Saturday, January 29, 2011

around the world in a day

As promised, I did a little more research on my last Disney trip. While wandering around World Showcase in Epcot one day, I discovered some new vegan treats I hadn't noticed before. It got me to wondering just how many other vegan treats might be found... and an idea was born. Armed with a camera and a notebook, I spent an afternoon walking the entire World Showcase, checking out the gift shops in each country, looking for anything vegan.

Because I'm such a slow blogger, I'm just going to take this one country at a time - one country per post. I'm going to take you into each country, working my way counter-clockwise around the lagoon, and tell you what I found. How 'bout I start with Canada, eh?

I have to say that I was actually quite disappointed, and surprised, by the lack of offerings in Canada, because it had been such a good stop in the past. Maple is, of course, the flavor of choice here, and usually they have a nice variety of vegan maple syrup goodies, such as candy and cookies. This time - nothing... not a single maple-flavored anything to be found. I was so surprised that I actually swallowed my bashfulness, and asked a Cast Member. She said that they were just "out", and to check back another time. Out? Out of every single maple syrup *anything*? Hmmmm... doesn't sound right to me, but I do hope it's a temporary thing.

I did find some rice, though. I'm not sure it qualifies as a "treat", but at least it was vegan.

However, while Canada might be lacking in food for the tummy, at least they have some nice food for the "soul". The Canada pavilion is home to my all-time favorite Disney entertainment - the Celtic rock band called Off Kilter. (How can you not love these cute guys in kilts?!) Their music is really terrific, and they are just so much fun to watch - lots of "antics" on-stage.

Okay, I promise I had better luck with treats in other countries, so be sure to check back, as I work my way around the World!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

some random thoughts

Just some quick thoughts and answers for today...

I am so glad that there are some readers out there finding this blog helpful! When I made my first trip to Walt Disney World as a vegan, I was completely unprepared, and it was rough. I didn't starve... barely. But I suffered a lot, mostly from what I would call "Mickey ice cream bar envy" - that feeling that everyone around you is eating well and enjoying themselves while you're trying to control a rumbly tummy with a disappointing salad.

Every Disney trip should be magical - whether it's your one-and-only "trip of a lifetime", or one of many frequent week-end getaways. My trips have improved tremendously since that first vegan outing over 10 years ago. While I have learned so much about Walt Disney World from the Internet, and the friends I've made here, most of what I know about being a "vegan" in WDW I learned from my own experience. It's easy to feel like I'm the only vegan that has ever made the trip. I am hoping that my little blog will help other vegans not feel that lonely. You're not the first to make the voyage. And it's certainly worth the effort.

I do want to remind everyone of two things about my blog, though: (1) I'm not an export, and (2) things change. Please remember that everything I post here is just one bashful vegan's experiences. It's always important to ask questions at your dining location.

I recently received an e-mail from another vegan who mentioned receiving a separate vegetarian menu at La Hacienda de San Angel. I have also heard of a separate menu at Le Chef de France, and also San Angel Inn. And, thanks to another observant friend, I even discovered that there is a separate vegan menu available for Jiko, online. Sometimes I am offered a separate menu, and sometimes I'm not. I think that often, when I say I'm a "vegan", they don't bother with the vegetarian menu - which, while not "good enough" by itself, would still be a nice starting point for me. And, as there may be other lacto-ovo vegetarians reading this as well, I wanted you all to know that there are separate vegetarian menus available at "some" locations. The point is: it never hurts to ask.

And to answer the question from a comment about the veggie burgers currently available at various counter service locations: according to a post on the Disboards website, Disney is currently using the Gardenburger Malibu Burger (not currently available to buy in stores). It looks and tastes, in my humble opinion, a lot like the Gardenburger Veggie Medley Burger. You can click on either, to see a list of ingredients. Unfortunately, they both list "wheat", so no, it doesn't look like either burger is gluten-free. However, as I noted above, everything changes.

Every counter-service location at Walt Disney World is required to keep a big binder listing ingredients for every item they carry, available for guests to look at. I can't stress enough that if you have an allergy, please ask to see this book. The more I share vegan dining tips, the more I find myself also helping those with allergies - and that's wonderful. But if you have an allergy, it's even more important that you use my blog only as a "guideline", and that you verify everything with Disney before dining. I think you'll find that, 9 times out 10, Disney will bend over backwards to make sure you're taken care of. They take allergies VERY seriously.

Good luck to everyone currently planning a trip, and Happy Disney Dining!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

thank you to my readers!

This is just a quick post, to say thank you to all the readers who have commented here, or sent me e-mails. I generally don't "comment on the comments", but I do read them, and appreciate them very much. (I do, however, try my best to respond to every e-mail.)

A recent reader was kind enough to take the time to point out one of my mistakes. I have corrected the original post, but for anyone who was previously mislead by it: apparently, Divvies jelly beans (and gumballs - not mentioned in the post) are NOT vegan. Their cookies, and their popcorn products, are vegan, as far as I can tell, but the jelly beans have confectioner's glaze and beeswax. I hadn't bought any, and for some reason, didn't read the package this time (my bad). Divvies is very careful about avoiding "allergens", but not all of their products are vegan.

On a more positive note, I did catch an article on the Internet that I thought might be of interest to my readers. Apparently, the Fairmont Hotels chain is making a chain-wide decision to make sure all their restaurants have both vegan and gluten-free meal options, as well as options for diabetics, and those on a macrobiotic or raw food diet. It's quite an impressive move - something I hope will catch on elsewhere. I realize that this isn't Disney-related, but it is vegan and "travel" related. If you're curious: Luxury Hotel Chain Caters to Guests with Special Diets.

That's all for today. Happy vegan dining!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

last but not least...

Okay, it's high time I posted the meal "highlight" from my recent trip. Yes, I had the pleasure, once again, of dining with Chef Tj. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, we had dinner reservations at 1900 Park Fare, at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort - the current home of my favorite chef.

I was very fortunate to have already made arrangements with Chef Tj. This was the first time that I actually knew Chef Tj was expecting me.

We arrived just in time for our ressies (thanks to poor travel-planning on my part; resort-to-resort travel is always a bit tricky, and I should have allowed more time). There was a bit of a line to check in, but once we reached the check-in counter, everything went quickly. We were immediately taken to a photo area, where they asked us to place our coats and bags on a bench. We were posed in front of a nice Christmas tree, and photos were taken. Later, during our meal, we were offered these nice photos, for $31.95. No offense to those who like this program, but 32.00 for a photo of us in front of a tree? Okay, *maybe* I could understand if the photo was with Cinderella & Prince Charming... but a *tree*? (Needless to say, we passed on this one.)

We were quickly seated, and I informed our waitress that Chef Tj was expecting me. She said she'd get him. She was actually very sweet, and helpful - everything I would expect in a nice restaurant from the wait-staff. However, I'm afraid she won't play a major role in this report simply because she was over-shadowed by the chef. :-)

Not long after, my hero arrived at the table - smiling, and happy to see me. He's always like that - from my very first encounter with him, he appeared to be so excited to have the opportunity to create something for me. He genuinely appears to LOVE what he does. He's truly more of a food artist than a chef.

As per the usual routine with a buffet, Chef Tj walked me through all of the offerings, and pointed out what I could eat. This is always done rather quickly, and it's always a bit of a challenge for me to remember everything, but best as I was able to note: there was a nice squash salad, some bread, a Tomato Florentine soup, white rice, and I believe one or two other veggie dishes available. Not a whole lot, but I wasn't expecting anything. At a place like this, even if Chef Tj wasn't there, someone would most likely make me something to go with the few buffet items. It's worth noting though that Chef Tj is new at this restaurant. He told me that he really hopes to add a few more vegan offerings to the standard buffet soon.

I tried a bit of the squash salad (tasty!), and a bit of bread, because I knew I might have just a little bit of a wait, and I was starved! (That's a must, when I dine with Chef Tj - must arrive hungry!)

Pretty soon, he arrived with my first dish - a special little salad, in a wine glass! Not only are his dishes so tasty, the presentation is always beautiful!

The greens were wrapped in sea-weed, and coated with just the right amount of an amazing strawberry vinaigrette. There were lots of different greens and veggies here - a wonderful mix of items. Honestly, the best salad I've ever had. Here's a second picture, to show you some of the goodies in it. (I must confess that it turned out to be much easier to eat when I just put some of it on a plate.)

