How to Eat Vegan at Disney World

It turns out Walt Disney World Resort is the happiest place for plant-based meals.

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Vegan Cheesesteak with Seitan

Photo by: Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Traveling — especially to theme parks — can be intimidating for vegans. It's not always easy to find reliable, nutrious meat- and dairy-free options.

Despite its reputation for turkey legs, ice cream and all-American burgers, Disney World is arguably one of the most-vegan-friendly destinations in the country. What’s more, the park is getting more “plant-powered” meal options regularly, according to the top brass. In fact, Walt Disney World’s chefs and wellness dietitians have teamed up to add appealing options made without animal products – meat, fish, shellfish eggs, dairy or even honey – to the menu at its theme parks, hotels and other company-run restaurants.

Here are 10 tips on how to eat vegan at Disney World:

Whet your appetite online. Every Disney World restaurant has its full menu online. Go to disneyworld.disney.com/dining/, or to the individual theme park or hotel you’ll be visiting, and snoop around from there. Surf to a restaurant that tempts you and see what’s available. A special symbol will mark plant-based foods in the future, but the descriptions should suffice in the meantime. In Epcot’s United Kingdom Pavilion, for instance, you’ll see Savory Vegetable Crumble in the Rose & Crown Dining Room; that’s a plant-based bangers and mash. Just outside, the Cookes of Dublin fish-and-chips takeaway counter has a fishless version of its battered-and-fried-to-order specialty; it’s wheat-based with soy protein.

Feast at even the unlikeliest restaurants. You want a plant-free breakfast, lunch or dinner? Stroll up to nearly any counter-service restaurant or table-service establishment, and chances are you’ll find at least one entrée that meets your needs. Restaurants and kiosks in the park have offered vegetarian dishes for years; now they’re both multiplying and morphing in the vegan direction.

Dig into alternative proteins. There are plenty of fruit and veggie spreads without the pretense of animal products at the park. But chefs are also playing with proteins that mimic meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, such as seitan, Ahini (a tomato invention that resembles raw tuna) and cashew cheese. At Caribbean Beach Resort’s Centertown Market, for example, you might eat full-veg with a Caribbean-accented avocado toast with vegan Sriracha mayo. Or, you can choose a protein-rich lunch like an eggless egg salad sandwich, built around tofu-based faux eggs and a curry-laced mayo (plus lots of fresh veggies like broccoli, sweet potato, and caramelized onion). Our pick? The Philly cheesesteak using seitan for the steak and a super-creamy vegan cheese on top; the hot sandwich looks and tastes as tempting as the classic version.

Vegan Skillet

Vegan Skillet

Photo by: Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Make a fuss. Oh wait... you don’t have to! The culinarians and wellness pros are keen to offer enticing dishes that don't require special orders and swaps, a la “Please leave out the Parmesan and the anchovies.” As an example, the gnocchi at Saratoga Springs’ Turf Club Bar and Grill fits all your requirements. The pasta is made with carrots, and the sauce is a spiced-up coconut cream creation. Whispering Canyon Café in the Wilderness Lodge even offers breakfast and dinner all-in-one skillets that look just like its other signature skillets. The evening version is a full meal packed with mango-chipotle barbecue jackfruit, spicy plant-based sausage, mustard-glazed “beefless tips,” herb-brushed Trick’n Chick’n, roasted potatoes, oven-roasted carrots, sautéed green beans and charred peppers. Fully flavored, all. Take that, bland veggie burger!

Invite the whole family to play along. You'll find vegan dishes at even the most pared-down kid-friendly joints. A case in point is Casey’s Corner, an iconic hot dog stand along the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. Now, while you’re waiting for the parade to start, vegans can have the Plant-based Loaded Slaw Dog, topped with pickled cole slaw, barbecue vegan aïoli and roasted corn relish, while meat lovers get classic chili dogs.

See it in writing. If you’d rather not search to find the plant-only options on a table-service menu, ask for a written version. For a while now, each Disney World restaurant has had print-outs on hand of foods safe for those with specific food allergies, such as wheat or nuts. After all, 700,000+ people with such food allergies visit Disney World every year, and that’s not counting convention and catering guests. There should be print-outs of plant-based menu items soon, too, so inquire with your server.

Speak to the chef. Still concerned? No worries. The culinary team at the park is eager to accommodate. Tell your server you’d like to consult with a chef, and you’ll have someone in a chef’s coat at your side in no time. You’ll get all the info you want, plus special orders, if that’s what works.

Have sweet dreams. For too long, vegan desserts were “sorbet and sorbet and sorbet and sorbet and maybe fruit,” one of the plant-food pioneers admits. The park is working to add sweet alternatives, maybe a banana-based chocolate cake, a seitan cheesecake or a chocolate pudding made creamy with avocados, such as the chocolate-avocado mousse served at the new Toledo – Tapas, Steak & Seafood restaurant in the Coronado Springs Resort.

Look at partner restaurants, too. At Disney Springs, local Orlando restaurateurs and celebrity chefs run their own restaurants. Most have at least entrée salads or pastas that work for meat-free eaters. The Spanish restaurant Jaleo, for example, notes on its allergy-friendly menu vegan items including escalivada Catalana, espinacas a la Catalana and gazpacho estilo Algeciras. (You can check those menus online on the disneyworld.com website, too.)

Pack a snack. If you prefer to play it safe — or thrifty — pack your own meals. Plenty of folks bring trail mix, sandwiches and other fixin’s into the park. If it’ll get past airport security, it’ll get past Disney World security. But really, why, when Disney World’s team of 300 chefs is empowered to follow their plant-powered visions in each and every restaurant.

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