We did it! Family trip to Disney World, check!
Admittedly, I was very nervous. My husband and I have two young children (ages 4 & 2) and they both have food allergies. The idea of navigating food for an entire week away from our home was truly intimidating. We rarely eat out as it can be so challenging to find a restaurant that can truly accommodate us.
One of my kiddos is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. The sensitivity level is so severe that even cross-contact is a concern. This adds to the challenge of eating away from home.
I also wondered how we would manage people eating the allergens in the park. Would we have to wipe down rides? How would it work?
Here is what we learned and how we managed.
1. Expect to See Your Allergens…Everywhere
If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this:
Be prepared, not surprised.
This helped reduce my anxiety about interacting in a park where thousands of people are constantly eating. We were prepared to encounter allergens, not surprised.
You will see people actively eating your child’s allergens or find your child’s allergens on the ground/benches/railings/etc. And you will likely encounter this a lot.
For example, in our first queue line for a ride, which was the Teacups at Magic Kingdom, a woman who was not in line came up to the railing to speak to the people she knew. These people happened to be right in front of us.
She dug her hand into her bag, pulled out handfuls of trail mix (full of peanuts), and dumped them into the hands of the people in front of us. They then proceeded to eat the peanuts right in front of my anaphylactic child.
In a matter of seconds, the peanut oil was on their hands. They had already dropped peanuts on the ground.
Well, that’s just great.
Instead of panicking, which I wanted to do, I simply picked up my kiddo and held him for a bit. The reality was that the peanuts were not going to jump over into my kid’s mouth.
Allergens do not impact my son when airborne, so I wasn’t concerned about that aspect.
However, getting them on shoes or touching the oil on the railings was definitely a concern.
I could have advocated at that moment, but the situation was difficult because what could I have them do at that point? We’re all stuck in line. The peanuts were already on the ground, and there was no trash can nearby. The oil was already all over their hands.
Perhaps I could have asked them to wipe up, but how many others had already eaten peanuts in the line, touched the railing, etc?
Instead, our family opted not to touch or lean on the railings. Carefully, we stepped over the peanuts covering the floor. And we stayed calm.
Wipe Rides If Needed
Because I actively saw people eating my kids’ allergens in line, I did choose to quickly wipe the turning wheel of the teacup and our seat before we climbed in as a family. I kept a pack of wet wipes in a fanny pack or backpack (along with EpiPens) and brought that on rides with us.
If I saw actual food crumbs, we chose a different car. But because I saw people eating peanuts in line, I chose to wipe down the ride as an extra precaution.
In full honesty, we saw at least one person actively eating some type of nut in EVERY queue line we were in. All 4 parks. I wish I was exaggerating. Trail mix, planters peanuts, peanut butter crackers, peanut butter M&M’s, almonds, pistachios, etc.
So instead of panicking, I simply checked for food on the actual ride car we were climbing into. If I saw no food, I quickly wiped down high-touch areas before my kids climbed in.
I only had to ask the attendant to switch spots for a car once.
2. Binders at the Kiosks
Did you know that all kiosks and quick service restaurants are equipped with a binder that lists all the ingredients in the products?
When determining if a snack is safe for your family, you can go up to the kiosk and ask for the allergy binder. Every single time I asked, the attendant pulled out the binder and helped me check the ingredients. This was especially helpful for products that didn’t have a label, like a Mickey Pretzel.
When products have a label, like the Mickey ice cream bars, you can request to see the label first and read the allergy binder.
3. Always Ask for the Chef
This is non-negotiable for our family. I repeat. This is non-negotiable.
You will meet incredible wait staff. And many of them will make you feel confident that there will be no issues. You might hear things like, “We don’t have any peanuts or tree nuts on the whole menu.”
It is tempting to bypass speaking with the chef at that moment because you think the allergens aren’t even in the kitchen.
We highly encourage you to speak with the chef.
Especially in this semi post-Covid era, suppliers change on a dime. What might have worked yesterday in a restaurant may not work for you today based on the supplier.
Labels change. Ingredients and manufacturing processes change. Sometimes there are specials that aren’t usually there.
As great as so many wait staff can be, you need to speak directly with the person who is preparing the food. They know what is current in the kitchen at that moment and on that day.
The chef can also discuss cross-contact concerns with you and any allergy protocols they have in the kitchen.
Disney World was fantastic about having the chef come out to speak with us and advise what would be a good menu item. So don’t be shy about asking.
I personally know a family that ate at Disney World, and was told that there were no peanuts or tree nuts on the entire menu. As a result, they did not speak with the chef like they normally do.
They were served chocolate-covered peanut butter balls for dessert, which their allergic daughter unknowingly ate. This resulted in a trip to the ER.
