The sun, sand, beaches and tons of fun that never ends, that’s what vacations are made of and we all love them. I look forward to the winter and summer months as that is when we are often jet set and about. This year we have traveled up and down the east coast from Orlando, Florida to Niagara Falls, New York and as we have traveled we learned a lot more about traveling with food allergies. My son has life-threatening food allergies to latex, fish, nuts, honey and more, while my daughter is Gluten Free. It is astonishing at the number of establishments that do not offer any sort of allergen-free menu in lieu of the fact that there are so many people, adults and children with food diagnosed food allergies. As we traveled on all of these trips, I have been writing about where eating can be a bit less stressful. This is my story of Vacation & Gluten Free Dining.
Food allergies are not food aversions, these are true reactions to foods that can cause those with the specific allergy anything from nausea to a full blown trip to the ER room with reactions. My children have food allergies and the resulting reactions are very serious and for one life-threatening. We travel a lot and if you have kept up with all my blogs, you already know that my daughter is strictly gluten-free and has Crohn’s, while my one son has allergies to latex, shellfish, peanuts, most fruits and all bee products making dining a virtual nightmare. Add in the fact that for health reasons I eat NO MEAT, so I am strictly a vegetarian and dining out becomes complex.
We all work around their dining issues, as well as mine, and we get very creative so that we can dine out but we also know our limits. I always have a list with me reminding me of what the kids can and can’t eat(there are 3 children and me and my brain often functions on overdrive, so my backup plan is the note). The thing about dining Gluten Free is that it does demand attention to planning the details but as long as you eat your basics(and it is not cross contaminated-that is always the challenge of gf eating) then you can vacation with ease and dine out.
Gluten free eating demands sticking to those basics, meats(without breading), veggies and fruits, however, the other allergies I have to work around are where my truest challenge test even the most savvy allergen-fending mom! Let’ take a look at how to vacation and dine out with allergies. Do keep in mind I am dealing with 2 sets of very different allergies as well as my vegetarian only menu, so it is more difficult to pacify and satisfy our menu needs, but it can be done with planning as we lavishly live vacation and dining out with allergies out loud!
In Florida, we had no shortage of great places to dine especially when we were in Universal and Disney. The challenges however were in Disney with the wait for the allergen free foods, but we did manage. Don’t forget when you are in the amusement parks you can pack and bring those necessary foods rather than purchasing and in many cases, outside of drinks we just did this to avoid the wait times and having to seek out those places that catered to the allergies. In Universal we had a world of choices and the Head Chef provided us a great list of where we could grab those most wanted foods like fries that were in a dedicated fryer. Read all about where to dine in Universal if you have food allergies like ours, but remember ASK each staff member when you are there as things change daily and this was information based on our most recent stay.
UNIVERSAL & GLUTEN FREE DINING
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.
The Hard Rock Cafe has so many options from Gluten Free Buns to Nut free foods all prepared latex free, but you have to ask and it is right in CityWalk. Since CityWalk is right on the path to either part of Universal getting out of the park and dining there is effortless. The staff is amazing and the managers will do everything they possibly can to accommodate your party, trust me they offer outstanding service. Want to know more about Hard Rock dining, check my article.
Olive Garden is all over the USA and while you must let the Manager know about your allergies, they have an amazing Gluten Free, Nut Free, Shellfish free menu, however…. Latex remains a challenge in this facility and it differs from location to location, BUT ask. In Pittsburgh, salads are prepped with Latex Gloves, bread-sticks are touched with latex gloves and the fresh fruit is prepped with latex gloves on as well creating a problem for our dining needs. We often pass the salad for our son, and the fresh fruit, but the servers usually are able to do something about the bread-sticks and do not use latex in the prep of his own portion. We have had latex problems there 2 years ago on Mother’s Day, he ate grapes and for 2 days he had the latex toxins through his stomach and a latex reaction, so we learned then and there to ask about fresh fruit(these are things you don’t learn until you have the problem and it is too late). We alerted our manager in Olive Garden in Orlando and we had a perfect meal, no problems, gluten free, nut free, shellfish free and latex free.
