It’s been a hot minute, but I’m back, and talking about my favourite subject; navigating life with a deadly allergy! Well, that and my November 2019 trip to Disney World…
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with a high-level peanut allergy, which involves carrying around antihistamines and adrenaline needles wherever I go to avoid anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is when your body decides it doesn’t like something, and will trigger some great symptoms such as hives, skin swelling, itching, throat closure, loss of breath, and even death. Yeah, kind of an unpleasant thing. In regards to my allergy, peanuts are the source of anaphylaxis, but I must avoid all nuts just in case they’ve touched a peanut.
Living with an allergy is all I have ever known
Along with our suitcases and dollars, my peanut allergy came with me and my boyfriend when we visited Walt Disney World in November 2019. When traveling abroad, there’s a lot to be done before travel and during travel to ensure I get to my destination in one piece. This includes making sure I have in date medication and plenty of spares; various copies of prescriptions and doctor’s letters; and good travel insurance burning a hole in my pocket because I am hiiiiigh risk. When it comes to traveling via plane, I am immensely anxious (and whoops, you’ve got to travel via plane to get to Florida from the UK!).
Although I make the airline aware beforehand that I will be boarding and will require nut free food, there’s never any guarantee it’ll get through. So, I pre-board, wipe down my seat area with anti-bacterial wipes, tell the flight attend where I am sitting, and wait for the awkward ‘please don’t eat any peanuts or nut products on this flight…’ intercom message, and hear the people around me complain. Then I spend the rest of the flight jolting at any sounds of packet rustling, and wondering what concoction of bread and fruit I’ll get for my “nut free but cannot be guaranteed nut free” meal. It’s safe to say, I’m always happy to land.
Luckily, on the flight to Florida, no-one decided to whack open a bag on KP Nuts, so I landed and made it to my hotel safe and sound! And I am happy to say I stayed safe and sound throughout the whole trip, because Walt Disney World know how to look after people with allergies. I’m used to cooking at home, because I normally can only eat at select restaurants, or have one or two select items that “cannot be guaranteed nut free”. During my stay at Walt Disney World, I felt safe, cared for, and had the luxury of being able to eat without the fear of anaphylaxis.
The hotel itself was where I first experienced Disney’s dedication to ensuring everyone could be catered for.
We stayed at Disney’s All Star Sports Resort; it was one of the budget options, but we loved it. It was comfortable and clean, beautifully themed, and OH the food court! The End Zone Food Court is where we ate most evenings, and was styled like a sports complex food court, complete with various styles of food (I say various, what I mean is the usual types of food you’d expect at a quick service location; burgers, fries, pasta, pizza, etc). All I had to do was decide what I was interested in, walk up to the serving window, and say “Hi, I’ve got a nut allergy; is the chicken burger meal nut free?” Then BUZZZZT! The cast member happily presses a buzzer, and out walks the chef to talk me through my dietary requirements, and personally prepare my food. I could eat almost everything on the main menu, apart from a few breadsticks here and there, as all the food was prepared on site; and let me tell you, ‘prepared on site’ is music to an allergy sufferer’s ears.
As well as having areas for the main menu, there was a section purely for sweets and desserts; a section I would normally steer well clear of, for fear of nut traces. I couldn’t eat any of the baked goods at the hotel, like cookies and cupcakes, due to them being made off site in a bakery and ‘may contain nuts’, but the ice-cream section rocked my world. As with the rest of the Food Court, I’d speak directly to the chef, who would then make everything fresh for me; ice-cream straight from unopened tubs, new batches of fudge sauce, waffles cooked on a different grill – they did everything they could to avoid cross-contamination. I honestly could not believe my luck. I know Disney World aims to go above and beyond and to be ‘the happiest place on earth’, but I didn’t really expect it to stretch this far.
Moving on from the hotel food court, let me tell you about our experience with in-park quick service dining. Most places to eat on Walt Disney World park property are quick service locations, where you grab a tray and go on your way. The variety of food that was on offer was incredible. Each location matched the theming of the land, and the menus were extremely diverse, catering for vegetarians, vegans, and offering healthy options alongside the deep fried goodness.
When I am back in the UK or even traveling in other countries, I have to play it safe; I’d choose pub grub, maybe an Italian restaurant at a push. But after doing my research on WDW before we went on holiday, I found out that I could eat almost anywhere. The cast members in food locations were all so well-trained in dealing with allergies, whether they were cashiers, servers, or in the kitchen. If they couldn’t answer my questions off the top of their head, they’d grab the allergen book, or the chef, or get me a Head Chef on the phone! I was always walked through how they cooked the food, and if any contaminants were in the kitchen.
They might be allergen-friendly, but Disney does not have a zero-nut policy.
There are meals and items made with nuts or peanuts in various locations, so they can never guarantee an item is 100% nut free. However, with the level of depth and clarity in which they approach food and allergens, including cooking common allergy related food in different locations, it meant that I felt safe in their hands. As such, I could have had a meal at any of the quick service locations, including food I would normally avoid, like Mexican or Chinese, or even Indian! (This is a big thing for me; when I had my first nut free Indian meal in a restaurant, only four months ago, I cried happy tears in the toilets for about five minutes straight.)
