Walt Disney World Allergy Friendly Vacation Part 4: Hollywood Studios and Epcot

This will be my last post regarding our allergy friendly vacation at Walt Disney World (WDW).  If you haven’t already, please visit my previous posts for information on all aspects of vacationing at WDW from food allergies to lodging to pricing.

After two days at the Magic Kingdom, we headed out to Hollywood Studios for the very last weekend of Star Wars Weekend.  In my opinion, Hollywood Studios didn’t have a ton for the little kids outside of Muppets, Toy Story, and a few others.  On the whole, I think Hollywood Studios is more of a teen or adult-friendly park.

Nevertheless, we had a ball.  We ate breakfast in our room again and then headed down to Hollywood Studios about 9am.  Word of warning, they could open the park earlier than the listed time.  Some visitors were upset about the change in time, so it might be a good idea to arrive early just to be on the safe side.

We rode a few rides (definitely get a Toy Story and Star Wars Tours fastpass first thing) and visited a few gift shops…especially the Star Wars shops for which my son was ecstatic to go to!  He is a total Star Wars junkie!

ROSIE’S ALL-AMERICAN CAFE AT HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Lunch was at Rosie’s All-American Cafe.  It was counter service but my hubby explained to the cashier about our food allergy needs and a manager arrived shortly to let us know what we could safely consume and took care of the order herself.  It did take a bit longer because of our food allergy needs and due to the fact that we had to wait for a manager to run across the park to help us, but it was overall a very pleasant experience.

I’m ashamed to admit that I forgot to take pictures here.  I think the heat was starting to get to me.  The kids had macaroni and cheese and Enjoy Life cookies and I dined on gluten-free chicken fingers and french fries with Enjoy Life cookies.  It was a delicious lunch and we were able to eat and be on the go again so we could make the Star Wars parade.

We chose to take a little siesta at the hotel that afternoon and return to Hollywood Studios when the weather cooled off and there were hopefully a few less people crowding into the park.  It worked like a charm!

HOLLYWOOD AND VINE AT HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

For dinner we ate at Hollywood and Vine.  The chef there (sorry I don’t have a name for you…he forgot to share his business card) was amazing.  Diners were able to do a buffet style dinner for which there were many options for us to choose from.  He offered to bring out fresh food if we were concerned about cross-contamination.  He was patient, calm, and very understanding of food allergies.  He said they have at least 15 requests a day for allergy-friendly dishes and he personally couldn’t understand why restaurants wouldn’t accommodate such a request.  Like I said, he was pretty wonderful!

My kids dined on meatballs, macaroni, corn, and broccoli with yogurt for dessert.  Meanwhile, I had rice, pork, polenta, mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit, and frozen yogurt for dessert.  It was fabulous!

On our last day at WDW, we headed to Epcot after eating boxed cereal at our room.  We had a great time at Epcot and easily spent two-thirds of our day at the front part of the park where all the rides, stores, and restaurants are located.  It was great for my seven-year-old, but even my three-year-old enjoyed it!

We ate lunch at a counter-service operation inside The Land complex.  I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember the name, but I believe it was the grilling station.  They had a lot of potential allergens in the same cooking area, so we asked to speak to the head chef who was able to steer us toward safe dining options.  Of all the places we visited for dining, this was probably my least favorite.  There weren’t an abundance of safe dining options which was a letdown after our other experiences at WDW.

GARDEN GRILL AT THE LAND

Dinner was at The Garden Grill, a very slowly rotating restaurant inside The Land complex that offers character meals.  The food is listed on your menu as to what you will be served…and I won’t lie…this made me nervous.  However, once visiting with the head chef, he was able to accommodate all of our needs AND eat almost everything listed on the menu for that night.  I was even able to treat myself to gluten-free, nut-free, peanut-free dinner rolls.  Talk about being treated like royalty.  The kids got to visit and take their picture with several of the Disney characters.  We were stuffed and happy after we left the restaurant and had fabulous experience here.  I highly recommend it!  *Be advised, reservations are a good idea here.*  When you get there, please ask to speak to head chef, Matthew Styles.

I hope you have enjoyed my series on taking an allergy friendly vacation to Walt Disney World and that you have a wonderful experience if you choose to go in the future!

Walt Disney World Allergy Friendly Vacation: Part 3

As I’m sure you’ve already noticed from my previous Walt Disney World (WDW) posts, we are such a fan of vacationing there as a family with multiple food allergies.  It was a worry and stress free trip where we could go to virtually any restaurant and find something to accommodate my son’s peanut, nut, sesame, and chickpea/garbanzo allergies and my gluten-free diet.

