Disney Cruise to the Western Caribbean with Food Allergies

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  • Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship
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We just returned from an AMAZING Disney vacation! We took a Disney Cruise in the Western Caribbean with our entire family. This was our second Disney Cruise with food allergies. Three years ago my parents wanted to take our family on a cruise but I was adamantly opposed to the idea of taking my 9 year old son on a boat in the middle of the ocean where someone else was preparing his food every day. It sounded like a nightmare. Then one day I realized that Disney had a cruise line. We had done a Disneyland trip a couple of years prior and it was the most positive food allergy accommodating experience I had ever had. I decided to look into it and after hearing of other experiences and talking with Disney Cruise representatives, I eventually decided it was worth a try. It turned out to be the best vacation we have ever had. We decided it was worth picking up some extra work and saving up to do it again.

Many people have asked me about our trip and were curious about how it worked with food allergies, so I wanted to share our experience. It took a lot of work, but it was amazing. My son got to see Mayan ruins in Tulum which he really wanted to do and I’m not sure he would have been able to do without the cruise. I would never have taken him on a trip to Mexico with food allergies. Disney is incredible regardless of food allergies, but the way they took care of my son made it a truly exceptional experience.

Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship

Preparing for the Cruise

I wish I could say that preparing for the cruise was completely stress free, but it wasn’t. I called the Disney Cruise Line months ahead of time to be sure that Riley’s account was flagged for his food allergies (milk, egg and nuts). I bought trip insurance to cover the event of an emergency evacuation, or other emergency or medical problems.

I called and talked to Disney about what the rules were for bringing food off the ship in our ports of call. I learned you could take food off the ship if it was in a factory sealed package. I packed half a suitcase full of food for those days and for traveling.

I asked the doctor to send in a prescription for extra Auvi-Qs (epinephrine). We took six with us. We brought all of his allergy medication (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Prednisone, and Ranitadine), and got doctor’s notes to be sure they would allow us to carry the bottles with him on the plane since they were more than 3 oz bottles.

Then there was OIT dosing we had to be sure we were prepared to do. We made sure we had a rental car instead of relying on a shuttle so we could go to a store to pick up milk and egg once we flew into Orlando. I took pictures of our milk and egg white carton nutrition labels in case we couldn’t find the same brands at the store, that we would still get the same amount of protein in each dose. I packed a cooler bag, extra medicine bottles to pour the milk and egg into (so we didn’t have to carry a huge milk carton around all day) and ziploc bags so we could fill them with ice to keep the milk and egg white cool after we left the hotel until we could get to our stateroom with a refrigerator.

And if for any reason we weren’t able to find the milk and egg white we needed, I bought powdered egg white and milk and had the doctor figure out exactly how much we would need for an equivalent dose of the liquid. We purchased a small scale from the doctor’s office to measure out exactly how much we would need. It took a lot of fore-thought. I spent months thinking about and planning.

Disney Food Allergy Magic

The Disney servers and chefs were incredible. I was so impressed by their knowledge about food allergies and the way they safely handled our food.

On the first night of the cruise we met our server Uhlas from India. He knew right away that we had someone with food allergies in our party since I had told Disney ahead of time. He helped us order from the menu trying to figure out what they could alter to make it safe for Riley. He had the chefs make a french onion soup with no cheese for an appetizer and beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables for dinner, with a chocolate dairy-free mousse for dessert. It took a little longer to get our food but we didn’t mind. Riley was in heaven. He especially LOVED the chocolate mousse.

After our meal, Uhlas brought us a menu for the next night and we pre-ordered our meal for the following day, discussing alterations we could make for the salad and the main course. We also ordered breakfast for the next morning. Uhlas asked if Riley would like a Mickey waffle, and we were excited that they could make a safe version for us. He told us we could order lunch from any of the quick service locations but to be sure to order it before we were hungry because it might take them a little longer to prepare his food. We also had the option of pre-ordering lunch and picking it up at the buffet where they would keep his food in the back until we asked for it. We opted for the quick service because Riley wanted a hamburger there. Each night was the same routine. We went over the menu for the next night and pre-ordered dinner and breakfast. Disney keeps you with the same servers each night which is great because they get to know you and you build a relationship with them. It is nice that you don’t have to explain the food allergy situation all over again every night.

Breakfast was fun. We either went to the designated restaurant or to the buffet and we told them our room number so they could go and get Riley’s pre-ordered breakfast. He alternated between Mickey Waffles, pancakes and chocolate chip pancakes made by the chefs especially for him. He had a pile of bacon and sausage and fruit every morning. He was in heaven. The other family members gorged themselves on omelettes and scrambled eggs and pastries that they normally never have at home.

egg free dairy free mickey waffles

On the day we were in Mexico the entire day, I brought our own pre-packaged jerky, small cans of fruit, chips and pretzels off the ship. Our server, Uhlas brought out a whole box of Enjoy Life cookies and gave them to Riley to take off the ship that day. We had such a big breakfast that Riley didn’t eat many of the snacks. He had some food when we got back on the ship before dinner. There was certainly no shortage of food and Riley never went hungry.

