The Bashful Vegan
Hi! My name is Kitty, and I'm a vegan. I'm also terribly, seriously, majorly bashful which is not very convenient when you're a vegan. It's near impossible to eat out as a vegan without attracting some attention, or at the very least, getting a confused look from a server. All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with Walt Disney World, except that it does make my trips to the world's most popular vacation destination a little interesting.
Despite my "challenges", I go to Walt Disney World every chance I get, which isn't nearly as often as I would like, but I guess we can't all live in Florida. I usually manage at least one trip a year, along with my "Disney tolerant" omnivorous hubby. He's a bit bashful, too, though he eats a more normal diet.
I was a vegetarian (still ate dairy and eggs) when I made my first trip to Walt Disney World, almost 11 years ago. I was a little worried about what I would eat, but I shouldn't have been. There were so many options for lacto-ovo's that it wasn't even an issue. My expectations weren't very high, so I was pleasantly surprised that I could find more than just soy burgers and fries.
My first trip as a vegan (about 8 years ago) was more of an adventure. Okay, that's putting it nicely. It was rough. I was still new to the vegan scene, and suffered pretty badly from Mickey-ice-cream-bar-envy. The soy burgers and fries were still an option, and the sit-down restaurants did try to cater to me, but it didn't feel like a vacation without all the sweets and treats. (I have since learned to curb my sweet tooth, but at that point, I still associated vacations with lots of desserts.) So I vowed to be prepared before my second vegan trip. The following are some of the tips and tricks I learned while planning my own trips.
My first tip is especially helpful for newer vegans - ones who aren't sure how they will manage without sweets (ice cream, cookies and churros, oh my!). Bring treats from home. Seriously, pack an extra suitcase full of vegan cookies and candies, energy bars"� anything and everything you might eat at home as a vegan treat. (Okay, that soy ice cream might not travel so well, but there are lots of other options.) If the suitcase seems like a hassle, you could also pack up a box of goodies and have it shipped to your hotel.
Or, you could order some goodies from an online source (Vegan Essentials and Pangea are both good options), and have them shipped directly to your hotel. I can't stress this enough - if you're a new vegan, or just a new "Disney" vegan, having those comfort foods can seriously make the difference between the vacation of your dreams, and a big disappointment.
Once you arrive, make sure you always have some of these treats with you, in your bag or backpack. Disney does have a policy about not bringing food into the parks, but in my experience, they have no problem at all with a few snacks - and if they say anything at all, just explain that you're a vegan and this is required for your special diet. (I always have snacks with me, and I have never been questioned - not even once.)
Now, this might sound like a contradiction, but there are a surprising number of vegan treats available at Walt Disney World (and I think I've found all of them!). I love sharing them with others, and I will share them with you, but I still recommend treats from home. I've heard too many vegans say that they couldn't find anything to eat, and it affected their trip. Why take the chance, when a handful of your favorite vegan candy or a vegan energy bar will solve the problem? It's amazing what a difference the little things can make.
My second tip really applies to everyone, but is especially important for vegans: don't wait until you are starved to go look for food. In general, people tend to get grumpy, or at least not feel at the top of their game, when they get hungry. If you can't get to a restaurant right away, and you've got that rumbly in your tumbly, then it's time to hit those snacks I talked about. Otherwise, look for food before it becomes urgent, and be prepared to settle for a second choice. If you're planning a sit-down restaurant, odds are very good that you will eat, and probably eat very well. However, if this is one of those counter-service grab-n-go meals, then you might need a little extra time. There are more options than you might think, even at the counter-service places, but some of them require a little thought and creativity.
Which brings me to my third tip: eat at non-traditional times. In other words, avoid the rush and try to eat either a little earlier or a little later than the rest of the world. Eating as a vegan almost always requires some "speaking up", and I find this so much easier if I'm not holding up a crowd at the time. My meals sometimes require a little extra effort, and for me, there's nothing worse than feeling like I'm a bother, or that I'm keeping others waiting. Hubby and I generally try to eat early - lunch around 11:00am, and dinner around 5:00pm. We've found that this works really well at Walt Disney World.
This fourth tip I've shared with quite a few other vegetarians and vegans who have contacted me: for any sit-down restaurants you plan to eat at, call the restaurant 72 hours in advance and ask to speak to a chef. By doing this, you will have a better idea what to expect when you dine, and you also give the chef time to acquire any special ingredients they might need to make your meal something to remember. And this is really great advice. The problem is that I'm too bashful to actually do this myself. Yes, I'm finally going to admit it: I have never actually done this. I have mentioned that I'm a vegan when making reservations, and I've mentioned it when I got to the restaurant, but I have never called a restaurant directly and spoken to a chef.
So how do I manage when I'm too bashful to speak up?
Well, there options, even without special requests, but they are very limited.
Soy burgers and Disney fries (but not the ones clearly marked as "McDonald's) are vegan as is - no special request required.
There are fruit carts in every park, and a number of other snacks which are vegan.
The popcorn, despite its buttery appearance and taste, is actually vegan.
The soft pretzels and roasted nuts are safe (even the tasty cinnamon-glazed almonds!). But it would be tough to get through a whole vacation with only these few things.
There are several things that have helped - the biggest one being the cast members themselves. For starters, I am continually amazed by the number of cast members that already understand the term "vegan". If you say you're a vegetarian, many of them will ask "lacto-ovo or vegan?". Not having to explain this saves a lot of time of trouble - and for me, stress. Also, they really truly seem to want to make your trip special. Disney tries hard to accommodate everyone. I routinely have to make modifications, even at counter-service places, and it's almost never an issue. They seem prepared for it. They don't even look at me like I'm from another planet (which I get a lot in the "real world.) Occasionally I am told that there will be an additional wait - which I am always prepared for (thanks to my second tip - don't wait until you're starved).
Knowing what is possible, and what to expect also helps. It's important to keep in mind that most places will do their best to match any request, but they can only work with what they've got. In other words, most places will be happy to prepare you a salad minus chicken and cheese, but they can't substitute it with grilled tofu if they don't have any tofu in their kitchen.
That's where the 72 hours notice may help with a sit-down restaurant. The chefs at these places almost seem to thrive on the challenge of preparing something you will enjoy. I have had some extraordinary meals at Disney's sit-down restaurants. With counter-service, though, I've found that it's better to have a plan before I get in line. Even at the more casual places, they will most often work with me, but the creativity and knowledge is lacking. I need to know exactly what I want, and make requests that I know they can accommodate (such as leaving the chicken and cheese off of a salad, or ordering a fruit plate without the yogurt dipping sauce).
With these tips in mind, even a Disney vegan newbie can have the trip of a lifetime. For me, being a vegan, even a bashful vegan, is no longer an issue at Walt Disney World. Well, being bashful will always be an issue, but I'm working on that. (I'll never be volunteering for Indiana Jones' Stunt Spectacular, but I do plan to finally get up the guts to meet my hero, Mickey Mouse" one of these days.)
Boma Dinner: Marinated tofu over a corn salsa
Boma Dessert: Vanilla soy ice cream with raspberries and a vegan chocolate chip cookie.
The previous post in this blog was Disney's Baby Care Centers or Expedition Never-Rest.
The next post in this blog is Wilderness Lodge Flag Family Report.