Is it possible to travel with a child that has extreme allergies? I put Disney to the test this winter. My son has Eosinaphilic Esophagitis, which causes a continued narrowing of the esophagus in response to food allergies, making avoidance of the foods the most favorable cure.
We were right in the process of addressing this when we had the opportunity to go on Disney Dream’s inaugural voyage. I was hesitant to accept the invitation knowing my son’s food limitations, but also wanted to cheer him up given our long process of dealing with this disease.
This was not an easy test for Disney, my son was on the eight-food elimination diet, which means being off all gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, beef, nuts and shellfish. Most people’s react with a blank stare as I say this, quickly followed by, “What the heck does he eat?”
Although not easy, there are plenty of foods to eat. The easiest is fresh fruit and vegetables, but not exactly what your kids think of for fun food at Disney and not always easily accessible. Breakfast is the hardest. I usually pre-ship and pre-cook his food for vacations or bring the appropriate pancake mix and hope that the kitchen staff will be kind enough to make it.
Disney Dining and Food Allergies
I had heard that Disney was terrific with food allergies, but I was worried about being captive on the ship. If there wasn’t food for him, it would not be able to run out and get him something. Given it was the inaugural trip for the Disney Dream, I was also concerned that they would have all the allergy products in stock.
When I called Disney to check on food for our land portion of the trip, they were terrific. I was almost moved to tears — literally. They made sure I didn’t feel like our situation was an inconvenience. Not only did they set up each meal, but they also had the chef call me ahead of time to carefully go over his allergies and to ask me what he’d like to eat.
This interaction was followed up by a call from a Disney Cruise Line representative. They eased my fears and guaranteed that there would be food for my son onboard the ship.
Disney World Meals
The service at Disney World was outstanding. As we checked in at each restaurant, they sent out the head chef to meet with us, verify the allergies, and plan a meal that my son could eat and enjoy.
Finding food that is appealing is a bigger challenge then you’d think. We’ve struggled with his weight loss because quite simply, the food isn’t appealing and he can’t make himself eat it. As a mother, this is hard for me. Not only is the weight loss worrisome, but also the lack of enjoyment of the food is hard to watch. To see his face light up when the chef brought him pancakes that he could eat in the shape of Mickey Mouse meant the world to both of us!
Dessert is also difficult, but they went out of their way to make dark chocolate fondue for him. A recipe for a happy kid!
Disney Dream Meals
On the ship, this detailed treatment continued. Given that the serving staff rotates with you to the various restaurant venues, addressing allergies is easy. Once we met the head server, he took care of us throughout the trip. Each meal, even the one served on Castaway Cay, was carefully selected and prepared for my son. I could trust it was safe and would meet his dietary restrictions.
Disney rose to the test and distinguishes itself as a leader in the travel industry for dealing with food allergies. Kudos to Disney for deploying and effectively carrying out an outstanding allergy-friendly policy that was consistently managed over every one of our dining experiences. Best of all, my son was happy, enjoyed his food, and didn’t feel like a problem during mealtime. He still says this was one of the best trips of his life!
For those of you out there that have children with allergies, I hope that this post also serves to encourage you to get out there and travel. Each day I find more and more resources that make traveling with kids who have allergies a bit easier.
Photos courtesy of Nancy Solomon