After the salad came two soups, with some buckwheat noodles. He described the soups as "one spicy, one sweet". The sweet one was a carrot soup. It was good, but not my favorite. The spicy one was a red pepper soup with a tomato base. This one I liked a lot. The noodles were probably a nice accompaniment to the soups, but were just "okay". They were served cold, with a bit of green beans in them, and a bit of a "licorice" flavor to them (anise?).

(Okay, I would never want to hurt Chef Tj's feelings, but I just have to share this story with all of you. 1900 Park Fare is a character meal. As you are dining, several characters make their way around the room, chatting with guests and posing for photos. These were some of the most fun characters I've ever encountered. Drisella, one of Cinderella's step-sisters, was my absolute favorite. She arrived shortly after my soup and noodles. She asked me what I thought of the noodles, and I said they were okay but not my favorite. She said they looked like worms, or something she would feed her cat, which had my dear hubby responding that our cat wouldn't touch the stuff. This resulted in an entire conversation about how finicky Lucifer is. She just embodied this role so well!)

Next came my appetizer - and my favorite dish of the night. I love Chef Tj's entrees, but his appetizers often end up being my favorite. He said this was one of his "new" dishes - vegan spring rolls, on a bed of hummus, with some crackers (fried pita bread sticks). There was a nice little bit of sauce on it, too. I'm so bad at describing flavors, but this was just wonderful - the springs rolls, as well as the hummus and bread sticks. I knew I would regret it when the entree came, but I couldn't help but finish this one off. Mmmmm!!!

By this time, of course, I had already eaten considerably more than my average "normal" meal... but thankfully I had eaten a very light lunch that day, and was prepared to roll out of the restaurant at the end of the night.

Next came the entree... and my attempt to describe it. There were carrots, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, corn, potatoes, and some tofu, with a balsamic vinaigrette and onion straws on top. There was also a very spicy catchup on the side. It all worked very well together, and made for an amazing dish.

And last but not least, dessert. Chef Tj would never let me leave without dessert, and this one clearly required some early preparation. The photo really doesn't do it justice, because it was just too difficult to get a good shot from so close! How Chef Tj came up with this idea, and managed to make it work without toppling over on the way to the table, I'll never know.

Starting from the bottom, we have nice pineapple, followed by a cube of vanilla Rice Dream coated in caramel corn, with slices of bananas on top of that, and topped with a cherry. A few raspberries were scattered around the plate, and the whole thing was topped with chocolate sauce - dribbled table-side. (I should have gotten a picture of Chef Tj making the presentation!)

I have to tell you all, though - this was just a wonderful place to dine, and not just because of Chef Tj. The wait-staff was so nice, service was top-notch, my non-vegan hubby said that everything he tried on the buffet was very good, and the characters were an absolute hoot! I couldn't have asked for a better evening. I'd go back here in a heart-beat, even without Chef Tj. In fact, just remembering this meal has put me in such a good mood that I'm going to do something I rarely do... I'm going to share a picture of *me*, and Prince Charming.

See that big goofy grin on my face? You'd think I'm just so happy to be posing with Prince Charming. But you all know the truth, right? I'm just happy to be dining with Chef Tj! (Besides, my real Prince Charming was already sitting across from me at the table.)

And that's it for my latest trip meals. But I'll be back! I actually did just a little bit of extra "research", in an attempt to find some vegan snacks at Walt Disney World. I'll be sharing that in some future posts.

Until then, wishing you all some vegan meal "happily ever afters".

Sunday, January 9, 2011

a nice counter-service option

One of my favorite counter-service options hasn't changed in a few years: Sunshine Seasons, in the Land pavilion at Epcot. I used to love their "vegetarian entree", which basically consisted of all the vegetarian dishes they had, arranged on a plate. A year or two ago, they changed their standard vegetarian option to the Tofu and Vegetable Noodle Bowl - which was almost the same thing, but all of the veggies were thrown into a bowl, along with some tofu and some vegetable broth. It was also quite good.