Thankfully, she was okay, but the experience was very scary for her and her family.
I’ll say it one more time, always ask to speak to the chef.
4. What Else is Being Served
Be mindful of cross-contact, especially at the kiosks. For example, not every kiosk serves the same group of items. In one part of Magic Kingdom, they served a celebratory peanut-dusted churro for the 50th anniversary celebration. We chose not to eat from any kiosks in that area.
If I determined a snack item was safe for my son, who is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I would also check what else that kiosk was serving. If they were also serving roasted nuts, that would be a no-go for us because the cross-contact risk would be too high for him.
Therefore, we would search for that snack at another kiosk that wasn’t serving roasted nuts.
Based on your allergy needs, being aware of what is being served from that specific vendor can help avoid potential issues. Depending on your specific needs, simply asking the attendant to change gloves may be enough.
This issue is also why it is important to speak with the chef in quick service or restaurants. They can help you understand any cross-contact concerns and their protocols in that specific kitchen so you can make an informed decision for your family.
5. Quick Service
There are definitely some allergy-friendly options at quick-service restaurants in the parks, depending on your needs. If you are managing a Top 8 allergen or allergens, there are allergy menus at most quick service locations.
It would have a menu item and then underneath say what allergens it was suitable for.
If you are managing non-top 8 allergens, the menus likely won’t be super helpful and you will need to speak with the kitchen.
I actually recommend speaking with the kitchen regardless. We ate at quick service in one park and had a phenomenal experience. I asked to speak with someone about food allergies and they sent the kitchen manager out to speak with me.
He. Was. Awesome.
He had recommendations for what we could eat, thoroughly checked each ingredient, and also explained their allergy protocol. In their specific kitchen, they had a separate allergy area where they prepare the allergy-friendly foods.
He was knowledgable about cross-contact in the fryers, what oil they used, and explained how our food would come out clearly labeled from a separate part of the kitchen.
Incredible. I felt comfortable for my family to eat there, so we did!
We tried a quick service restaurant in a different park a couple of days later. I did not feel nearly as comfortable. The chef told me that everything on the menu, except the dessert ,was safe for peanut and tree nut allergies.
I then asked about a specific menu item and he told me, “No, I can’t guarantee that one,” which was concerning given what he had just told me.
This particular kitchen also did not have a separate allergy area. I did not feel comfortable eating there. So we didn’t.
This is why it’s important to speak with someone every time.
A note about mobile orders:
I personally do not recommend using mobile ordering with food allergies. Even though it takes more time, it is extremely helpful to speak with someone directly about your specific needs.
This way you can address allergy protocols, confirm menu items are safe, and put a face to the order.
6. You Can Bring a Cooler
Disney World allows you to bring a small cooler into the park. We loved this because we could fill it up each morning with safe food for my kiddos and head to the park.
This alleviated the pressure to find food in the park. We knew that if we weren’t comfortable with the food options, we had our own safe food.
Additionally, I never worried about my kids getting hungry and us not having a safe option. We had it with us the whole time.
This switched our mentality in how we approached food in the park. It allowed us to have fun finding new things to try rather than desperately needing to find food.
We were able to take our time and find fun food options in the park that we felt comfortable trying, which we did!
I highly recommend bringing a cooler of safe options for your family even if you’re planning on eating in the park.
There are some rules for bringing in a cooler. Mainly it has to be smaller than specific dimensions and they want you to use ice packs, not loose ice.
7. EpiPen Safety Reminder
The number one thing you must bring with you to Disney World is the EpiPen.
Here are a couple tips for EpiPen management at the parks.
Reminder, heat can damage epinephrine. It’s important to keep the epis at room temperature. One way to do this while out in the sun all day at Disney is to use an insulated case.
We love Frio Bags and Allermates.
Another reminder is to keep your epi with you at all times. We have a rule that we NEVER leave the epi in a locker, cubby, or with the stroller. It’s on us at all times.
The first reason is we never want to need it and not have it immediately on hand.
Secondly, people could accidentally (or on purpose I guess) take your bag. Then you don’t have epis, which is a huge problem.
We also don’t use the lockers because they can get very hot. We also don’t want a scenario where we lose the key and can’t get the epi, or that we need the epi and the locker is on the other side of the park.
The way we maneuvered through the parks with the epis was to keep them in a fanny pack (to go on the rides) or in a small backpack. A lot of families like SpiBelts as well, which allows you to carry the epi under your clothes.
I also want to reassure you that we had zero issues going through security at the parks with our EpiPens. We had multiple sets and not a single security guard questioned us.
8. Trust Your Gut
Disney World truly has some of the best protocols I’ve seen for food allergy safety. We rarely eat out at home and I really enjoyed having the “restaurant experience” with my kids while on vacation. Plus I didn’t have to cook for once!
But even in the best of places, you cannot let your guard down. You still need to advocate, ask questions, and ultimately trust your gut.
Unfortunately, we had a circumstance where I needed to trust my gut.
The reservation was for a restaurant within one of the parks. I felt that I had done my due diligence.
The restaurant was a recommendation from other food allergy moms in a Disney Facebook group. I made a reservation ahead of time (essential or you may not get in). I indicated our food allergies on the reservation.
Then, I showed up early to speak with the host who reassured me to notify the server and we could go from there.
I got my little family situated at the table. When the server arrived and I began to explain our food allergy needs, I was almost immediately interrupted with, “There are no peanuts or tree nuts on the menu, except in the desserts.”
The tone was hurried and impatient.
It felt dismissive whether it was intended that way or not. He wanted drink orders and I simply asked for him to bring some waters, figuring I would deal with addressing the food allergies again when he came back and after I had gotten my kids situated at the table.
We ALWAYS speak with the chef so telling me the allergen isn’t on the menu except for dessert does not work for me. Changes happen, labels change, ingredients change, specials change, etc.
Also, the allergen is also clearly still present in the kitchen if it’s in the desserts so I need to speak directly with the person preparing the food.
When the server came back to the table with the drinks, a gigantic dessert, was in the center of the tray. Our drinks were crammed in a circle all around the dessert. The one menu item he had just told us has nuts.
My stomach dropped.
As I watched him take the drinks off the tray and set it in front of my son, who has anaphylactic nut allergies, I instinctively moved the cup away from my son.
My brain was struggling to process. The server had just told us that many of the desserts contained nuts.
How did I feel about this? Was this a big deal? Was this still safe? Should I wipe the cups and then give it to my son? Should I ask for new drinks? How could this man bring dessert over to our table after I just expressed we had life-threatening nut allergies. How could he put our things on the same tray?
My husband looked concerned as well. Our eyes met and he asked me, “What do you want to do?”
I told him I needed to process for a minute. As I sat and thought about it, I realized that I now felt totally uncomfortable being served in this restaurant.
I felt like the server did not care and would not pay attention to this issue. Now I felt concerned about what was going on in the kitchen. And I realized, the answer was a clear no go.
We have a family rule that if we are uncomfortable for any reason, we do not eat.
We don’t make excuses or try to minimize our feelings, we just trust our gut.
And I felt uncomfortable. I told this to my husband and he agreed. So we picked up our kids and left.
We did speak with the manager because it is important for staff to know so people can learn.
The manger was really upset. We learned that this actually was a huge violation. They have separate sections for allergy orders in the kitchen. What this means was that our tray should NEVER be combined with orders from the non-allergy kitchen.
The manager expressed that this was likely a training error with the server and that he was trying to save time by combining our order with another table.
Our instincts were correct. This was not right.
It was unsettling for sure. And I actually called Katie to
ugly cry about how no one cares speak calmly about what I had just experienced.
But the truth is there are people (especially at Disney) who really do care about this issue and are trained in it. We went to a quick service to try and find some dinner and I requested to speak with someone.
The man that came out was phenomenal. He could tell I was shaken from before and was very thorough about our order. He explained their kitchen allergy protocols, personally reviewed every ingredient, and I felt safe.
We all enjoyed our dinner and to be honest, we ate very well the rest of the vacation with really caring staff and chefs.
I’m not telling you this because I am being critical of Disney. Disney is actually one of the few places I can feel comfortable having someone else prepare food for my kids.
What I hope you hear in this story is that sometimes, even in the best of places, something isn’t right. If your radar is going off, trust it. You have good instincts, Momma.
We Had the Best Time
After a week of adventuring around Disney World, we finally ventured home and put our kids to bed. As we sat together in the calmness of the evening, my husband and I talked about how this was truly one of the best things we’ve ever done with the kids.
Yes, we were exhausted, and yes, there were some challenges, but our family has talked about this trip every day since we’ve been home.
The magic is in the adventure and memories as a family.
After my son’s food allergy diagnosis, I didn’t know how travel would look for us. It felt completely overwhelming. But we’re figuring it out. I want to encourage you that it is more than possible to travel as a food allergy family.
There are some great Facebook groups that are dedicated to helping families visit Disney World with food allergies. I definitely used them to help plan!
- Disney World with Food Allergies
- Disney Food Allergy Group
- and Disney Chefs Rock Food Allergies
I hope you’re encouraged to consider traveling and let us know your questions!
We’re here for you, cheering you on. <3