Sunday, September 25, 2016

Allergy-Friendly at Disney

So I know I just finished 3 posts about my experience in the Disney parks, but I realized as I was writing that there were a lot of small details that I would love to share with anyone else dealing with significant allergies. I couldn't fit all the little things in the previous posts because they were already bordering on being longer than my dissertation may ever be...so I figured I would do a separate post addressing this stuff specifically.

So what do I mean when I say allergy-friendly at Disney? I'm talking about how I managed the resort, the parks, dining, attractions, rides, etc. with mast cell disease (i.e. random allergic reactions, possible anaphylaxis) and severe food allergies. I went into a bit of detail in the previous posts, but there was a lot that I didn't mention, so that will all be here!

Before we even left for Florida, I had called the resort we would be staying at (All Star Sports) ahead of time to request chemical free cleaning. One of the challenges with mast cell disease is that I have a lot of triggers, but can't specifically pinpoint what it is that triggers me. We DO know that I can be very reactive to bleach-containing products and similar cleaners. Requesting this ahead of time meant that (hopefully) we could avoid this trigger immediately on entry to the room. I am glad to report success on this!


One thing we did not do, which I would seriously look into for future visits is to find where the smoking areas are located. The buildings at the resorts are smoke-free, but there are designated smoking areas (in the parks as well). For us, unfortunately, one of the smoking areas was between our building and the main building that had the registration area and food court. Every time we walked to get food or to talk with someone at registration, we had to run the gauntlet past the smokers. Plus, the one night it POURED, we had to take a long way to get back to our room (and get thoroughly soaked and chilled) because I needed to avoid the smokers (who were safely protected under umbrellas). One of the other smoking areas also happened to be at the other end of our building leading to a pool area which was almost equally as inconvenient...all the smoking areas are posted online on the resort maps, so I would want to check those out after booking and request a specific building or area that I knew would be away from some of these designated contamination zones.

Another thing I briefly mentioned (but you may have just skipped over it) was that Disney is a big fan of fog/smoke machines. Now, I know that in theory fog machines are pretty much just water and should technically be fine, it can be very difficult to determine if it is fog or smoke in the amount of time I might have before my body starts to react. Sometimes the use of these are labeled at the entrance, but other times they are not. If you are also extremely sensitive to these sort of fog/smoke machines, be prepared that the mists may appear out of no where. Many of the shows that use them have vents in the floor that suck the mist back down (to prevent it from obstructing the view for everyone watching). So just be aware and ready to move/leave if needed, but I was surprisingly okay sitting in the back row at one of these shows and had no issues with the fog/smoke.

Disney is also a fan of making their attractions as interactive as possible. This often comes in the form of a 4D theater experience with water being sprayed, seats moving, and the occasional scene-appropriate scent to give you the feeling you're "in the moment." Water was okay, although caught me off guard a number of times, and the seats moving/shaking might have woken Leni up from her snooze, but was otherwise uneventful. Now the scents...those were a bit of an issue. As I've mentioned multiple times throughout the blog (and as is common for many mast cell patients), scents are a HUGE trigger for me. Unfortunately, the worst offender was also the best ride of the whole trip...Soarin'. This was a simulated hang gliding trip through some of the most iconic sites across the world. Certain scents were sprayed at specific times to give you more of a feeling that you were actually in each location. There was nothing posted ahead of time, so we had no idea this was coming. Be aware that while I would HIGHLY recommend this ride, proceed at your own risk and be prepared, whatever that might look like for you. I would go on this again, but wear my mask to avoid fully breathing in the sprayed scents as well as pre-treating with my meds to hopefully keep any reaction at bay. Also, this was the only ride we went on that had this issue, but I'm sure it's not the only ride at Disney that uses scents. Don't be afraid to ask a cast member when you enter the line if they use scents (or a fog/smoke machine) or anything else that could potentially be a trigger for you.

