A Guests eye view of Disney's Special Dietary Needs service.
This is an unusual article for me to publish here on the site, in that it is not written by a Cast Member but by a Guest. When I read this I thought it was well worth reprinting as it shone a light on a little known dietary service offered by Disney. It also tells of the way Cast Members go the extra mile to make Guests with special needs stays just as special as everybody else's vacation. Thank you to Sunny Hall for your permission to reprint this article - it is much appreciated.
Now, this was my fourth trip to Disney World, so while I am not an expert on all things Disney, I am not a total novice either. I was looking forward to taking our kiddos back to Disney, and to time spent with my extended family, but I was also experiencing a LOT of dread. Life with 3 year old triplets is no cakewalk, and autism just seems to make everything harder. When my kids can freak out over walking through a new door to a familiar place, or my taking a different route home, I had no idea how they would respond to the sights, sounds, smells and overall over stimulation of Disney World. So I admit it. I dreaded the trip more than a little. The last thing I wanted to do on vacation was spend 100% of my time diffusing toddler tantrum bombs in the 115 degree Florida heat among thousands of people. Call me selfish or scrooge if you want, but seriously, who would want to do that?
Well, much to my surprise and delight, the trip was MUCH different than I expected, and in no small part as a result of Disney's great preparedness for it's special visitors. Before heading out on our trip, I did as much research as I could about taking an autistic child to Disney World. I checked into food, attractions, playgrounds, the whole bit to try and plan as much as possible. This might make me sound like a control freak, but truly you have to plan for kiddos on the spectrum. Otherwise everyone is miserable. ASD kids thrive in structured environments and on schedules, so since we were throwing all of that to the wind, I wanted to try to plan what little I could.
On the food front, I would not have been more pleased. I had been told "No one does special diets like Disney" and I am inclined to agree. We stayed on Disney property and used the meal plan--2 things I highly recommend for simplifying life. When I called to make reservations, I let the cast member know that 3 children in our party had food allergies and she made a note of it with each of our reservations. When we arrived to the dinner locations, the chef came out to speak with us and to tell us what he could make for the children. Each of our dinner locations had tapioca dinner rolls. Most had GFCF hot dogs or hamburgers with tapioca buns. They also offered french fries cooked in a dedicated fryer--to prevent cross contamination, and fresh fruit for dessert. One place had GFCF Popsicles, and another had Rice cream (ice cream without dairy or gluten). It was WONDERFUL! We never get to eat out as a family, and it was so wonderful to be able to do that while also not worrying about my kids getting something to eat they shouldn't. Plus, the chefs were so nice and happy to accommodate us. On a couple of occasions, we got grilled chicken instead of a burger or hot dog, and even though that was not on the kids' menu, we did not pay extra.
Disney Dietary Information
We also did a character breakfast which is a buffet. For this, again the chef came out. He walked me around the buffet and told me everything that was safe for my kids to eat, and then offered suggestions of what he could make for them. He made special hash browns and Mickey-shaped waffles that they loved! He brought this all out to us family style. It was great. The kids got to eat fun food, see their favourite characters, and just be normal. AND, I didn't have to haul in our own 'similar' food to make it work. GLORIOUS!
Now--for the fast food options. I contacted Disney and asked about special diets and got an email with very helpful information. I will post the info below in a moment, but first I want to tell you how it worked. We chose a select location (there are 2 or 3 per park) that we knew offered GFCF food, and got in line to order. I told the cashier that our kids had food allergies and the manager was summoned. The manager told me what was available for those specific allergies, and offered a book that listed ingredients for each item so I could be sure that there were no allergens in the food. In addition, these fast food restaurants offered a dedicated fryer so that french fries were only fried in them, prevent cross contamination from breading on chicken nuggets, etc. Once I placed the order, I waited. To my surprise, the manager came out with our tray wearing double (2) rubber gloves on each hand and personally brought me the tray. Evidently the managers are required to cook special orders themselves in order to avoid errors. YAY!
So the result was that my kids got to eat totally un-nutritious food such as hot dogs, hamburgers and fries every day--2 times per day, just like normal kids at Disney World. It was wonderful! And it made our lives so much easier as parents not to have to make tahini and jelly sandwiches , bring along avocado oil chips and offer them to our kids in lieu of burgers and fries.
Mother and author of this article Sunny, is from Knoxville, TN. She is a mother of toddler triplets, and the owner of Cutie Tooties Cloth Diaper & Natural Baby Store. In the original article - Why I Love Disney World-Part 1 - she's listed the fast-food stops with GFCF food available: