Confusion and judment, impatience and frustration are alive & well, on both sides of the table. But NOT at Walt Disney World Resort.
The 3D Travel Team starts making dining reservations for our clients more than 180 days in advance of their first moment on property. Planning that far in advance to dine in places you've never even seen before can be daunting, even if you have no allergies to deal with. But what if you have celiac disease or a tree-nut, peanut or any other allergy? What if you're used to giving up, because the battle to eat out just isn't worth it? And maybe you think when people tell you "anyone can eat at Walt Disney World" that the other person talking does NOT understand the struggle? And you could be right! But I do.
My family has personally been there and done that with celiac disease. I also took the time to chat with Jodi Whisenhunt of Magical Mouse Schoolhouse who, along with her tree-nut and peanut allergic son, has an annual pass and has made more visits to Walt Disney World restaurants than she can count. Between the two of us, we have the process down. If it is possible for your family to comfortably dine at Walt Disney World with a very real reaction to certain foods, then this article should provide you with enough information to make that decision. Let's get started!
The food choices for many restaurants at Walt Disney World change frequently, but you can definitely get an idea of the type of menus before you go. As of this writing (and please drop me a line if this changes so I can update this post for future needy travelers!) simply visit their website & choose any restaurant, then look at a menu. There is a drop-down menu on the upper left hand corner where you can limit the areas you're looking (like choosing a park or resort). Once you click through to a restaurant, you'll look on the right hand side for a link labeled "view menu."
I have a few items to help you, as you think and plan ahead.
- Most Disney owned sit-down restaurants - Table Service in Disney venacular - have a chef. Even the ones with buffets have a chef. And most of those chefs have a dedicated area either in their own kitchen or that they have access to that is specifically for preparing allergy free items. I would love to tell you that ALL of the restaurants have a dedicated area, because every single one we've visited has confirmed for me they have one or have access to one, but of course I haven't visited the inside of all the kitchens, so I can't say for sure.
- These chefs have experienced extensive training prepared by and facilitated by Disney. In fact, many restaurant managers also go through the same training. You will NEVER have to prepare a Disney chef by explaining what gluten is or how your specific allergic reactions can be scary, so they really should keep ALL the ingredients apart from your food. They'll know. They may even know as much as you do! Can you imagine?
- If a restaurant is not Disney owned, your mileage may vary. Where are these restaurants? The Swan & Dolphin restaurants, many restaurants at Disney Springs and off course, off-site restaurants will not have chefs trained by Disney. Of course, they can and often are good experiences too, but it's not a guarantee. If it's your first visit and/or you're deeply concerned about the safety and security of your child or yourself, then I recommend you start with Disney owned restaurants and experience their level of care, before branching out.
- You may need to drop them an email before you go, so they can stock up on supplies to feed you. When we travel with celiac kids & stay at value resorts, we know that the parks and our resort will have plenty of gluten free stock to choose from. However, if you have a less-frequent allergy or multiple allergies in your party, plan to enjoy quick service dining in your home resort and it's not a value resort or you just want to cover your bases, drop Disney an email. See that blue button below? Click on it & you'll be able to read Disney's latest policy on allergen/special diets & exactly how to email them that you are coming.
Q: Are some resorts' quick-service locations better than others, when it comes to accommodating special diets at Walt Disney World? A: No - And Yes!
No - they are all equal, because they're all staffed with trained Cast Members (Disney speak for employees) and have knowledge of the ingredients they're using to prepare your food, plus any cross-contamination that is possible. But Yes - they are not all equal, because sometimes location and need dictates a couple of things - (1) how much allergen-friendly food is stocked there and available for preparation to feed you, and (2) access to a large enough kitchen to fix you those varying menu items.
Truthfully, most vacationers plan to spend nearly all their days in the parks, spending dining credits and Disney dining dollars while touring. If that's the case for your travel party, you're going to be just fine, no matter where you lay your head in a bed. But if you plan to spend a lot of time in your resort and/or you plan to use a lot of quick service credits/counter service dining time during your trip, you may want to consider the resort's quick service dining options as part of your decision. If that is your situation, you can find our list of our personal recommendations at the bottom of this post.