GF/DF/SF Toast and Butter for Afternoon Tea
Such a pretty fruit plate!
The last thing I want to mention (again that I touched on briefly already) was how Disney managed my food allergies. We knew that they were supposed to be great at sit-down restaurants, and they were! They not only understand how to make allergy-friendly dishes, but understand the seriousness of cross contamination and that allergies can be a life or death situation. The chef will come out to speak with you and personally let you know what you can or cannot have. If they don't know, they will find out. They are incredibly accommodating and will do everything they can to make what you want. Our experience at the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian was our first experience with Disney dining, and was the highlight of the day and one of the highlights of the trip. Our waiter and the chef were incredible at making sure I not only was safe, but actually had things I wanted. They didn't treat it as an inconvenience but as another way to make our trip special. Same experience later in the week at Sanaa. Their allergy protocol is fantastic, and they don't just accommodate allergies, but make you a meal that will make you forget there is anything "special" about your food compared to the non-allergy meals. No question, Disney has their allergy-friendly dining down in the sit-down restaurants. What I wasn't sure about was the quick-service food courts.

EnjoyLife brand!
Pineapple and safe Turkey!
Since we stayed in a value resort (all the All Star resorts), there was not a sit-down restaurant on site, only food court style dining. Since I am still on my feeding tube, I didn't need full meals so the first few days I just ate fruit and a few packaged safe foods. I was definitely very wary as to how they would handle severe food allergies in a food court setting. The last evening, I decided to see what they would do (since we were on official Trippin' with Jamie business) and figured if I didn't feel safe, I just wouldn't eat it. I could not have been more wrong! When I went up to the counter and told one of the cast members that I had food allergies, he pushed a button and said the manager would be out shortly. Less than 2 minutes later, the manager came out and asked who had food allergies. I told him what my allergies were and asked if the turkey would be safe. He not only told me that it was safe, but also explained how they prevented any possible cross contamination (no wheat products at the station, milk products only on half the kitchen, no soy used at all). Then he personally got some fresh turkey that had not been sitting out at the serving line, carved it himself, and brought it directly to me. I was very impressed at how they handled allergies even at the quick-service food courts, and I hope this helps anyone else with severe allergies take a deep breath and know that you can eat safely at Disney.

Eating an allergy-friendly cookies and cream donut!
The last thing I want to mention also has to do with allergy-friendly food. Disney Springs is the re-make of what used to be Downtown Disney. There are lots of shops, restaurants, shows, and various activities. It isn't super close to any of the parks, but is on the Disney bus line so you can get to it relatively quickly. Plus, there are a number of hotels (non-Disney resorts) very close by that are within walking distance. The reason I am mentioning this is for everyone with food allergies, there is a hidden gem in here! Erin McKenna's Bakery is located about halfway in between the fountain at the main entrance and Cirque du Soleil at the end. It is 100% gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and more (all nuts except coconut, egg, and a few others I think) free!! I was able to try a few different baked goods that I have not been able to eat in YEARS! In the 3 days we were close enough to walk over (and the next few days since I brought some home), I tried a bagel (good warm, okay cool), pumpkin bread (yummy), cookies and cream donut (very gooey and rich, but yummy), a whoopie pie (super sweet and made me sick, but tasted pretty good), a mint brownie cupcake (gave to my mom who loved it, I didn't), and a snickerdoodle (okay, but more a crunchy cookie which I'm not a fan of). Plus, we found out they ship, so as my stomach and mast cells cooperate, there may be more baked goods in my future! If you visit Disney and have severe food allergies, I would HIGHLY recommend taking a trip to Disney Springs just to visit this bakery (okay, you can do other things while you're there, too =P).

So I think that's everything I wanted to mention! Was this long enough for you?? =P I hope this is helpful for someone else maybe preparing to travel to Disney with various severe allergies. It took some planning and preparation, and we still had to be careful, but we made it work and had a great time!

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