Tag Archives: travelling USA

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

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#40thcelebrations

It will come as no great surprise to many of you when I say that February 2017 has been all about the #40thcelebrations in our household. Last year, I marked the occasion of 30 years living side by side with T1D, so this year it only seemed fitting that I celebrated with equal clamour that next big milestone in my life: hitting the big 4-0. c5ao3diwmaatk4uI am a huge fan of celebrating birthdays in style and you will often find the birthday cards in our house hanging around for a good 2 or 3 weeks past the notable date itself. Unlike my husband, and possibly much to his disappointment, I don’t likeabsolutely hate…’m not so keen on surprises and would much prefer being involved in the planning, to a greater or lesser extent, of any significant occasion. The plans for celebrating my 40th this year were no different.

When I turned 30, there were 2 destinations I wanted to visit, Las Vegas and New York. We discussed at length where we would go and settled on Las Vegas, with the clear understanding that only New York would do when it came to turning 40. The last 12 months or so have been filled with booking, researching and planning the finer details of our perfect trip to this iconic city and since just before Christmas, the excitement has gradually been building. Thanks to my Mum, we were able to spend an entire week in the USA and even managed to tag on a couple of extra days at the beginning to be part of the judging panels for this year’s Free From Food Awards. Her generosity meant we could take full advantage of travelling without children and fitted the trip in before we hit the price hikes of February half-term.

c3p22qjweaihqonWe decided to travel with Virgin Atlantic, from whom we have had great customer service in the past and again were not disappointed, especially when they marked my birthday with a couple of complimentary glasses of bubbles and bars of chocolate on the flights. We also chose to book our hotel and city passes as part of a Virgin holidays package and settled on the Hotel Beacon for our stay. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC and within 5 minutes walking distance of Central Park, the Hotel Beacon was a fantastic choice and we loved everything about it. As well as being able to walk to Central Park, we were also able to walk the couple of blocks to the 72nd subway station and were surrounded by a great selection of cafes and restaurants to try. What we particularly liked was the fact that the rooms have fully equipped kitchenettes, which may have only had a limited use for our stay this time, but would be perfect for when travelling with anyone with food allergies who might want to prepare safe food themselves.

img_34951Our trip was understandably dominated by our sightseeing plans and we did pretty much everything we wanted with a few added extras thrown in for good measure along the way. I’d be hard-pushed to narrow down my favourite part as everything we did was gloriously marvellous in their own unique ways. Mike loved seeing the architecture of the city, from the splendour of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, to the stunning beauty of the interior of Grand Central Station and the sheer engineering magnitude of the Statue of Liberty. One of Mike’s favourite parts was, without doubt, our Sunday spent on Ellis Island, where he was able to track down the immigration paperwork for when his mother and her family moved from Jamaica to Canada by way of NYC in the late 1940s.
img_35731I loved our wander through Central Park, both in the blazing sunshine and then again in the snow as we made our way to the Frick Collection, a fabulous small museum containing some leading Old Master paintings and sculptures. Around every corner we stumbled across yet another masterpiece and I am so grateful to my colleague who recommended this as an ideal way to spend a couple of hours seeing these well-known pieces of art. Thanks to our open bus city tour, we also discovered, to my absolute delight, where we could see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends given to Christopher Robin Milne before they became the inspiration for that much-loved children’s classic, a visit that took up hardly any of our time and yet was a worthwhile stop for this literature fan. In stark contrast, we spent a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial, a hauntingly heart-breaking and harrowing museum to visit, which did an amazing job in walking the visitor through both the timeline as it unfurled on the day and the stories of great heroism and unbelievable tragedy.

Our week-long stay was a truly fantastic way to celebrate my 40th year and there is so much more that I’ll be sharing over the next few blog posts.

