Food Allergies + Theme Parks =?
An Orlando Vacation seems fun and all, but throw in Food Allergies, and how hard it can be to get a straight answer (or even an email response) and it can leave you feeling frustrated and doubting your options.
And Universal? with all it’s cute commercials and fun offerings? Can seem really out of reach if you don’t know what to expect.
The good news is that with some planning and tweaks, You can enjoy a vacation to Universal Studios Orlando Resort with food allergies and special dietary needs. (YES IT’S POSSIBLE! and you can even get a great deal on tickets with Get Away Today! )
The bad news is that it requires some planning and preparation (but if your anything like me, the anxiety over food will have you planning and learning even if it wasn’t necessary!)
I’d love to tell you that it was super easy and that you didn’t need this guide, but years of living with and managing special diets have taught me that the world at large still doesn’t quite understand how serious food is for us allergy folks.
The most important thing you need to know is this: Universal Orlando is NOT like Disney World.
That may seem kind of weird to say in a post about Universal- but it’s an important distinction. Disney has a very specific way of doing things and some heavily vetted procedures that sets it apart in the allergy community.
Universal has many good things about it’s offerings but again, it is NOT Disney World and there will be many many things that are different, though some things will be (thankfully) similiar. 😀
I’ve been heading to theme parks with my allergy family (yes all 5 of us have food allergies in almost every form; IgE, FPIES, Celiac, contact reactive, OAS, fruit-latex, intolerances.) for years now and love to share with other people in our allergy community about what to expect when traveling to Central Florida theme parks!
You can see for yourself… there’s a lot of good eats if you know where to go!
***As Always, please speak to a qualified restaurant employee when ordering food. In order to see the most accurate ingredients and risk assessment, you will need to confirm allergy safety in real-time. This is my personal experience, I am not employed or endorsed by companies or brands mentioned.***
Table of Contents
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Special Note about 2020/2021 and Covid19
Putting a quick special note at the beginning of this post so you can understand some of what’s happening with Covid 19 (though I’m sure you are totally exhausted about talking about it! 😆)
When it comes to food allergies there’s a few shortages we’ve noticed in the parks as far as menu options BUT (and this is a HUGE BUT) we have still been able to speak with a chef (And sometimes a manager) at every location we’ve gone to eat at.
Mobile ordering is obviously here to stay- but you can speak with a team member to order things at a register (and still speak to a chef/manager too!)
Let’s start out with Allergy-Friendly Resorts (or where to stay with food allergies)
This summer I’ve personally stayed at several of the resorts and walked over to all but the Hard Rock Cafe and Paradise Falls.
My preference is definitely at Sapphire Falls– not only because it has my favorite🍲 table service option for food allergies but it also has some great options in the little store AND it’s within walking distance to Aventura Hotel and Cabana Bay which both have decent options too! 😀 It’s also a super fun spot if you have a toddler with you!
Cabana Bay I had difficulty in the quick serve for all three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) because of a language barrier. They do have a table service up top (it’s a bowling alley) and they had a chef who can accommodate allergens and a dedicated gluten/dairy free fryer.
Aventura has ok-ish options but they are very limited due to the current covid situation. Typically the roof top bar can handle allergies very well, but they are selling limited options for the time being.
Surfside Inn was also an ok resort for food allergies, you can see my review of the only eatery they have there besides Starbucks. The plus side is that they have a full sized table in the room and it’s easy to eat in your suite with items you’ve brought with you!
Before we start
A very quick overview is needed before we dive deeper. 😀
For One: theme parks can be confusing and I don’t want you feeling lost or overwhelmed trying to navigate a park the size of a freaking city and looking for safe food. (Skip this if your an Universal Orlando Pro! )
Seriously- it’s enough to make anyone upset getting lost AND getting hangry! 😆
For two: The page on Universals website that talks about dietary needs used to have more options (it listed gluten and plant based etc), but they’ve since changed it to be totally bare bones. Not sure where there going here, but besides an email address (and I’ve NEVER gotten a response) the website leaves you with more questions than answers.
So let’s talk about this!
