Two Allergic "Kids" Take on Disneyland
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
What I ate: Homemade food
Arriving at Disneyland on Saturday night, I was excited in a way that only one who was sitting in a car for 6 hours awaiting Disneyland can be (VERY EXCITED). My boyfriend’s mom and her fiance were kind enough to invite me for the second year in a row to join them and my boyfriend’s siblings in Disneyland and I had been looking forward to it for weeks. I had my outfits picked a month in advance and even bought a pair of jeans with Mickey Mouse on them just for the trip (yes I know I’m extra haha).
This year we stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. It was such a beautiful hotel, and it was conveniently located next to Downtown Disney and the California Adventures Park. That meant less walking to get there! We could literally enter both from our hotel.
We arrived to the hotel around 7pm, and everyone was ready to eat dinner. I, however, was far too nervous to eat out that evening. Lately, eating out has been something I have been avoiding. Thankfully for me though, I had brought plenty of food with me for the trip. I packed pasta and pasta sauce, hard boiled eggs, salad, steamed carrots, homemade bread, rice, and some Sweet Loren’s cookies. I wanted to bring enough food in case I wasn’t wanting to eat out at Disney.
I know that Disney is well versed in the world of food allergy (read Disney's allergy statement here), as I have eaten there before. But when I go through phases of more food anxiety, I like to stick with the basics that I can make for myself. I wasn’t sure how I would feel on this trip, and I didn’t want to let food anxiety take over my enjoyment for this trip. And lucky for me, the rooms had the perfect sized mini fridge for me to store my food in!
While I chose not to eat any of the restaurant food the first night, my boyfriend, Kyle, and his family decided to eat out at a buffet style restaurant that the hotel had near it’s lobby. Kyle has a dairy allergy, but he is so much braver when it comes to food than I am. He doesn’t get anxiety the way I do.
So he had no problem eating the buffet food...despite almost every food option being covered in a cheese or cream sauce. I tried not to be nervous, but I swear seeing all of that made me so worried about him eating there. It’s such a different experience being nervous about someone else’s allergy, and it made me understand more how difficult it must have been for my parents when I was little.
For me, I judge how safe I feel eating at a restaurant based on how many items contain my allergens. I scan menus for peanuts, tree nuts, and coconut mentions. If a restaurant seems to have a lot of my allergens on the menu, I will typically avoid eating there, out of concerns of cross contact. If I were Kyle that night, I would have stayed CLEAR of that buffet. But he doesn’t work that way! He spoke with the chef who told him that about three or four of the buffet options were safe for him. She also offered to make the salmon - which was covered in cream sauce - without the sauce for him if he wanted.
Disney is great about allergies in the sense that they will always try to make things safe for those with allergies. They typically have allergy menus that will tell you what will be safe based on what allergies you have. I have found it very helpful in the past. But when it comes to gut feelings, nothing - in my opinion - is more accurate. Something about the whole situation made me nervous. I really, really, really didn’t want to eat there, and I didn’t want Kyle to either. But he felt that it would be safe.
So Kyle ate what he was told was safe, including the plain salmon piece the chef brought out for him. I sat there and talked to everyone as they ate. I tried not to stress about him and his allergy, but it was definitely on my mind. If I’m not worrying about my own allergies, I’m worrying about his!
A few minutes in, Kyle stopped eating and said he felt it might have made him “a bit tingly,” but wasn’t really sure. He thought it might have been an issue from the salmon, so he decided to stop eating that just in case. And after a minute or two he said it went away, and he continued to eat the rest of the food with no problem. So we have no idea if he had a reaction or not, or if maybe it was just a mental trick. But either way, it was enough to make me worried about him for a while. Thankfully he showed no other signs of reaction and eventually I felt less stressed about it.
After they all ate dinner, we went back up to the hotel and I got out my pasta and bread and ate it for my dinner. Our room had a mini fridge, and Kyle’s mom brought a microwave for me just in case. Let me tell you, after worrying about Kyle, it was nice to just be able to go to the room and eat my own food no problem. I had also found that having my own food was helpful on the drive up as well. It was nice to have the options.
Day 1 in the Park
The next morning, Kyle and I slept in a bit and the rest of the group went out on their own. I woke up feeling fine, and decided I was up to try eating out for breakfast. For almost every Disneyland trip I have had (in the past few years), I have eaten at Tortilla Joe's. It’s a Mexican restaurant in Downtown Disney. The food is so good, and I have always felt safe eating there. I figured that was a good place to start.
