Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our 2013 Vacation (with Food Allergies)

Oh my goodness....I'm not sure where to begin.  We recently returned from a two-week vacation to Disney World and Washington DC.  We drove.  With 4 young kids (8 and under).  Two of them have food allergies.  (Read here to learn about our vacation preparation.)

Going to Disney World with my family is something I have dreamed about.  But when is the right time to go?  You want your kids to be old enough to remember the trip, but you also want them to be young enough to be enamored by all the characters and such.  Bubs is 8, GirlyGirl is 6 1/2, Cutie is 3 1/2, and Curls is 2 1/2.  We thought this would be a good time to go.  Bubs and GirlyGirl are old enough to enjoy and remember most of it, yet not to old to think Mickey Mouse is for babies.  We knew the little ones would enjoy it, but we also know they won't remember a lick of it!  We decided to take the trip this year, then maybe again in 5 or so years, possibly with extended family.  

After we decided that Disney World would be this year's summer vacation, my sister announced that she would be getting married this August.  In Washington DC.  We weren't sure if we would have to put Disney on hold, or if we could do it all at once.  Since I like to try to do it all (at the expense of my sanity), we made it into one big, long, vacation!

And, yes, we drove.  For many reasons.  For one, buying plane tickets for a family of 6 would be quite expensive.  And we would have to rent a car in Florida.  And carry car seats throughout the airport.  And what about all of Bubs' food?  How would I get a cooler and two tubs full of food there?  So driving seemed to make the most sense.  We borrowed a friend's van topper and loaded up.  I actually packed quite efficiently (I'm quite proud of it), so we had lots of extra room in the van.  This made the road time much more comfortable.  We also have portable DVD players which kept the kids' attention for the majority of the travel time.  As a bonus since we drove, we made a pit stop in St. Louis to go to the top of the arch.  And on the way to DC, we detoured to visit some rival universities to take pics in our fan gear. 

Finding a hotel that will accommodate six is more difficult than you may think.  We did a search in the Orlando and DC areas and found some that are a little farther out than we had hoped.  But the location made the cost lower.  And we ended up with more space than if we were close to the parks/downtown.  In Florida, our hotel had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full kitchen.  This was very comfortable for us all!  I was able to prepare meals on the large counter and had enough fridge/freezer space to hold all of the food I brought, not to mention the groceries I purchased when we arrived.  We also had a washer/dryer in the room.  Perfect!  We were not quite as lucky in DC.  The room was very spacious, but we only had a mini fridge and microwave.  So sandwiches it was for a few days. (Luckily, most of the food I had prepped ahead of time at home that needed to be frozen or refrigerated had already been eaten in Florida.) 

We wanted to make the Disney portion of our trip a surprise, so the kids didn't know we were there until the morning we went to Epcot.  I was so nervous from the time we crossed the Florida border until we got to our hotel.  Every time bubs looked up from his movie, I was sure he would see a Florida sign.  But we made it the whole way without being discovered!  The girls were so excited when we made the announcement!  Bubs, on the other hand, was disappointed that we weren't in DC.  He was so looking forward to seeing the sights.  I tried to reassure him that we were going there next, but he was a bit upset for a while. 

Epcot--it was a little too sunny for the kids!

Our first day was scheduled in Epcot.  We made advanced reservations at the Akershus to have breakfast with the princesses.  When I made the reservation, there was a place to note any special diets, including food allergies.  I noted GirlyGirl's peanut allergy, but I planned on carrying in Bubs' food.  When we arrived, the reservation ticket had a large red "Allergy" stamp on it so everyone would know to be aware.  It even listed which member of our party (and age) has the allergy and what the allergy is.  The waitress immediately told us that they could accommodate us and that the chef would be out to speak with us shortly. I didn't even have to say anything!

