We are getting ready for Disney, and Universal Orlando, and we are holding our breath for success in dining out with kids and allergies. If you recall between my 3 kids we have some serious allergies: latex, bee products, all fish, Gluten Free, many fruits, dairy intolerance and a few more. While it may seem like no large deal to most, trying to make sure that one child does not need an epi pen while the others don’t have a reaction and end up ill for the trip precautionary planning is a must! Preparing for Disney and Universal Orlando for kids with allergies ahead of time is a must and here is what I have learned and prepped for so far!
Universal Orlando is so much more workable than Disney for allergy planning. I have spoken to the head chefs of the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando( Executive Chef, Douglas Chin) as well as Universal Parks Chef(Bobby Burdick) and we know down to the food stand where we can and cannot eat. Disney has been a bit more elusive, as well as challenging to get straight out answers which makes it a bit frustrating from my perspective.
Here is what we have learned without challenge from Universal Orlando: The Kitchen inside of the Hard Rock Hotel is an amazing option for kids with allergies. They are open for three meals a day, beginning at 7am and closing at 11pm, so we are sure to find food that my kids can consume without running all over town. Additionally, The Beach Club is open from 11am to 11pm. Both of the restaurants are overseen by Executive Chef, Douglas Chin. Your first reaction might be, “well you will pay a lot more to eat at the hotel” and my response to you is, “our payment could be children at the hospital if we are not careful and having a committed staff such as those that work at the Hard Rock Universal and Universal Parks makes it more possible to dine without hassles as they are ready and waiting for us so we won’t have food mistakes, which could be costly to my children’s health!”
As for Universal Parks, Chef Bobby Burdick has given me a lot of great insight, and while I advise you check before you go(as food vendors and suppliers change) we do have a set eating plan which is 99% of the battle when traveling with kids that can not eat at many places! In Universal Studios there are fruit stands with apples, oranges, grapes, watermelon and so on. Turkey legs on food carts are great for the Gluten Free, nut free need and they come smoked or plain!. There is also a full service food unit o Lombard’s Landing and Finnegan’s. In each Lombard’s Landing and Finnegan’s the chefs can go over all the foods he can create for my kids!
Islands of Adventure offers 2 full service restaurants: Confisco’s and Mytho’s There are chefs in both of these and they can again go through and help meet our special dining needs. I would suggestion reservations and you can make those through Open Table. If you are by Thunder Falls you can walk up and eat and enjoy things like smoked chicken, smoked ribs, roasted corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. Here is a bonus note: French Fries here are all natural and cooked in soy blend oil and the fryer is dedicated to the fries, so my little boy can eat fries! We have learned from Chef Bob to not order any of the desserts in the parks because of allergens that may be in them or gluten.
Imagine, we are not even at the parks and we have a bunch of info, planned food stops and reservations! We are simply amazed and thankful for the help and customer service we have found at Universal Orlando.
Now, let’s talk Disney and the lack of information available. It is not so easy to get a straight answer. I have called in at least 6 times and not only can we not speak to any of the chefs directly, we also can not seem to get a straight answer for phone numbers to their dining facilities ‘in-park” we also can’t get answers from those we speak to on the dining line. We are told that we need to alert them about our allergies, all buffets are out(due to cross contamination) and in the buffet services there are often not menus available to straight order from. We have used the special dining email, and filled out the form for our reservations, but here is what we have been told: ” Whether dining at a table-service or quick-service restaurant, Guest food allergy or intolerance requirements will be addressed when brought to our attention. Due to the large volume of meals we serve, vendors and suppliers occasionally swap out product. Therefore menu items and preparation is often updated. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts will use reasonable efforts to prevent the introduction of the allergen of concern into the food through close attention during our sourcing, preparation and handling processes. However, it is ultimately up to the Guest to use his or her individual discretion to make an informed choice regarding whether to order any particular items. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts cannot guarantee that allergens may not have been introduced during another stage of the food chain process or, even inadvertently, during preparation. We do not have separate kitchens to prepare allergen-free items or separate dining areas for Guests with allergies or intolerances”
Now here is something else that will suck the fun out of Animal Kingdom. “Please be aware that at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, our 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.”
While our situations for dietary needs are not the norm, they are certainly not extra-ordinary as food allergies are becoming more and more prominent and foods choices then become much less grandiose to those that have these allergies. Eating is something that is necessary and happens everyday so the choices should be just as easy to find. I have spent a few months gathering all the info and I will continue to inform you as we go. Our motto should read: Have allergies, will travel, Will we find food? Here is to getting gluten free, and allergy-free foods and a great trip ahead!