Because all of the places I visited were so accommodating, I can’t really pick what I would deem the ‘most allergen friendly’ quick service place I’ve experienced. I can, however, tell you what my favourite quick service meal and restaurant were! My favourite meal was from Woody’s Lunch Box in Toy Story Land, Hollywood Studios, and that’s the Totchos. It’s essentially chilli nachos, with the corn nachos swapped out for tater tots. My favourite quick service restaurant can be found in Disney Springs and is called Blaze Pizza. I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about this one. Blaze is essentially a build your own pizza place; you pick the base, sauce, toppings, everything. After seeing pesto on the menu, I kind of froze up and thought about leaving the queue. But, when I asked the server, I found out that everything was nut free; even the pesto had no pine nuts in! As such, I could just order what I wanted, how I wanted; a luxury I rarely get. I would honestly recommend that anyone who goes to Disney Spring tries Blaze Pizza, not just those will allergies. (Plus, it was only around $10 for a drink and a pizza bigger than my face; an absolute steal!).
Table Service Restaurants
As well as roaming around the parks and seeing what food places we stumbled upon, we also had a few sit-down meals booked in various restaurants. On our first day, we visited The Plaza Restaurant at Magic Kingdom for breakfast; in the middle of our trip, we had an anniversary dinner at Coral Reef in EPCOT; and towards the end of the holiday, we had a reservation for Sci-Fi Dine In at Hollywood Studios.
Just like with quick service locations, Walt Disney World had me covered. Our personal servers would come out, and more often than not, they would ask if anyone needed an allergen menu. The servers were always well versed on what was allergen friendly, and the kitchen would always prepare my food away from any contaminants (if there were any). They could normally update a meal to remove some of the allergens, like using a different bread, but if that was not the case, they knew exactly what I should avoid. The best part? All of my meals came out with a little stick poking out of the top, saying ‘Allergy’. I felt as though I had been cared for from ordering and food prep, from cooking to table.
I’ve already mentioned that the usual allergen downfall takes the form of sweet treats and snacks.
However, just like in my hotel, Disney smashed the allergen friendly snacks in the parks. I was allowed to read the ingredients for myself on packaged products, and the servers always bought the allergen book out for me when I asked. I ate churros, pretzels, ice cream, and my all-time favourite, funnel cake. Some changes had to be made, like not having the packaged chocolate sauce with the churros, but that was a sacrifice I was more than happy to make. During our time at WDW, EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival was taking place. This meant there were plenty of food booths around the park, that weren’t there all year round. Even with this, Disney were clear as day on saying what would be safe and what wouldn’t be. As such, I managed to have doughnuts and egg rolls from the booths; both specific items that I normally avoid like the plague! WDW is also immensely clear about what goes in their drinks. As someone who is also intolerant to coconut but likes a cocktail, I really appreciated this.
The only downfall?
A dessert search at Disney Springs. We visited approximately seven different places to find a nut-free dessert, and came up empty handed. We tried the food trucks, ice cream places, bakeries, and even vegan stores. The reason why I couldn’t have anything? America’s obsession with peanuts. Each dessert or sweet treat we found was either made with peanut, had flavours mixed with peanut, or made through a machine that processed other food containing peanuts. In all honesty, I am used to this, and was fine to give up after the second try, if a little downtrodden. My boyfriend on the other hand, had never experienced anything like this, and was furious. I put this allergen fail down to the fact that most of the eateries in Disney Springs are owned by external companies, like Vivoli il Gelato and Sprinkles. They just don’t have the same care that WDW has – simple. Still, a trip back to the hotel’s dessert window and one quick chat with my personal chef, and I was trotting back to my hotel room with a mint chocolate chip sundae.
Overall, I found Walt Disney World to be a heaven for those with nut and peanut allergies.
I was brought to tears numerous times, simply because I could eat food I normally couldn’t have. Some people may think it’s stupid, to be crying over a doughnut or a burger, but after years of companies and eateries not caring enough to make dining accessible, I think I have a right to be happy (especially at the happiest place on earth). Whilst this post is more specific to peanut and nut allergies, I know the same principle applies to other allergies.
My main advice points for people with allergies headed to WDW are these –
- Check menus before you travel. Find the restaurants that look the most allergen-friendly to you. I wouldn’t go to a restaurant that served satay chicken, but that’s just one restaurant out of a hundred that I would actively not go to.
- Talk to your server. They will let you know if contaminants could be used in the kitchen, what ingredients are in each food, and will pass on your allergy to the kitchen.
- You won’t be able to eat everything. That’s kind of the golden rule of allergies. However, it’s so reassuring to know there are staff in WDW who are actively trying to keep you safe and give you the best experience you can.
So, that’s my experience of traveling to Walt Disney World with a life threatening nut allergy. Let me know what you think, and if you’ve ever experienced traveling with an allergy!