Last December, the week before Christmas, our Little Buddy was diagnosed with a food allergy. As you could imagine, there have been many changes in our food intake since the reaction, many blessings counted and many lessons learned. The day of the reaction I remember running into his classmates mom at the Target Pharmacy, who also has a son with food allergies, and she gave me a big hug and assured me “life would go on!” I thought she was just making me feel better but I eventually realized she was absolutely right. Our family learned where and how we can eat need it be at home, in restaurants or at relatives homes. We learned how to manage everything from birthday parties to baptisms and, this past week, how to enjoy our first of many vacations with a food allergy.
Although I book many of my clients with food allergies on wonderful vacations, and always take as much safety precaution as I can before they even step foot onto the resort or cruise ship, there was something extra scary, as you could imagine, about taking our Little Buddy outside of our comfort zone onto this adventure. I decided early on to treat our vacation exactly as I treat others I book with allergies: seriously, cautiously and with a lot of research.
As a mom of an allergy kid, and a travel agent, I’ve also become much more interested in the airlines and their policies on food allergies. I understand that nuts are a great source of protein, but when they are causing an increased threat to people’s lives (yes, think about that the next time you want to complain your kid can’t eat PB&J in school. You’re helping keep another kid safe!), I remain boggled for why they are still served on-board an airplane in such a confined space. I researched endlessly and decided upon Jet Blue as our airline of choice. On the way to Captiva, they allowed us to pre-board so I could wipe down the seats and get our Little Buddy settled. They warned the rows in front of us and behind us that there was an allergy in their area. I was even super impressed that they served allergy friendly food choices, like Skeeters cookies, on board! What upset me though was when they served the lady in front of us a snack with the allergen. Really!? I felt defeated! On the flight home we did our check-in at the counter where the reservation agent assured us that the allergy was noted for our row. We weren’t offered to pre-board so I thought to myself “here we go again…” Thankfully, I was wrong. I couldn’t write a more glowing review for the in-flight agent (Hi Sarah!) who was beyond helpful. I also decided that I would take into my own hands the matter and thank the people around me for their understanding. People were wonderful and we had a great flight. The lesson learned is that I personally need to “speak up” and not just let people “wonder” who it is with the allergy and then worry myself if they are eating something that could be harmful. I thanked them for their understanding and for taking a role in helping keep our family with food allergies safe. I still believe humans are kind and loving. I was reassured of this belief on our return flight AND when Jet Blue wrote me back letting me know that they would consider removing the top 8 allergens from their foods served on flight. Hey, they could have ignored me! This is a step in the right direction for food safety in the air.
Before booking, as I do with your bookings, I reached out to the resort directly to feel out exactly how they handle food allergies. Within 30 minutes I had a response from the head of Food Services at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva, Florida. She assured me that this is something they deal with daily. I was impressed with her detailed correspondence and booked! The week before arrival though I started to get anxious thinking “what if they forgot about us!?” I again forced myself to step back and treated our booking exactly as I treat yours: I check in the week of your arrival to ensure they are prepared for you (and in this case, us!) Boy were they! The resort’s Head Chef responded, copying all of the management, instructing me exactly on what to do when I enter their resort restaurants and assured me that his staff has been made fully aware. He even sent me a copy of the note that is posted in every restaurant for the Chefs. In the end, eating in the restaurants and quick-service places on property, as they relate to food allergies, was EASY! The manager spent more time at our tables to ensure everything was a-ok. I felt comfortable, our son had no idea he was being treated any differently than anyone else, and we enjoyed delicious and safe meals.
From our prior visits to the Sanibel / Captiva area, I knew exactly where I wanted to eat off property. I made my list and started making phone calls the week before our arrival. The response I received ahead of time was outstanding and the restaurants were even more understanding and prepared when we arrived. The beauty of this island destination, as explained by one of our waiters, is that they live on tourism. Tourists eat and drink! That means they have to adapt to the ever changing times and, for us, meant that all of the restaurants were well prepared for food allergies! THIS WAS GREAT! We frequented at Doc Fords, R.C. Otters and, my absolute favorite, The Island Cow. Shout out to Kyle, the best waiter ever and who you should ask for at the Island Cow. Our Little Buddy enjoyed their fruit, salad, cheeseburgers and pasta. For me, it was the po-boy’s that I recommend (along with the Rum Punch!) I do wish though we made it to the Key Lime Bistro for their key lime pie and blood mary’s (not together… yuck!) Next trip!
Each experience was better than the next but I also always advise clients to always take caution into their own hands too. Upon arrival at check-in, ask the procedure again and remind them about the food allergy. Remind the staff every time you go into a restaurant and ask to speak to the manager/chef. I even have allergy cards to hand out to the servers that some of our local restaurant owners keep on hand for their staff to recognize and understand. In my opinion, it’s best to treat your allergy with extra caution when traveling as you would at home. To take extra precaution, we even stopped on our way to Captiva in Fort Meyers at the local Target. It was there where we picked up safe “food staples” for our Little Buddy so that if there was a hiccup where someone couldn’t accommodate him, we could. This also helped save money on the island too and is well recommended. We picked up water, cold cuts, bread, fruits, non-perishable snacks, etc. and they came in handy throughout the trip. I also wanted to mention, especially among the current Food Truck craze, how cool this food-boat was! It wasn’t allergy friendly but it was less expensive then the resort lunch that day and boy did my husband enjoy it.
I’m not a food allergy expert, and all opinions here are my own and experiences are my own. I’m just a mom who happens to be a travel agent and has to personally deal with food allergies every day. What I can tell you though is that if you are working with me on your upcoming vacation, and you have a food allergy, I understand. I live with this every day and am learning with you along the way. I continuously reach out to the major resorts and cruise lines about their specific allergy policies. I’m not the end all be all, and I’m absolutely no expert, but I will work with you to the best of my ability to help guide you so that you too, like our Little Buddy, can enjoy a safe and delicious vacation.
If you happen to want your next vacation to be where we visited, Book through me South Seas Island Resort in Captiva, Florida for two nights or longer between Aug.16 & Dec.17, 2015 and enjoy breakfast for two each day, a $100 Resort Credit and a coupon booklet with over $250 in savings at Resort outlets. Contact me at DinaSilvestriTravel@gmail.com soon!
Dina of Stepping Out Travel