The Triumph of Disneyworld

jamboWe were off to a great start, thanks to the fantastic Virgin team and the successful delivery of my on-line grocery order thanks to gardengrocer.com.  Not willing to leave anything to chance that first day, I had booked dinner at our hotel for the evening of arrival rather than facing the challenge of finding somewhere to feed M and G safely whilst struggling with jet-lag.  I had left it a little late to book and we ended up with a table in the delightful Jiko restaurant at  Jambo House, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not my first choice for our first evening as  I was afraid we wouldn’t enjoy the delicious menu as much as we could when we were slightly less travel-weary, but needs must and I looked forward to seeing what exactly was on offer for M.

No words are going to be able to adequately express just how amazing that first meal at    Disney was.  I am so used to restaurants struggling to come up with a complete meal for M when we eat out in the UK, that I fully expected to encounter similar problems at WDW.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Our server knew about M and G’s allergies and quickly     requested that Chef Tom came to the table to discuss what he could prepare for their       dinner.  SAM_1906He was happy to cook any meat or fish that they wanted and suggested what sides could be safely offered too.  Despite not having sweet potatoes in the restaurant, he went to the other hotel restaurant to find out if their sweet potato fries would be safe for M or not and, when the answer was sadly no, prepared a beautiful dish of plain rice, seared scallops, carrots and green beans for him instead.  Both children enjoyed their meals and fell asleep at the table as soon as they had finished their main courses, before dessert became an issue.

excellenceWhat’s even better is that this experience was not a one-off.  As promised, every booking at Disney was annotated with their food allergies and as soon as we were seated, the serving staff were made aware that we would need to speak to the chef.  During our 2 weeks, G and M enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners unlike any they’ve eaten out in the UK.  We tried a variety of restaurants across the 4 Disney parks and the numerous resort hotels and had equal success everywhere.  Even the counter service restaurants had allergy information to hand and managers who knew exactly what would be safe for both children to eat.  There was no skimping on meals and they were able to enjoy puddings almost everywhere too.

My thanks go to the fantastic staff at WDW – Chefs Tom, Renee, Ricardo, David, Dave, Duane & Brian and serving staff Jamal, Sheldon, Chris and David as well as the others whose names I forgot to note down

the brilliant restaurants – Jiko (Jambo House), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Coral Reef (Epcot), Cosmic Rays (Magic Kingdom), Mexico (Epcot), Fulton Crabhouse (Downtown Disney), Mara (Jambo House), Raglan Road Irish Pub (Downtown Disney), Citricios (Grand Floridian), Hoop-dee-doo (Wilderness Lodge), Backlot Express (Hollywood Studios), Fairfax Fare (Hollywood Studios), Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Hotel), Sunshine Seasons (Epcot) and the many others we never got round to trying

and to Disney itself for the huge efforts it has made to welcome those with food allergies to its resorts and to make their stay as special as it can possibly be.

It truly is a magical place and one we will definitely be planning to revisit in the future.

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.

 

 

 

122 days and counting….

christmascountdown…til Christmas that is.  No, I’ve not gone completely mad, nor have I forgotten that I need to give a comprehensive update about our summer travels, but when you have an allergy-suffering child, you need to grab the opportunity to buy friendly treats when it arises and Christmas is no exception. So, when an email from the fantastic Freefromforkids dropped into my inbox this morning, prompting me to peruse their Christmas range and place my order before stocks run out, I knew I needed to share it with all of you.

I’ve talked about the amazing Moofree chocolate before and was thrilled to discover their dairy- and soya-free chocolate advent calendars a couple of years ago, although they become increasingly scarce the closer to December you get. moo-free-selection-box-hi-res This year I was excited to read about their introduction of allergy-friendly chocolate selection boxes, a treat enjoyed by so many children and which G and M have never been able to experience. Moo-free have brought out new flavours of their chocolate this year, all of which are included in the selection and which I’m sure both G and M will be delighted to try.

If selections boxes are not your thing,  then Moo-free also offer a range of chocolate bars paired with either a festive themed soft toy or mug. Or you can avoid chocolate altogether and choose Haribos, Goody good stuff sweets or Jelly Bean Factory tubes as they are all great alternatives. Whatever you decide on, check the ingredients to make sure they’re still safe for your child – no-one wants an unexpected flare during Christmas – get your order placed in plenty of time and enjoy the end of the summer before the Christmas mayhem starts!

end of summer

 

Last minute checks

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

With the countdown started and just days to go, it’s all come down to those last minute checks and the final packing for our holidays.  I am the queen of lists when it comes to going on holiday, especially when travelling with M and G and this year was no exception, though I have to confess that four pages of lists is a whole new record! The clothes were quickly sorted and I got to my main challenge: the suitcase of M-friendly foods and all his medicines.

