Disney…The Happiest Place On Earth: A Guest Post From Allergyfreemouse.com

Since beginning The Food Allergy Mom blog not quite a year ago, I’ve been fortunate to hear from so many wonderful people who support the food allergy community and do simply amazing things.  I have to confess, today’s guest post is from one of those wonderful people who provides a simply FANTASTIC resource for families with food allergies. 

As the mom of a family with food allergies, I used to think of vacations as something we would never be able to safely do.  Now, I know better thanks to the support and encouragement from people like Liz at Allergyfreemouse.com.  Just this summer my family and I visited Walt Disney World for the very first time and had a wonderful experience…even with multiple food allergies. 

I know you will embrace Liz’s story and marvel at the resource she is providing to the food allergy community.  Please take a moment to read her post and then head on over to Allergyfreemouse.com and check it out!

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We are so thankful to The Food Allergy Mom and the great information she shares with her readers on this website. This website is a great resource. We are also thankful that she shared her Disney dining experiences on our website, helping other people with food allergies discover the magic of Disney without the stress we all experience when we travel. We are very grateful for the opportunity to share our story here.

Our daughter was born with a severe dairy, egg, and beef allergy. She has outgrown the egg allergy and the beef allergy has gotten much better. However, her dairy allergy is still severe. In fact, she cannot even touch dairy! As anyone knows, as parents of food allergy kids, we have to be “on guard” all of the time. Kids eat everywhere these days – it keeps them quite, busy and complacent, but it also impacts our lives. Play dates, swimming pools, restaurants, parks, classrooms, birthday parties and other events keep us on high alert!

If everyday life posed such challenges, could we ever go on vacation? The thought of cooking and preparing all of her meals seemed daunting. Of course, I would do it, with a smile. But what if I didn’t have to? And what if we could go somewhere exciting and someone could actually cook a safe meal for my child? That sounded like a true dream vacation for the whole family.

A friend of ours went to Disney World and raved about how they treated her child, who has a peanut allergy. She is a pharmacist and convinced me that our daughter would be in great hands. I was skeptical, but she encouraged me to try. I planned our trip (not knowing much) and took enough food to cover our daughter’s meals, just in case I didn’t feel comfortable. We arrived at our hotel and I unpacked an enormous amount of food, only to repack it later to take it home at the end of our trip!

We had a wonderful time. The managers, the chefs and the wait staff really understood. The dining experiences were fantastic. However, we found other food contact issues that we didn’t expect. Our daughter’s first skin reaction (hives) was from sitting down (wearing shorts) on a bench where someone had been eating ice cream. Benadryl and baby wipes took care of that. Easy fix, but always scary. The next day she wore a dress with leggings and we wiped down chairs and tables at every stop. We eagerly went to meet Pooh and Friends at the Crystal Palace. She had pictures taken with them, they signed her autograph book and she received hugs from them all. Then came reaction number two – hives on her left cheek. Baby wipes and Benadryl again. I made a note to be sure to wipe her face after she hugged any Disney Character. The rest of the week went smoothly, with no reactions.

Knowing we were going to come again, I made a list of dos and don’ts for our next visit. I shared them with everyone I knew who wanted to visit Disney. I added our growing list of grocery stores, hospitals, the best restaurants, etc. to help others. Before I knew it, I had a great deal of information to share. Being a teacher for 20 years, I frequently find myself educating people about food allergies.

Amazingly, very few people know about the safe measures Disney has created for our little ones. We see this on every visit. I thought it would be great to create a website that is dedicated to Disney and food allergies, to get the latest information – a place where people share restaurant reviews, tips, and dos and don’ts for all food allergies. There are plenty of sites devoted to Disney and 4 or 5 websites for food allergy dining reviews. But no one focuses on Disney, and it is such a magical treat. Therefore, we created AllergyFreeMouse.com for Disney fans with food allergies.

I organized all of our information into logical groupings. Then my husband designed and built the site and made it very search engine friendly so people could find it easily. Plus, he helped write some of the content. It’s truly a family project. From time to time, I also post recipes to share on our blog. They’re not related to Disney, but they’ve been very popular for those with food allergies.

We’ve been back 3 times and love it more each time. So, our daughter has eaten at “the World” for a total of 21 days now, and only had two contact reactions. Oh – and we had FUN to boot!

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The Food Allergy Mom Currently Featured at AllergyFreeMouse.com

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that most of my June and some of my July posts were dedicated to fun and safe vacation destinations for food allergy families.  One of my favorite destinations is Walt Disney World in Florida.

To that end, the folks at AllergyFreeMouse.com asked me if I would mind doing a guest post.  AllergyFreeMouse.com is a site dedicated to helping individuals with food allergies safely navigate Walt Disney World and is crammed full of helpful tips and even restaurant recommendations.

I am honored to be featured on their blog and you can read my post at: http://www.allergyfreemouse.com/2011/07/multiple-food-allergy-disney/.  Be sure to stop by and check it out!

Hope you are having a fabulous summer!

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 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!”