Though it’s possible to visit Walt Disney World without pre-planning, you’ll get a lot more out of the experience with a few steps beforehand. Having staff and chefs prepared for your visit will ensure that not only you eat safely, but you have a lot of options, too. So planning is the key!
But first a little Disney Dining 101.
Disney World often offers promotions for free and discounted dining, which means dining reservations, known at Disney as Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), are essential for any table service, sit-down meal (think: restaurant-style).
For fast food dining, known as quick service (and sometimes referred to as counter service), you won’t need any ADRs, but knowing what is available for special diets diners at these locations is very handy for pre-vacation planning.
Here’s what you need to know.
Make friends with the menus
One of the tips that will help you in your planning process is to look at restaurant menus. Disney World has most of their table service restaurant menus available on their website; many Disney fan sites, like Allears.net also list menus for both quick service and table service locations (and are updated frequently). This can be extremely helpful when deciding which restaurants might work for you during your vacation… as well as dreaming about what you might order in advance (or are we the only ones that do that?)
Though the menus rarely indicate if something can be made gluten-free or free of your allergens, it does give you an idea of what can likely be modified. In general, most locations offer gluten-free pasta, and often meat and fish are freshly prepared and can fit your needs.
Read plenty of reviews
After you take a look at menus you’re interested in, check out websites that offer reviews on your particular dietary needs. For example, there are lots of gluten free amd food allergy blogs and sites. You can also find lots of sites on other special dietary needs like vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and diabetic options. It can be extremely helpful to look at these sites as they give you good information, reviews, and photographs of food experiences at Disney World. This gives you a better sense of what you might be able to eat at a particular restaurant when dining with your specific dietary needs.
And we’re here to help, too. Though we both offer reviews on our personal sites, we also love helping you out! If you have specific needs or questions about restaurants, we want to help you. Between us and those who we often dine with, we are gluten-free (one of us have celiac disease), dairy-free, vegan, soy-free, legume-free… We’re familiar with the details across the spectrum!
Plan those ADRs
With promotions such as free dining, ADRs are essential for any table service meal. Of course, you won’t need an ADR for quick service dining, but it is always good to know what is available before at these locations before go and are faced with limited food options, so mentally pre-planning your choices is a helpful way to make things easier once you’re there.
But back to table service: you have decided which locations you are interested in eating at, make sure to book your ADR. For Disney dining reservations, it’s advisable to make them 180 days in advance (if possible), which is the maximum you can reserve, unless you book through certain agencies, which allows for an extra 10 days beforehand.
Note your needs
When making your ADRs, make sure that you note your special diet on each reservation that you make. If you are doing this online at Walt Disney World’s website, you will see a spot under guest information that says, “I have special requests or a food allergy.” (read more here) When you click on this, you will be given several options, including gluten and dairy and various other common allergens. There is also a spot for other if you have special needs that aren’t listed. By filling in the form and options , you are letting the restaurants know in advance what special dietary needs will be in their restaurant at a given night, and also prep the servers when you arrive that they need to have the chef come to your table.
That’s right: the chef will come to your table! We’ll get to that in a later post.
Get some groceries (if needed)
But there’s more: you don’t have to pack them with you. Did you know you can get items delivered right to your Disney hotel room? Since many of the Disney hotel rooms do have refrigerators, it’s handy to prepare some basic meals in the room yourself. If you have special dietary needs, and you need a refrigerator alert the Front Desk of your resort in order to obtain one (if it’s not already in the room). Other than Value resorts, all rooms should be equipped with a refrigerator.
Delivery services such as Orlando Theme Park Shoppers can be contacted prior to your trip, and they are able to provide you with many grocery staples. If you have a car on your vacation, you can also opt to go to the grocery store yourself. There is a Goodings grocery store close to Downtown Disney; however, it is very expensive. There is a Publix and a Winn Dixie both within a few miles of Disney property and both are much cheaper. If you are looking for gluten free, allergy specific or even organic items, Whole Foods is located near Universal Studios and Sea World. It’s a little bit of a drive, but worth it for many guests with special dietary needs (they do offer delivery, though) There is also a local health food store called Chamberlin’s with many Orlando locations.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series on Planning a Disney Trip with a Special Diet. In the meantime, feel free to contact us or comment below with questions to ensure we address them, and we’d love to have your tips, too!