Other than greasy French fries and jumbo-size cups of Coca-Cola, vegans don't usually have much to choose from when it comes to theme-park food.
But Walt Disney World isn't your average theme park, and a recent visit to "the Most Magical Place on Earth" proved the Orlando mecca is growing increasingly accommodating to plant-based eaters.
From Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Resort to the snack carts at the Magic Kingdom, vegan options are all over the place.
A vegetarian friend and I, a vegan, headed to Disney a couple of weekends ago to partake of the Christmas madness. Our Friday-through-Sunday trip took us from our Disney hotel (the Art of Animation Resort) to three parks, another Disney resort, and even Disney's village of Celebration.
Upon our arrival, the concierge assured us that vegan eating in the parks was easy. Any of the sit-down restaurants would accommodate vegans, she reported, even mentioning the chef would come out in person and address special requests. Impressive!
To grab a bite before bed, we headed to Sanaa, an African-slash-Indian restaurant at the swanky Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our server was well-versed in vegan options, so navigating the menu was easy. The bread service, complete with naan (for my nonvegan companion), falafel chips for me, and nine accompanying sauces (seven of them vegan-friendly), was one of the most delicious appetizers I've had in ages. From mango chutney to spicy jalapeño-lime pickle to roasted red bell pepper hummus, it was a delightful array of flavors and spices. The salad sampler was also outstanding, particularly the bhel puri (rice, vegetables, and tamarind sauce), as were the potato and pea samosas.
The following day, we park-hopped from dawn till well after dusk.
First up: Animal Kingdom. It was immediately clear that food stands weren't quite as accommodating as sit-down restaurants -- we spent a good half-hour searching for nondairy milk for our morning coffee. Eventually we found it at the Royal Anandapur Tea Company. They made a mean peppermint mocha with soy milk. We also spotted an allergy-friendly food cart that had doughnuts made by NYC's famed bakery Babycakes. The chocolate-covered, vegan, gluten-free doughnut was a tasty treat, significantly better than expected.
For lunch, we bounced over to the Magic Kingdom, where I snagged a vegetable sandwich from Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café in Tomorrowland. It was clearly pre-assembled, and the bread was a little stiff, but the restaurant was counter-service only and super high-volume, so I wasn't surprised. We also spotted several allergy-friendly sections at snack counters around the park, stocked with gluten-free chips, fruit, and cookies.
Come dinnertime, we headed to Epcot to catch the Candlelight Processional. At America's Liberty Inn, I had a spectacular salad -- spring mix with corn and black bean salsa, Gardein chicken strips, and a substitute sherry vinaigrette to replace their nonvegan dressing. It was superfresh and utterly delicious, particularly after an exhausting day of parkgoing. The staff was even raving about how much they love the soy "chicken." Win!
Back at our hotel, we popped into Landscape of Flavors (cafeteria and convenience store) to grab some water for the next morning. I scouted the selection and was pleasantly surprised to find a freshly made spicy tofu salad and hummus meal pack in the grab-and-go case, and veggie burgers and make-your-own-salad on the regular menu. I wasn't hungry, however -- the day of Disney dining had left me satiated.
Before heading back to Miami the next morning, we drove to Celebration for some breakfast at Market Street Café. For those who aren't familiar with Celebration, it's Disney planned community just a stone's throw from Orlando. And yes, people other than Minnie, Mickey, and Cinderella live there.
Market Street Café is the town's diner concept and features a lineup of traditional American fare. I went with a create-your-own-breakfast: home fries, a hash brown patty, and a fruit cup. Heavy on the potatoes (and oil), sure, but delicious nonetheless.
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All in all, I was impressed with the ease of eating at Disney. Clearly, it's keeping up with people's rapidly evolving eating habits. Not once was I starved and dangerous, desperately seeking something, anything to eat. And though I got to sample only a small assortment of items, there are lots of other options at each of the theme parks, from veggie burgers to Tofutti cones to falafel. (AllEars.net is an excellent resource for vegan and vegetarian options.)
As always, it's best to plan ahead and establish where and when you might like to eat (so you're not stuck with questionable vegetable sandwiches). Otherwise, go forth and eat away, because if you're at a theme park run by a talking mouse and his duck, dog, chipmunk, crab, deer, fish, and other animal pals, do you really want to be eating meat and dairy?
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahgetshappy.