Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our "Normal" Family Vacation


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!

In summary:
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.

28 comments:

Meghan said...

I'm so glad your vacation turned out so well for you! I'm amazed at the care Disney took with your son. If only all restaurants could be so obliging!

bermudaonion said...

It's so great that there is someplace that families can go and not have to worry about things like the safety of the food they eat. It sounds like you had a wonderful, relaxing vacation.

Molly said...

I had no idea that your son was so afflicted with food allergies. I simply cannot imagine the stress that is involved in the everyday activities that I take for granted.

I am thrilled that the Disney vacation was so magical for everyone!

Nicole said...

Ahh Julie! You got me with this one. I was crying and reading your post. Food allergies can be so hard and so dangerous! I'm glad that you and your family were able to let your guard down and have a wonderful time.

Jodi said...

My son was freaked out by the toilets but liked the automatic sinks!

On the Disney website there's an email and snail mail address where you can send them a compliment(or complaint). I sent one about a cast member that MADE my son's trip and they actually called me on the phone to tell me they would make sure his boss saw the letter and it was ultimately given to the cast member. You should send them this blog.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

That's so fantastic! I'm glad you got to relax and your family had such a lovely vacation. Disney should make you their families with food allergies spokeswoman, because that was a great post.

Chris said...

I'm so glad you had a wonderful vacation! Allergies are such a worry. I always worry about birthday parties or anywhere I'm not. Disney sounds awesome!

Beth F said...

My eyes were welling up as I read this -- I had no idea that Disney was as magical as its reputation. How amazing and it everything was worth a few days out of school.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a wonderful story! I'm so glad you all got to enjoy a vacation!

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

Aww! I have goosebumps reading this! I'm so glad you all had a wonderful experience at Disney. It truly is a magical place! We went a few years ago and I'm aching to go back!

Karlie said...

I totally teared up when I saw the picture of Joshua eating his spaghetti. Disney is so awesome!

Irene Yeates said...

Thank you for sharing your family vacation. I loved your son's comment about Disney. Precious. A lovely family...

Brittany said...

I'm so glad you guys had such a wonderful vacation. Disney, for all of its flaws, really does provide a fantastic experience. We went in August and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Which park was the family favorite?

Anna said...

I am so happy you had such a wonderful vacation. Disney's customer service is stellar. We went about 5 years ago, and none of the vacations we've taken since have come close to topping our Disney experience.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I'm glad your vacation turned out to be so much more than you imagined it could be! Disney's cast members treat all their guests like royalty. Nice that you could relax with their reassurance.

Jo-Jo said...

Well that picture of your son itself explains what a wonderful time you must have had. Disney sure is a magical kingdom isn't it? My kids were probably about the same age when we went and it was truly amazing. I definitely want to return someday!

Beth Kephart said...

Now you have ME in tears. Do you know the blogger hipwritermama? She deals with the same concerns regarding her daughter and writes of it on a separate blog. YOu are both super sweet people and I wonder if you should know each other.

Beth said...

I'm so glad you had such a great trip to Disney! They really are in the customer service business. My dad has had a severe shelfish allergy for about 10 years now and he always says the only time he feels completely safe eating in a restaurant is when we're at Disney on our annual vacations.

Stephanie said...

I'm so glad that you had a great (and relatively worry-free) time on vacation!

Bookfool said...

I have no idea why, but this post made me sob alligator tears. We went to Disney once, when my youngest was a nursing baby of about 4 months. I *hated* it and we've always wondered why people go back to Disney when you can go to England for about the same price (if you know what you're doing). But, it never occurred to me how magical it could be for a family encumbered by food allergies and unable to travel. I'm so glad your family got to go. And wahoo for Disney making things so easy for you!!

holdenj said...

I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time and that Disney really seems to outdo themselves in more ways than one!

Ti said...

OMG! I so teared up at that priceless comment. I'm so happy you and the family had such a wonderful time. I LOVED our Disneyworld vacation. They took care of everything and all we had to do was get off the plane.

Jenners said...

This is so wonderful!! I'm not a big fan of Disney myself but I'm much more impressed now ... I'm so happy your family got to have this experience!

Tammy said...

What a wonderful post! I'm a native Floridian and have been going to Disney my whole life -- I know it's a cliche but it really is the most magical place on earth. Even my teenage son who is too cool for everything says he wants to go back for his birthday.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip.

Serena said...

This is a fantastic post! I'm so glad that Disney met and exceeded your expectations. I've been to Disney once, but I can understand your fears about food allergies. I'm sure mine is not as severe as you son's, but I can understand the fear of food in restaurants with a peanut allergy of my own.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

carolsnotebook said...

What a wonderful, magical vacation for all of you.I love Disney world, I admit, and it was great to hear how helpful they were for you.

Allie said...

Wow! That's really wonderful! Both my husband and I have some weird food allergies (and not the same ones) and eating out can be such a chore - but ours aren't as serious, and we fully understand why we can't eat what we can't eat, so it's not as torturous to watch someone eat something we can't have. So I can totally imagine what a wonderful gift that must have been! So glad to hear you had such a great vacation!

Bonnie said...

Wonderful post Julie! I totally understand as my son also has life threatening food allergies. We've found safe restaurants and do eat out but I am always on guard. We don't travel much either and haven't been to Disney yet but we hope to go there. I am so glad to hear that they handle food allergies so well and that your family had a wonderful vacation.