Our fabulous Florida photo round-up

A week filled with appointments right, left and centre has left me with little time to write a full blog-post.  As we process all that’s been said this week, what better way to keep smiling than a photo round-up of our fab time in the Florida sun:

Top Tips for Theme Parks (and some amazing US foods!)

We had an amazing 3 weeks in Florida, even if they do seem now to be a dim and distant memory as we’re back into the routine of school, hospital appointments and work.  Before I file those memories away, however, I want to share some top tips we picked up for when visiting theme parks with children, or with those with a chronic illness, or anyone with food allergies.

  • DISABILITY ACCESS PASS – I was tipped off about these from a lovely lady from my choir and immediately investigated what they were, how to get them and whether M would qualify. Whether you are going to Disney, Universal Studios, Legoland or Seaworld, if any member of your group has a disability or condition that makes a lengthy queue wait a difficult prospect, then you can benefit from these passes. 20140916_182709 The passes allow the holder and their group to effectively bypass the challenge of waiting by giving a return time, which then enables the party to enter the ride via either the exit or the fastpass queue.  To support our request for a pass, I had a doctor’s letter detailing M’s EGID and the associated bowel problems and we were given a pass without problem.  These passes were invaluable as we didn’t have that mid-queue panic of needing to rush off to find a loo!
  • ICED WATER – Don’t spend lots of money on bottled water as you travel around the park.  Instead, pop into the nearest counter-service restaurant or anywhere that serves drinks and ask for a glass of iced water.  Keeping hydrated as you walk around the parks in the hot Floridian sun is important and nothing quenches your thirst like a glass of iced water and it’s somehow even better when it’s free.  Be warned that you may struggle in some places – we could only get ice and no water at Legoland Florida –  but it’s definitely worth the ask.
  • PARK ACTIVITIES – And I don’t just mean the parades, shows and fireworks that everyone knows about.  At Epcot, the kids were given a handset that sent them on a journey around the countries of the World showcase, following clues, completing challenges and seeing some really cool special effects to complete the secret missions set by Phineas and Ferb.  Once that country’s mission was done, we had the option of moving on to another country for another mission or finishing the game then.  20140816_230608In Magic Kingdom, we discovered the delights of the “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom“, which was a similar activity to Epcot, but this time saw us collecting cards, defeating well-known Disney villains and finally completing the first level of the game.  M and G loved this so much that we spent an unplanned afternoon back at Magic Kingdom, running around to complete the first level and collect as many cards as we could before we left.  The final activity I’d recommend, and one I’m extremely proud we managed to achieve, was participation in the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios.  Getting M and G signed up for this involved a very early start to be close to the front of the queue for rope drop, a rush to beat the crowd to the sign-up and absolute focus that that, and nothing else, was our first goal of the day.  The 20 minute session saw them being taught by a Jedi master, before taking on none other than Darth Vader to prove their ability as a young Padawan and their loyalty to the cause.  20140817_152258
  • MAGIC SHOTS – This is something that is specific to WDW, but is definitely a lot of fun.  We had bought a Disney Memory maker package, which allowed our group to have access to any photos taken in park, on rides or in resort by a Disney photographer for one, relatively low price.  PhotoPass_Visiting_Magic_Kingdom_7033012070This automatically gave us easy access to Magic shots, which see Disney characters, amongst other things, to be added to your photograph.  Any Disney photographer not using a tripod can take a magic shot and M and G loved running around, tracking down photographers and asking if they could take a magic shot.  The photographer would pose us and give us instructions for facial expressions before taking the photo and adding it to our memory maker package.  I could then view the images on-line later in the day to see who or what had been added into the photo.  The magic included Tinkerbell, Stitch, Olaf, butterflies and a bunch of Mickey balloons.

Should you be travelling to the USA and come across these delicious treats, I would highly recommend stocking up and enjoying them whilst you can.  G and M loved all of these and the small supplies we brought back home with us are now nearly all gone – must mean another trip to the US soon!