CityWalk- Islands of Adventure- Universal Studios- Volcano Bay
You’ll see those names a lot, but what do they mean?
So there’s 2 parks at Universal Orlando Resort. (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Orlando)
Then they have a water park (volcano bay).
They there’s Citywalk. Citywalk doesn’t require a ticket and it is the ‘pathway’ in between the two main Parks of Islands of Adventure and Universal Orlando. Several Resorts are connected to City Walk or within walking distance (another mile or so for some- not really recommended if you plan to walk a lot in the theme parks!)
There is no Disney/Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck here. And there is also no legoland here either. And no Seaworld. Those are all separate places in the Orlando area. I’ve covered them for food allergy purposes if you’d like to go! But they aren’t here at Universal Orlando.
OH and there’s Universal’s in other places like Hollywood in California. So be careful on message boards, forums and facebook groups when you are researching options.
Below you’ll find advice and tips for ORLANDO in florida (clarifying just one last time 🙃) and City Walk is Free and open much later and earlier than the two theme parks.
In Citywalk, Jimmy Buffet’s has a good track record of providing safe allergy friendly options– if you aren’t spending much time eating inside of the parks.
Carrying an EpiPen or other medications at Universal Orlando Resort
If you need to have a medical device/Epipen/medication with you, then this section is VERY important.
Universal is incredibly strict about what you can bring on rides.
For this reason, if you carry an EpiPen, you will need to also have a small fanny back with a buckle that fits securely around your waist. This will allow you to secure your EpiPen while you are in line and on the ride so that you have your device with you at all times.
Check prices on fanny packs at Amazon
Check Prices for Fanny Packs at Target
I’ve tried both a fanny pack with a clip, and a small cell phone purse over the shoulder. They have turned away my cell phone purse everytime- and insist that it must have a buckle, not be around the neck, and be very small to fit in the ride vehicle with you!
If, for whatever reason, you’d feel comfortable leaving your Epipen in a locker during the ride (which is free and required of all bags that aren’t a small fannypack with a buckle) make sure you have a medical alert bracelet.
If you have a Food Allergy support/medical/service animal, you can request a carrier/crate to be brought to the ride. This is true at Disney World as well. Simply contact them before arriving and then at arrival to set up a time!
Moving onto the parks- which one is better for food allergies?
So while most people agree that Islands of Adventure is the superior park (and I’ve thought that for 10 years now so no changing my mind! 🙃) determining which option is better for food allergies is a little harder. Let’s look at some locations and you can decide if you only have one day which options you’d pick.
So for starters, you can always leave and head to Citywalk for a bite to eat. In the morning the food allergy options are pretty lacking in Citywalk- so eating here would be a good idea for lunch or dinner. 🍲
Then each of the parks has at least one table service option. Table Service= sit down olive garden/outback steakhouse kinda vibes.
For table service inside the parks that can handle food allergies, Universal Studios has 1 really good options to Island’s of Adventures 2 good options, but remember, you can always head over to Citywalk (or even the resorts!) for some food.
In Universal we have this Irish themed pub which has an incredibly diverse menu with a ton of modifications– it’s also very family friendly with adult beverages so that helps lend to it’s credibility 😆.
Then in Islands of Adventure, we have a restaurant that is ranked as one of the best in the world– but I wasn’t impressed. It was good safe food but it wasn’t something I would rave about.
What I will rave about is number 3 and yes, I did save the best for last! Number three is at the top of my list for allergy-friendly options inside of the parks and is only beaten by a great option at one of the resorts! 🍲 Confisco Grille has some really good whole food options and a very educated chef which made me feel totally at ease.
So if we’re keeping count it looks like Islands has beaten out Universal (again) but don’t skip the park on account of me. There are good options in both parks and it’s possible to make either one work depending on your allergens.
My recommendation is to get a two park pass so you can hop around, bring in some goodies, and consider using the resorts so you don’t end up eating the same meals over and over again (which is honestly my biggest complaint about legoland- thankfully Universal has more options. There’s only so many sandwiches and baked potatoes I want to eat!)