The chef approached our table with a binder full of pages with lists of ingredients of the foods they serve.  There was a check list on which foods contain which allergens.  It made it really simple to rule out what she couldn't have.  He also noticed that Bubs had his lunch box and asked what his allergies are.  We told him, and he said they could also accommodate him.  WHAT?!?  He's NEVER eaten restaurant food!  I had done some research before travelling and learned that Disney is truly the gold standard for allergy dining, but I was over-the-top surprised.  I kept trying to say it wasn't a big deal, we brought food for him, you don't need to make anything special, etc.  He pushed right back and said they can easily prepare some hash potatoes that are fried in canola oil and bacon without allergens.  I conceded, and he brought out a HUGE plate full of food for Bubs which he devoured!  He was hesitant at first, as would be expected, but once we assured him that it was OK (and that we had his meds on hand), he dug right in!

The whole family loves Belle!

The girls had a fabulous time visiting with Belle, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, and Snow White while dining.  Bubs even had a bit of a grin when they would visit our table!  What a great start!

Everything at Disney World is expensive.  So, not only because of the food allergies, but also as a money saver, we decided to pack our lunches and suppers for the whole family (except for the breakfast mentioned above and a planned dinner at Magic Kingdom).  It really helped save money and time.  We did easy sandwiches, tortilla rollups, pizza puffs that I had made ahead of time, grapes, applesauce, green peppers, carrots, etc.  They were pretty boring meals, but we had plenty of snacks to hold us over throughout the day.  We also wanted to pack lightly so a small cooler would fit below our rental stroller.  We wanted to carry less, not more.

Magic Kingdom

The next two days were at the Magic Kingdom.  What a magical place indeed!  Even though it was the busiest of the parks, the customer service was delivered in true Disney fashion.  It is absolutely amazing how friendly and helpful the staff is there (all Disney-associated anything, actually, I just really noticed it there).  We all enjoyed meeting characters and going on rides.  If you go, make sure you get FastPasses whenever possible.  What a great way to avoid the long lines!

Me and the Hubs

We stopped at an ice cream parlor for a treat during the heat of the day.  I had read that the parlors have milk-free ice creams for the allergy folks.  They carry Tofutti and Rice Dream.  Both have soy, which is one of Bubs' sensitivities.  The hubs and I agreed that since we are on vacation and this would be a one time thing (and maybe a once in a life time thing), that we would allow him to have the Rice Dream (which has less soy than Tofutti).  He was again so excited to eat the food served.  The server went out of her way to wash her hands and go to a separate area of the parlor to serve it up.  Talk about making an allergy mom feel comfortable! 

Too cute not to share

I had made advanced reservations at Tony's Town Square Restaurant with the intent of allowing Bubs to eat the food served there.  Again, I had done plenty of research and thought this would be a safe place for him to eat.  I was, again, amazed at how attentive and knowledgeable the chef was.  It was like he himself has kids with food allergies!  He even informed us that the rolls they serve are processed with peanuts, so they make (gluten-free) tapioca rolls in-house that both GirlyGirl and Bubs could eat.  He went on to say that he uses rice noodles if Bubs wanted pasta (served with a turkey meatball that is Top 8 free).  Wow!  This was the perfect meal for him.  He was so excited to eat restaurant food....again!  The staff even brought out GirlyGirl and Bubs' food separately to avoid any confusion.  What a dream!

First full restaurant meal.  Spaghetti and meatballs....a favorite!

This pick was added to the kids' food to decrease risk

We had a wonderful time at Magic Kingdom.  Bubs even got to dance with Belle at the Enchanted Tales with Belle.  What a neat memory!  We could have easily spent a third day there! 

Bubs' dance with Belle

Our last day at Disney was at Hollywood Studios.  The Beauty and the Beast stage show was the highlight of this park, although GirlyGirl and the hubs rode the Tower of Terror....twice...and loved it!  I did that once years ago, and I have no desire to do it again. 