  • Babycakes – these are the most delicious, allergy-friendly cupcakes I have come across and were available in some restaurants in WDW.  20140812_011542Luckily for us, they were included in the dessert options at the Mara restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge and we bought enough to see us through our final week spent in St Petersburg.  You can find them at a few other locations across the USA and I would highly recommend searching them out if you’re anywhere nearby!
  • Silk Almond milk drink cartons – these are a great alternative for those who aren’t able to drink either cows’ or soya milk, especially as they come in both vanilla and chocolate flavours.  We discovered them at the local supermarket in St Petersburg and I wish I’d known about them sooner.  M really enjoyed being able to have a chocolate milk with his dinner, especially as G had been having chocolate and vanilla soya milk whilst we were staying in WDW.
  • Enjoy Life cookies & chewy bars – another great hit with M and G, especially the soft-baked cookies.  20140819_034546These were the brand stocked in a lot of the WDW restaurants which meant they could have a pudding with their meals, but we found them easy to buy in the local supermarkets too.  They were such a huge success with my pair that I even brought 3 boxes of cookies home with us – Snickerdoodle, Chocolate Chip and Double Chocolate Brownie.  The chewy bars were equally delicious and G found it hard to choose between the Cocoaloco and Sunbutter Crunch flavours.

Dolphins, Killer Whales and all things underwater

When originally planning our 2 weeks “doing” Orlando, Mike and I made the conscious decision not to visit any of the multitude of water-parks you can find there.  As much as both children enjoy swimming, M’s recent struggles with his bowels meant that we were uncertain of how well he would cope with a day in, out and around the swimming pool, so instead, we opted for 2 other water-themed parks:  Discovery Cove and Seaworld.

Discovery Cove

IMG00002smOne of the things I was keen for the children to experience (and to be perfectly honest me too) was swimming with dolphins and where better to give this a go than at Discovery Cove.  This idyllic haven is hidden away in central Orlando and it transports you away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks almost as soon as you step through the doors.  We arrived early, booked in for our dolphin adventure and then headed off to the beautiful beaches and pools to find a place to camp out for the day.  The park only allows a maximum of 1,300 people entry on any given day, which ensures that there is room enough for everyone to enjoy what’s on offer. We settled next to a pool where you could swim with stingrays and other tropical fish and then headed off to the main restaurant to talk to the chef about breakfast and lunch.

Discovery Cove is a very different experience to the others in Orlando as your ticket price covers all your food and drink for the day including breakfast, lunch and snacks and they request that you don’t take any of your own into the park with you.  My initial email to their special assistance team had resulted with their Head chef calling us at home to discuss the day of our visit and M’s food requirements.  They were able to offer M and G a good choice of foods for both meals and, even better, had 3 allergy-friendly snack boxes that were readily available at all of the food concession locations and included M-friendly treats such as fruit snacks, Orgran Outback animal biscuits, pretzels and portions of houmous.  Food sorted for the day – and maybe a few extra snacks too – we spent the day lazing in the sun and learning how to snorkel amongst the fish.

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M and Clipper

The highlight of the day was, quite obviously, our swim with the dolphins.  M had been nervous as he’s not the strongest or most confident of swimmers, but there was no need.  The trainer encouraged both M and G to feed, pet and even kiss our dolphin, Clipper, before their individual swims and they loved every moment of it, despite the cold temperature of the water! M was able to do the “shallow” swim, which allowed his feet to comfortably reach the bottom at all times whilst still being pulled along by the dolphin.  G, Mike and I took part in the “deep” swim and the thrill was exhilarating. All in all, we had an amazing day, M and G were desperate to do it all again and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone.

Marks out of 10: 10 – a real once in a lifetime experience for all the family and the food offerings were impressive too

Seaworld

blue horizonsHaving had such an amazing experience at Discovery Cove, we were keen to see how their neighbour, Seaworld would compare.  The day started well, with efficient service at guest relations to issue our disability access pass and a park map that indicated where allergy-friendly foods could be found.  We set off on our way around the park and G and M were delighted by the various displays and shows we could see.  First, we oohed and aahed at the amazing dolphins and beautiful birds of the “Blue Horizons” show, which instantly drew a response from G that she’s planning to work at Seaworld training dolphins when she’s older; and later laughed and disappointingly didn’t get splashed by the mighty killer whales in “One Ocean“, despite M’s best efforts of sitting us in the splash zone!

Due to the wealth of food available to us at Disney – an opportunity that we’d certainly taken full advantage of – we didn’t feel hungry enough to need to investigate our food options until we got to lunchtime. The children were excited to see an allergy-friendly pizza restaurant on the map and we headed there with our fingers crossed that we might be able to enjoy pizza for a change.  Disappointingly, we once again hit a problem.  The gluten-free pizza base came ready topped with tomato sauce and cheese, instantly rendering it unsuitable for both G and M.  I was surprised to find this was the case, but quickly ushered the children away from there and headed off to the next location.

Photo taken by M

Penguin photo by M

Two locations later, I finally stumbled into the Spice Mill restaurant and met their allergy server and chef, who discussed our needs and what options were available to us.  Both children settled on burgers, served in allergy-friendly rolls with a side of fries for G and a hefty portion of water-melon for M.  We were able to jump the queue and, as we paid, the server prepared our food and brought it to us as quickly as possible.

Lunch finally sorted, we spent the afternoon in Antarctica with the penguins and getting extremely wet on the impressive “Journey to Atlantis” log flume ride, before Mike and I took G and M out on the lake in pink flamingo pedalos.  It was another good day and despite the uncertain start, lunch turned into a great success.

Marks out of 10:  8 – the children loved seeing the shows and the animals, but we were let down by the assumption that gluten-free pizza with cheese could be considered fully allergy-friendly.

Legoland Florida

As well as our successful days at DIsney and our disappointing foray to Universal, Mike and I treated the children to a day out at Legoland Florida20140809_232045We are big fans of the Legoland Windsor resort and had a marvellous visit there last summer with our friends from the wonderful charity, FABED, so were excited to make a visit to the bigger and better (well it’s American so it had to be, right?) Floridian version.  This theme park is situated on the site of the old Cypress Gardens and has kept a relatively small portion of the original park at the centre of the new one.  It’s around a 45-minute drive from Disney and was easy enough to find once we were headed in the right direction.  The park was surprisingly empty upon our arrival and we headed straight to Guest Relations to see if we could get a disability access pass (or their equivalent) for M.  The pass was issued without question and Mike then asked about what allergy information they had available and how we could manage this during our visit. The very helpful guest relations staff member knew there was a hard copy somewhere of this information, but sadly couldn’t put her hands on whilst we were in the office.  No matter, she reassured us, it was all available online.  Great, I thought, I could hop onto their website using my tablet and work out where we could safely eat.  Ah no, Legoland Florida has no wi-fi available in the park, so it was actually impossible to see any of the information we had been advised to access.

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Need a car? What better than a Lego Ford!

Being seasoned travellers with M and G, of course, we had our trusty rucksack full of safe foods and reasoned that we could and would think on our feet when it came to lunchtime. My notes from our day trip record that it was “good, but not the well-oiled machine that WDW is”.  The queues were painfully slow and the service not massively efficient.  Their staff members appeared, for the most part, to not be terribly enthusiastic in their roles and I felt it would benefit from finding more customer service orientated staff.  Mike had to wait for nearly 30 minutes just to get to the front of the queue to ask whether they could accommodate food allergies at that particular food concession unit.  There was a copy of an allergy menu there, but we were disappointed to discover after ordering that the allergy-friendly “plain” burger was served with cheese!