So Kyle and I made our way to the restaurant, which was super close to the hotel. We got there around 10 am, and there were barely any people there, which I was thrilled about. I love going to restaurants when they are pretty empty, because I feel like the staff has more time and attention available for keeping me safe. It’s a lot easier to communicate the severity of allergies when there’s less people in the restaurant because it is quieter and the staff doesn’t need to worry about rushing meals out left and right.
At Tortilla Joe's that morning, I had a fantastic waitress named Jennifer. We told her about Kyle and I’s allergies, and she assured me that they worked with food allergies many times before. As far as nuts went, she said the only things to avoid were the enchiladas with mole sauce and a dessert that had coconut. This I expected though, because traditionally mole sauce has peanuts, and oftentimes I can’t eat the desserts at restaurants. She then reassured us that Kyle’s food would all be dairy free as well.
I actually felt really good about what she said so I decided to trust the food and eat it. I was nervous because as we arrived to the restaurant, I started to feel a bit itchy, but I figured it was likely because of the environment (pollen related). I enjoyed a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and onion mix, and some tortillas. Kyle had a breakfast burrito with rice and beans. We both finished our meals without any sort of allergy issues.
Following our big breakfast, we took to the park! We enjoyed a few rides, and Kyle tried his hand at being an “instagram boyfriend.” Props to him though, he finally took a few pictures of me that I didn’t hate! It’s a work in progress haha. In the past, I have eaten at several of the dining locations within the Disney Parks. They have specific menus that show what is safe for a dinner based on what the allergens are.
I haven’t had any memorable issue related to the food at Disney, but with my allergy anxiety a bit higher, I felt I wasn’t really up to eating out at the park for lunch. And I think it is perfectly reasonable to want to avoid eating out when it comes to food allergies. I always go for whatever I feel is safer.
My time in between meals was mostly spent on rides or shopping (my personal favorite). However, Kyle and I did find time for one special treat! We both got a frozen lemonade cup and spent some time talking and enjoying that. I have found that most of the little snack carts that sell food around the park will have the ingredients for snacks, even if they don’t actually come with a label on them.
The frozen lemonades that we got to enjoy did have labels on their packaging. But for things like popcorn, pretzels, and churros, you can actually get the ingredients by asking the person running the stand for the ingredients. So far, I have found that for every snack I have asked about, Disney staff were able to provide me with a piece of laminated paper that had the complete ingredient list. Very helpful and reassuring! And surprisingly, so much of it was nut free!
That evening, I went and ate at Tortilla Joe's again with Kyle’s mom, her fiance, and Kyle’s brother and sister. I felt safest eating there because I had already eaten there on this specific trip. Honestly, I tend to go for what feels safest, and oftentimes that means I will repeat eating at a particular restaurant for a large part of my trips if I need to.
That night, we ate outside. This time, the restaurant was a lot more busy and I felt a bit more nervous about it all. One thing to keep in mind about Tortilla Joe's is that it is extremely popular for dinner, and usually you need to either arrive really early, or make a reservation if you want to eat there at a decent hour. This can be a bit of a pain, but they do have a faster version of the restaurant directly attached where the set up is a bit more like chipotle. I have eaten there before and I was told that food was made by the same chefs as the main restaurant. But between you and I, the main restaraunt is so much better!
The waitress we had that night was nice enough, but seemed a bit distracted. I told her about my allergies and Kyle told her about his. She said that it should be safe but that “it was an open aired kitchen” and essentially nothing could ever be guaranteed. This was definitely a different reaction than the woman who had been our waitress that morning, and I’m not going to lie it stressed me out a bit. But I knew what I ordered was safe for me on previous trips, and I decided to brave through it. And it actually turned out okay.
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask for no cheese on my food, so I was served a dish covered in cheese. But Kyle, who was sitting next to me, didn’t seemed bothered. He told me he didn’t mind so I ate the dish as it was, even though I felt bad. For my allergies, I am so sensitive that he basically has to avoid nuts anytime he is around me. He doesn’t always seem as nervous to be near dairy, but if I eat it, we can’t kiss right away. And I just feel like if I can avoid dairy, I should, out of respect and thanks for him avoiding my allergens all the time.
Day 2 in the Park
What I ate: Tortilla Joe’s, homemade pasta, & Churros!!
On day 2 of the trip, Kyle and I decided to go eat breakfast at Tortilla Joe’s again. I am so beyond grateful that he was understanding enough to eat there so many times with me. I’m sure he would have loved to try out a few other places, but he was kind enough to keep eating at the place I felt the safest at.
