Although I have been doing my best to not allow my newly acquired Disney phobia get the best of me, it has been hard for me to entirely shake it. Traveling with our special dietary needs is a concept that still makes me very uneasy, so I decide not to set our expectations too high. We will brave one park for one day, and we will remain content within that limitation.
The park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS), seems like a good fit for this trip. My little starlets have never been to this park, and my husband, Joel, and I have not been since our honeymoon. It is a park that can be almost completely seen within a day if one carefully plans and strategizes. And because Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a large amount of shows with only a couple rides that exempt small children, our choice is particularly wise for our toddler.
As I analyze the situation, I am continually frustrated by our dietary circumstances. I want to feed my children food that I have prepared because I know this guarantees their safety, but it is impossible for us to carry entire meals for our family around the park. The amount of edibles would require a large cooler to be schlepped around the full day. I am not about to consider this possibility when I will already feel like a pack mule under the weight of a diaper bag, a camcorder bag, and a backpack that contains all the essentials for surviving a Walt Disney World theme park. Plus, I will need all my hands available to manage and direct my Disney troop.
In the back of my mind, I hear the voices of easy-going Disney guests advocating a retreat back to the villa during meals. But this habit is strictly forbidden for my family. It is deep within the commando code to never leave a theme park before its closure forces such dreadful action. So if I intend to have my family experience as much as humanly possible within the limited hours DHS is open, a mid-day retreat is out of the question.
Think, think, think. I tap my furrowed brow with the tip of my index finger as I search for an inspiring solution. This technique in mental exercise always helps Winnie the Pooh visualize “outside the hunny pot.” Perhaps, it will assist me as well.
Ah! I’ve got it! But my plan of ingenuity will require special permission. I retrieve the phone number of Brenda Bennett, the primary supervisor of Disney’s special dietary department, and quickly dial the digits. Surprisingly, she answers personally rather than a voice message. I quickly introduce myself, my circumstances, and my brilliant idea. I propose, “If Joel and I made reservations at a restaurant for lunch and dinner, we could drop meals off there for the children first thing in the morning. Then the restaurant could store the kid’s food in the refrigerator until we arrived for our reservations.” In my mind, the notion is perfect. The restaurant will receive our business; the children will be safe, and our family will experience eating together in a restaurant for the first time in two years. However, Brenda finds a glaring flaw in my scheme. It is illegal.
Disney is responsible whenever a guest reacts negatively to a meal eaten within their restaurants. So to ensure they are only held accountable for incidents that they have actually caused, these eating facilities are not permitted to serve food that they have not prepared. As a loyal Disney mom, it is difficult for me to imagine persecuting an innocent Mouse in a court of law, but apparently there are people who do this sort of thing. As a result, it has dashed all hopes of my family living the Hollywood life for a day.
I do my best to hold it together, but tears fill my eyes. Our dietary restrictions have kept us from being able to do a great many things these past years. I have tried to stay positive in spite of it all, but this is more than I can bear. As I attempt to thank Brenda for her time, I hear my voice quiver. She hears it as well and begs me to consider trusting one of her chefs. As I try to explain the complexity of my children’ s diet and my apprehension, I find myself taking big breaths and long pauses to stave off the sob fest that I am dangerously close to engaging.
Brenda extends her sincerest sympathies and remarks that my fears are natural. She assures me, though, that if I’m willing to give her a chance, she will go beyond the routine process of filling out the standard Dietary Needs Form. She will put me personally in touch with chefs that not only ensure my kids’ safety but guarantee that their meals will receive exclusive attention.
I begin to hope. Maybe if I’m able to speak with some chefs first-hand, I will be able to ascertain whether they actually can handle the grave responsibility of safely feeding my delicate, red carpet walkers. I tell Brenda with some trepidation that I will take this initial step with her. She is elated to hear it and promises that I will begin receiving e-mails from Disney’s Hollywood Studios chefs within a day or two. I express my gratitude, and we end our conversation.
I sit and wonder if I have done the right thing. I desperately wish that I did not have to make such a scary decision; however, because we are a Disney family we cannot live in a bubble that floats outside of the realm of Disney. I’m perfectly content for my bubble to exclude almost everything else in life, but when Mickey is on the outside looking in, it is time for the bubble to pop.
I try to relax and feel comfortable in the direction I’m taking. After all, this is Walt Disney World we are talking about. If anyone is on top of their game, it is this company. Surely I can place my family in their hands and trust we will be taken care of, or can I?
I bury my conflicted head in my hands. Will I ever fully recover from my doubtful Disney state? This is the most distressing condition a Disney Mom could have. It sure would be nice to access Genie and his magic lamp right now, but I’m starting to wonder if my deliverance from this misery is even beyond the reach of the most powerful wish granters.
*Contact information for Walt Disney World special dietary requests: