Wednesday, April 22, 2009

just a couple of notes

While I have a couple ideas for future posts, I seem to be a little low on motivation at the moment. So here's just a quick little note to let you all know that the bashful vegan is still bashful, still vegan, and still a Disney geek - and I do plan to post more in the future.

For today, I want to share with you all the most amazing e-zine *ever* - AllEars. Yes, I know I tend to go on and on about the website, but I haven't mentioned the newsletter before. It's an amazing way to get a bit of Pixie Dust dropped in your e-mail box every week. And don't just take my word for it - this newsletter just published its 500th issue, and they've topped over 117,000 subscribers! Is that amazing or what? Their latest issue talks about how the newsletter has grown - and it's just chock-full of happy Disney stuff. Here's the link to sign up: AllEars - the unofficial newsletter about Walt Disney World

And for a bit of Disney news: Spoodles, a mediterranean restaurant located at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, is set to close soon, and will re-open this fall as Kouzzina by Cat Cora, a celebrity chef from the Food Network's Iron Chef series. Now, I don't actually know that much about Cat Cora, and I have no particular reason to think that this restaurant will "veggie friendly", but I will say that Chef Cat Cora clearly has her heart in the right place, so I have high hopes. She has joined the fight to protect Canadian seals, and pledged to boycott all Canadian seafood.

That's it for today. Happy Disney Dining!

Friday, April 10, 2009

hoo-dee-doo hoopla

In November of 2007, hubby and I decided to be truly adventurous and give the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review a try. This is a dinner show found at Fort Wilderness. It features some good old-fashioned country-western song and dance, slapstick, corny jokes, and a lot of meat. It's not normally the kind of thing that hubby and I would go for, but so many people rave about it. I suppose curiosity had gotten the better of us, so we decided to see what all the hoopla was about.

Now, I had two different concerns with this dinner: (1) I'm a vegan, and (2) I'm bashful as all-get-out. Well, it turns out that both concerns were valid, and this probably isn't an experience I will repeat. But I'm still glad I tried it once, and perhaps my review will help others decide if it's for them.

Ressies are a necessity for this popular meal, so I called ahead and made sure that they noted my special dietary needs. I intentionally booked "Category 3" seats, not just because they were the least expensive, but mostly because these seats are the farthest from the stage, and I assumed that this meant we would be safer from the general mayhem. Here's where I will quickly add a warning given to me quite some time ago by another bashful diner: if you're shy, do *not* go to this show alone. Like a lot of places at WDW, the cast members seem to make it their goal to make solo diners feel "included". At this particular event, that can mean targeting you for some serious attention - the very last thing a bashful diner wants. This was most decidedly not a pleasant experience for her. (Of course, if you're the more out-going type, by all means indulge in this special attention.)

When we arrived at Walt Disney World, we picked up our tickets for the show at our resort's Lobby Concierge. Again, I explained to the cast member my concerns about finding vegan food here. Again, I was assured that they would take care of me. And here I made my biggest mistake - I took her word for it and didn't follow up. Vegans, please learn from my mistake and call this place directly 72 hours in advance, and don't give up until you speak with a chef. I should have, I knew I should have, but I wimped out.

So, our night arrives for the big show. We hopped a bus to Fort Wilderness, hoping we would be able to find Pioneer Hall when we got there. We were under the impression that we'd need to switch to an internal bus. It wasn't necessary. Pioneer Hall is a short walk from the main bus stop, and we actually found the place with very little stress and without having to ask for directions. We checked in, and were directed to a line for our photo op. Our picture was taken by a bail of hay, and we were told we could pick it up later... for a fee. ($29.95 - we passed. But I just have to ask - why do they print off several copies before they even know if you'll buy?)

Shortly after, we're seated on the second floor balcony, with a nice view... of a pole, LOL. Now mind you, we did pay for the cheapest seats. And really it wasn't that bad. If I leaned over a little, I could see around the pole. It wasn't ideal, but it was good enough for us. I was far more worried about being picked on then having a good view. And wouldn't you know it? Being on the balcony, in the worst seats, does *not* save you from embarrassment! Five minutes into the show, we're turned toward the stage when we hear something behind us. We turn around to find Dolly right at my hubby's elbow. She gives him a huge smile and asks where he's from. The whole cast, spread around the room, goes into a really really corny song about different states, all the while Dolly's by our side, singing right to us. ("They're from Ohi-o, hope to die-o." Was that the best she could come up with?) However, my darling (also bashful) hubby was just so relieved not to be Frank! This poor guy on the floor, about 3 tables back from the stage, was singled out later by Dolly also - only she sat on his lap, ran her fingers through his hair, and most definitely made him the center of attention! Hubby and I both would have died if that had happened to him!

Now, as for the food... as soon as we were seated, I immediately told our server that I was a vegan. And pretty much immediately, I got the impression that I should've gone to greater lengths to make prior arrangements. The server just started rambling off that, "well, this has butter, and that won't work, and this is no good... hmmm... I think we could get you some grilled vegetables, and we might be able to find you some white rice. Would that be okay?" Now, perhaps I should've pushed, but generally, I take what's offered because I hate making a fuss. And honestly, if done right, grilled veggies over rice can make a nice meal. Here's the problem - they seemed to be entirely lacking in spices. I don't know how they managed it, but this was about the blandest meal I've ever had at WDW. It was plentiful, and filling, so that was a plus. And it actually looked quite nice on plate. However, it looked a lot better than it tasted. Points for presentation, but they need serious help in the flavor department. Here's a photo:

That, along with a little salad (sans dressing) was about all they could muster. For dessert, I recieved some plain fruit. Again, not terrible - just boring. And I will say this: had this been a $10.00 meal at a regular restaurant, I would probably have been satisfied. Instead, I paid the same price as everyone else (currently $50.99 for one adult - for the cheap seats!), for considerably less.

This next photo is a little fuzzy, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the view we had (when I leaned over a bit, to avoid that pole on the left).

This next photo shows the cast singing and dancing out on the floor. A good portion of the show has them prancing around the room - hence the "bashful" warning.

Here's one of my better shots of the action on the stage. The cast is certainly good at what they do.

And, last but not least, here's a photo of my favorite part of the show, though I'm not sure the same can be said for this poor fella. He was one of the audience volunteers that performed in the last number. During that number, he wore a HUGE cowboy hat that obscured his intire face - he couldn't even see where he was going. However, when they took the hat off, the little guy was so nervous that he refused to take his hands off his face. The big cowboy dude is saying "Here's a certificate to commemorate your experience. I know you can't see it right now, but it will be a nice souvenir to have later." Too cute!

So, in closing, I will say this. While it's corny to the max, the show itself is very cute. It's definitely good, clean family fun. But if you're bashful, be prepared for possible unwanted attention, and if you're a vegan CALL AHEAD, and don't rest until you've spoken with a chef.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

quick tip

I have a couple of bigger updates in the works, but tonight will just be a quick tip.

Thanks to Sally, I've been reminded that there's something I recommend to just about every vegan who writes to me, but I have yet to mention it here: bring your own food. Now this might sound like a contradiction. After all, I spend a lot of time suggesting the best places for vegans to buy food in the parks and resorts. However:

Going to Walt Disney World is supposed to be fun. And "hungry" isn't fun. In fact, if you're anything like me, "Bashful" quickly becomes "Grumpy" when mealtime runs late. Now, after 15 trips I usually have a pretty good idea where to find a vegan item when I need it - I almost never have to go hungry. But that's with lots of practice. And even so, I still never leave the hotel room without a vegan energy bar in my little waist-pack. I usually don't need it, but it's nice to know it's there.

And it's more than just not going hungry. Maybe you have a comfort food, or a particular treat that makes you happy. Or maybe there's just a regular item that you eat every day, and that if you don't have it, something just feels off. If it's at all possible, bring it with it, or have it shipped to your hotel to arrive when you do. Or order it from Garden Grocer, or pick it up on the way to the resort. It's a vacation - you want to feel pampered, not deprived.

As for bringing food into the parks? Okay, here's the deal: the official Disney policy is that they do not allow outside food into the parks. The reality, though, is that after having my bag full of snacks checked at security countless times, not once has anyone ever said a word about my food. As long as you do not have any bottles or booze, or a full-size cooler, security won't say a word if you're packing snacks. And even if they do, Disney does officially make exceptions in the case of special diets. Just explain that you're a vegan, and that you can't find this item in the parks. But trust me - they won't say anything.

Again, I'm the last person to recommend breaking the rules, but in our case, it really is a matter of dietary need. And it's not just for the parks. There's no harm in keeping some food in your hotel room as well. I am hoping that my little blog will make it easier for you to find plenty to eat at Disney, but if a little planning will your trip that much sweeter, why not?

I'll leave you with an image of one of my favorite treats, though this one *is* available at Walt Disney World. Just check out the truly decadent chocolate shop at Downtown Disney. :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

table talk, part 2

Okay, I've shared some of my favorite table-service memories, but to give you the bigger picture, I think I need to share some of the less-than-perfect meals, too. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that. But just as a reminder, every dining experience is unique, and I still say that, for vegans, the service you get can mean a lot more than what's on the menu. Catch the right chef, and it could be your lucky day! Call ahead, and your odds most likely improve as well.