As promised, I’m picking up with day two of our WDW adventure.  Days two and three of our vacation were spent at the Magic Kingdom.  Every morning we chose to eat store-bought cereal and milk in the room for breakfast.  It was quick, fast, and cheap!  Everyone was so excited about getting to the park, no one was really all that focused on breakfast anyway.

COSMIC RAY’S STARLIGHT CAFE IN FANTASYLAND

For one of our lunches at the Magic Kingdom we ate at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Fantasyland.  It is a counter-service restaurant and is quite busy inside…enough to make any food allergy mom cringe at the prospects for cross contamination or a mix up in the order.  We asked someone busing a table if they could get a manager for us so we could place a food allergy friendly order.  Within seconds a manager was talking one on one with us and letting us know what meal options we could safely enjoy…and there were lots of them.  Not only did he help us understand what was safe and take our order, he then placed the order himself with the kitchen so they would understand the seriousness of that particular order.

We might have had to wait another minute or two longer than the other patrons, but it was well worth the wait.  At Cosmic Ray’s I dined on a gluten-free hot dog, french fries, and even a brownie.  It was fabulous!  My kiddos dined on AllergyFree chicken nuggets, french fries, applesauce, and milk.  The brownie I had was even safe for them so we split it three ways.  My kids and my needs were safely met and my hubby was able to order “normal” food from the menu…everyone was happy…and full!

CHEF MICKEY’S AT DISNEY’S CONTEMPORARY RESORT

That night we enjoyed a character dinner (where the Disney characters come visit you and your family at your dinner table) at Chef Mickey’s inside the Contemporary Hotel on the park grounds.  Again, we arrived to see that the line was a buffet and I cringed thinking of the possibilities of cross contamination.  After being seated, we asked our waitress to please send over the head chef, Matt Sauers.

Matt was FABULOUS!!!  He took us around the buffet and discussed each food item separately letting me know exactly what would be safe for my family to meet…and again there was a wide variety of choices.  Matt also offered to bring out fresh food from the kitchen that had not been sitting out on the buffet if I was concerned about contamination…music to a food allergy mom’s ears!  Dinner was fabulous!!!  I was so busy eating my dinner, I forgot to take a picture of it, but trust me when I say that I ate well.

I did remember to take a picture of the most important part of the meal…dessert.  There wasn’t much we could have off the dessert buffet other than frozen yogurt, so Matt offered to whip us up some peanut, nut, gluten, sesame, chickpea free cupcakes.  They were served to us warm right out of the oven and they were absolutely delicious.  The kids had chocolate cupcakes and I had vanilla.  Matt really spoiled us.

I highly recommend visiting Chef Mickey’s at The Contemporary Hotel and I also recommend you speak with Matt Sauers while there.  Please tell him I sent you!  He is wonderful and made sure we had a fantastic experience at Chef Mickey’s.  For more information call 407-824-3831.

CINDERELLA’S ROYAL TABLE

Another one of our Magic Kingdom lunches was at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant located inside the famous storybook castle.  We scheduled this for our daughter who is into everything princess.  *Be advised, reservations have to be made months in advance to secure a spot for this attraction.  It is a hot ticket!*

My daughter wore her Belle dress from Beauty and the Beast and loved every moment.  When you check-in you are ushered straight to Cinderella to have a commemorative photo taken (depending on which package you choose).  After visiting with Cinderella for a moment we climbed the red velvet covered stairs all the way up to the top of the castle where the formal dining room is located.  The room’s decor is in rich, royal colors and it is surrounded by windows with fabulous views of the park.

We were fortunate enough to be the first ones seated which gives you the privilege of seeing the princesses first when they emerge during lunch.  The waiters and waitresses are dressed in traditional castle servant garb and call everyone prince, princess, king, or queen.  When asked to place our order, we requested to visit with the head chef, Joseph Hampton.  Joseph was wonderful.  He came directly to our table and was able to make us some version of something already on the menu.  He took great time and care in listening to our needs and then serving us some delicious allergy friendly food.

The kids were served grapes and cheese, corn, chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and a make-it-yourself ice cream sundae for dessert…and it was all served on a white mickey mouse plate with black bowls for the ears.  My husband and I split a salad as an appetizer, dined on a pulled pork concoction that was sinfully delicious, and then for dessert I was able to eat a piece of gluten-free spice cake still warm from the oven.  The meal was amazing.

The food was delicious, and my kids were fortunate enough to visit with Sleeping Beauty, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Ariel and have their pictures take with each.  My daughter received a wand and my son received a sword and each received a special wishing star.  The whole adventure was magic and we paid for it with our dining plan and saved a bundle.

If you visit Cinderella’s table, be sure to ask for Joseph.  He was wonderful.  For more information call 407-824-4401.