Having enjoyed the concierge/club-level accommodations at many of the Disney Deluxe resorts, along with other concierge service on other properties, we can recommend club level at Disney for allergy sufferers, but with a bit of a caveat. We've found they are often overwhelmed with meeting the needs of our celiac kiddos, even with advanced warning by our 3D Travel Agent (we use one, too!) and reminding them while onsite. We recommend you allow extra time for dining in your club lounge, so you aren't disappointed by the wait.
When we pop in for breakfast, we'll sometimes run over early to remind them we're coming. This seems to help! What we have never experienced is any kind of resentment or distress on the part of those caring for us, and I think you'll agree that's the most important piece of the puzzle!
It's Reservation Day!
Hopeflly you've been chatting with your 3D Travel Agent about your choices & they're ready to help you make reservations at the earliest possible time, but even if you've started the process late, they're going to be happy to help you find the best options for your family. Part of the service we provide our clients is not only consulations, but also making the dining reservations on your behalf.
In case you decide to do your own dining, you'll either make your reservations on Disney's website, the app or by calling in. Whichever choice you've made, you'll want to verify the allergy is noted on each dining reservation.
While You're There
Beware of the Bread!
Cross contamination can be an issue for those with a nut allergy, as the bread at WDW is often prepared offsite. If in doubt, ask for confirmation it is not cross contaminated.
Counter Service Tips
Not every counter service location is the same process. Here is what you may encounter.
- Waiting for a Chef - In many resort locations and some park locations, you'll be advised to wait for a chef, who will come out and discuss your needs. While you wait, check out the menus & form some opinions of two or three options you see that you might like to have prepared separately in the allergen-free kitchen. Sometimes you could be very surprised by what is possible for you!
- Using an Allergy Menu - If you approach a rope-line as you walk up to order at a quick service restaurant or even if you don't, you may be offered a plastic menu. If that happens, ask for the allergy version. Once you've received it, make sure there are options available for your particular needs. If there aren't any listed, it doesn't mean they can't make something for you. Always take time to ask!
- A buzzer to take to the table - you may be given a buzzer to take with you. You'll be able to pay and secure a table while you wait.
- Standing on tired feet while they prepare your special order - many locations do not have buzzers & you'll need to stay put, possibly stepping back to allow other diners to collect their food and go. Patience is KEY & we also recommend dining in off times, if possible.
- An Extended Wait - it's not unusual for the non-allergen portion of our family to order, eat and still be waiting for the allergy order. It's also not unusual for the allergy order to come out well ahead of the regular diners. Why does this happen? It's all about supply and demand. If there are a lot of allergy orders in front of you, then you'll be waiting longer. If this is the only allergy order, then you can move ahead of the masses queuing up for the regular menu.
Table Service Tips
Here are our recommendations for your Table Service dining experiences at Walt Disney World.
- As you check in for your dining reservation, verify the allergy has been noted on the reservation.
- Once you are seated, verify one last time with your server.
- If you are in doubt, ask! We've had such wonderful substitutes at Walt Disney World, we doubted they could be allergen-free, so we asked! Every single time, they considered it a compliment.
- You may speak to a chef or your server may be able to accommodate your order, especially if you have a common allergen. If they tell you they can handle it, they can.
Resort Recommendations for Quick Service Allergy Meals
Value Resorts - Value Resorts are an excellent location for common allergy sufferers who will be spending multiple quick service meals at their resort. Best choices are Art of Animation & Pop Century, but all of them are very accommodating.
Full list of Value Resorts - Disney's All-Star Movies Resort, Disney's All-Star Music Resort, Disney's All-Star Sports Resort, Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Disney's Pop Century Resort
The Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort is considered a Value Resort for pricing, but does not include the same quick service dining options. In fact, there is really no place to enjoy quick service there, at all! We recommend all our clients choose to stay in other resorts if they have a quick service dining plan.