Disney’s Culinary Dietary Specialist for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Chef Gary Jones spoke at the FARE National Conference in San Antonio. He gave a great overview of just how many meals they serve including 750,000 food allergy meals.
He also discussed the basic process for making reservations 180 days in advance and to note your food allergy on each reservation. You can indicate that you have the top 8, plus corn. They added corn based on feedback from the Special Diets team who receive a lot of requests for corn allergies. If you have other allergies, a complex set of allergies or PKU needs, it is suggested that you call and speak to Special Diets, 14 days prior to your trip.
He stressed that you should discuss your food allergies when you arrive at each restaurant. He wasn’t specific about which Cast Member, but we recommend you tell everyone, starting with the host or hostess, the server and anyone who may handle drinks. He also recommended speaking with the chef if you have any questions, and also stressed that the chefs love to do it. He explained the logistics of the chefs coming out to meet with visitors and that, on some days, they were spending more time on the floor than in the kitchen, especially during peak times. Since this prevents the chef from actually cooking, they instigated the food allergy friendly menus and asked Cast Members to suggest their use. However, he again stressed that the Chef will always come out if you ask, and suggests that you ask if you have any questions or concerns. In fact, the chefs insisted that this be recommended at the top of the food allergy friendly menus.
Additionally, we suggest that you review the online versions before you go. Sometimes the food allergy friendly versions are on the Disney site, but you can also find them here, at the Disney Food Allergy group on Facebook or via Google. While they may change a little by the time you arrive, you will still have a good idea what to expect when you arrive and it can help you with your conversation with the chef.
Chef Gary also discussed the process when you travel on Disney Cruise Line. Essentially, your food allergy requests should be sent to the DCL Special Diets team 14 days before you sail, so they can have everything on the ship. He didn’t mention it, but there is also a Dining Session on embarkation day. See more of our Disney Cruise Line food allergy tips.
Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line each have their own Special Diets team and their email addresses are:
Chef Gary also discussed a few disclaimers. This included a discussion of the kitchen and that each one as a special prep area for food allergy meals. They do not have separate kitchens. They do have fryers that are peanut and gluten free, but there are no separate kitchens. In the area designated for food allergy prep, they do have dedicated utensils, and other items used just for food allergy meals. But sometimes the dedicated area has to be cleaned and prepped when you arrive, since it may be used for other purposes.
One of the attendees asked about requesting specific brands of foods. Chef Gary said that they have certain specific brands, but those can change. However, specific food brands cannot be requested except in very rare circumstances. Additionally, the chef always knows which brands he has available. Chef Gary didn’t mention it, but we’ve actually reviewed an ingredient list, cut from the box by a chef when we requested it. They can also discuss and “may contain” labeling the food products on hand may have.
Next, he discussed bringing your own food. You can bring it, but Disney cannot store it, keep it cool and prepare your meals with it.
He also had a quick discussion about fryers. While they don’t use peanut oil, the oil they used is a mix that includes soy. So, the french fries do contain soy. He also said they are constantly looking to change that, including possibly using highly refined oil, which is supposed have the allergens removed. However, since the science is not yet clear on highly refined oil, Disney does not use it.
Next, he discussed a new process that is coming soon for buffets. Currently, a chef may offer to walk you through the buffet to explain what is safe or can be modified for you. Then, the chef gives you the option to pull from the buffet or he or she can prepare it fresh for you. For cross-contamination concerns, we recommend the chef prepare it.
Coming soon are food allergy guides for buffets. He explained some testing they did, using signs on the buffets. But said they ultimately decided it was too problematic. So, they developed the guides that explain all of the items and the allergies for which they are safe. Then, you have the option to visit the buffet or speak to the chef to have it prepared fresh. Chef Gary stressed that they are just guides and do not replace the interaction with the chef.
There was also a discussion about kiosks. There is one in Animal Kingdom that has pre-packaged food allergy friendly snacks. Update: Unfortunately, this location no longer has food allergy snacks. He also discussed the logistics of food kiosks, like those in Epcot at the Food and Wine Festival. The food in these kiosks is prepared in a kitchen far away and transported to the kiosks, where many opportunities exist for cross-contamination. And while there are managers in the various kiosk zones that can answer questions and even possibly have food allergy safe alternatives prepared, it does come with some risk. However, they have made some gluten-free options available at some kiosk locations.
Afterward, Chef Gary stopped by our table. We discussed some of our favorite chefs and that they are almost like aunts and uncles to our daughter and more important the Mickey Mouse to us. He confirmed that they are all very passionate and love the interactions with guests and getting to know them over the years.
We chose to make the Grand Floridian Cafe our first stop for dinner on this trip. We always have a great experience here and this time was one of the best. It was dinner time, and we usually visit the Grand Floridian Cafe for lunch. Since it was dinner, there were a lot of great looking choices, but our daughter knew exactly what she wanted, which was not on either menu, the standard menu or the food allergy menu. She wanted a grilled chicken sandwich, with bacon and guacamole, and a side of fries. The chef this evening was Chef Ben, the same chef who prepared this very same meal the last time we were at the Grand Floridian Cafe. In fact, after reviewing all the choices, Lizzie asked Chef Ben if he could make her a BLT, and he agreed.