ROARING FORK SNACKS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

Our last meal at the Magic Kingdom was at our hotel, the Wilderness Lodge.  This is a counter service restaurant so we went in early to avoid peak dining hour traffic.  We asked to speak with the manager, Diane Hastings.  She patiently listened to all of our food allergies and accommodated us accordingly…with grace and ease.  After taking our order she personally handed it to the kitchen to underscore the importance of avoiding cross-contamination and then served us personally.  I was even able to enjoy a gluten-free pizza.  Yum!  Diane was a joy to work with and understands food intolerances and food allergies first-hand.  For more information call 407-824-1299.

We are so grateful to each of these individuals and restaurants above for making our visit safe and special.  Stay tuned this week for more one more post on Disney World including information on Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

Walt Disney World Vacation Part 2: Planning A Food Allergy Friendly Vacation…A Dad’s Point of View

During the month of June, I’m posting about allergy friendly vacations for the whole family.  Our family recently traveled to Disney World and had a fabulous experience despite the multiple food allergies in our family (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, chickpea/garbanzo, and gluten).

During the next week, I’ll continue posting specifics about the specific restaurants of our Disney vacation to help those of you who are thinking of taking a trip there yourself.

In the meantime, I asked my hubby to do a guest post since he single-handedly did all the research and planning required for our family to have a safe and fun allergy-friendly vacation.  He did a FANTASTIC job and has some great words of advice.  I’m happy to share them with you in his own words…

Traveling with my family on vacation usually means eating at the same old restaurants that we know are safe.  Disney has so many unique places to eat that I didn’t want my family and I to miss out.

While researching Disney on allears.net (a great resource for Disney vacation planning), I found a great deal of information regarding dietary needs and food allergies.  I highly recommend you sign up for their weekly newsletter months before your trip.

Allears.net saved me hundreds of dollars because they advertised a Disney package deal that I might otherwise not have found.  They also have links to all the restaurant menus, restaurant reviews, and they list out which places are on the Disney Dining Plan (DDP).

Ok, back to the food.

Allears.net has a dietary section of their site.  While looking up gluten-free foods, I found information on who to email for any dietary needs.  I emailed them and by the next day, I had a slew of information about gluten-free foods and allergens in their foods. 

Disney was always quick to respond to any question I had.  The only thing they couldn’t provide me ahead of time was a list of all the nut free foods in Disney.  However, once we got to Disney, nut and peanut free options were always available (they paid close attention to the ingredient list and processing cross-contamination warnings) at each restaurant.

Disney also sent me a form to fill out that asked for all our restaurant reservation numbers, dining times, locations, family members and allergies.  Disney takes that forms and sends it to each restaurant’s chef ahead of time. When we finally made it to the restaurants, our reservations already showed that my kids and wife had allergies.  This prompted a very knowledgeable chef to come to our table and discuss our options…and there were tons of them!  Normally, most restaurants give you a couple of choices and maybe just one safe thing for the kids, but at Disney, my kids and wife were able to go thru the buffet lines and know what all was safe.  All our meals were enjoyable, filling, delicious AND we didn’t have one food allergy reaction of any kind.

Going back to the DDP, for anyone going to Disney, I would highly recommend going with the DDP.  It saved us easily a couple hundred dollars and we got to eat with the Disney characters on multiple occasions. 

The DDP we were on was the Magic your Way plus Dining Package (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/vacation-packages/2011/dining/ ).  It gave each person in our family one table service meal, one counter service meal and one snack for each night of our package. Since we stayed 5 nights and have 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids) in our family, it came out to 20 table service meals, 20 counter service meals and 20 snacks that could be used anytime during our stay.  Being on the DDP does take some planning before you get to Disney, but the little time I spent making reservations and finding which restaurants we wanted to dine at was well worth it. 

Disney makes it easy to make online dining reservations but you can’t wait last minute or you’ll be eating dinner at either 4:30pm or 8:30pm.  The DDP is growing in popularity amongst Disney visitors which is a bad thing for those who don’t plan ahead.  With more people on the DDP, it means that more families will eat at sit down restaurants and character meals than ever before. 

Reservations are a must for sit down restaurants and character meals. Sometime reservation meals like Cinderella’s Castle with the princesses need to be made 6 months in advance! You are already waiting in lines for rides, why would you want to wait in line for a meal…especially if you have hungry children who are hot and tired?

Last thing to mention, if you have a smart phone, download the Undercover Tourist app (spend the $4.99 because the free one doesn’t do much). It shows all the restaurants, menus, and which one are on the dining plan. You can also call the restaurants from the app to make last minute reservations. Besides dining, the app also shows wait times for rides and parade times which is helpful so you aren’t walking to a ride just to know the wait is longer that you desire.

