Disney Dining Tips for Special Dietary Needs
“What are we going to eat?” is a major question for any family on vacation, but when you add in food allergies and special diets, it becomes a lot more crucial. It’s no secret that we’re devoted foodies around here, or that there are certain foods that we don’t go anywhere near. With a family of 6, Celiac Disease, nut allergy, mollusk allergy, and “I only eat these 5 foods”-itis, here are my top Disney dining tips for families with special dietary needs.
There are three basic levels of Disney dining: Table Service, Quick Service, and Snacks. They’re all delicious (of course!), but they all have their quirks. I’ll show you how to navigate all three.
Disney Table Service Dining with Special Diets
Table service dining is the most expensive of the dining options at Walt Disney World. It includes any sit-down restaurant where a cast member comes to your table, takes your order, and brings your food. Table service locations can range from casual, such as Boatwright’s Dining Hall at the Port Orleans, Riverside resort, to world-class fine dining at Victoria and Alberts at the Grand Floridian resort.
The only tip you need for table service dining with special dietary needs is this: Make advanced dining reservations, and be sure to tell Disney Dining about your dietary needs when you make your reservation.
When you arrive at the restaurant, the host or hostess will confirm your party and note your special diet. They will show you to your table, and bring out the chef on duty to discuss the menu with you. The chef will go through every item on the menu (or give you a tour of the buffet) pointing out what dishes are safe for you to eat, and which he or she can modify. The chef will take your order, and disappear into the kitchen to make the magic happen. You’ll also need to repeat your order to the waiter or waitress along with the rest of your party.
When your food arrives, you’ll see a wooden “allergy” pic on your plate. This tells the wait staff to take extra care with your meal.
Worried about desserts, especially if you are on a gluten-free diet? Don’t be. If there’s nothing on the regular menu that fits your dietary needs, the chef will make you something off-menu. Trust me, it will be wonderful.
Disney Quick Service Dining with Special Diets
Quick service dining at Disney is more casual and inexpensive than table-service, and (as the name implies) quicker. In this system, you walk up to a counter, order your meal, then find a table at the nearby seating area. Even though quick service dining locations are more like fast food, don’t worry. The food is still excellent (no greasy burgers here!) and they can handle most dietary needs.
Disney Resort Quick Service Dining
Every Walt Disney World resort has at least one quick service dining location. Most are set up like a mall food court, with several counters serving various foods. For example, the quick service location at the Port Orleans, French Quarter had one counter serving pastries, another with sandwiches, another serving pizza, and a fourth with pasta offerings. These are nice for larger families, because there is a good chance that everyone can find something they’ll like.
When you have a food allergy or special dietary need at a quick service dining location, simply go to the counter and tell the cast member that you have a food allergy. They will immediately get the chef or pull out the allergy binder. The binder holds ingredient lists for every single food item and ingredient used in that location. Quick service locations can make basic substitutions, such as gluten-free bread or buns instead of wheat bread, or they can substitute an allergy-friendly cookie for a regular one. They don’t have the ability to go off-menu as extensively as a table-service chef can, but they can still make sure you get a good meal.
Our family often does an early breakfast at the quick-service location in our resort, unless we have a character breakfast planned. It’s quick, easy, and not too chaotic, especially now that the older kids can carry their own trays.
Disney Parks Quick Service Dining
Quick service dining locations inside the Disney parks operate in a similar way to the quick service locations at resorts. They usually only have one menu, rather than a food court selection, but that menu is more extensive than those at any of the counters at the resorts. Navigating them is the same, however. Tell the cast member you have a dietary need, and they will get the chef to go through the allergy binder with you until you come up with a meal you’ll enjoy and can eat safely.
We tend to avoid quick service dining in the parks, simply because they are more hectic than resort quick service locations. It gets a little stressful trying to figure out what six people want to eat, then waiting for the chef, going through the binder trying to make decisions while there’s a growing line of people behind you, all in the oh-so-distracting atmosphere of a Disney park. Then we get to try to find a table big enough to handle our family. Too much stress.
But it is good to know that in a pinch, we can walk up to any quick service location and have lunch. It’s just not the ideal route for our family.
Disney Snacks with Special Diets
Snacks are a big part of the Disney food scene! Some are available at quick-service dining locations, especially those in the resorts, while others are sold from snack carts sprinkled throughout the parks.
Disney Resort Snacks
Resort quick service dining locations always have a display of grab-and-go snack items that include cereal, chips, cookies, and drinks. On our last trip, we used our leftover snack credits on the dining plan to stock up for the long drive home. They are all clearly labeled and are usually from major national brands, so if you know which brands are safe for you to eat at home, you shouldn’t have a problem navigating the snack offerings at Disney Resorts.
Disney Parks Snacks
When you’re roaming the Magic Kingdom and want something to munch between lunch and dinner, you have plenty of options. Your best bet for Disney parks snacks is to do some research before your trip so you know what is going to be safe and what to avoid.
Gluten Free & Dairy Free Walt Disney World has compiled a list of Disney special diet reference sheets that will help you hone in on which Disney snacks will be safe for you to eat. Of course, you can always ask the cast member at the snack stand your food allergy or special diet questions. They’ll either know the answer, or find someone who does.
Disney Dining Plan with Special Diets
Now that you know how to navigate Walt Disney World dining locations with special dietary needs, what about the Disney Dining Plan?
We always get the Deluxe Dining Plan. It gives us three table-service meals per day, and two snacks. Yes, it’s a lot of food. But we can use our table-service credits at quick service locations, like our resort quick service location for breakfast. We’ve also used snack credits to grab a quick pastry or granola bar so we could spend two table-service credits on a character dining or signature dining experience.
With four kids, and our mix of food allergies, table service dining is easier and less stressful than navigating quick service dining in the parks. It’s also nice to take a break in the middle of the day for a leisurely meal!
Five things to keep in mind with the Disney Dining Plan:
- Tips or Gratuities are not included, so be sure to budget for that! On our recent trip, we spent on average $30 per meal in gratuity. Disney automatically includes an 18% gratuity for parties of 6 or more (that’s us!).
- Alcohol and specialty drinks are not included. If a glass of wine after a long day sounds like heaven, be sure to plan for it.
- On the Deluxe plan, appetizer and dessert are included for lunch and dinner. Don’t feel like you have to clean your plate!
- Kids ages 10 and up are considered adults on the Disney Dining Plan, but don’t worry. Restaurant cast members will let them order from the kids menu if they want to.
- You can pay for extra charges, such as alcoholic beverages and gratuity, using cash, credit card, Disney gift cards, or charge them to your roomusing your Magic Band. Let your server know how you’d like to handle it.
Have you “done” Disney with a special diet – or been nervous about trying it? Let’s chat – ask questions and tell your story in the comments! (and like those cast members, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does and report back!)