He delivered both meals, while our server, Nicolas, delivered my choice, the Cafe Sandwich. Our daughter’s chicken sandwich was perfect, of course, free of dairy, peanuts and tree nuts. She loved it. But, the night wasn’t over. Chef Ben prepared a special melted Enjoy Life Chocolate fondue, with roasted marshmallows, sliced bananas, and strawberries and Enjoy Life Cookies. And, to top it off, he prepared it for the three of us to share. It, too, was fantastic.
This quick review was provided by Sherill, whose daughter is allergic to all nuts.
We have eaten here several times, and the nut allergic family member loved that all of it was safe. She particularly enjoys being able to eat dessert. We came here on Christmas Eve 2017 and were given a food allergy guide grid which confirmed that everything was safe. We went straight to the desert part of the buffet and loaded up a plate with desserts. When we got to the table, the chef had come to discuss the food allergies. He told us that two of the desserts were not, in fact, safe. They had added two desserts that week that were not safe for nut allergy. If he had not shown up at that time, I think my daughter would have eaten a bit of the almond flour desserts already. He brought her desserts from the kitchen that had not mingled with the buffet desserts. It was a close call.
This is a more formal table service restaurant, with a dress code. We ate here several times throughout our trip and experienced excellent allergy service from the chefs. My allergies were noted on every reservation, they put a bright red ‘ALLERGY’ stamp on our reservation ticket when we arrived, and the chefs took my orders on their little yellow special diets notepads and pink allergy tickets.
This quick review was provided by Jennifer, who is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, potato, wheat, and sorghum, is dairy intolerant and has a vegan preference.
My meals usually had allergy flags in it when it came out and the server would then recite what the dish was and my allergy list (or most of it) before placing the food in front of me. One server even had a son with multiple food allergies, including potato, and we chatted for a bit about food allergies. Everyone was very quick to check ingredients if I had any questions (like the thinly shaved radish that looked like cheese on my salad one day.)
Breakfast: They have a dedicated Mickey waffle maker here, just like at Makahiki, with the same waffle mix. Since that’s my favourite breakfast at Disney, why try anything else? (Nothing else looked safe or interesting, anyway.) After the chef brought out photos of the waffle mix ingredients for me to check, and confirmed everything, I had a large plate of waffles, warmed maple syrup, and a side plate of fruit for breakfast. Yum! The chef at Makahiki had a better presentation for breakfast, but that is likely due to that particular chef being more creative than the one I had at ‘AMA’AMA that morning.
Lunch: We had two lunches here. They have both an allergy menu and a vegetarian menu you can have on request. Upon speaking with the chef, we were able to make options on the vegetarian menu safe for my allergies. Both days I opted for a salad and a pan-fried tofu dish, though different variations each day. They don’t have beans in either kitchen… so tofu it was. No safe desserts except fruit, which we skipped in favour if shave ice later in the afternoon.
Dinner: We actually canceled another lunch reservation to eat a second dinner here. This is a beautiful location to watch the sunset over the beach whilst you dine. The dress code and atmosphere are a little more refined at dinner time, which we appreciated. After all, we never eat out at home (due to allergies) and don’t get to dress up often outside of vacation. They have both a vegetarian and allergy menu at dinner as well. The chefs again were able to make something from the vegetarian menu safe for me. One night it was a stir-fried vegetable dish and the other was a quinoa salad. I loved their salads and papaya seed vinaigrette – which was good on salad, vegetables, and tofu. The only safe dessert option was fruit, and we usually skipped it for a treat in our room instead.
This is the buffet-style restaurant, often used for character meals. We dined here for one character breakfast and one character dinner. We enjoyed the story and theming of dinner, even without kids. Uncle told the story of the Menehune, mythical creatures that build things at night and also create mischief. The breakfast seemed really random and loud for us, but Aunty was engaging the younger kids often, so it may have been more fun for kids than adults alone. Each meal had one character greeting at the entrance and three or four characters wandering around to meet guests.
This quick review was provided by Jennifer, who is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, potato, wheat, and sorghum, is dairy intolerant and has a vegan preference.
Our two most memorable meals were at this restaurant, actually. Whether that was because the kitchen had more resources or we just lucked out with exceptional chefs, I don’t know; likely a little of both.
Per usual, we spoke with the chefs on arrival. Never was I told to look at the buffet, though one chef mentioned they didn’t use any peanuts or tree nuts at the breakfast buffet. (I didn’t ask about traces since it didn’t apply to me. And I would never recommend anyone with food allergies eat from a buffet, regardless.) My allergies were noted on every reservation, they put a bright red ‘ALLERGY’ stamp on our reservation ticket when we arrived, and the chefs took my orders on their little yellow special diets notepads and pink allergy tickets. My meals usually came out with allergy toothpicks in it.