Applebee’s. We love our local Applebee’s and we successfully dine up in all other locations with this chain. My daughter is able to eat GF as there are dedicated foods for her menu and our son can eat there as well. However – the fryer is not dedicated which means no fries and he ends up with buttered noodles and grilled meats(steak, chicken, etc). He usually just orders what he wants(he is so basic, pasta, or meats and a salad) and he is fine. We always tell the manager on duty and the GM generally visits our table to make sure that all is fine. My complaint with Applebee’s is often the staffing as we have had no middle of the line service, either really good or really bad(like in Cheekatowaga).
Bonefish – children and adults alike will relish in the atmosphere, food choices and desserts that boast Gluten Free, and Nut free dining. If you let them know ahead that you are coming, they make sure all your allergy requests are met and they go an extra step, because while they are a chain, each dining experience is individual. Well worth grabbing a reservation and visiting. Gluten Free brownies are on the menu if this helps make a decision:)
Max & Erma’s. – this establishment is great for those with food allergies, but the service is ‘spotty’ at best. We have had really great meals with servers that never come back to refill or we have had the opposite experience where a server is tripping over themselves to take care of our table. With locations in PA, Kentucky, S. Dakota, Missouri, W. Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and a few others, there are not as many, but you can get great vegetarian, gluten free, and allergen free meals, again let your server know and do not order the cookies for dessert as they are NOT allergen free.
Buca Di Beppo– My kids love it here and we do as well. We have traveled in more than one state dining in this facility and is perfect for our family, as it offers Gluten Free, and Nut free options. Latex Warning: salads are prepped with latex gloves in the morning, so depending on your latex allergy severity you may not be able to dine on the salads. Pizza is amazing, as are all the veggies. There are no gluten free options at this time!
Subway – that’s right, I said it, a simple meal that we can all eat. Gluten free and vegetarians can dine on salads with or without meat and nut free as well as latex free can enjoy subs of any sort and the price is budget-friendly.
Disney Dining – While you can dine allergen free at Disney, get ready to wait, because first you place an order, tell the server about your allergies, then the next person is brought forward(a food service manager) and you are then presented choices. Once they take the order, you stand at the counter or wait, for this part of the meal to be prepared as it must be done separately. You almost end up wanting to just take your chances eating food that is not within the realm of your possibilities. We lost more than 30 minutes per food seating, just waiting for these ‘specialty’ menus to be prepared. It was funny, because there are so many people with the same allergies, that I can’t understand the wait time. The end result however is delicious food that brought a smile to the kids, so you can dine safely. We ate in EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom.
Junk It Up: We always steer away from Panera, because as much as I LOVE their products, they are not latex free. We have found that we can stop at Dunkin Donuts, but not for the Gluten Free aspect. Domino’s offers gluten free pizza and Uno Pizzeria does as well. When we need a fast food run, Wendy’s offers a baked potato, chili and salad that my daughter can enjoy for Gluten Free dining(no croutons), while my son can eat the burgers and fries. McDonald’s is a little bit limiting especially if you are a vegetarian, but I have learned to use the dollar side salads to eat lunches. The children can generally have the fries(we do ask first about dedicated fryers out of habit), but there are no such things as gluten free buns at MCD, so my daughter ends up with a burger or chicken no bun, a yogurt and a salad or fries. The nut allergies and latex are not a factor at MCD, unless of course you order nuts on your sundae, which we don’t. One of our favorite stops is Taco Bell as there is something for everyone such as crunchy tacos that are gluten free, to most menu items for my son. I can eat bean burritos or salads sins meat making it a great stop for all.
See a Medieval Times around? They are Gluten Free, Nut Free and you can eat a vegetarian menu. It seems almost impossible that this dining event would cater to all our needs, but it does and it makes this a must in each state that we visit that hosts this establishment. We visited Orlando’s Medieval Times and shortly we will be at Myrtle Beach Medieval Times because the show is amazing and the food is awesome!
In order to achieve a successful dine around while you are vacationing, it is imperative you advocate for your family and yourself. We always check in with the hosting staff, server and they send the manager. You can never be to careful and you don’t want to end up hospitalized from eating food that was cross-contaminated. We have found wonderful serving staffs in most places we have dined at, and there have been a few that were not worried about the allergies and we simply left rather than dining and creating incident. Call ahead, talk to the manager, the chef, the serving staff and check online as many menus are published like Macaroni Grill and Bonefish. Vacations are to be fun, stress free times and with a little prep ahead you can enjoy your time away from home. Here’s to lavishly living vacation and Gluten Free Dining Out loud!