In the Parks

A Dining Story-Part 1

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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.

A Dining Story–Part 2

*Contact information for Walt Disney World special dietary requests:

(407) 824-5967

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JL Knopp

J.L. was born and raised in South Florida. For this reason, she grew up regularly visiting the Mouse and developed a fascination with the creativity of Disney Parks. Noticing that her happiest moments seemed to always take place in Walt Disney World, J.L. began trying to recreate the “magic” of Disney in her everyday life beginning in her pre-teen years. Adulthood, thirteen years of marriage, and three children later, J.L. continues to lead a Disney Driven Life and pass her love for Disney on to her husband and children. Currently she blogs for and, but her primary focus lies with the community that has grown around her own blog, and its weekly vidcast, inner mouse. Through these venues J.L. strives to help other Disney fans stay connected to the brand that has served as a keystone in her family’s life.

7 thoughts on “A Dining Story-Part 1

  • Thanks so much for your article. During the final 14 day count down to our Disney trip, I was finally diagnosed with a long suspected gluten intolerance. I was scanning various Disney sites to feed my excitement when I came across your post. I simply figured I would be packing a bunch of stuff from home and eating a very limited diet on our trip. Your post prompted me to contact Disney with my dietary needs and “poof” problems solved. The list of gluten-free foods and locations was amazing. I even ordered a gluten free cake for my daughter’s birthday celebration at Cinderella’s Castle.

    Newly diagnosed, I feel I have so much to learn about living “without” but I am actually excited about dining at Disney now, as if I’m going on a culinary adventure.

    • This makes my heart soar. I was so fearful of traveling to Disney with my kids’ dietary issues, but their attention to detail and accommodating manner made this trip one that will be cemented in my memory until I die.

  • Ah! JL! Where is your faith??? Hehehehehee… having dealt with special dietary needs for years, I have always been impressed with Disney Dining! They were and are at the very forefront of this issue and with one exception (opps!) have always had the head chef come to talk to me and go over any item I am interested in and even prepare some very special and delightful off-menu items for me! (The one ‘opps’ was one visit where instead of the chef, they had a new ‘dietary consultant’ come and they blew it. Problem is in my case I don’t know it until 24 hours later.) Of particular delight was one evening at Boma where the desert chef made three special plates of desserts for me! It’s in my blog… 🙂

    • Jud, that is amazing! Is it any wonder why I love Disney. I don’t know of any other place where you can vacation and get that type of attention in matters of dietary issues.

      • Frankly, the first time, it simply blew me away! That was in 96 at Cindy’s Royal Table, which was already a dream come true! At that time, even my VA doctors didn’t know what gluten sensitivity was!

  • Omg I went threw that with my son before and during part of our trip. My son has life threating food allergies. We cant even eat out in our state ( they are getting better now). I was terrfied to fly, went to garden grocer and order food for him just in case, booked a villa just so we could cook his food ) The chefs were soo wonderful, one of them saw how apprehensive I was and offered to take me into the kitchen to see the seperate kitchen. All of the chefs were wonderful, they often gave us extra soy milk for our 2 yr. This is why Disney is the only place we trust to vacation. I would go into the parks with the list of safe places highlight them on the paper and note where they were. We had ordered extra epi pens just so each adult would have one at all times. I so understand what you were going threw. LOVE DISNEY just for letting us go on our first vacation since we had our 2nd child. KUDDOS to all those wonderful chefs!

    • Your story parallels so much of mine. We hadn’t eaten out as a family for 2 1/2 years by the time we actually got to Disney. It was because of the way that they handle Special Dietary Issues and the DVC villas with a kitchen that we began vacationing again.


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