Today wasn't too terribly exciting, food-wise, so I'll start by saying that I did actually have a number of tasty snacks stashed in my room. While there are, actually, a fair number of vegan treats available in the parks, it's nice to have something special available in the room, so I usually either place an order online at someplace like Vegan Essentials, or Pangea before the trip, or stop by my local natural foods store and stock up on treats. This time, I splurged on a couple of Go Max Go candy bars. Have you tried these? They are vegan versions of popular candy bars: Snickers, Milky Way, Almond Joy and 3 Musketeers, and they are GOOD! I also had a nice supply of vegan microwave popcorn - a staple at my house.
I'm really not quite sure why (well, maybe partly to save money), but I didn't sample a lot of treats in the parks this year. Usually, though, at least a couple of soft pretzels, and some cinnamon-glazed almonds get sampled every trip, as well as a Kaki Gori (snow-cone-type-thing, available in the Japan pavilion). Divvies chocolate chip cookies were also pretty easy to find this trip.
Well, today started the same as every day, with breakfast in the room. We were headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios, so for lunch, we hit one of my favorite counter-service places - Backlot Express. I had my heart set on their Grilled Vegetable Sandwich. When ordered without the cheese, this sandwich is vegan, and really really good. In the past, this has always required a short wait, but I never had any trouble simply asking the cast member for the sandwich "minus cheese". However, I found that the cast member taking orders had to wait for a manager to assist, before the sandwich could be modified. I had to explain that "no, I don't have an allergy - I'm a vegan". The manager pulled out the big ingredients book, and I had to take a look at the list and verify that the sandwich was safe for me to eat. But the end result was, as I had hoped, a very tasty sandwich, with a side of black bean salad. This remains one of my favorite counter-service options at WDW.
For dinner, we found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom. One of my favorites here is actually from the Tomorrowland Noodle Terrace - which is only "open seasonally" (or, in other words, almost never), and wasn't open now. Columbia Harbour House still has a vegan chili, but it didn't appeal to me this evening. So, we headed for Cosmic Rays, hoping that I could just order a vegetarian burger on the vegan tapioca roll, with fries.
It wasn't to be. Once again, the cast member wouldn't modify anything, and didn't seem to understand the term "vegan" - I had say the "A" word before I got any coherent response. Once I said "allergies", I was again asked to wait for a manager. The manager arrived, and pulled out the big ingredients book. I politely explained that I just wanted a vegetarian burger on a tapioca roll. "Oh, you mean the gluten-free roll, right?" So he opened the book to show me the ingredients. While he did seem to know what "vegan" means, he was extremely careful to explain that I must read the ingredients and decide for myself if it is safe for me to eat. He was also quick to point out that the french fries are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, so I won't want those. In the end, I did manage to get a veggie burger on a (very dry, very crumbly) vegan tapioca roll, with a side of apple slices. I didn't starve, but it was not one of my tastier meals. Yes, the tapioca rolls are vegan - they have no eggs, no dairy, no wheat, and no flavor. By the time we finally ate, I was a bit disheartened, and completely forgot to take a picture. However, I did have a second veggie burger later in the trip - there will be a picture on day 7.
By the end of the week, it was quite clear that things had changed at Walt Disney World. While I appreciate Disney's attempt to accommodate everyone, it has definitely become more difficult for the average vegan to place a simple order. I really believe that this is as much a liability issue, as it is a concern for the guests' well-being. In short, as far as I can tell, regular cast members can no longer modify anything - you order of the menu, or you get a manager. While a manager will modify whatever they can based on ingredients on hand, and will follow your requests, they will insist that you read the ingredients book first and clearly state that you are aware of what you are ordering, and that it fits your needs. (In other words, if it's not okay for you, it's your own fault.) Also, even if you clearly explain that you are a vegan, and that trace amounts of offending foods aren't going to hurt you, they will still insist on preparing your food in a separate location to avoid cross-contamination. Not that I don't think that's a good thing, but at a theme park, I personally tend to be a bit more lax, and would rather speed things up a bit than take the extra precautions.
Please understand, I applaud their efforts, and I respect that many of you may think this is wonderful. But for me personally, it made this trip a lot more complicated. However, simply knowing what to expect is half the battle, so I'm sure my next trip will be easier, and hopefully your will be, too.