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Fish Are Friends, Not Food: How to Order Special-Diet Food at Walt Disney World

by Angie Carreiro

I’m a planner, always have been, always will be. When my boyfriend, Kevin, and I knew we were going to WDW in the fall of 2011, we knew we’d better figure out a plan for our special diets. We’d never gone to WDW as vegans before and I had just recently realized my intolerance towards gluten, so the research began!

A majority of our dining journeys at WDW involved asking about certain food items, which was a necessity for us since we didn’t want to accidentally eat chicken broth hidden in our soup, or eggs in our bread. Luckily, if you’re following this blog, you won’ necessarily have to ask ahead of time, because I’ll tell you which of the food items are safe (that I know of) and which aren’t! You still may feel the need to ask, though, so let me walk you through the process.

Planning Ahead

If you’re a planner like me, your special diet journey at WDW will most likely begin 180 days before your vacation. For anyone who is familiar with booking a vacation at WDW, you know why I mention this date; dining reservations! I will only touch lightly on this topic because, in my opinion, WDW doesn’t require this for diners with food allergies as much as it may seem. When making dining reservations on the WDW website (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining/), there is a special section to list your allergies as you make the reservation. I always check off the boxes according to whatever choices fit a vegan and gluten-free diet. Basically Disney uses this information to put a note on your reservation. The reason I feel this isn’t required is because you can simply mention your allergy or special diet request at the time of check-in or wait to tell your server.

Another piece of added security for me was contacting WDW Special Diets via email (WDW.Special.Diets@disney.com). Again, this isn’t required, but helped me feel a little better about having options at my resort. They sent me a form I could fill out about our special diets and allergies, which I later mailed in. I’m not sure what they do with this information, but I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of filling it out again, as I never had problems finding food to eat in WDW at places where I never filled out any type of form!

A great feature when planning ahead are the menus for each different restaurant on the dining portion of the DisneyWorld website. They give you an idea of what might be customizable for you. For example, if you see that there is a pasta dish on the menu,  you then know that the chef will be able to make some sort of pasta dish for you even if it isn’t exactly what is listed on the menu (this actually happened for me, and they even had gluten-free pasta already in the kitchen without me calling ahead)!

There is a special-diets section on the WDW website, but it lacks usable information and basically only tells you that they can accommodate you. However, if you’d like to check it out, here’s the link: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/special-dietary-requests/.

At WDW

Now this is where I feel your special-dietary requests matter; right then and there at the restaurant. Let me walk you through the process of special-diets ordering at a counter service restaurant, so you can know what to expect.

1. Wait in line with everyone else.

  1. When it’s your turn, tell the cast member at the podium that you have a food allergy (saying the phrase “food allergy” is key, because although Disney clearly states that they do accommodate “lifestyle diets,” not everyone knows what the word “vegan” means)
  2. The cast member will call out a chef or manager who will bring out a binder of all food products they use and their ingredients.
  3. The chef or manager will go through the items you might want. For example, say you want a sandwich on the menu that isn’t vegan or gluten free, they will go through the food items they have to make it the right way for you, if they can, maybe by omitting the cheese and making it on gluten free bread. This doesn’t take long at all.
  4. Place your order. You are still at the podium at this point, so you tell the chef or manager what you want, but the podium cast member rings you up.
  5. The chef or manager goes into the kitchen, clears an allergy-free area, and personally prepares your food for you.

 

I know it might sound like a lot, but it’s actually really easy, and that’s coming from someone who is too shy for most things! I like this approach because once you’ve done it one time, then in the future, you always know what you can get at that particular restaurant. You can basically say, “Last time we came, we got this. Can you do that again?”

Keep in mind that a good amount of restaurants have options already available, ready to order, where you don’t need to request to speak with a chef or manager, so the process is just like ordering anything else off the menu!

Now, for table service restaurants, it’s almost the same process with small changes. Always inform your server immediately that there is a special dietary need. The server gets a chef to come out, but unlike the counter service restaurants, the chef can usually prepare you a very special meal that you might not find on the menu! They may walk you through the buffet or menu and point out the items you can have, or they may ask you what food you like and dislike and prepare something special just for you!

At the risk of sounding redundant; it’s easier than it sounds. It’s almost as easy as someone who doesn’t like mushrooms requesting they be omitted that from their meal, except, in the special-diet world, the manager or chef wants to be the one to hear it!