Planning Ahead for Your Disney Vacation
To ensure that your allergy-free trip to Disney runs as smoothly as possible, advance planning is the key. While many families prefer to arrive in the parks and eat wherever they happen to find themselves when they are hungry, those of us with food allergies must discard the idea that we can be spontaneous on vacation, and plan our meals far in advance -- sometimes 180 days before our trip, if we have our hearts set on a particular restaurant.
While it is certainly possible to save money on food by bringing your own, by buying groceries in Orlando and cooking in your efficiency hotel room, or by leaving the parks to eat at less expensive restaurants in town, we find these options don't work well for us. For one thing, we fly to Florida, so our opportunities to bring our own food are limited to a few packages of applesauce and nitrite-free pepperoni (I exaggerate, but not by much). Secondly, I cook ALL THE TIME at home, and on vacation I'd really prefer to sit down and let someone serve me. Third, leaving the parks takes time away from enjoying the parks, and I certainly didn't spend all this money to spend 1/3 of my day in traffic in Orlando.
What this means is that we eat all of our meals on the Disney property, and I'd like to share our strategies with you. On our upcoming trip, we will be following a Paleo diet during our stay (as we do at home), which means we are avoiding all grains (wheat, corn, rice, oats, etc), dairy, and sugar. I am also following the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), so I will be avoiding nightshade vegetables and eggs as well (I'm going to try to have a few nuts and see how I do). Our major food allergies are gluten, dairy, eggs, corn and soy, so the Paleo plan works well for us. Two of us are allergic to nuts, and two to most fruits, so there's that too just to complicate things :)
The major difficulty with eating Paleo while on vacation is finding high-protein breakfasts that aren't egg-based. At home, we usually eat some kind of sausage or meatball, with some fruit or a coconut-flour and veggie muffin (all of which I make from scratch). My vacation breakfast strategy is to bring a few staples from home for the mornings when we want to roll out of bed and get going straight to the parks, and intersperse those days with a few restaurant breakfasts at some of the larger hotels where a great chicken sausage or even a steak will be available.
My food staples bag will include Paleonola (a grain-free granola available at Whole Foods), cashews, dried fruit, Larabars, jerky, Wellshire Farms pepperoni, applesauce, apples, Sunbutter, and foil packets of tuna. Disney does not allow coolers or glass bottles in the parks, but you can stash small snacks in your bags without a problem. A light breakfast of sliced apples with Sunbutter, along with a side of pepperoni will be just right to get us started in the morning, especially since our lunches and dinners will be large.
I've been reading about a local Orlando grocery delivery service called Garden Grocer, and I'm going to see about ordering some carrots, celery, salsa and maybe hummus (which is not Paleo, but we are not allergic to it either. We may need to make a few exceptions to avoid meltdowns in the August heat!). These fresh items won't travel well in my suitcase, and I don't want the family to get tired of eating dried meats and fruits and begging me for pancakes. Actually, speaking of pancakes, there are gluten-free versions of pancakes and the iconic Mickey waffles available at many Disney restaurants, but we find that starting the day with a heavy starch results in children who are about to pass out at 10am. My youngest son will be celebrating his 9th birthday while we are on vacation, and we've given him a special pass to have GF Mickey waffles that morning, but for the most part, we'll be completely avoiding grains of all types. (Blood sugar issues. That's another post.)
We have reservations at in-park restaurants for all of our lunches and dinners. All of these were made online, where it is very simple to include notes about the particular food items we are avoiding. With this advance notice, the wait staff will have written confirmation of all our allergies, and the chef at each restaurant will also come to our table to discuss the menu options that work for us, or the customizations that he/she can create for us.
Upon our return, I'll post about our meals in each of the parks and how successful we were at sticking to our Paleo plan. This trip is a celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary, and we're living out a dream we've had for years to eat our way around the countries in Epcot. On our honeymoon, we stayed at the Yacht Club Resort, just outside the back gate to Epcot, and over our dozen or so trips back to The World in the past two decades we've fantasized about how wonderful it would be to walk into Epcot every evening for dinner. Next week, we'll be doing just that! (Ok, not every night, but most.)
Our dinners are scheduled at The Rose and Crown (England), Marrakesh (Morocco), The Biergarten (Germany), the Flying Fish (on the Boardwalk), Monsieur Paul's (France), Yachtsman Steakhouse (at the Yacht Club), and a special anniversary dinner just for mom and dad at Victoria & Albert's (The Grand Floridian). Each of these restaurants offers a wide range of cosmopolitan dishes, and I am looking forward to enjoying the special tweaks the chefs will make for our diets. We have never disliked a dinner at any of these elegant restaurants.
Lunches will be at the new Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Beast's Castle in New Fantasyland, the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater (Hollywood Studios), Sunshine Seasons (Future World), Raglan Road (Downtown Disney), Nine Dragons (China) and Typhoon Tilly's (Typhoon Lagoon). There are fewer allergy-free choices at lunchtime, but we can always fall back on the big salad with grilled chicken (available just about everywhere). Not all of these restaurants take reservations, but we researched the menus online and have already chosen the food items that will work for us. Planning ahead this way eliminates those anxious moments when everyone is starving, about to cry (both me and the boys), and staring at a counter service menu that only includes pizza. Nightmare!
We probably won't be needing a lot of snacks during the day, but in case the proliferation of food at every turn triggers begging from the boys, I'll have my bag of Paleo-friendly snacks with me. There are also two interesting protein snacks available in the parks: turkey legs and pork shoulder (at Gaston's Tavern in New Fantasyland). I've never tried either of these, but I am looking forward to learning what the fuss is all about.
Plan which park you will visit each day, plan where you will eat for each meal, and reserve every meal that you can. For restaurants that do not take reservations, study the menus online ahead of time and plan what you will eat. Bring snacks from home that can also double as meal replacements in a pinch, and think about getting a few fresh groceries while you are in Orlando. Think about fruit, nuts, seeds, dried meats, and even tuna. If a last-minute change is necessary, remember your fall-back plan. You can always get by with a green salad with protein on top (chicken, tuna, even a bun-less burger). And now, on to Disney!
Other posts in this series:
Part 3: The new food allergy kiosk in Animal Kingdom
Part 4: Eating allergy-free in Hollywood Studios
Part 5: Eating allergy-free in Epcot
Part 6: Eating allergy-free at Disney hotel restaurants
Part 7: The rest of the parks (Downtown Disney, Typhoon Lagoon, room service and more)
Shared with Real Food Wednesday, Anything Goes, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Gluten Free Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Hearth and Soul Hop, Gluten Free Wednesday, Family Fun Friday, and Gluten Free Friday.