Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Vegan in Disney World

I've always been a big pre-planner (though hopefully not to the point of obsessiveness). One of the big things I've found about going vegan is that it takes pre-planning to a whole different level. Whenever you go on a trip, most people can just think "so, what do I pack?" but one of the big questions in a vegan's mind, especially an organic-eating processed-food-avoiding vegan, always ends up being "so, will I actually be able to eat anything?"

Enter Disney World. Now, as much as Disney World elicits princesses, and magic, and dreams coming true in my mind, vegan-friendly is definitely not something that jumps to mind when I hear those two words. Ever since I planned this trip with my sister, my food-loving self started scouring the internet for vegan-friendly resources about Disney World (see below for details). At my public library, I also found the very nifty book called "Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando" that was great way to get psyched up about my options.

Now, I know that the internet does tend to motivate people to be a little alarmist... ever gotten freaked out by your minor symptoms because of what Doctor Google said? Yep, been there. People (especially my fellow vegans) do tend to be a little bit more stressed out than necessary when it comes to blogging. A lot of things I was hearing was "you need to call a month in advance to let them know you're vegan," or "you have to speak to the chef directly," or "just bring all your own food to make sure."

After reading all that, rather than freaking out, I decided to opt for spontaneous and trusting over obsessively pre-planning. I knew everything would be okay, and that I would venture off to Disney World with the intention of making it work and knowing the Universe would provide. I was so right! So follow me along for the next few posts, on my culinary trip to the magical world of Disney. After that I'll go back to the usual food & fitness thang...

Day 1: Wolfgang Puck Express & Babycakes, Downtown Disney

First off, I have to say that airports have gotten significantly more vegan/organic food friendly over the years. Sure, it's still not a mecca of good health, but there are always fruits and salads available now somewhere. Most concessions also now carry some very decent organic and/or vegan bars, and dried fruit and nut mixes.

The second thing is that I'll pretty much just be posting about dinners. My sister and I went the money saving route, and stocked up on fruits at the food court of our resort at Port Orleans Riverside to have for breakfast and lunch. (They even carry organic soy milk!!!)

My awesome sister had also brought us a box of Cliff Bars and coconut water from home to get us through the day. Breakfast usually consisted in a Cliff Bar and fruit, lunch for me was more fruit, and dinner was serious refueling time (as you will see).

After arriving to the land where magic is made real, we took a lovely water shuttle to Downtown Disney to get a first taste of the week ahead of us. There were lots of veggie friendly options around us, including a seriously yummy looking chickpea burger at the Rainforest Cafe, but we opted instead for the fairly empty and healthy Wolfgang Puck Express. Now, good ol' Wolfgang is quite notorious for having made more natural foods go mainstream. This restaurant was listed as serving organic and local food, so that was great by me already! 

That being said, the long-standing culinary sign of wealth still holds that if you want to appear as a fancy restaurant, everything will contain meat or a fancy cheese. So for any vegans out there, most recipes (including salads) need to be amended for our lifestyle. For our first night, I found a roasted beet salad that I only had ask to be made without the goat cheese (though I'm sure that would have been lovely.) It was the perfect portion, and was easily one of my favourites here for its lightness but great amounts of flavour.

Roasted Beet Salad
(Butter lettuce with roasted beets, candied pecans, mandarins, and balsamic vinaigrette)

Because I didn't set up my hopes too high on the first night, I had assumed that salad would be the be-all and end-all of my first night in Disney World. However, I forgot where I was, and since this is the place where all dreams come true, this happened:
Oh yes, that is a Babycakes Bakery, just like its mother store in NYC. Vegan, sugarless, and gluten-free, I was in heaven. I think I might have frightened my sister either by the squeal that came out of me or my ensuing gluttony. They had everything from breads, to waffles, cake bites, cupcakes, and more. I really didn't know what to choose since I'd never been to a Babycakes before. 

I surrendered myself by sampling the following three things: a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting (usually my favourite as far as cupcakes go), what I think was their blueberry cinnamon and sugar toast, and a red velvet cake bite with chocolate frosting. How brilliant are cake bites? I never want a whole slice of cake, I only ever just want one bite, and now I can!
Verdict: OMG are their breads amazing. I actually went back on our last day and bought one slice of almost every kind loaf they had to bring back to my love monkey back home holding the fort, and for my BFF. Post-script to that splurge: They were all equally amazing. (My sis also tried one of their donuts, and they were equally amazing.)

The blueberry slice was "melt in your mouth perfect" on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The cake bite was also pretty tasty, though the cake part itself was a tiny bit dry (I figured probably because it was the end of the day.) I have to say the cupcake kind of surprised me for its lack of oomph. The one I tried unfortunately happened to be a little blah, not fluffy enough like you would expect out of a cupcake, and the frosting was kind of weird. It was pasty rather than icing-like, and every time I bit into it I was just trying to figure out what its deal was. Overall though... Babycakes, please relocate to Ottawa! I think I may invest in their cookbooks soon...

A very magical beginning :)

Day 2: Morocco, World Pavillion, Epcot

Day two was spent at the Magic Kingdom, squealing and acting like little girls... Awesomeness. We also learned that you actually can bring food and water into the parks, so do keep that in mind because it's a huge time/money saver!

We were pretty ravenous by the time dinner came around, and because we wanted to watch the Illuminations shows at Epcot, we opted for dinner at Epcot's World Pavillion. Now to start off, that entire place is awesome. It features mini-versions of France, the UK, Italy, China, Japan, Canada, Norway, and Mexico all around one lake. Having been to most of those places, it was actually pretty authentic and the food choices were to boot!
I suddenly got in my head that I had to have falafels that night so we went to Morocco's Tangierine Cafe and had their Vegetarian Platter (I know falafels aren't Moroccan, sue me. We were told it was suppose to be more representative of "Middle Eastern" fare than Moroccan food. And for a more authentic experience, you can always just head to the less vegan-friendly Marrakech restaurant next door.)

I did eat everything but the bread (and unfortunately later found out that their lentil salad may have contained dairy and their falafels may have eggs... I had forgotten to ask because who put eggs in falafels, but hey). On the upside, my digestive system didn't really seem to notice, so I like to pretend those suspicions were wrong. I also did hear you can ask them to veganize that platter accordingly. What was vegan for sure was the hummus, the couscous, the tabbouleh, the salad and olives, all of which were delish and hit the spot just right!
Tangierine Cafe's Vegetarian Platter

So that sums up Days 1 and 2, Days 3 and 4 to come including finding vegan paradise in the Animal Kingdom and Luau Dining! 

Check out my Part 2, and Part 3 of our trip for more safe vegan eat!

For some other detailed vegan experiences in Disney World, check out:

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