Saturday, April 18, 2009

A vegan in Disney World

Finally, this long ago promised post is making it's way onto Adventures in Vegetarianism. Life has been so busy since our return from Disney that it almost feels like a lifetime ago I promised my ever patient readers a review of vegan Disney. I'll save you all of the details of our trip some good, some bad, all absolutely memorable.

I'll start by letting you know, I have no idea what you can eat for breakfast in Disney World if you are vegan. You see, we stayed in a cabin in Fort Wilderness, and ate breakfast at the cabin every morning. We decided to do this to save time, money, and hunger if there were nothing suitable and filling in the park. We just stopped by Whole Foods Market in Orlando, picked up some supplies for the week, and we were set. We alternated between vegan pancakes and cereal to start the day. Since we drove, I also brought along the juicer and we enjoyed our regular fresh fruit juices most mornings.

OK, breakfast is over.....what does a vegan eat for lunch at Disney World?? Well, we aren't that family that gets up and makes it to the park by opening time. As a matter of fact, we are that family that comes moseying in around lunch time, when most people have been in the parks nearly four hours already!! So, a few days we actually made sandwiches at the cabin, and packed a lunch to take with us. We did soynut butter sandwiches, Smart Deli Turkey sandwiches, veggie booty, bananas and fruit snacks. This seemed to work well for us, because we mostly ended up eating our lunch while we were waiting in lines (we were able to make up some time this way).

I bet by now you are wondering what exactly can a vegan eat that they serve at the parks, right?? Well, let's get to it then. My first experience with vegan Disney really had me worried. We of course spent our first day in The Magic Kingdom, and having two young children went straight to Fantasy Land. Starving, and not wanting to leave Fantasy Land we ended up at Pinnocchio's Village Haus. Not a good place for vegan to eat. This was a pizza place, serving pre-made pizzas, so no leaving the cheese off. I settled for a salad (which was basically iceberg lettuce, a few shredded carrots and 1 grape tomato) with sub par packaged dressing, and fries. The fries were delicious, but not good fuel for a day at Disney World. Vegan options for the girls were few and far between at most restaurants, but there were at least veg options for them. Pizza or mac and cheese were the standard vegetarian options for the kiddos, and they alternated between the two when we needed to. They also offered PB&J at several places, but peanut butter is off limits to us, so that wasn't really an option for our family.

This sub-par lunch meant I was ready for a snack in just a few hours. I was very happy to see that there are fresh fruit and vegetables available at many of the snack stands. And, while this of course would have been the smart option, we were after all on vacation, so we went instead the the ice cream cart. They didn't offer any vegan ice-creams at the cart, but they did have several popscicle choices. One in particular was delicious, and not really all that bad for a person. It was Edy's brand I think, and while it was full of sugar, the rest of the pop was just pureed strawberries, and even some whole strawberry pieces. Delicious.......I had more than one of these throughout the week!! I will throw in one caveat here in the snack section......if seeing people eat meat really disgusts you, you should think long and hard about going to Disney. Apparently one of their most popular snacks are giant (and I mean GIANT) turkey legs. It is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life....hundreds if not thousands of people walking around with these giant bird legs gnawing on them as if they were cave-men. Absolutely horrible, my husband and I had to avert our eyes every time we saw one.

My hopes for dining vegan at Disney World were raised quite a bit when we landed in Tomorrowland for dinner. We ended up at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. It's listed as a chicken/burger place, but we found an incredible veggie burger there, and lo and behold the veggie burger was sans egg (miracle of miracles, I know!!). Anyway, all 4 of us went with burger and fries this night. This burger was awesome, carrots, corn and broccoli all visible in the patty, and it was made even better by the build-your-own-burger toppings bar.

Day two we didn't eat anything at the parks except for another popscicle. We ended up back at the cabin around dinner time, and cooked up some Tofu Pups and sweet potato fries for a delicious meal of chili dogs and fries. We went to Animal Kingdom this day, and I've read on the internet that you can find some vegan options here, but as it's not really a park that you can spend an entire day in we just thought it was best to head back, rest, and know for sure we'd have something we like to eat.