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We each picked our ride of choice from the map and started heading our way around the extensive grounds to make sure we made the most of our one day there.  Many of the rides were similar to those found in Windsor and the children had a great time revisiting some of their old favourites as well as trying out a few of the “new” ones.  20140809_222642We enjoyed the US version of Miniland although I was disappointed at how shabby many of the models appeared, especially as you could easily identify where elements were missing due to the telltale marks  and empty spaces on the surfaces.  Nevertheless, it was fun to see the likes of Las Vegas, Hollywood, the White House, San Francisco and New York depicted in lego.

 

20140809_210205Unfortunately the weather was somewhat inclement and so many of the rides closed for around an hour or so during the afternoon.  We took advantage of the opportunity and explored the original grounds of Cypress Gardens and stood in awe of the amazing Banyan tree that can be found there.  We were hoping to see the Pirates water show as M and G love the “Pirates of Skeleton Bay” in Windsor, but the threat of thunderstorms and lightening meant that the final performance was cancelled.  Despite all of this, we enjoyed our time there and had plenty to keep us all busy for the day.  I would say that Legoland Florida is worth a visit if you, or your children, are lego fans, but in my opinion, Legoland Windsor beats it hands down.

Marks out of 10:  6 – a good attempt, but the queuing system, park maintenance and food available let it down.

 

Not a Universal success

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that we did nothing but Disney whilst on our hols, however we did venture to some of the other theme parks and attractions during our 2 week sojurn in Orlando.  G and M were particularly excited about the prospect of visiting Universal Studios, or more accurately, the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter“.  My enthusiasm was not so great, particularly given my poor experiences to date in trying to get hold of some, or indeed any, information about visiting the parks with my food-allergy duo.  I found the website difficult to navigate and the information available on it less than informative.  My first e-mail to them went unanswered and if it hadn’t been that both M and G were desperate to visit, I honestly think I might well have given up at that point.  However, I eventually tracked down a helpful customer services rep, who phoned me in the UK and discussed our needs at length.  She reassured me that they catered for food allergies and that we should encounter no problems when eating in the parks.  I was interested in booking the Character breakfast at La Bamba cafe so that the children could meet a Minion and once again I was assured that we could mix and match the breakfast options to get a meal that was safe for both G and M. Taking it on trust, I booked the breakfast and pencilled in 2 days at Universal on our somewhat hectic schedule.

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Mike imitating both Dave Minion and Gru at the character breakfast!

Our first day started well as we arrived in glorious sunshine and headed directly to Diagon Alley carrying a rucksack prudently packed to the gills with M-friendly snacks.  Our first view of Diagon Alley was impressive with a multitude of shops selling everything a young wizard could want as well as the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts Bank.  dragonWe headed into a nearby wand shop for both children to chose a wand to buy and then ventured off on a magical tour, following the map to find the location of spells for M to cast using his interactive Dumbledore wand.  I even dared to sample a pint of Butterbeer as requested by my dear friend, F, but have to confess it’ll be the first and last time I do that as the drink was just too sweet for any of the family to enjoy.  Disappointingly, as jaw-dropping as the “set” was, there really wasn’t enough to appeal to the younger age groups which we all found surprising.  Nearly all the rides, apart from the utterly amazing Hogwarts Express that carried us between the 2 halves of the Harry Potter experience, were roller-coasters or simulators that were just too big and scary for my nervous pair.

I was also disappointed by just how commercial it all felt, especially the “unique interactive experience” at Ollivanders shop in Hogsmeade, which promised far more than it delivered.  Just 2 children were selected from the crowd in the shop to participate in the amazing experience of finding out which wand was to be theirs; after all, as we all know “..the wand chooses the wizard…” (JK Rowling:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).  Not only was every other child in the audience disappointed not to be part of the action, but – call me a cynic – I don’t imagine many parents found it easy to then say no when their little darlings wanted to buy the wand that had chosen them in such dramatic fashion.

lunchtime

By lunchtime we had seen and experienced all that the Wizarding World had to offer and headed off in search of some food for our group.  We left Hogsmeade, where the food queues were out of the door, bypassed yet another hard-sell when the magic show we had been ushered into turned out to be little more than an opportunity to buy 4 tricks for the price of 2 and ended up at the street markets of the Lost Continent.  We stopped at what seemed a likely place as it sold hot dogs, something we had found was inevitably safe at all of the Disney parks and I queued to speak to what was possibly the most unhelpful server I have ever met and someone definitely not suited to a customer service role.  She gazed blankly at me when I asked for allergy information about their food options and struggled to understand even the simplest of requests:

“Could I please have 2 hot dogs without the bread-rolls as I have 2 children with multiple food allergies?”

“What?”

“Could I have 2 hot dogs without the buns?”

“You mean you don’t want the buns?”

“No, just the sausages…the meat”

“You don’t want the buns?”

“No”

“Just the dog?”

“Yes”

“But no bun?”

“No.  Just. The. Dog.”

“So, you don’t want the bun, just the dog?”

“Yes”

“Oh.  I’ll have to check with my manager if we can do that.”

Our exchange on whether I could get fruit or vegetables as an alternative side to the bun and the fries went in a similar vein.  I gave up any hope of intelligent discussion at that point and G and M ended up with a hot dog each – “just” the dog: no bun, no fries, no fruit and no veg, all for the princely sum of $15 plus taxes.  Yes, that’s right, £10 for 2 sausages that barely touched the sides going down.  Mike and my Mum picked out some safe looking bits of salad from their lunches, we bought a packet of crisps for G (another £2.50 there) and fed M from our own plentiful supplies, much of which had been got from Disney.

disappointmentI’d love to say our experience got better, but it really didn’t.  In “The Cat in the Hat” area, a place filled with lovely rides inspired by Dr Seuss books and enjoyed by us all, we came across a bakery selling the most amazing-looking cakes, biscuits and sweets guaranteed to tantalise the tastebuds.  Some of them were gluten-free, but none of the them catered for those with more complex allergies like G and M and we left empty-handed.  I had toyed with the idea of eating dinner in one of the restaurants at Citywalk, but again, of the 4 I had contacted ahead of our visit, only 1 came back to confirm they could probably cater for M’s food needs.  Maybe we’d been spoilt by our experiences in Disney, but Universal was a real disappointment and if it hadn’t been for our prepaid and booked Character breakfast for our second day there, I doubt we’d have bothered going back.

Raglan Road Irish Pub

1458655_800725413290492_2694048479460387307_nNaturally having asked G and M to name their favourite meal, I got to thinking about what my own number 1 would be.  I loved nearly every meal we ate at Disney and would have been more than happy to return to any of the restaurants to eat again.  The one that stands out in my mind however, has to be our fabulous dinner at the Raglan Road Irish Pub at Downtown Disney.  I had read great reviews about the pub before booking and I had contacted them back in February to find out whether they could cope with M’s food allergies.  Their response was to send me a complete allergy listing for all their menu options, so I had a good idea of what M and G would be able to order.  Unfortunately, our evening started on a slightly sticky note when I discovered that the allergy-friendly calamari that both G and M had been looking forward to trying was no longer available.

G's fish & chips

G’s fish & chips

M’s face dropped and he declared a disinterest in ordering anything off the menu, whilst G chose a traditional favourite of fish and chips.  Our server, Sheldon, was fantastic however and after a quick word with the chef, came back to M with an offer of shrimp cooked in their gluten-free batter accompanied by green beans, carrots and parsnips.  What impressed me most here was the offer of a side dish that wasn’t obvious from the menu, but one that our server knew and enjoyed himself and that he had checked could be made safe for M.  With that offer, M cheered up instantly and he and G disappeared off to watch the Irish dancing, whilst we soaked up the atmosphere accompanied with a pint of Magners cider.