What to Expect when Ordering with Food Allergies
For starters, you can’t assume that every place you walk into will be able to accomadate you.
That’s part of the reason I started this blog if I’m being honest. I was getting peeved that they could ‘accommodate’ me with a side of rice and some protein when what I really wanted was a meal. So I’ve tried to catalog all of the options, places to eat, and menus so you can preplan with food you’ll actually enjoy! 🍲
I very much recommend that you do table service restaurants when dealing with severe/multiple allergies at the theme parks (and it’s a great way to get some cool air and relax while dealing with the demands of walking all over the place in the crowds and heat!)
If you are dealing with one-three allergies, or intolerances, or plant based diets then you could dine at several of the quick service options in the parks (the ones at the resorts are slightly better about options for multiple/severe allergies than the ones at the parks)
With more than three+ allergies or ones that are particularly life-threatening, you need to go to the slower pace of the table service where you can sit down and speak with a chef.
At table service you’ll sit down with a waiter and you’ll get an oppurtunity to speak with a chef. Sometimes a manager will be available and I encourage you to ask deep questions.
When speaking with a manager (and also a chef, but especially with a manager who isn’t preparing your food) ask questions like:
Shared fryer? Can they change gloves? Is this made in a facility with shared equipment? What do you recommend? Substitutions? What kind of oil/butter?
Chefs are easier to talk to because they have much of their restaurant memorized and the best ones (and there are many) will enjoy the chance to create something outside of the normal meals they always prepare. 🍲
I typically ask for an adult and kids menu and will sometimes combine sides and main meals from different entrees and options. The waiter and Chef have never given me a problem with this and they welcome the feedback that I know what I’m interested in/feel safe with.
In all of my reviews (over 100+ at theme parks in the last year) I have only had three ‘issues’ where the manager/server was rude to me about food allergies. Two of these happened at the same restaurant at a Disney Resort and another was so flippant and annoyed I simply left and decided to review it another day when the staff wasn’t stressed out.
So please speak up and talk to a manager or chef- it’s not a ‘special’ privilege, they don’t treat you weird, and they are super down to earth.
Please also look over the reviews online, check out the menu, and come with some options you’d like to try or think you would enjoy.
Breakfast Options with Allergies
Breakfast is notoriously hard when you are Free-From certain foods (one of the reasons I’m so in love with Disney World resorts is for their ahmazing breakfast options) and it’s no different at Universal.
Back to breakfast though, you really need to eat at the resort, or you can try two recommended options.
The first is in Universal Studios, called the Today Cafe. It has quite a few options and lots of easy modifications. This would be number one for me in the breakfast department in the parks.
Especially because they can handle multiple allergens and they actually have top 8+ free options for breakfast.
Number two would be towards the back of the park at The Three Broomsticks- which is in Islands of adventure ( I mean, this is why they created the Hogwarts Express! For fast connections and good eats 😆 LOL!)
My favorite is outside the parks at Amatista Cookhouse in Sapphire Falls Resort.
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Raise your hand if you’ve had to skip breakfast because of food allergies! 🙌 That did NOT happen today folks. No salads, no sad breakfast potatoes. Just goodness! Last week I had an incredible dinner at Amatista cookhouse at Sapphire falls resort in Universal Orlando. Today I went back for more- this time the ultimate test- BREAKFAST! Anyone with food allergies knows that breakfast is a total bear- so many yummy traditional foods are covered in common (and not so common) allergens. So when the chef said ‘just about anything’ I took his word for it! Allies top allergen friendly pancakes with REAL maple syrup!!!! Fruit, a generic brand of waffles (saw the ingredients- made in a dedicated facility for food service), and turkey bacon! Incredible! Sapphire falls has been so great for allergies- it’s at the top of my list for places to stay.
I don’t want sit down, can I do food allergies with quick service meals?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has it’s own quick serves so lets talk about those below…
but basically, you’ll want to make sure you preplan the budget friendly meals by checking ahead of time with these quick serve options and bringing in your own food.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about snacks!
All about SNACKS
Can you bring in snacks to Universal Orlando?