At every meal I was amazed how our food allergy situation didn’t seem like a big deal. Riley is normally downhearted about his lack of options but the servers and chefs made him feel like he could choose almost anything on the menu and they could make a safe version of it. Each night the chefs whipped up a safe and delicious surprise dessert for Riley. I am sure he felt like royalty. I’m not at all surprised when he says the Disney cruise is the best vacation he’s ever had.

OIT Dosing on a Cruise

On this trip we had to work around Riley’s Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) treatment since we are still working on desensitizing him to milk and egg. We booked this cruise over a year ago before I had even learned about OIT. I don’t think I would have planned a cruise had I known we would be in the middle of OIT treatment. There was a lot of extra planning involved. But the one big benefit is that at the current OIT dose Riley is at, the doctor said he should be find with “may contain” or cross contamination for egg and milk. At least that is a little extra peace of mind while traveling.

Dosing for OIT took some serious planning. We did not up-dose the day we flew to Florida. We kept him on his same dose for the 2 weeks we were on our trip. We typed up our itinerary and worked it out with the doctor before we left to make sure it looked like we were within our 2 hour time window and we were avoiding being active 2 hours after dosing. I knew there were going to be some mornings it would be hard to get up and eat early enough to keep our doses on track, but it seemed do-able.

Dosing proved to be a little more complicated than we expected. On Friday our flight was delayed so long that we had an unexpected night stay in Dallas and a 7am flight to Florida the next day. Thankfully we had the time change in our favor because we dosed at 8:15am Utah time which was 10:15am Florida time. That gave us all the way until 12:15pm to dose in our time window. We picked up our rental car at 10:30 and drove straight to a store to pick up milk and egg white.

milk and egg white for OIT dose

On the ship we had to be up and eating early, with no activities for 2 hours after dosing. It worked out pretty well because the kids never slept in and we did most of our swimming or physical activities mid-day or afternoon, so being active wasn’t really an issue. What threw us a little was that I didn’t realize we would be changing time zones twice on the ship. I really had to think through what time it was when we dosed and what time it would be the next time we changed time zones to keep us on track. I had a printed out schedule that stuck on a door in the stateroom and wrote down what time we dosed each day and what time zone we were in so I would keep us in our 2 hour time window. It was a bit tricky, but we did it. We didn’t miss a dose and we were within our time limits every day. And best of all, Riley didn’t react to any of the doses.

What I Wish I Knew

On our last day of the cruise someone had a medical emergency. A helicopter landed on Disney’s Island, Castaway Cay, and two individuals were taken out on stretchers and flown back to Florida. I stood watching the event and couldn’t help thinking about my son. It took a long time for the helicopter to land, load and take off again. I’m sure it takes some time to get to a hospital in Florida too. Someone near us said that the helicopter couldn’t land on the ship, and again my mind wondered what would happen if we had a severe allergic reaction on the ship. Would they divert to an island? Would they hover above the ship and pull someone up in a basket? What medical resources did they have on the ship to respond to an anaphylactic reaction? Would it have been the same care you would receive at a hospital? How long would it take to get to a hospital?
Would the 6 Auvi-Q’s plus whatever stock on the ship have bought us enough time?

And then I thought about a less severe reaction. If we had a less severe reaction or if we missed an OIT dose, I would normally call our doctor. But would I have been able to do that on the ship? I never thought about whether my phone would work when we were out at sea or in another country when I planned the trip. And with all of the unexpected hurdles we had to face with our flight planes changing and time zone changes, it was surprising we didn’t have any situations where we needed to call.

I don’t know the answer to most of those questions. If I ever did another cruise, I would certainly ask about how they handle emergencies and I would know how I could reach my doctor. I felt like I was prepared, but watching that medical evacuation made me realize that I wasn’t as prepared or knowledgeable as I thought.

Cruising with Food Allergies is not Risk Free

Is it a risk to cruise with food allergies? Yes. There is always risk involved when someone else is handling your food. Even though Disney has kept us safe for two cruises, and the chefs have been amazing, it is not 100% fool proof. One of the nights on the cruise, the server made a mistake and brought out a salad for Riley that had pecans on it. Riley saw them right away and pointed it out. The server felt terrible that he had missed it and quickly whisked the plate away and brought out another salad for Riley. It was a reminder to me that mistakes can happen, even when everyone is trying to be careful.

Would I do it again? I’m not sure. We had an incredible experience, but the medical evacuation really made me stop and think. I would rather wait until we finish OIT for milk and egg and reach bite-proof tolerance for nuts before I would consider another cruise. We aren’t too far away from that goal and it would certainly bring a whole new level of mental peace.

It is worth some serious consideration about how much risk you are willing to take. And if it is something you choose to do, it requires a lot of planning and diligence to make sure you have a comfortable and safe trip.

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