We got there around 11 am, so they were no longer serving brunch. We both ordered the meals we had ordered the night before, and it still tasted great. I would love to say that I was far more adventurous when it came to eating out on this trip, but honestly, I really wasn’t. And that is just because I like to keep things simple, and go with what I know and trust. In general, most restaurants in Downtown Disney are great about allergies too. But my focus was less about food and more about the time I was spending time at the park.
As far as the park itself goes, there was lots to see at Disneyland this year. My most favorite rides of the park this time were “Pirates of the Carribean” and “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” I’m not super big on roller coasters but the pirates ride is hardly that crazy and I love it. “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” is one of my all time favorites. I used to be terrified of the ride when I was little, but since I grew out of that, I make sure to go every Disneyland Trip! Mr. Toad is a character from the 2009 Disney short film, “Wind in the Willows.” I used to love watching that when I was little.
This was also my first time seeing Star Wars Land, and I have to say it was quite impressive. There was so much detail in the whole set up. I found out that they even served green or blue “milk” as part of the attraction. Kyle and I discovered that the “milk” was actually dairy free, which I found impressive. It is made with coconut and fruit apparently, so I couldn’t have it myself, but I felt that making something like that deliberately dairy free was such a great thing to do for the allergy community. Especially as many of the most iconic Disneyland treats, like churros, are not dairy free. In all honesty though, I probably wouldn’t try it even if I could just because the colors of the drinks were quite unnerving! But it was perfect in a place like Star Wars Land.
In California Adventures, I was pleased to discover a section of the park being dedicated (presumably for a limited time) to the movie Coco. Inside this section, park guests were invited to write a note honoring somebody they lost. It was so tasteful and I cried my eyes out.
For lunch, Kyle and I ended up going back to the hotel to eat some of the food I had brought. We were worn out from being in the sun all the morning, so hanging out in the room and eating our own food was inviting. After some pasta, and several Sweet Loren’s cookies, we were good to go back out!
That evening we had dinner as a group at - bet you’ll never guess - TORTILLA JOE’S! Kyle and I had the same thing we had the night before, but it tasted just as good each time haha. We are both pretty used to eating the same thing quite often.
Food allergies can be stressful, especially when traveling. I’m not going to lie, even with Kyle and I both having food allergies, our styles can be quite different. Sometimes we argue about how each other deals with their own allergies. Sometimes I get upset if he eats something he knows I can’t have when we are hanging out. And sometimes he feels like I limit myself too much on things that I can eat. But on this trips he did one of the most meaningful things he could do for me and my allergies. He bought me a churro.
Kyle knows I LOVE Disneyland’s churros! Disneyland is the only place I have been able to go and actually eat the churros. So when I visit Disneyland, I tend to go a bit crazy with the churros. One trip I ate about 5 a day and I'm not even sorry. But since I was with Kyle, and the churros have dairy, I was planning on avoiding them. I didn’t want to enjoy a treat that he couldn’t have himself. However, Kyle went out of his way and bought me one (don’t worry he didn’t touch it) because he knew how much I loved them. And I think that is one of the sweetest things he could have done.
I am so grateful to have been able to go on such a fun and allergy friendly trip with my boyfriend and his family. I had such a great time, and it was wonderful traveling with a group that worked around both of our allergies so well. I would definitely recommend going to Disneyland if you or someone in your family has food allergies.
Disneyland and Downtown Disney are both quite accommodating with food allergies. But like anything, it is still important to be proactive and make sure to always inform restaurant staff about any sort of allergy. If you are nervous about dining out, I would always recommend trying out the restaurants earlier in the day before they get busy.
When visiting the park, always bring some sort of hand wipes for after the rides too, just as you don’t really what might have touched the surfaces before you. I managed to fit baby wipes, some snacks, and all of my emergency meds inside a little backpack that I carried with me everywhere I went.
If you let security know about your food allergies, they will let you bring in food just fine. And so many people come in with bags - some even bigger than mine - so it’s really not a big deal to have a backpack at disneyland. They also let you bring in your own reusable water bottles as well!
As far as the hotel goes, Disneyland’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa was stunning and I loved staying there. The rooms were comfy, and the bathroom had really awesome bright lights for doing makeup!
Kyle and I enjoyed the hot tub in the evening and sitting by the fire in the lobby together. In the evening, they even had a pianist playing a few of the Disney classic songs. It was the perfect mix of romance and Disney. I was not the biggest fan of the buffet style restaurant in the hotel, but I found that there were so many other options to eat at in Downtown Disney that it didn’t really matter.
Disneyland is such a wonderful place to visit, for so many reasons. I can’t wait until I get to go again!