Day three started as usual, breakfast in the cabin and sandwiches to take along. We spent this day in Epcot. Epcot is actually a fantastic place for a vegan to find a meal. There are several places in the World Showcase that you can find a decent meal and snack. In Germany they have fantastic soft pretzels. In China they have several veggies stir-fries and a seared tofu dish. In Japan there are two sushi places that will make veggie sushi for you, then there is a teppinyaki place that can do veggies and tofu. Apparently you can get some good curry in England. And, in Morrocco there's hummus, pita, falafel, and tabouleh. We chose Morrocco as our country of dining because the girls love hummus and falafel. We ate at Tangierine Café because it was a little more low-key and seemed to have more options for us. We actually visited Epcot twice on this trip and ate here both times. We had all of the favorites, hummus, pita, falafel, tabouleh, marinated olives and tangerine couscous. This place was delicious. Their pita unfortunately had the potential to be cross contaminated with nut products so for Stella they served us an Ener-G roll to go with her hummus. As a side note, if you are traveling with food allergies (or even as a vegan) Disney World is fantastic at making sure you know exactly what goes into your food, and having at least one option for everyone.

Our snack at Epcot, was popcorn, which despite it's buttery appearance is actually vegan. And, very yummy to boot!!

After all of this we had only one park left, Hollywood Studios. We didn't actually eat much here, but there were a few options. Toy Story's Pizza Planet had a nice greek salad that you could get without the cheese, and Starring Rolls Cafe had a grilled veggie sandwich on focaccia. I think I also recall that the ABC Commisary may have had a grilled tofu dish, but don't hold me to it. And if I'm not mistaken, the Hollywood Brown Derby even had a vegan option, but it was quite pricey. We ended up at the Pizza Planet, so it was cheese pizza for the girls and Rob, salad for me.

Having done all 4 parks the girls wanted to go back to Magic Kingdom on the fifth day. We went for lunch in Adventureland this day. El Pirata y El Perico Restaurant is a taco place. We all had vegetarian tacos, which is just a crunchy corn taco shell filled with beans. Then you dress it up yourself by visiting the topping bar for lettuce, tomato, onion, and salsa (and cheese and sour cream if you are into that sort of thing). A good choice for lunch I think, filling and satisfying. Dinner this evening was Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station for Rob and I, Cosmic Ray's veggie burgers for the girls. At the noodle station Rob opted for the Noodle Bowl, which was veggies and tofu with egg-noodles in a veggie broth. I had the tofu and veggie with rice. It was fantastic once I added a little spicy mustard sauce and some soy sauce, I actually ended up getting a second order.

Day 6 was our final day, we did lunch in Epcot's Morrocco again, and for dinner we had a special meal planned in Cinderella's castle. The girls got all dressed up like princesses and we got to dine at the very fancy Cinderella's Table. We met Cinderella, and appearances were made by The Fairy Godmother and Cinderella's Mice Friends. It was a magical evening for the girls, they just had the time of their lives dressed as princesses and eating in the castle. It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation. I had called ahead to arrange this dinner, and spoken with the chef about our food allergies and preferences. The girls were served pasta with butter substitute (which probably had a little dairy in it, but I was ok with that), and Ener-G rolls. Rob and I had pasta with oil and grilled veggies, I also had a fantastic raspberry salad (they just left the cheese off), and for Dessert we all had Tofutti Vanilla Ice-cream.

Being vegan in Disney World proved to be quite easy for me (a little more challenging for the kids, but we managed with only one or two dairy based meals). I didn't find it a challenge at all, and I didn't find that I had to make special requests too often, beyond "hold the cheese" on few salads. I do however suggest staying in a cabin so you can prepare some of your own meals. It's a great way to save money, and make sure you are getting at least a few healthy dishes into your kids. Disney World bills themselves as the Happiest Place on Earth, and they really want to live up to that title. When you tell them you are vegan/vegetarian/food allergy they do all they can to accommodate you and make sure you have a satisfying meal. It pays to do a little research ahead of time, but all in all I we were satisfied with our vegan Disney exp"ear"iance.


newlyb said...

We just returned from Florida this week and I was also thrilled with the surprising amount of meat free choices. We also packed lunches (in the event the options were few) but ended up opting for the veggie burger a couple of times — the toppings bar was awesome!

But I totally agree about the turkey legs! It was disgusting! My non-veggie husband warned me every time we were approaching someone gnawing on one of those things. He eats meat, but even he was grossed out.

Glad to hear you had a lovely trip!

Virginia said...

awesome post! thanks! i found chickpea flour at the local health food store, finally! it really is worth it!