M's shrimp & roasted veg

M’s shrimp & roasted veg

The food, when it came, was delicious and M not only made short work of his dinner, but set to helping G polish off the remains of her large portion of fish.  Main course done and we turned to the decision of pudding.  The options here were a little more limited that we’ve found elsewhere, but it was nice to have the “healthier” choice of fresh fruit drizzled with honey.  G is not a fan of fresh berries or melon, so whilst M was in heaven enjoying a bowl of mixed berries, that was the epitome of G’s idea of hell.  Once again Sheldon stepped to the fore and a bowl of apple pieces drizzled with honey appeared for her, which frankly made her day.

This is definitely a restaurant Mike and I would have loved to go back to and we were both disappointed that we just couldn’t find the time to squeeze a return trip into our busy schedule.  A great choice and yet again we experienced the wonderful service we have come to associate with Disneyworld.

Virgin Fantastic!

The time had finally come and the night before we flew, I sent tweets to both Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic to issue my challenge to meet my holiday expectations and both accepted it immediately.

First up was Virgin Holidays and their Gatwick V-room.  As I wrote back at the end of July, I had been promised a supply of rice milk for M as well as some suitable options for his breakfast and I was keen to see just what would be waiting when we got there.  Upon arrival, we met the fantastic Dominic, who knew all about M and our request for rice milk.  As soon as we found a table for breakfast, he brought the milk over and then spent some time discussing all of M’s allergies and what food they had on offer that might suit him.  I was impressed to learn that they stock B-free bread and although it contains egg and therefore isn’t suitable for M,  G snapped up the opportunity to have 2 slices of toast as part of her breakfast.  Both children also had some cereal with the rice milk and there was fresh fruit and smoothies available for them too.  I was hugely impressed with Dominic’s attitude throughout our time there and at no point felt that we were an inconvenience to any of the V-room staff.  Even better, we were able to take the remainder of the carton onto our flight with us, which meant we could go on our holiday knowing M had a limited supply of safe milk to hand.

It was then on to our plane and it all started well.  The check-in staff had confirmed that the special request meal had been noted on our booking and the cabin crew provided us with a ready supply of ice to keep the cool-bag of medicines cold for the 9+hours we’d be in the air.  I was equally impressed that they offered to place our ice packs in their on-board freezer to ensure that we could keep everything cool until we reached our final destination in Orlando.  Eventually it was time for the meal and here we hit our first rocky point. oops I had requested a gluten-free meal for G which quickly turned up, but there was no sign of the requested meal for M.  The cabin crew searched high and low for it, but couldn’t find it and we were left with the option of whatever fruit they could get their hands on plus the snacks I had packed to keep M’s appetite filled.  Just as I was mentally drafting a letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic expressing my disappointment at being let down in such dramatic fashion, our air stewardess hurried up with a tray of food and an apology on her lips.  The confusion had arisen for 2 reasons: 1) the meal had been prepared with G’s name on it rather than M’s and 2) it had been assigned to the seat number of another passenger who had also requested a special meal and the names had not been cross-checked to make sure everything was right.

Disaster was averted, but only just.  The meal prepared was exactly what I had asked for – plain grilled chicken with rice and vegetables and a fantastic fresh fruit salad for dessert – and M tucked in with gusto.  We were lucky that the other passenger had not started eating the meal before the mistake was identified and I’m glad to say that our return flight was not plagued with the same problem, although it still appeared that G had 2 meals (both the gluten-free and special request meals being assigned to her name), whilst M had none!  I hadn’t considered that a smaller snack would also be provided on the flight and was delighted Virgin Atlantic had thought further ahead than I had and provided another delicous fresh fruit platter for M to enjoy safely.

Gold stars all round!

Gold stars all round!

I have been really impressed with how well both branches of the Virgin family accommodated our needs and requests on the flights and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone going on holiday with special medical needs.  We didn’t run into any unexpected problems with our travel arrangements and I will definitely consider travelling with them again.