On this most recent trip, the menu remains the same - the Tofu and Vegetable Noodle Bowl is still available. However, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the Cast Members working there asked me if I wanted that "in a bowl, or on a plate". I asked for a plate, and what I got was basically the same thing, but minus the broth. While the broth is a nice option, I actually personally prefer the plate, and in fact I chose this dish three times over the course of our week-long vacation. It consisted of a healthy serving of stir-fried vegetables, garlic udon noodles, and cubes of tofu. There is also plenty of soy sauce and hot sauce available to embellish it, if you'd like.

I should mention that, while the first Cast Member I encountered actually asked me if I wanted a bowl or plate, the next two gave me an odd look when I requested the dish "on a plate, please - not in a bowl". On my second visit, another Cast Member stationed there was able to explain and assist. On my third visit, I just nicely explained that I'd like the same items, but on a plate without the broth. They were all willing to do it, and were very nice about it - but clearly it wasn't an altogether common request. Just another example that you really can get what you want, even if it's not on the menu - just so long as they have the necessary ingredients to meet your request, and you ask nicely.

If the noodle bowl or plate doesn't appeal to you, there are actually a number of items available here just from the free-standing cases of add-on items they have, placed between the different "stations". While I didn't try most of these myself (sorry - I'm just so hooked on that noodle dish!), I did stop and take a look.

I found a nice veggie wrap:

There was some veggie sushi:

There were Taboulle Pin Wheels:

And to wash it down, they have both plain and chocolate Silk soy milk (and even some Silk yogurt!):

And Divvies chocolate chip cookies for dessert:

(Please note that the brownies on the left are gluten-free, but they do contain eggs.) I did also see Divvies caramel corn. Not a bad selection for a counter-service location, dontcha think? Try finding all that at a Six Flags park! (Sorry... my Disney loyalty got away from me for a moment.)

There are still other counter-service options out there. They still have a nice vegetarian platter at Tangierine Cafe in the Morocco pavilion. I still say that a nice plain soft pretzel with some fruit makes a wonderful light lunch (which I did have - but forgot to take a picture. Sorry!) I was sorry I missed one of my favorites this trip - the grilled veggie sandwich (minus cheese) at the Backlot Express in Disney's Hollywood Studios. It might not be vegan paradise, but you won't starve.

One more very special post coming soon - the meal "highlight" of my trip. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 3, 2011

dining in the 50's

50's Prime Time Cafe, at Disney's Hollywood Studios, has been a favorite of ours for a few years. The idea behind this restaurant is that you're back "home" in the 50's, eating in your mom's kitchen, complete with a Formica table-top, and 50's kitchy knick-knacks on the walls. Each table has a view of a black and white TV set, playing clips from old sitcoms. The servers refer to themselves as your cousin, or big sister. If you order a milkshake, you might be told that "Grannie will be happy to whip one up for you - she makes the best shakes - but it's going to take a few minutes because her arthritis is acting up today". You will be expected to "set the table" (the silverware is all delivered together in a little basket), and be prepared to get reprimanded if you're caught with your elbows on the table.

I will confess that it took me a few years to finally try this place. It sounded a bit like a bashful person's worst nightmare. But curiosity finally won out, and I ended up having a lot of fun. Plus, my "uncle" in the kitchen was so eager to please me. He went out of his way to give me a couple of vegan meal options, and make me feel special, instead of a bother. I believe we ate here three times, over several years, and had a wonderful experience each time.

Fast forward to early December. Once again, we booked an early lunch here, expecting a good, if not great, meal. Our cousin came to the table, gave us menus, saw my "allergy" note and got the chef. The chef said "I see you are allergic to dairy, eggs and shellfish". (When you book dining online, there is no box for "vegan". The best you can do is to mark all the relevant boxes under allergies.) I explained that I was actually a vegan (and clarified what that meant). While he remained polite, he did seem a bit unprepared. He finally said "well, I guess I could leave the cheese off the pasta dish - modify it a bit". I accepted, and hoped for the best. He did ask if I wanted dessert. This is one place I often like to get dessert, so I asked if he had anything for me, and he offered some Tofutti, which I accepted.

