Tuesday, October 13, 2009
A few weeks ago, our family took a trip to Disney World. I think we all agreed that it was a "magical" vacation, and it definitely brought us closer together! I will always treasure the memories we created during our five day visit -- the rides, the shows, the parades, the characters, etc. But I think the most amazing thing about our vacation was that we were able to relax and be a normal, happy family!
Now, going to Disney World is a pretty big deal to any family but it's an especially big deal for us. First of all, while I love all things Disney and my kids were begging for years to visit Mickey, my husband doesn't share our excitement. Secondly, I don't believe in taking my kids out of school unless it's an emergency; and frankly, going to Disney World technically isn't an emergency. And lastly (and most importantly), my son has severe food allergies (and by that, I mean life-threatening food allergies) so we don't travel much.
Dealing with my son's food allergies is always a huge presence in our family's life. Don't get me wrong -- I thank God everyday that he doesn't have something more serious; however, his allergies are something that affect our lives each and every day. I have come to accept that I have to read the labels on everything he eats; and I will always be the mom who makes the baked goods for parties; however, his allergies also affect his older sister in little ways. She isn't able to drink milk until he goes to bed or eat certain foods in front of him either because he can have an allergic reaction (or another kind of reaction -- you know the tantrum kind!) And she feels like she's missing out because our entire family rarely eats at restaurants -- it's just too much of a hassle (and too risky.)
So a few months ago, I decided it was the perfect time to go Disney World! I knew I could convince my husband, and I really didn't lose all that much sleep over taking the kids out of school for three days. However, traveling with my son and his food allergies was a much bigger concern. Keep in mind, that our family hasn't taken a real vacation since my son was born. And although we do go to the shore a few days each summer, I pack and prepare all of his food. In other words, I'm still in control of what he eats. The thought of going away for five days and not having the ability to carry our huge 3 day cooler made me a nervous wreck. To be honest, I couldn't get too excited about the trip because I kept thinking about all of the things that could go wrong.
I had done a little research and I knew that Disney World had the reputation for being a wonderful place for children with food allergies. I believed it in theory; but when it's your kid, it's still a little scary. I kept thinking how quickly our big family vacation could turn into a nightmare! I felt a little better after I contacted Disney World's Allergy Hotline, and they sent me a listing of all the "allergy-free" foods' and their ingredients. In addition, they sent a matrix showing each of the restaurants that had allergy kitchens as well as what allergy-free items they served. These documents became my bible for the duration of our stay! Disney also asked if any member of my party had food allergies when I made reservations for their dining establishments. They took down this information in their automated reservation system, and each time we went to a restaurant they acknowledged the specific food allergies and sent the chef out to speak with us.
I should have never doubted Disney because they truly are masters of customer service. For the first time in five years, I actually felt like someone understood the serious nature of my son's food allergies. Each and every Disney employee that I talked to from the cashiers, to the managers, to the servers, to the chefs, etc. were trained in food allergies and cross-contamination. No one looked at me like I was crazy when I asked to see ingredient listings or when I asked loads of questions about the preparation of the food. In fact, Disney's allergy free kitchens are probably safer than my own!
I can't even begin to express how nervous I was to order my son's meal for the first time at a carryout restaurant in Epcot. I didn't have any pre-packed food and I was totally at their mercy -- pretty scary for a control freak like me! When the manager came out and showed me the ingredient listing I felt a little better. And then when he told me he had a dedicated pan, fryer and oven, and he assured me that he would prepare my son's food and hand-deliver it to me, I started to tear up. I knew everything was going to be fine and that we were going to have a normal, fun-filled family vacation!
As I'm writing this post, I am actually crying because this vacation was so incredibly special for our family. Once we found out the severity of my son's food allergies, I just figured we'd never be able to go on a "real" vacation! I just assumed that I would always have to pack his food and that we'd have to stay somewhere with a kitchen. Needless to say, our entire family is just blown away by how the folks at Disney treated my son! When I told one of the food service managers how grateful I was for everything they did for us, he responded by saying, "That's what Disney is supposed to be ... somewhere you can take your children and not have to worry!"
Because my son's meals were no longer a concern, our family were able to focus on just having a wonderful time with each other! Of course, I ran my family into total exhaustion because I tried to get in as much as possible in those five days -- who knows when we'll go back -- but we managed to see and do just about everything we intended. The crowds were extremely light (our longest wait was 10 minutes), and we were able to ride almost every ride in every park. We saw loads of shows, parades, and night-time events too. We even dined with characters on three separate occasions! In fact, we jammed so much fun into those five days that we had to come home from vacation to recover.
At the end of our vacation, I think we were all ready to come back home. I guess it's a good thing that we had such a fantastic time, but that we still like returning to our normal lives. I admit that I miss going out to eat and having my son's food prepared for him, but it's nice to know that there we can always go back in a few years. In the meantime, I will enjoy reminiscing about our favorite parts of the trip; and I will appreciate that our family was able to have such a wonderful time -- together!
Souvenirs - $
Park Tickets - $$
Airfare for 4 to Orlando - $$$
4 Night Stay at a Disney Resort - $$$$
Getting to Watch My Son Order and Eat a Meal at a Restaurant - Priceless
Just to give you a little idea of how much of a "character" we have on our hands, here was one of Booking Son's quotes of the week:
"Wow, mom! Disney really is a magical place. The toilets even flush by themselves."
Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY, (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost when they were teenagers. Visit The Muffin to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit Therese's website to find out more about the author.