The short and fast answer is: Yes
However there are some limitations and things you need to know- like the fact that they can’t provide heating or refrigeration, and you need to
And we can’t forget about snacks in the parks either!
I’ve got a whole spiel about finding snacks and some good snacks options in the wizarding world, but it really depends on your allergens. They have a few gluten free options, a few plant-based (dairy and egg free) goodies, and a small handful of PN/TN certified free options.
Popcorn is a good option for some as it’s dairy free and made with coconut oil.
others might enjoy the cotton candy that is premade and available all around the shops.
So can you bring snacks into the parks?
YES! everyone can, but those with allergies are not limited to a smaller cooler size in my experience. The official Universal site says no more than 6×9.
It’s part of the reason I recommend an insulated cooler backpack 🍲like this one (and if you find it under 30 dollars it’s a total steal!) so that you can throw your food in there and carry it easily/put it in a locker easy!
Can you find snacks in the parks?
YES! But this may be easier or harder depending on your allergy. Sometimes it might look like getting an extra side at a sit down restaurant and saving it for later.
But bring snacks ok? Always. Even to Disney World. I know you know this but I don’t want you to get a false impression that theme parks are 100% accommodating of the top allergens. They aren’t. I don’t know if they ever will be but they try hard to make sure they can feed you at restaurants. But they do encourage you to bring in safe food so please grab a cooler and a locker and pack some yummy snacks!
If you have a vehicle (or want to pay a ride share company) head over to Disney Springs and stock up on some goodies! There’s this famous bakery ✨that is allergy friendly✨ (top 7 excluding treenut) and you can find these top 14 free treats at the World of Disney!
My favorite snacks to bring to theme parks (because I’m there… like a lot a lot) are these ✨super allergy friendly bars✨ that come with or without protein (and some are FODMAP friendly), these top 14 free allergy cookies in individual baggies (because… dessert!) and some gum of choice.
I steer towards the sweeter snacks because finding something like chips is a easier than dessert/sweet treats.
There’s also ✨these electrolyte packets I swear by.✨ They make it easier to stay hydrated when your grinding at the theme parks… especially the 10 months outa the year where it’s hot.
Ohh and of course, these electrolyte packets are preferred over other options because they are allergen friendly! ✨Little individual packets you can throw in your bag ✨and give to your entire family to stay on your A game while at the parks.
Trust me- ✨bringing in some snacks, electrolyte packets, cooler bag and bandaids will take you a long way to a happy (and healthy!) allergy friendly vacation. ✨
Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Food Allergies – Can it be done?
One of the biggest draws to Universal Orlando is the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While it’s been over 10 years since they added it to the parks, they’ve expanded and added so much that makes it a full day trip. It really is a ton of fun and there’s so many hidden things to do!
So what about Allergy Friendly and Allergy Free food?
That’s where things get a little stickier, because they don’t have a formal table service option (maybe one day!) but they do have two quick serve options that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At The Leaky Cauldron, they have some pretty good top 7 free options for breakfast (with the exception of soy lethicin that is literally used everywhere in the parks) and their lunch was alittle lacking for those that are free from. Individual allergens like just gluten or just dairy are easy to accommodate here but the more allergens you have the harder it becomes.
Over in Islands of Adventure (directly across from my favorite ride ever! Hagrids motorbike adventure!) you’ll find The Three Broomsticks.
The Three Broomsticks is able to accommodate allergies much better than the quick-serve counterpart in Universal Studios Florida, and you can tell by how you feel after you eat there!
You can see the full review with the break down of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner– but let me tell you that they can easily feed you with the top eight allergens and they’ve even offered to prepare stuff for me the next day if I gave them ample notice.
If you are a potterhead with food restrictions PLEASE go to The Three Broomsticks first!
Islands of Adventure also has a few more friendly snack options for those of us with Food Allergies at a little cart right before the castle (and you can get a boozy hard liquor drink if you go out the back entrance towards jurassic park! ) And I’ve talked more about the snack options in the wizarding world– there’s more than you might think but also less than you could expect at someplace like Disney World.
