Do you have a family vacation on your heels? Are you more anxious about what you are going to eat when you get there than you are about what to pack? I was standing in those exact shoes two weeks ago when I was anticipating our departure to the magical world of Disney.
When your child is on a special-diet, leaving the controlled environment of your kitchen can be a scary thought. Will they understand my order, will they take me seriously, will we be dealing with infractions from cross-contamination, or even from a kitchen-staff that doesn’t realize that there is milk in cheese (trust me, it has happened before) or who doesn’t’ know that there is soy in the oil they is spraying their pans with. Never-the-less, we were heading to Disney World! As I packed our bags full of the essential just-in-cases for a “fun”-filled week, I sadly must admit that the food arrangements were clouding my excitement.
I tried to plan ahead as best I could. In our luggage, I packed some of our non-perishable snack favorites – my homemade cheese-ish crackers, individual packets of Justin’s Almond Butter, cashew & almond clusters snack mix, our Go Raw pizza bites, and some snack and breakfast bars. I knew that I would be able to get some fresh fruit, possibly even vegetables, from the hotel once we arrived. I was mentally preparing myself to adapt to a week of snack-eating just to avoid having to spend our vacation time nursing skin rashes and calming tantrums.
So, upon arriving to our lodge of wilderness on the vast compounds of the most magical place on earth, we were all hungry from our travels and ready to take on the first meal. I put on my best cheerful grin (battle gear), stuffed some crackers and almond butter in my bag (amo), and walked my family down to the Whispering Canyon Café. The hootin’ & hollarin’ atmosphere was instantly infectious. I knew that both kids would have fun, no matter what; but, I never anticipated what happened next.
The waitress arrived loudly to the table, started to greet us and was interrupted by another waitstaff yodeling ,”KETCHUUUUUUUUP!!!! WE NEED KETCHUP HERE!”. As kids from other tables all came running with bottle of ketchup in hand, our waitress picked up with us where she had left off. “Hello, folks, how are we doing today?” “We’re fantastic,” I replied, “But we are going to be a bit high-maintenance because we have some food allergies.” She looked up from her pad, calmly and coolly assured me that it would be no problem at all, and left to get the chef.
The CHEF! It turns out that the policy at this magical world of Disney is to have the Chef handle the food from the order, to the preparation of the food, and back to the table, just to insure that there is no cross-contamination. Now this was service, and I was more and more impressed as the trip went on.
At our first meal, Molly had quinoa cakes and an edamame and tomato salad and I had broiled salmon and rice and a mixed-greens salad with apple vinaigrette- no rashes…no upset tummies. Meal one was a big success. We continued to successfully eat and actually enjoy our food everywhere we went.
At the Roaring Fork (the quick-service restaurant at our hotel), we could get Van’s waffles, fresh fruit, and allergy-friendly bacon for breakfast.
At the Crystal Palace, for our character lunch in the Magic Kingdom, the chef made us some special chicken nuggets with rice flour and tapioca flour and made us both some butter-free steamed broccoli. For myself, it was the best salmon I have ever eaten. It was delicious! The highlight of the meal for my little princess was dessert. They actually had Enjoy Life cookies on hand!
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot served us up some Van’s Gluten-Free waffles as well, and I brought along our Justin’s almond butter to spread on top instead of the artificial syrups that most restaurants serve. The buffet line had buckets of the biggest blackberries I’ve ever seen, and they were a delicious treat. Instead of their traditional hashbrown casserole, the chef grilled us up some special hashbrowns that were free of our allergens. Thanks, once again, chef!
Biergarten German Restaurant at Epcot, we were able to eat many of the items on the buffet line. The kielbasa, the sauerkraut (which my kids were not personally a fan of), the green beans, and surprisingly the warm potato salad (made with mustard and oil, no butter or creams). And while Dad chowed down on the pretzel rolls, chef brought out some tapioca rolls for us girls. The grand finale ~ a dairy-free chocolate bar. We were definitely eating like a princess and a queen.
Tokyo Dining at Japan at Epcot was a bit more bland for me because of my soy allergy, but Molly enjoyed her edamame and steamed vegetables with steamed rice. I, myself, did enjoy the vegetables as well, and an appetizer of sushi grade tuna, salmon, and diced avocado.
Restaurant Marrakesh at Epcot was a divine dining experience, accompanied by a great laugh when our 2 year old son insisted on learning how to belly-dance with all the little girls. After dancing our bellies, we filled our bellies. Molly was content with a bowl of hummus and fresh vegetables for dipping, along with two of the tapioca rolls. The chef prepared a delicious salad for me, topped with grilled steak medallions, olives, and goat cheese.
The quick-serving Cosmic Ray’s at the Magic Kingdom was lacking a bit of flavor, but there is never complaining to be made when we can be served up the same way everyone else is! They offered a hamburger on a tapioca roll and have a dedicated allergy-free fryer for the French fries. Not fine-dining, by any means, but a definite winner for price and location.
At Holleywood Studios, we opted for some Italiano at Mama Melrose’s. The chef at this magnifique Italian eatery made up a quick soy-cheese pizza for little miss; and for me (one of the best meals of my trip), gluten-free pasta with fresh summer vegetables in olive oil. It was perfecto!
Saving the best for last, we shared one magical evening at Cinderella’s Royal Table inside the castle of Magic Kindgom. The food was just as fantastic as it had been everywhere else. Chef made Molly some grilled chicken and steamed broccoli. And the company was even better than the food, as the famous princesses of the Disney screen were walking around to greet all of the guests. As we were leaving out of main corridor of that magnificent marvel of a Disney attraction, Cinderella herself was standing outside watching the beginning of the nightly fireworks display. “Cinderella!!!” our Molly screams. Almost in a panic, “There’s fireworks on top of your castle!!!” It was a moment I will never forget – watching fireworks with Cinderella from the castle of the Magic Kingdom.
Our success with our vacation food completely exceeded my expectations. Disney World continues to bring magic to the lives of children, and parents! I highly recommend a Disney World vacation for anyone who has a food allergy or intolerance. This was the perfect vacation for my children, but for a mom who cooks every detail of every meal for two allergic eaters, being able to trust someone else to cook all of those meals for an entire week – there are no words for the value of this! Thank you Disney World!
I wish you all the same successes on your own summer vacations!
~Happy, healthful eating!
Kendra Jean Finestead
Greater Tots Organization