For many guests with special diets, planning a vacation can be stressful and traveling to the Walt Disney World Resort for the first time with a special diet can seem daunting. Guests might wonder what they will be able to eat and if the food will be safe, particularly those guests with Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, food allergies and sensitivities. Cross contamination for example can have debilitating results and spending your vacation sick is not an appealing thought for most individuals. But travelers to the Walt Disney World Resort need not worry; Disney is well-known in the special diets industry for providing excellent accommodation and gold-standard safety measures to those with specific dietary needs. Visitors from all over the world can enjoy safe meals and are offered a variety of choices, including customizable dishes. From casual fare to fine dining, Walt Disney World has it all, and the best part is that even with a special diet you can enjoy the food too. This article will give you some basics of dining at Walt Disney World with a special diet, as well as some useful tips and tricks that will make your visit a little bit more magical.
- Plan Ahead: Perhaps the most important tip when traveling to WDW with any special diet is planning. Dining and touring at Walt Disney World even without a special diet can require some preparation. Below are some great ways to help you in your vacation planning.
- Read Menus: One of the tips that will help you in your planning process is to look at restaurant menus. Disney World has most of their table service restaurant menus available on their website; one of the best sources is fan site Disney Dining. They list menus for both quick service and table service. This can be extremely helpful when deciding which restaurants might work for you during your vacation.
- Check out Reviews: After you take a look at menus you’re interested in, try to check out websites that offer reviews on your particular dietary needs. For example, there are lots of gluten free & food allergy blogs and sites (including yours truly at the Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW Blog!). You can also find lots of sites on other special dietary needs like vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and diabetic options. I find it extremely helpful to look at these sites as they give you good information, reviews, and photographs of food experiences at Disney World. This gives you a better sense of what you might be able to eat at a particular restaurant when dining with your specific dietary needs.
- Make ADRs: With promotions such as free dining, ADRs are essential for any table service meal. Of course, you won’t need an ADR for quick service dining, but it is always good to know what is available before you go and are faced with limited food options. Once you have decided which table service locations you are interested in eating at, make sure to book your ADR. As with any Disney dining reservation, it’s advisable to make them 180 days in advance (if possible).
- Note Special Dietary Needs: When making your ADR, make sure that you note your special diet on each reservation that you make. If you are doing this online at Walt Disney World’s website, you will see a spot under guest information that says, “I have special requests or a food allergy.” When you click on this, you will be given several options, including gluten and dairy and various other common allergens. There is also a spot for other if you have special needs that aren’t listed. By doing this, you are allowing the restaurants to have a better idea of what special dietary needs will be in their restaurant at a given night, and also prep the servers when you arrive that they need to have the chef come to your table.
- Contact WDW’s Special Diets Department: Once you have done your research and made your ADRs, or if you have any questions about dining at Walt Disney World with dietary needs, you can email or call Disney’s Special Diets Department. They can assist you with questions or concerns, and they can also help you get in contact with a specific restaurant or chef. They are also available to help you with your dining planning in any way. You can email them at: Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com or visit the WDW Special Diets page.
- Order or Arrange to Pick up Groceries: Did you know you can get items delivered right to your Disney hotel room? Since many of the Disney hotel rooms do have refrigerators, it’s handy to prepare some meals in the room yourself, especially if you are staying in one of the DVC villas with a full kitchen. If you have special dietary needs, and you need a refrigerator alert the Front Desk of your resort in order to obtain one (if it’s not already in the room). Contact delivery services such as Garden Grocer and Orlando Theme Park Shoppers prior to your trip, and they are able to provide you with many grocery staples. Orlando Theme Park Shoppers even specializes in food allergies & gluten free diets. I’ve used these types of services myself in the past to order gluten free & dairy free breakfast staples. If you have a car on your vacation, you can also opt to go to the grocery store yourself. There is a Goodings grocery store close to Downtown Disney; however, it is very expensive. There is a Publix and a Winn Dixie both within a few miles of Disney property and both are much cheaper. If you are looking for gluten free, allergy specific or even organic items, Whole Foods is located near Universal Studios and Sea World. It’s a little bit of a drive, but worth it for many guests with special dietary needs. There is also a local health food store called Chamberlin’s with many Orlando locations.
Once at Disney…
- Alert Cast Members of Your Special Diets: Make sure that your table service reservations have special diets noted. Disney’s policy is to have guests consult with chefs or managers at all Disney owned and operated dining locations. Here’s how it works for both table service & quick service locations:
TS: Once you arrive at a table service location typically what happens is this. You will check in at the podium with your ADR. The hostess then marks a printout with an allergy or special diets stamp. Your server then sees this notation and has the chef come out. Usually the servers do take a drink order, but they won’t bring any food until the chef confirms your order. Of course, this is not an exact science and each restaurant experience may be different, but in general this is how the procedure typically works. When the chef comes to your table, they will go over options on the menu based on your dietary need. If there is something that is not on the menu, they may be able to make something different. Disney chefs are very adept at making customizable dishes for all types of dietary needs.
QS: At quick service locations it works a little bit differently. You check in at the ordering podium and you let the cashier know that you have a special diet. They will then page a manager, who will bring a binder with their ingredient lists and go over your options. They will take your order and then handle its preparation from start to finish themselves. The food will be prepared in a completely separate area from the other food, and some locations do have dedicated fryers for things like allergy friendly chicken tenders and French fries. Sometimes food preparation at quick service can take a little bit longer than it normally would, so there might be a slight wait. The manager will either have you wait at the food pick-up counter, or if there is going to be a longer wait, they will bring it to your table.
- Bring snacks: While there are lots of snack options within the WDW Resort that are friendly for many special diets, it’s always a good idea to have snacks handy. Per Disney policy, guests with special dietary needs are allowed to bring snacks with them into the theme parks. As a gluten free & dairy free guest, I often bring items like protein bars, trail mix, and gluten free pretzels to nibble on. It’s nice to have a backup even if I have meals planned out.
- Relax and enjoy!: The great news is that you’re at Walt Disney World! Disney is so terrific at handling special dietary request. You will be impressed by the ease in which you can dine at the Theme Parks and in the Resort restaurants. The variety of food offered and level of care in which special dietary food is prepared makes Walt Disney World truly the most magical place on earth!
Do you have a special diet? What are your tips for making planning with a special diet easier?
When Sarah isn’t sharing planning tips about the Walt Disney World Resort, you can find her at the Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW Blog where she writes dining reviews and shares tips and tricks about dining at Disney with a special diet.
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