Besides the sit down quick serve both of the parks also have several smaller walkup options and stores. These are harder to find out allergen information because the team members aren’t as aware of allergens (And they don’t like when you ask for specifics like where the products are made, what’s in the natural flavors etc) and they don’t have a print out of the items, instead it’s on the computer.
The Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley does well with peanut and treenut allergies (and they have soft serve!) but they do not have any plant based options.
Volcano Bay Water Park Food Allergy Options
Haven’t been there yet but it’s on my list for this summer! I will update this post once I’ve thoroughly gone around to check the options there.
Where can I find Universal Orlando Allergy Menus?
Universal Resorts do not have Allergen Specific Menus in most places, but sometimes allergens are listed on the Menus like at Mythos and Amatista Cookhouse. You can see menus plus what the chef told us was available to eat for common allergens at my Universal Orlando Food Allergy Reviews.
Maybe someday Universal will have menus like Disney World, just remember that the menus are only a few years old at Disney! This is all a very new way to travel (and one I am very thankful for with food allergies) and we still have a ways to go before eating with allergies would be considered ‘easy’
Can you bring food into the Universal Orlando parks?
Yes, everyone can bring in small snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated or cooked. For those of us with food allergies, you can bring in full meals/meal replacements. Please let Security know to change gloves if they ask to check inside your lunchbox/cooler to prevent cross contamination. Universal requests soft sided coolers and no glass inside the parks.
I have Special Dietary Needs beyond common allergens. Can Universal Resort still accommodate me?
This can be alittle trickier because they might have limited options in the restaurant kitchens. If you are able to focus on common whole foods (think fruits, veggies, animal proteins) then multiple allergens can be accommodated at table service/sit down restaurants. If you struggle with whole foods or large groups of food (for instance, plant based plus no starches) then eating out could become much harder. Researching restaurant reviews (specifically sit down/table service options and those at the resorts) is recommended and having a back up plan (bringing food and food delivery) should also be planned.
For the most severe cases, having your own kitchen is ideal. I’d also recommend a dual Disney World and Universal Vacation. Disney has been able to accommodate me easily on a 8 food TED and when my oldest only had 50 safe foods. Universal has two restaurants like this, but you would be eating a lot of the same food over and over.
Do they have food allergy friendly snacks inside of the parks?
sometimes, it really depends on the allergen and how comfortable you are with shared equipment or may contain warnings. bring your own snacks and be on the lookout in case you are pleasantly surprised. I’ve spotted items like David’s brownies, Udi’s muffins, and safe chips. Popcorn is safe for many besides corn and coconut and you can find fruit-based popsicles and plain fruit around the parks.
Which Allergens are Easy to Accommodate at Universal?
I don’t like to use the word ‘easy’ so I hope you understand that traveling with food allergies is always an adventure!
Nut allergies are recognized a lot at Universal Resort and seem to offer a lot of accommodations including prepackaged snacks. Dairy Allergies and Gluten Allergies are two other ones that seem common to team members when you discuss allergies with them. If you avoid the seafood restaurants, fish and shellfish aren’t too common at the parks.
Soy is by far the hardest thing to avoid in the Universal Parks. If you avoid all forms of soy, eating inside the parks is almost impossible unless you eat at Confisco grille or Mythos because the other options use a soy based spray for the grill/cooking area. Amatista is another great option for all soy free. If you are just soy protein, then you should be able to eat comfortably as the spray is a soy lethicin/coconut oil base.
Full Sized Fridge? I have yet to find this. I’ve looked online, visited and stayed in several resorts, talk to team members. I’m still looking for this so I’ll let you know what I find!
Do they have snacks at the resorts? YES! And they have more snacks at the resorts than they do the parks (this is true at Disney as well).
Conclusion of Food Allergies at Universal Orlando Beginner’s Guide
Well Food Allergy Family, I hope this guide sheds some light on what to expect, find and eat at Universal Orlando Resort!
In a nut shell, I’d recommend Table Service Restaurants, asking to speak to a chef, bringing your own snacks, and having lots of patience!
Most importantly, don’t let food allergies hold you back from having a ton of fun!