Vegan Walt Disney World – Part 1
I’ve been dying to tell you guys about our trip to Disney World with my parents and my sister’s family, but between Cupcake Wars, St. Patrick’s Day and Ryan’s sxsw trip, it kept getting pushed back. It’s on the back burner no more! I’m still going through pretty severe vacation withdrawal, and I LOVE Disney World, so bear with me as I may get a little long-winded here…
Ryan took some amazing photos on this trip (just check out that stunning shot of the castle above). One thing he didn’t take many photos of was what we ate, and as that’s going to be the main focus of these posts I thought I should give a little explanation. The short version is that when I’m on vacation, I like to totally unplug (no Internet, no phone – though I have to still use both, of course – and no thinking about blogging, baking or cooking – though like the phone/Internet clause there are always some exceptions). I know that for most people it’s just the opposite, and while I love working on this blog, I also relish taking a little break now and then.
I originally didn’t plan on writing any posts about our trip as I wasn’t sure that we’d have many photo-worthy meals. We were happily surprised to find that wasn’t the case, and I realized that I actually had a lot to write about after all. I also usually try to stick to writing about my own food since there are plenty of travel and restaurant-review blogs that do it much better than I do.
So all that said, my apologies about the lack of photos, but hopefully the information will be helpful if you find yourself at The Happiest Place on Earth anytime soon. I’m going to stick to the positive experiences that we had, and fortunately there were many of them. This post will focus on the Magic Kingdom and adjacent hotels, and next time I’ll focus on hotels around the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Epcot.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? We stayed at the Polynesian Resort which houses The Kona Cafe, where we had our first lunch and dinner, as well as several other meals. They have a fantastic salad that you can order without the cheese, and they also have a delicious stir-fry that they can make vegetarian by subbing tofu for the meat options. It might not sound that exciting, but it was awesome. We enjoyed it a few times, partly because at one of our meals our less-than-enthused waitress told us it was the only vegetarian option when we ordered, only to come out mid-meal and say that the chef could sub tofu for anything on the menu.
We had a couple other chances to try some of the other items on the menu with tofu and they were both awesome (you’ll just want to avoid any cheese, obviously, and things like mayo…). They also have house-made potato chips using both russets and sweet potatoes, and they have really good Kona coffee, as you’d expect from the name.
The Crystal Palace
Moving onto the Magic Kingdom, we went to a character buffet at The Crystal Palace for dinner the second night. I was a little worried that we might not have many options at the buffet, but one thing I read over and over again in my research about the trip is to ask for a chef at restaurants, and particularly buffets, because they can take you around and show you what’s safe to eat.
Both our server and the chef were incredibly nice and accommodating, and we got a tour of the buffet where the chef pointed out all the vegan options for us – even mentioning that there was honey in the fruit salad. He also told us that for dessert they make a special vegan, gluten- and sugar-free brownie that they serve with Tofutti ice cream. The sugar-free part kind of scared me, but it was surprisingly tasty, though more of a fudgy cake than a brownie.
As for the meal itself, we had plenty to eat. They had an amazing broccoli dish, as well as some of the tastiest rice I’ve ever had. I’ve never been into white rice, but this stuff was so good that I actually got a second little bowl after I finished my dinner. They must soak that stuff in sodium or something. Again, I know it doesn’t sound that exciting (I probably wouldn’t be that excited about it if I hadn’t tried it), but it was really yummy. They also had a lot of great salads, and other things that I know I’m forgetting right now… maybe because my mind has already drifted to the next meal. Get ready ya’all.
1900 Park Fare
Now, if you’re a vegan and you’ve been/are going to Disney World, you might already be familiar with Chef TJ, hero to all Disney-loving vegans. His name came up again and again in the reading I did ahead of the trip, so I made a reservation for the restaurant where he currently works, 1900 Park Fare, for my birthday dinner. I knew there was a chance he might not be there, but I found out the days he worked and kept my fingers crossed.
When we were seated a different chef came over to the table, and we asked if we could see Chef TJ. It turns out that he was working in a different area, but he came over and showed us around the buffet. There weren’t any hot vegan items available, but there were a few salads, and he said he’s that he’s working on more vegan options (he used to work at Boma, another buffet, and one of the most vegan friendly places to eat on all of Disney property – more on that in my next post…). He told us he was going to make us something special, so we eagerly waited.
1900 Park Fare is another character buffet, and in the evenings it hosts “Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner” with the titular princess, Prince Charming, and her wicked stepmother and sisters. It was nice to interact with some characters that could actually talk, and the stepsisters and stepmother were really funny (though a little scary for our younger nephew.) It definitely helped to pass the time. And the food was so worth the wait!
The first dish was a platter that held a salad with a spicy sweet and sour dressing, some fried spring rolls in another tasty sauce arranged around hummus that also held some long shards of fried pita. Everything was so, so good, and we could have made a meal of that dish alone. We didn’t get a shot of it because we ate it so fast, but when this thing came out, Ryan had to grab the camera…
This was as amazing as it looks. There was a glazed tofu that was perfectly cooked, roasted vegetables including carrots, mushrooms and asparagus – and almost all of them in a different sauce. This could have fed Ryan and I for several days, and we were happy to share with my family who were so impressed with the vegan spread we were served.
Just when we thought that was the end of it, Chef TJ and our server brought out this crazy concoction and sang Happy Birthday as he drizzled chocolate sauce over the whole thing. Looks like little Griffin (who has as big a sweet tooth as I do) wants a bite! At this point I was stuffed and had no idea how I was going to eat this thing! But you know I found a way…
It’s a giant chunk of pineapple, fresh banana, fresh berries, Divvies chocolate chip cookies and caramel corn, and Tofutti ice cream all topped with chocolate sauce. Now, I wasn’t that excited about vanilla Tofutti being our only ice cream option while on vacation, because we have access to so many amazing vegan ice creams these days, but I have to say that it was so much better than what I’d been anticipating.
This meal was so fantastic, and Chef TJ couldn’t have been nicer! I feel so lucky to have been able to experience a “Chef TJ meal”, especially on my birthday!
As you can see, there are plenty of things for vegans to eat at Walt Disney World, and we didn’t even scratch the surface of all the different dining options. I was a little worried that we might feel deprived on the trip, but that wasn’t the case at all. There’s tons of great information online, and Disney really does try to be as accommodating as possible.
Thanks for reading and indulging me as I reminisce. See you guys for Vegan Walt Disney World – Part 2!