Hollywood Studios

While we were in Florida, we thought the kids would enjoy some time at the beach.  We took a day and drove to Cocoa Beach, about an hour from Orlando.  The water was a bit chilly, but the sand and beautiful scenery made up for it.  The kids jumped in the waves, collected seashells, and got buried in the sand.  It was fantastic!  And probably the most relaxing time on this whole trip.  I made safe pasta salad the night before at the hotel for lunch at the beach for the whole family.  A simple and healthy meal loaded with veggies.  We came home with an empty cooler! 

Curls and sweet!

Our plan was to save all of our souvenir shopping for that last evening (after the beach) at Downtown Disney where they have shops that carry most of the items that the park stores carry.  But we could be more selective and have fewer impulse buys by waiting until the end.  Plus we wouldn't have to carry bags around all day at the parks this way.  We decided to eat at a restaurant before shopping.  I packed Bubs AllerMates lunchbox with his supper, and we chose to eat at Planet Hollywood.  I had heard so many wonderful things about the Disney restaurants, but I also heard that any chain restaurants are not part of Disney, therefore not included in all the "gold standard" food allergy dining raves.  Upon ordering our food, I notified the waiter that GirlyGirl has a peanut allergy (since I was ordering food for her).  He asked about Bubs since we didn't order anything for him.  I told him that he has too many food allergies to easily accommodate.  The waiter told us that they could accommodate him if we wanted.   He offered to have the chef come talk to us and was confidant Bubs would be safe.  I'm sure it would have been fine, but his food was already packed, and I didn't want it to go to waste.  But it's nice to know that other restaurants outside of Disney were willing to be so accommodating. 

Planet Hollywood

By the time we finished eating, it was dumping rain.  I don't mean a little drizzle.  It was a downpour!  We had had on and off rain during our whole trip thus far (after all, it is Florida), but this was bad.  It was not going to be fun shopping with four kiddos.  So the hubs loaded up the kids in the van and drove around for a while, and I did some shopping.  I would have liked to have had more time and visited more stores than I did, but we came home with some pretty cool souvenirs. 

Our final day in Florida was at Sea World.  We looked on their website the night before, and they don't allow guests to carry in food (except those with special dietary needs).  I was really hoping to pack our lunches and suppers again for saving time and money.  But we looked a little further and found that their restaurants are also great with food allergies!  The one most highly recommended was the Sharks Underwater Grill, so we made reservations and noted the kids' allergies.  Once again, they were very accommodating and overly helpful.  The chef even told us that Bubs food would take longer to prepare since they use a fresh pot and fresh water for his noodles, but he would get it started right away to avoid too much delay.  Another successful restaurant meal!  Plus we got to eat with sharks swimming around us!  Pretty neat!

Shark's Underwater Grill (the pic is dark, but there are sharks swimming in the background)

An allergy card we were given upon check-in at the Shark's Underwater Grill


The kids really enjoyed the Shamu show

By the end of the Florida portion of our trip, Bubs had successfully eaten at three restaurants and an ice cream parlor!  Wow!  If you are a food allergy momma, you know what this means!  What a treat!

The second portion of our trip was a visit to Washington DC.  We added this portion to attend my sister's wedding.  All three girls were flower girls.  I know I'm biased, but I must say they were awfully cute!

Our fam at my sister's wedding

I think Washington DC is a wonderful place to visit, and I would love to take the time to see all the sights, but it's not much fun with four young children.  They are not old enough understand/appreciate all the history, there's a lot of walking, and very few public restrooms!  Also, several of the monuments/memorials were under construction of one sort or another.  It was neat to see them, but the pics are not ideal. 

At the Lincoln Memorial (with the Washington Monument in the background)

As close as we could get to the White House

At the White House

The wedding was very nice, and it was great to see family again.  I even got to meet one of my blog readers.  She was a teacher of my sister's, and her son has a corn allergy.  It's so easy to connect with someone who deals with similar issues. 

Curls and Daddy
All in all, it was a great vacation!  Now it's back to reality!


  1. I'm so glad you had a successful vacation! It's always great to read these stories of travels gone well! :)

    1. I agree! Another success story for the food allergy community!