If you know me, you may know that I’m practically allergic to life itself.
Not even the happiest place in the world can ward off the challenges of living with multiple food allergies and the joys of spontaneous allergic reactions. So with that in mind, let’s have a chat about how we can manage food allergies as successfully as possible, whilst still making the most of your holiday…
Before we begin, a quick disclaimer: the meals I mention below were safe for me, at the time of consuming. If you choose to purchase any of these meals, always enquire with staff and do your own research before consuming. If you’re in any doubt, don’t risk it. Easier said than done I know, but it’s not worth it, even for the most delicious looking Mickey-shaped goodies.
Disneyland Paris Meal Plan
It’s no secret that food in Disney is hella expensive. There’s a premium charge on everything from set menu prices to snacks in and around the park, and these daily costs can quickly mount up. That’s why I would always, always recommend booking your vacation during one of Disney’s seasonal special offers, where they include one of their Meal Plans in the price of your stay. We’ve stayed at DLP twice now (2017 and 2019) and both times the seasonal offer has saved us a fortune.
Various plans are available, but for us, booking in January 2019 for June 2019 during a special offer, we were entitled to a complimentary half-board ‘Plus’ Meal Plan during our stay: a hotel breakfast and one three-course meal per day, in participating restaurants. You can find more in-depth information on the Meal Plans on the Disney website, but for us, they turned out to be incredibly cost-effective. From our receipts, it seems that breakfast for two worked out around €30.00 per day, and two three-course meals around €60.00- €80.00 per day, meaning we were technically saving around €100.00 on food every single day of our holiday. So, does this good value for money stand true when trying to dine with multiple allergies?
Before we discuss how I managed to adapt Meal Plan set menus to suit my requirements, it’s worth mentioning the Natama Menu, featuring a number of pre-prepared and packaged food free from the top 16 allergens. And I for one am not going to bash this: it’s great that Disney has these options on standby so that in theory, there should be at least something that absolutely everybody can eat.
In practice, however, I’ve tried these foods myself and found them… a little hit and miss. The tomato soup starter for instance, is absolutely fine. The caramelised apple dessert on the other hand… let’s just say I wouldn’t go near it again in a hurry. But the overarching concern for me is that these dishes seem to be created for children: small portion sizes that quite honestly look like convenience foods that could be picked up on-the-go from a supermarket. And with what you’re paying for your stay and your food, it simply doesn’t feel like good value for money. That’s why wherever possible, I tried to find solutions from the main menus instead.
How To Accommodate Allergies When Ordering At Disney: 5 Simple Steps
- Print yourself some ‘allergy cards’ at home. Sites such as Allergy Action offer a free service where you can select your allergens and have an alerting card translated into the language of your destination for you to print and carry around, and hand over to anybody dealing with your food. This can eliminate any ambiguity or language barriers that could prevent your needs from being met, and give you some assurance that your requirements are understood.
- Present your allergy card to your server as you are seated. Sometimes they may take your allergy card away with them to show the kitchen, so it may be wise to print a few copies in case one goes rogue. From my experiences, it makes more sense to do this either as you sit down or before anybody on your table places their own food order, as there may be some back and forth between waiters and kitchen staff before things proceed. Personally, this is where I think an allergy book for customers (similar to how chain restaurants operate in the UK) would come in handy: not only would seeing the allergens present in dishes with your own eyes give you more reassurance over which meals were safe for you, but it could be a more time-effective method for servers too. It’s also worth noting here that some people recommend calling the restaurant 24 hours in advance (using the Restaurant Booking Line) to discuss any allergies, however we didn’t try this ourselves this time: being flexible enough to accommodate my chronic illness means that we rarely had our dining booked with enough notice to give.
- Be prepared to discuss and advocate. We found some servers to be either very dismissive or somewhat overwhelmed by dietary requirements and immediately resort to the Natama options (explained above), rather than try to work with you to find something on the menu. Others would be brilliant, taking you through what you could and couldn’t have, often asking whether you would like to substitute problematic foods with safer options instead. If in doubt, there’s no harm in asking to speak to a manager or a more experienced staff member when placing your order, as they may be better placed to advise. It can feel difficult, and I’m no stranger to feeling a little awkward about it, but sometimes you do need to push to make sure you’re getting something safe and enjoyable. There was one day towards the end of the stay where I genuinely had to almost argue for the exact same free-from breakfast I’d been having all week (explained in more depth below) because the staff member didn’t think they did it and wouldn’t actively look for it… even when I pointed to the cupboard I knew they were kept in. It’s no surprise I needed a lie down after that ordeal.
- If something doesn’t seem right, question it. There was one occasion where I ate the exact same meal in the same restaurant on two consecutive days, but on the second day I was served a pastry with my usual plain dessert. I questioned whether the pastry was safe for my allergens, only to be told by our server that they didn’t know, but that this is what the kitchen had served and if I wasn’t sure, I just shouldn’t eat it: a bit of a problematic attitude when your establishment is serving children and people with severe allergies who could be made extremely unwell simply by having an allergen on the same plate as the rest of their meal. What would have happened if somebody with a severe allergy hadn’t questioned it and gone ahead and consumed it? Who would have been liable?
5. Be vigilant: I was surprised beyond belief to find that peanuts and nuts still seem to be everywhere in Disney. If you go for a drink in a hotel bar in the evening, be aware that peanuts in a bowl are offered complimentary alongside alcoholic beverages: there is no mention of this online or in the menu, and so it was only my best friend spotting this and physically holding me back before I sat at a table that prevented a situation that could have quickly turned quite dangerous. Obviously how you approach this one will depend on the severity of your allergy, and it would be wise to avoid the area altogether if you suffer from airborne reactions, but if you’re going ahead, you can ask for the table to be thoroughly wiped down first. It may also be worth stipulating ‘no peanuts’ or showing your allergy card when you order drinks. I can’t help but think there would be endless value in changing the peanuts to crisps or a less problematic snack, or at the very least having ‘nut free’ zones or tables. After all, these holidays are designed with children, the most vulnerable and susceptible to nut allergies, in mind. Not that you’d think it with the amount of undeclared and concealed Nutella in all the snacks too…
So, what did I actually eat?
The best meal of the day: fight me. My understanding is that with a Meal Plan, you can choose one of two breakfast options in your hotel: a buffet in the restaurant or a pick-up ‘On The Go’ pack from the bar. Due to my chronic illness and cross-contamination issues, as well as power-chairs not quite going hand-in-hand with rogue children on a sugar high at the buffet, we always opted for the second option, Breakfast On The Go.
This option includes two pastries (croissant or pain au chocolat), a hot drink, a fruit juice and sometimes a piece of fruit. And all things considered, I was quite pleased with the allergen alternatives to the pastries: a few different options from one French free-from brand which I believe was certified gluten and dairy free. During my stay, the choice was either marble cake, brioche-style chocolate chip cake, or a packet of three small cookies. And whilst I’d advise steering clear of the cookies (some of you know may understand what I mean when I say they taste ‘very gluten free’), the other two cakey options were actually really yummy and relatively filling too. There’s also soya milk available for a hot drink, so thankfully no barriers to my essential first cuppa of the day. It’s worth hanging on to the little pot of soya milk they give you, if you can: I used to carry it around in my power-chair in the parks so I could use the rest of it for a hot drink at lunchtime, too.
As I mentioned earlier, there was one unfortunate occasion where the staff member was so unhelpful and dismissive that I really had to push and assert myself (before finally another staff member came to assist), until I could access the exact same breakfast I’d been having all week. However, there were other days where staff were genuinely lovely and as accommodating as possible: we even ended up with some bonus goodies on our final day!
If you too are opting for the three course meals on the Plus dining plan, my best advice would be to look for the choices that look easiest to adapt and customise. In my case, this essentially meant the same meal every day: a Caesar salad starter with no cheese, egg or dressing, a meat-based main course with a side of either potatoes or veg (again with no sauce or dressing), and a plain fruit salad for dessert. And although it would have been nice to have more choices, I’m certainly not going to complain: I know I’m not easy to cater for, and I’m just glad I could experience genuinely tasty and well-cooked and presented food off the standard menu. If I’d ever been really stuck or in need of a change, I could have turned to the Natama menu mentioned earlier.
The one exception to the above restaurants included on the Plus Meal Plan was Bistrot Chez Remy, the popular Ratatouille-themed restaurant in the Disney Studios park. With gorgeous food and incredible theming, it’s no surprise that this one is booked almost solidly, months in advance, and very difficult to get a table at. So naturally, this was the one that seemed most allergen-friendly.
Not only did the server enquire about any allergies or dietary requirements as we were seated (before I could even whip my cheeky allergen card out), but I actually had *gasp* two choices of starter and main rather than just one default option. It may seem only a small thing, but as any fellow allergic readers will know, feeling more included really can make such a difference to the overall experience.
Light Meals and Snacks
Unsurprisingly, not many of the themed food options around the parks are suitable for common allergens. It’s also worth noting that items that may be safe when served in one stand or establishment may not be safe in the other, so it’s always worth checking: I could have chips in certain places, but not others. And coincidentally, chips from stands in the parks were pretty much my go-to light/ smaller meal in the afternoon or evenings. There’s also a McDonalds located in Disney Village, with allergen information available online. As you can probably tell, it was a very healthy few days…
However, we did have one lunch in a Quick Service outlet and I was pleasantly surprised at how efficiently they handled my allergen request: we placed our order at the till, they had an allergen book to hand, and I found a children’s chicken sandwich (that came as a meal with cherry tomatoes and a drink and pureed dessert) was suitable for my needs and low in saturated fat. Yay!
In Disney Village there may be a few suitable snacks options free from the top 14 allergens, such as candy floss and fruit smoothies, but I’d always recommend bringing along snacks of your own to turn to throughout the day: my current favourite treats for my bag that travel well are Dove’s Farm ‘Freee’ Choc Chip Oat Bars and the new NOMO chocolate range. That stuff is worryingly addictive.
And in summary…
My best advice would be to prepare for your trip as thoroughly as possible in advance, with an allergy card and back-up snacks, and be ready to explain your needs. As you can tell, my experiences varied over the course of our stay, with more success in some areas than others, and I’m sure many other visitors will have had similar encounters too.
My multiple allergies and additional needs present huge obstacles when it comes to holidays and travelling, and our decision to do Disneyland Paris was primarily made because they seem better equipped than most to handle these requirements. And whilst I don’t dispute that Disney are frontrunners in terms of accessibility, the numerous errors and issues we experienced in less than 5 days just goes to show how low the bar is set when it comes to allergies and dietary requirements.
I try to keep as positive as possible about it, but if anybody has any other recommendations for holidays, destinations or resorts where you’ve personally had good experiences in terms of accessibility and allergies, I’d genuinely love to hear your recommendations. If I can, I’d absolutely love to try and help raise the profile of organisations doing brilliant work in this area.
If you have any tips or tricks of your own for managing multiple allergies in any of the Disney resorts, please do let me know in the comments below – you may end up helping out another reader too! What helps you to manage your needs on your travels?