Character Breakfast: The chef asked me what I wanted to eat for breakfast, and what I normally eat at home. Originally, I said I eat oatmeal for breakfast at home, and the chef said he could make me some… but then I mentioned how most traditional oatmeal isn’t safe due to traces of wheat. I was initially uncomfortable with this chef as a result of that confusion, which I partially caused, but the situation quickly turned around when I mentioned Mickey waffles and fruit and he came back with photos of all the ingredients and told me how they are made in a dedicated waffle maker, in a dedicated area of the kitchen to prevent cross-contact. Even the fruit for my meal was prepared separately and fresh to ensure it was safe. The waffles came with powdered sugar, small sealed jars of pure maple syrup, and a heaping plate of tropical fruits. The chef cleared all ingredients with me before placing the order. The waffles were the best I’ve ever had and the fruit was fresh and flavourful.
At the end of breakfast, when I could barely eat another bite, the chef came out with a beautiful anniversary ‘cake’ made from fruit. He said that because I couldn’t have the normal anniversary cake that he wanted to do something special, and fruit was the only guaranteed safe option. The ‘cake’ was like a piece of art… I didn’t want to eat it… but I did. Well, part of it; I was too full to eat it all. My husband got the regular anniversary chocolate mousse/lava cake.
Character Dinner: Again, the chef came out to ask what I wanted to eat. I had spoken with this chef before and he already knew my preferences, but he wanted to make something different. He asked if coconut was safe for me, which it is (in most cases), and made a light and flavourful tofu and vegetable dish with a coconut-lime-ginger dressing. I should have asked for the coconut sauce recipe – it was that good. I also had salad and a tropical fruit bowl for dessert. Again, the chef mentioned how my meal would be made by him in fresh pans with fresh utensils to make sure it was safe and free from cross contact. That reassurance and attention to detail is much appreciated.
Special diets: allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, potato, wheat, and sorghum; dairy intolerance; vegan preference
This quick review was provided by Jennifer, who is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, potato, wheat, and sorghum, is dairy intolerent and has a vegan preference.
AULANI, in general: The food at Aulani is simple, based mostly on Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine. There are only two small table service restaurants. As such, options here can be somewhat limited, depending on your allergies. For picky eaters and people with long allergy and special diet lists like mine, there aren’t many options, but the chefs are fantastic at coming up with creative menus and new ideas to provide safe and pleasing meals. The chefs provide the same high-end allergy service you expect from Disney, though they have fewer ingredients to work with. We were very satisfied with the food service, overall.
The chefs circulate between both restaurants, so you will begin to see familiar faces in both places if you go back often. We had one particular (and very good) chef three times: once at Makahiki and twice at ‘AMA’AMA.
The main gift shop sells a small selection of ‘Snacks with Character’, which are allergy-friendly treats, but not all top-10-free. Some were Enjoy Life treats. Be sure to check the labels on every item, every time!
The chef we spoke with before our visit told us that the only safe places for me to eat would be Makahiki, ‘AMA’AMA, and the shave ice stand. The quick service locations and luau wouldn’t be able to accommodate my allergy list.
Studio rooms have a kitchenette that is great for preparing simple meals. You can also request a rice cooker to use in your room. For the two of us, this combination of microwave, fridge, and rice cooker, with a heavy dose of creativity, kept us well fed outside of our dining reservations. Villas have a full kitchen with range. Grocery stores are within a five minute drive to Kapolei: Costco, Walmart, Target, and Down to Earth natural food store (with plenty of allergy-friendly brands) are all there – plus more, I’m sure.
If you live gluten-free, you’ve probably heard of Nima, the portable food sensor for gluten. They recently visited Disney Springs and tested food items for gluten. They sent us a link to their review. Here are the highlights, but be sure to see the entire gluten-free review here.
This quick review was provided by Jack, whose daughter is allergic to cashews.
My wife, daughter and I had signed up for the afternoon Wanyama Safari. I specifically registered with Disney and at every restaurant, my daughter’s cashew allergy. Every place was awesome with one absolute MAJOR exception. This was Jiko. Before our trip I called and registered the fact that my daughter had a cashew allergy. I called the morning of our Safari and reminded them of my daughter’s allergy. I was assured that there would be no problem. Because of our other positive experiences with Disney being very good about allergies, I was lulled into a sense of security. As it happened, there was only one other couple that had signed up for the safari. I again, reminded the young lady who greeted us about my daughter’s cashew allergy.
Before the safari they set up a buffet of various finger foods. As is protocol for our family, I went in to the room where the food was presented to check it out. Sure enough there was a bowl of cashews set out. I was shocked by this. I am not exaggerating the redundancy of my checking in with Disney staff about my daughter’s allergy. We had a very near disaster on our hands. We brought this up to the staff and they did nothing. They did not even remove the cashews.
What really surprised me is the fact that I did not receive a response from Disney when I wrote to them about this issue. I do not expect Disney to change everything to suit a person with a cashew allergy. What I have a problem with is assuring me that I would
not have to worry when I did have to worry.