Why Disney is Truly The Happiest Place On Earth For Food Allergy Kids!
I LOVE Disney... I always have, from the as early as I can remember. And, even as a forty-something adult today, I still get excited about heading over to Mickey Mouse's neck of the woods. But, now as a mom of two kids with food allergies, my love for all things Disney has taken on a entirely different spin. There is truly no one better at inclusivity, or more serious about the safety and well-being of children with special needs of all kinds, than these guys.
While we love visiting Disney parks throughout the year, our favorite time is during our fall break at the very end of September. The weather is cooler and the crowds are thinner... but, that's not all. It's also time for Walt Disney World's Not So Scary Halloween Party!
I know what you're thinking... a theme park Halloween party, complete with trick or treating stations sprinkled among attractions? That sounds like a complete nightmare for a food allergy parent! Well, you're right - unless you're at Walt Disney World.
Here's what makes this Halloween event different: While all kids who enter the park on this special night get a trick-or-treating bag, those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions get a special teal bag. And, instead of getting a handful of candy at each trick-or-treating station, these kids get a teal token that they can turn in at the end of the night for some SAFE treats and toys. It's amazing that kids with dietary issues get to fully participate in the fun trick-or-treating part of the night, but what means even more is how special they are made to feel in the process.
Here's what I mean... This is a picture of the allergy-friendly token trade-out station. Located at the front of the park in the Town Square Theater on Main Street, this area included three large tables set up with pictures and labels of all of the allergy-friendly treats available to trick-or-treaters. We just told the Disney cast member behind the table what our allergens were and discussed what was safe for us. Then, she loaded the boys up. Literally... she filled their bags to the rim!
As far as the allergy-friendly treats that were offered, I feel like Disney really tried to meet the needs a large population of kids with dietary restrictions. This part is always so tricky, especially for those who are allergic to or must avoid foods that are outside of the "top 8" most common allergens. But, in addition to selections from well-known allergy-friendly brands like Enjoy Life, Free2Be, Surf Sweets and YumYum Earth, there were a variety of other options. For example, there was a healthy choice (Go-Go squeeze applesauce), a sugar-free hard candy, and toys for those who were looking for a non-food treat.
And, you know what struck me the most as we waited to do our allergy-friendly trade-in? There were so many people lined up alongside us. From little kids on their parents' shoulders, to teenagers and adults (yes, they gave adults trick-or-treat bags, too!), I was taken by how people out there have food allergies and intolerances, or are on special diets for a variety of reasons. There is such a NEED for this type of inclusion in events like this, and Disney has stepped up.
I also have to make a special note of one other way in which the folks at Disney made our night special. The Disney protocol for feeding food allergic guests in their restaurants is absolutely impeccable. Here's the truth: we don't eat out a lot. It's just really challenging, especially for my milk-allergic child because cross-contamination is such a risk for him. But, at Disney parks, the staff is not only highly trained and knowledgeable on the ingredients in their foods, they also go out of their way to safely prepare meals for food allergic guests in order to avoid cross contact with their allergens. My boys feel safe eating at Disney parks, and they can fully participate in the experience of eating out with their family.
Are we seeing a theme here?
One last thing... Even with all of the awareness of food allergies at the park on this night, it's still a theme park - with many people and lots of food everywhere that isn't safe for my kids. And, yes, there is the added variable of Halloween candy. So, here are just a few things that I kept in my bag (and in the back of my mind) to make sure that everyone was safe.
Bring two sets of epi-pens. This way, if my husband and I ever divided and conquered with the kids, both of us had a set, and we didn't need to remember the extra step of passing off epis to the other person.
WIPES! This is so important. Whether you are wiping down handles when getting on rides or simply wiping down hands after riding, these are essential for any theme park experience. I also used them to wipe down tables before sitting down to eat.
Handwashing - as always - is key. I did not let my kids eat anything, even a snack, without washing their hands with soap and water first. Wipes are good in a pinch, but there are bathrooms everywhere... and it was totally worth it to me to make those stops.
Don’t forget the hand sanitizer. This isn't an allergy thing (because hand sanitizer doesn't remove allergens...), but it IS a germ thing.
Know where to find your first aid stations. These are located throughout the park and are visible on all of the Disney maps. These stations are stocked with epinephrine.
As always, don't be afraid to speak up about your kids' allergies. ASK QUESTIONS. Express your concerns. These guys want to make your Disney experience safe and special, so don't be afraid to take them up on it!
THANK YOU, Disney. I know that this is just one example of how you make kids feel special every day, especially those who are often overlooked. The truth is, we could all take a page for their playbook... and I'm hoping that with continued awareness, many more will!
We'll be back soon!