My biggest concern was ensuring we have enough safe snacks with us for at least a few days as I’m not certain about what will be easily available once we get to the “House of the Mouse”.  I don’t want to over-cater as I have no intention of bringing a suitcase of food back home with us, but I did need to be reassured that M would have enough to eat.  I spoke to our lovely GOSH dietitian to seek her advice about the availability of free-from foods in the USA and she advised consulting the UK Coeliac Society website as a starting point as to where we might be able to buy them.

onlineshopI also did some on-line research and discovered that an option I hadn’t even considered might be a great place to start – an on-line grocery shop.  This is still a fairly new phenomenon in North America as I know from our Canadian family and friends, but I found that I could arrange for a food order to be delivered directly to our hotel on the day of our arrival,  which would instantly reduce the need for Mike and me to find a supermarket straight away.  I investigated a couple of options and settled on the Garden Grocer delivery service. This is not affiliated to one particular supermarket chain and for a little extra cost, they will visit more than one shop to find everything you need.

The website is not as slick as the ones I’m used to using at home – I am a big advocate of on-line grocery shopping as it saves so much time – but I have been able to find most things I think we’ll need whilst away.  There was a much better selection of M-friendly cookies and cereal bars than in the UK and at a much better price too.  As I’ve said before,  it’s hard to be both frugal and allergy-friendly in the UK.  Shop done and delivery slot booked, all I can do now is sit back and wait with my fingers tightly crossed.

Eating out on holiday

allergymenuOne of my anxieties about travelling abroad with M surrounds the prospect of feeding him safely whilst away from home.  The long list of foods we now need to avoid make it challenging enough to go out for meals when at home and we inevitably have to make a small compromise somewhere along the line, with our fingers tightly crossed that the fall-out isn’t too major.  Whilst we often choose to holiday somewhere where we can either cook or eat out, a holiday spent cooking is not really my idea of a break.  This time around, however, we decided to avoid any form of self-catering and so I gave myself the job of finding safe places for us to eat.

Now, I can’t speak for all the WDW resorts around the world, but I can wax lyrical about the Walt Disney World resort in Florida.  My starting point was at the WDW website, where I discovered that the resort is keen to meet any special dietary needs that its guests might have and encourages visitors to book ahead and let the restaurants know what foods they need to avoid.  I gave them a call and chatted through M’s food requirements and was reassured that, as soon as I knew where we wanted to eat, then they could append a note to our booking to state all of M’s current food allergies.  Mike and I spent hours reading restaurant menus and looking for reviews of the allergy-friendly offerings that are available. I discovered the brilliant blog, Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW and soon became very excited about what we might be able to get for M to enjoy.

WDWThe 180-day mark arrived, the point at which we could start to make ADRs (Advance Dinner Reservations for the uninitiated amongst you) and I hopped on-line to make as many of the bookings we had chosen as possible.  The system was delightfully easy to use and I was able to make note of all our dietary needs without hassle.  One of the many experiences we wanted to treat the children to was a dinner show, something we hadn’t enjoyed since our last Disneyland Paris trip, pre-diagnosis and multiple food allergies.  We’d settled on the Hoop-de-doo musical review, but I was anxious to confirm that they could cope with M’s allergies as this is a set menu and there were several things on it that he just can’t eat. Rather than risking confusion through an on-line reservation, I called the WDW call centre and spoke to a lovely lady who was amazingly helpful.  She made a note of the allergies and reassured me that there would be no problem in meeting these needs at the dinner show.

Booking made, she then also checked all of our other reservations to confirm that my notes were clear and talked me through the process of ensuring that M eats safely at any and all of the WDW restaurants.  Upon arrival, we should find that the table will have some kind of allergy marker on it to make it clear to all waiting and serving staff that we have special dietary needs.  The chef will then come out to talk through what is and isn’t safe on the menu, point out any safe foods at the buffet (if relevant) and finally will discuss whether we would prefer them to prepare something fresh and. if necessary, off menu to give us all the most reassurance about what M and G will be eating.

mickeywafflesAt no point did I feel that my questions and requirements were a problem and I felt 100% reassured that WDW would be working hard to make sure that M and G have the best holiday food experience whilst we’re there.  M is looking forward to being able to eat “proper” burgers, something he hasn’t been able to enjoy away from home for an awfully long time, whilst G is just keen to try any gluten- and dairy-free desserts that might be on offer.  Mike and I are most excited about seeing their faces at our first breakfast, when we will be able to order them a plate each of Mickey waffles, something that they both love the idea of, but have never been able to order before.

To ID or not to ID

With our holiday fast approaching, I’ve been considering whether M needs some form of medical ID to carry on him.  The concept isn’t a new one to me as I’ve had a Medic Alert bracelet for years for my T1D and regularly make sure the information held on file for me is up-to-date.  I’ve not previously felt it necessary to have such a band for M, but with his diagnosis of EGID and an increasing number of medicines and allergies to consider, I finally bit the bullet and decided to investigate what was on the market.  Part of the impetus to my search was seeing one of M’s school friends sporting one at our recent local music festival for his T1D and realising that this would be hugely important for those occasions when M is out and about without me or Mike on hand to explain.

medicalert

Whilst my Medic Alert bracelet works well for me, the biggest problem would inevitably be the amount of information needed for M and I felt that it just wouldn’t accommodate it all.  I needed something that would appeal enough to M for him to be willing to wear it all the time as well as having enough room for me to note his name, DOB, emergency contacts, EGID, 12 medicines and 8 food allergies.  No small feat, but – and I doubt this will come as much of a surprise – there is something out there that does all this with ease.

20140803_200524The wonderful ID Band company has a range I couldn’t fail to be impressed by.  From bracelets to necklaces, sports bands to medical bags and the all important kids range, plus a whole host of “spares”, some of which you wouldn’t have even thought of until the moment you need them, there is pretty much everything you could conceivably want.  As well as the more traditional metal panels that you can get engraved with the exact wording you want, they also offer the product I was looking for – a wristband containing a card ID that you can personalise as necessary and the whole band is completely waterproof.  Cautious as ever, I browsed the site to check there was nothing better available, but kept coming back to this one band in particular.  The card ID was big enough to take all of M’s details, I could buy extra cards for when things change and the sizing was ideal for M’s small wrists.  Even better I could get it in green camo, just the thing to appeal to my small boy.

20140803_200443I placed the order on a Thursday afternoon, with my fingers crossed that it would arrive in time for our holiday and to my astonishment, the parcel dropped through our door the very next day.  I filled the information out and presented it to M, hoping that he would be keen to give it a whirl and not reject it out of sight.  I needn’t have worried – M was desperate to try it on straight away and has been more than happy to wear to his holiday club this week.  Once again, a massive double thumbs up from both children (well G wanted one too to state her allergies) and a hearty recommendation from this very satisfied Mum.

Hay fever

dandelionEvery year I’ve had to cope with Mike’s relentless sneezing and G’s sniffles that signal the start of summer in our household.  I’ve never experienced hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) and have to confess to being more than a little fed up with the constant coughing, endless nose-blowing and general spluttering that would accompany every summer day spent outside with my family.  Given the rest of M’s allergies, it was something of a surprise that he’d never suffered with hay fever, but definitely a good one.  Naturally, that equilibrium couldn’t carry on and this year he crashed into the world of hay fever with style.

It all started with yet another bout of croup.  M struggles with croup 2 or 3 times each winter and has done since he was tiny.  We were always told he would “grow out of it” in time, but by the time he’d hit 5 and was still suffering, I began to doubt that it would be something we’d be saying goodbye to any time soon.  Last year I read an interesting medical article about “allergic or spasmodic croup“, which is caused by an allergic reaction to substances such as pollen as well as by acid reflux.  It wasn’t relevant to us at the time of reading, but I filed it away in the back of my mind to be mused on at a future point.  This point came after Mike and the children had been away for the annual Dads and Kids camping weekend and M was coughing that oh-so-distinct seal-like bark, which I remembered had developed at the exact same time last year.  I wasn’t sure what had caused the croup to develop, but the coincidence of timing and the memory of that article made me wonder if we were seeing some sort of allergic reaction manifesting itself in M.

stethoscopeWe popped along to see one of our lovely local GPs and put the question of M’s croup to her.  I wanted to be certain there was no underlying infection that needed to be dealt with and was keen to see what she thought it was.  She listened to M’s chest, heard his cough, took his temperature and reassured me that there was nothing untoward going on. Her opinion was that he was suffering from hay fever (tick to the allergic reaction to pollen) and the croup was being caused by post-nasal drip.  She suggested that we’d not seen many signs of hay fever in M before because he regularly takes antihistamines to help manage his EGID, but this year’s particularly high pollen count was too much for those medicines to manage.

M received yet another prescription, this time for a nasal spray to help with the hay fever and I have to say that within days of taking it, his croup cleared up and has yet to return.  So, M appears to have joined the ranks of hay fever sufferers in the family and I’m happy remaining the odd one out on this occasion!