There you have it, my friends!  The above tips and suggestions took months and months of research and planning.  Hopefully Mark’s quick summary above will give you a starting place and help cut down on the hours you spend researching an FUN, safe, cost-conscious, and allergy-friendly Disney Vacation!

As Mickey would say, “Toodles!”

Walt Disney World Vacation Part 1: A Vacation Destination For Those With Food Allergies

All during the month of June, I’m posting about safe and FUN vacation destinations for families with food allergies.  Today I’m following-up to some earlier posts on planning a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida.

I’m happy to report that my sweet family and I (two of us have food allergies) just returned from an absolutely FABULOUS, WONDERFUL, AMAZING vacation at Walt Disney World (WDW).  We stayed out late every night taking advantage of the cooler evening temperatures and were up early to hit the most popular rides…with long afternoon naps in between.  We couldn’t have had more fun if we tried!

Hands down, the coolest thing about this vacation was eating allergy-friendly food wherever we went.  That’s right.  Read that sentence again.  It is a truly liberating feeling…and one that will spoil me for future vacation destinations.  They aren’t kidding when they say WDW is the happiest place on earth…it’s the truth!

We made the long two-day drive from Texas.  A two-day drive poses one problem, you will have to stop somewhere before reaching the safe allergy-friendly haven of WDW.  So where can you safely eat  and stay along the way?

Now stick with me here, because most of this entry will be about food.  It’s not that I have food on the brain (well kind of I do) but I know that is the most difficult part of planning a vacation for a family with food allergies.  So…I’m sharing my experiences with you to hopefully help you pave the way toward a safe and fun allergy-friendly vacation for your own family.

We stopped by McDonald’s and treated ourselves to breakfast before hitting the open road.  My son who has peanut, tree nut, sesame, and chickpea allergies safely dined on pancakes and orange juice.  I have celiac and enjoyed orange juice and a yogurt parfait minus the granola.  It was a special treat as we seldom eat breakfast out.

For lunch we stopped at a Subway somewhere in Mississippi.  My son enjoyed a kids Veggie Delight sandwich on wheat bread with a drink and chips (chips are in the bag so you can check the ingredient labels on each kind).  I ate the steak and cheese salad which is steak and cheese atop any veggie you want.  I always request just salt and pepper and oil and vinegar instead of dressing.  (*It is a good idea to ask the servers to use clean gloves before making your meal to cut down on cross-contamination.  Visit Subway’s website for a complete food allergen listing.)

Our final destination for day one was Destin, Florida.  A beautiful beach town filled with great restaurants and fun things to do.  However, after being in the car for almost 10 hours, the only thing we wanted to do was grab a quick bite and hit the gorgeous beach!  So dinner was quick this night and the kids had chicken nuggets with fries and I had the chargrilled chicken garden salad with Thousand Island dressing.  (*Be sure to visit Chick-Fil-A’s website for some special notes about peanut allergies and dining at Chick-Fil-A.)

We stayed at a Holiday Inn along the beach.  Hotels are generally not as big of a challenge as food for our family when vacationing.  I simply request a non-smoking, pet-free room.  This particular hotel was a barrel of fun for the kids because they can sleep on bunk beds that face their own little tv/dvd stand and kids table.  The adults’ bed is on the other side and they have their own tv and table as well.

To help cut our costs while vacationing, for the reminder of vacation breakfasts we ate the mini-boxed cereals you can buy at the grocery store and just added milk.  It was satisfying, fast, and safe!

The next morning after dining on cereal, we hit the open road again stopping at McDonald’s in a little Florida town for lunch this time.  The kiddos got chicken nuggets and apple slices OR the yogurt parfait minus the granola.  Although McDonald’s offers gluten-free menu options on their website, I am not fond of those options…so I opted for a nearby Subway for another salad.

Finally that evening we arrived at The Wilderness Lodge, a hotel on WDW grounds.  (I’ll sing their praises more in a later post.)  After throwing our stuff in the room, we headed to Downtown Disney.  We ate at Wolfgang Puck Express and it was wonderful.  A staff member extremely well-versed in food allergies explained what our viable food options would be for my son’s and my allergies.  She was patient, knowledgeable, and very friendly.  Though we all had several allergy-friendly options, the kids opted for pizza and I had a delicious salad.  Then we all ate some creamy frozen yogurt that really hit the spot!  (*Special Note:  Dining in WDW is not cheap, so we highly recommend choosing the WDW dining plan when making your vacation plans.  It will save you a huge chunk of change!)

I’ve given you a lot to digest here (please forgive the pun), so I’ll break and include more in my next post.