Our server made sure we got drinks, and had what we needed, but with very little personality. I found myself waiting for her to say something "cute", but it never happened. I also watched other servers, with other diners. The place was unusually quite - not just that it wasn't that crowded, but there was no singing, no hollerin'... it just seemed to be missing that fun atmosphere that we'd experienced in the past.

Our meals arrived, and mine was... okay. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good, either. Perhaps the "non-vegan" version isn't all that good - I just don't know. The vegetarian version of this dish now found on the menu is relatively new. The previous two standard vegetarian dishes were easily veganizable, and very good, so perhaps the problem is the menu, and not so much the chef. The dish I received was mostly zucchini and mushrooms, with lots of cous cous, in a tomato-y broth. The veggies were pretty good, but I'm not a huge fan of soggy cous cous.

After the entree, the server asked my hubby if he wanted any dessert (as I was already going to be getting some Toffuti). He asked if he could see the dessert menu. This is a tradition for us. Even if we didn't want dessert, we would ask to see the dessert menu, because it's presented on a Viewmaster. Sadly, it appears that the Viewmaster is gone. All we got was a plain old paper menu. Hubby ordered a shake (still good, for you non-vegans out there), and it arrived with my Tofutti -a single small scoop of vanilla, with a tiny cup of chocolate sauce. Now, this isn't the smallest serving of a frozen dessert I've ever received, and honestly it was enough for me, but it sure looked wimpy next to the normally HUGE desserts they serve here. I have to give them credit for the chocolate sauce, but compared to previous experiences (and stories heard from others), it was a little disappointing.

So, I hesitate to call this a bad meal. Anywhere outside of Walt Disney World, I would probably label this a "good" meal, and be very happy that I didn't walk away hungry. But compared to my expectations for this place, it was disappointing. I am hoping that this was a fluke. Maybe we caught the chef, and the server, on a bad day. If I continue to hear good reviews from this place in the future, I'll probably give it one more chance. The place is just so "Disney" - I really hope it doesn't lose its spark.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Always on the hunt for good, quick, easy vegan meals at Walt Disney World, I was very happy to find a new option at Disney's Animal Kingdom - a park I have struggled a bit with, in terms of meal options. Restaurantosaurus, in Dinoland, has recently undergone some menu changes. Previously run by McDonalds, and specializing in McD's fries and chicken nuggets, they had to make some changes when Disney severed their ties with the popular hamburger chain. I am happy to report that they are now selling a very tasty Vegetable Subosaurus sandwich, with Sweet Potato Fries.

I saw the new addition to the menu, and was eager to find out if it was vegan. The menu describes it as "Grilled Vegetables, Mushrooms, Onions, Provolone, served on a Toasted Roll, with Sweet Potato Fries". Following my (now) usual protocol, I asked for a manager. She was very nice and friendly - eager to help. I asked her if the Subosaurus and fries were vegan, if ordered without the cheese. She said yes, and immediately produced the "big black book", to show me the ingredients of the roll. (E-mail me, if you'd like a copy.) To get a vegan version, they omit the cheese and don't toast the roll, which takes 8 to 10 minutes. As always, I'm happy to wait, in order to get a good vegan meal.

I happily ordered my sandwich with the manager, and she suggested we take a seat. She would come looking for us, when the meal was ready. Wow - that's the first time I've gotten table service from a counter-service restaurant! We spent a few minutes enjoying the little touches around the restaurant, and in no time at all, we saw the manager headed our way with our tray of food.

The sandwich was very tasty - a bit heavy on the portobellos, but not greasy at all (as I've found with some similar sandwiches). I shared it with my hubby, as we were only mildly hungry at the time, and it just fit the bill. So I can share that even my non-vegan hubby pronounced it "pretty good" (high praise for him).

I must confess that I did not grill the manager on their technique for preparing the sweet potato fries. She said they were vegan, and I didn't question it - so if preparation is important to you, you may want to check on this before ordering. Never having had sweet potato fries before, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I thought they were quite good - and just different enough from regular fries to offer a nice change of pace.

The restaurant itself is really cute, too. As with nearly everything Disney does, the attention to detail is amazing. This cork board was one of my favorite little touches:

All in all, this was really the best counter-service meal I've had at the Animal Kingdom - a very welcome addition to some slim pickin's.