In an attempt to be more organized, I'll try to group these by park. Let's start at the Magic Kingdom. Crystal Palace is a buffet with "character" - you can dine with Winnie the Pooh and friends. While I haven't tried this one myself yet, it actually gets high praise from other vegans as one of the most accommodating buffets. It's on my list to try. The Plaza Restaurant is another good choice that I haven't tried yet. There's a vegetarian sandwich on the menu, veganizable by request. And I've heard they usually stock Tofutti and Rice Dream for dessert. Liberty Tree Tavern was a bit disappointing. Dinner is a family-style meat-fest, but lunch usually offers a vegetarian option. The menu has changed since I ate here about a year ago, but at the time I felt it was just "okay". Tony's Town Square Restaurant was another that just didn't live up to my expectations - very generic pasta dish with little flavor. A call in advance might help here. Last but not least, we've got Cinderella's Royal Table. Rating this place on food alone, I'd have to call it "okay", at best. I was served a rather simple pasta/veggie dish. However, it remains one of my favorite meal memories because of the atmosphere - there's just something magical about eating the castle.

Moving onto Epcot, Futureworld... haven't tried Coral Reef, but the menu isn't too promising for vegans. To be honest, I think the idea of watching other diners feasting on seafood, while happy little fishies swim by their table just turns me off. I'm guessing I'm not the only one, because I've never read a review on this place by a vegan before. Garden Grill, on the other hand, is one I would try again. I ate here as a vegetarian and had a very tasty ravioli dish. Last I heard, they were offering a veggie cous-cous dish, but they have plenty of fresh veggies to work with, and seem happy to accomodate. They do suggest you call ahead, though, for the best options.

Hitting World Showcase, we have some rather exotic choices. Le Cellier (Canada) gets good reviews from other vegetarians and vegans. They are reported to be very accomodating - I plan to give the place a try someday. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway) is a bit riskier - I've heard good and bad, depending on who your chef was at the time of your visit. The buffet itself is rather limited, so you'll need a helpful chef. Biergarten (Germany) has, in all honesty, kept me away more for its design than its food. Being bashful, the idea of being seated with other diners kind of freaks me out. However, I've read at least two reports from other vegans who said that they were treated to a very nice meal here - again, dependant on the chef as the buffet is mostly not veg-friendly. In France, we have Bistro de Paris, and Chefs de France - I've heard that the later is much more accommodating, but have no first-hand experience to back this up. Nine Dragons (China) is definite no-go - response from Disney has led me to believe that every dish here has some sort of hidden meat ingredient, and they aren't comfortable altering them. Sadly, Restaurant Marrakesh is a no-go, too. Their best option, veggie cous-cous, supposedly contains dairy, though it seems that they're a little evasive about the question, making me think this isn't a safe choice. You might find something at Teppan Edo or Tokyo Dining (Japan), but again, I haven't tried them, or heard enough to give an opinion. Tutto Italia (Italy) - same thing.

One I get asked about a lot is San Angel Inn. As someone who loves Mexican food, like many others, I thought this would be a no-brainer - Mexican dishes usually lend themselves well to vegan versions, and this place even has a separate vegetarian menu! Well, I was sadly disappointed, as were other vegans I've heard from. It seems that when you remove the dairy, the chefs here completely lose all ability to think. I ended up with a plate of black beans in tortillas, with a side of black beans. It was edible, but that's about it. I'm going to pass on a suggestion - skip San Angel Inn and hit Cantina de San Angel (the counter-service place) instead. They will put together something for you that tastes better and costs much less. (Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa!) The best part? You can still wander the pavilion and enjoy all the ambience of the restaurant without enduring a bad meal!

Disney's Hollywood Studios: I've already raved about 50's Prime Time Cafe, and given Brown Derby a thumbs-up. Hollywood & Vine is supposed to be a decent buffet choice for a vegan, but I haven't tried it myself - this is one you might want to call ahead on, just to be sure. Mama Melrose's, for some reason, is one I keep meaning to try and just never seem to get there. I've heard that they will work with you - it looks promising. Sci-Fi Dine-In is one I have trouble reviewing. I hear so many non-vegans complain about the food here, but vegetarians and vegans seem to be pretty happy - something you don't see very often from a place that pushes burgers and shakes. I ate here years ago as a vegetarian and enjoyed my meal, though my meat-eating husband did *not* enjoy his meal. It's a cute place, though - worth a visit at least once.

Animal Kingdom... Rainforest Cafe was not a favorite for me, but other veggie folks have enjoyed it. I was a bit uncomfortable with the set-up (very noisy, tables much too close together), so that may have influenced my opinion. I ate there many years ago, but haven't felt the need to try it again. Tusker House already got a full review from me, but I will add a note here: my "less-than-perfect" experience had more to do with a rather unhelpful chef and much-too-high expectations. The truth is that I did have a number of options and didn't leave hungry. Other vegans *love* this place. Yak and Yeti, the newest choice, is one I hope to try someday. While the menu is limited, I just happened to stumble on a couple of vegans asking the staff what they could do, and it seemed that they were very willing to work with them.

Well, it looks like I'll have to share the resort restaurants in a future post, because this is just too darn long already. I'll leave you with a photo of the Mexico Pavilion. Just remember, enjoy the pavilion, skip the restaurant.