Disney with Special Needs: Planning Your Jaunt to the Food and Wine Festival

Happy Fall, Y’all! Yes, it is July. However, it is after July 4, so therefore, it is autumn. Maybe not? Alright, so perhaps it isn’t quite fall yet, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of people whose thoughts have swung right on past the last several weeks of summer and are firmly dreaming of tumbling leaves, cuddly sweaters, and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. I won’t lie, I kind of dream about this all the time. While last year that meant dreaming of spending my anniversary and Halloween at Disney, for many people that means one pretty fabulous event (and one that, incidentally, is going to start earlier this year than ever before), the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival.

I know, I know. But Taryn; you’re a vegan who doesn’t drink alcohol!…why would you care about a Food and Wine Festival? Trust me. I do. We’ve been to several such festivals throughout the various theme parks that we visit and, unsurprisingly, the one at EPCOT reigns supreme. This event truly has something for everyone, yes, even me, and it is something that we look forward to doing again. As you might suspect, this festival is very popular, which means that there are some special considerations that my super-special family has to take to make sure that we get the absolute most out of our visit and avoid some of the discomfort that we might otherwise experience.

If you followed along with my Trip Report from earlier in the year, you might remember my rundown of our visit to the festival last year. Today I’ll give you a little refresher and give you some tips on how you can plan your time at the festival while working around whatever special needs you have, whether it is a food allergy or special diet, Autism, a senior, or other needs.

**sound of a dinner bell** Come and get it!

Read the menus. Full menus for all of the booths in the festival are available well before the event date each year. This lets you go through and sift out the items that you definitely want to try. Not only does it mean that you can find all of the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free items that they are serving that year (and thoughtfully denoting on their menus), but you can also identify the booths that don’t interest you so you can slide on past them when you visit and save some time for those you want

Munch and move. There are spots where you can sit during the festival, but it can be time-consuming and a bit frustrating to try to find a bench or a table every time you grab a snack. Save yourself some time and get in on the fun festival atmosphere by getting your snack and walking on. Find a live performer to watch, start for a ride you might want to scope out for wait times (I’m looking at you, Frozen Ever After), or just get a head start to the next snack on your list. I also found that this helped to cut down on my anxiety, even in the large crowds. We paused a few times when we saw an empty table, but for the most part we enjoyed moving along with our focus on the food rather than the people

Share. Mickey would want you to be nice to your family and share your treats, but there is another benefit to this as well. My mother and my daughter both have a condition that prevents them from eating much at one time. They can graze all day, but they can only eat a very small amount at each sitting. Sharing with the family means that they can try a couple of different things before they get full. Even if you don’t struggle with this, sharing means that you can try a few bites of a lot of different festival offerings rather than just one or two trying to eat the whole serving

Go early. The food booths open at the same time as the World Showcase. Skip your big breakfast and head right for the festival. Fewer people will be there early, which means that you won’t have the massive crowds to contend with. It also means that you are going to save some money on your meals for the day since you are going to dive right into your snacking rather than trying to pile it on top of meals

Make the most of your dining plan. You already know my love of the dining plan, so I won’t reiterate (I love the dining plan), but it becomes even more amazing when you are visiting the Food and Wine Festival. Virtually all of the food items at the booths cost a single snack credit on the plan. With the changes in the plan giving even the quick service plan 2 snacks each day, that means you could save up and splurge quite a few snacks on the festival. Want more items at the festival? Break up some of those quick service meals. Each one is worth three snacks when you use it at one time. This means you could take that one credit you would have used for a meal and order three items at a booth. Fabulous use and a great way to maximize your plan, especially when you have a vegan with you who is unlikely to use most of her quick service meals throughout the trip and is willing to donate them to the festival snacking cause

Read the descriptions carefully. Another great part of reading the menus carefully before going is that you can read a basic description of the dishes up for grabs. This is very important if you have allergies, but also if you have sensory issues that prevent you from tolerating certain flavors. I, for one, cannot handle spice. It immediately overloads me and I can go into a full-blown panic attack if I have too much, especially if it is unexpected. Reading the descriptions allows me to avoid items that could cause this for me. Last year there were just two items on the menus other than the fresh fruit and vegetable options that were vegan. Both were delicious, though I would happily make the Greek nachos a part of my regular eating rotation without a single hesitation. By reading the descriptions I was able to tell that the vegan Korean barbecue was going to have a little bit of a kick, which just meant having hubby try it first and then eating each bite with a large scoop of rice to cool it down. I was just fine.

Are you getting excited about the fall, yet? Next time we’ll talk a little about my mommy and the special needs we manage when it comes to visiting the parks with our very own senior. See you then!

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop It’s Better in Vinyl.

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