Monday, December 5, 2011

Traveling Vegan; Disney World! Three days of food

Our vacation this year we took our 5 year old to Disney and asked his grandmother to come along. She's not vegan, not even close! And she asked, "So, how do you eat when you're traveling?" Very well, actually! Traveling while vegan is great -- while an omni-family might stop at a Burger King or Taco Bell for their lunch meals, we find great little places, sometimes off the beaten path. Eating vegan inside Disney World itself proved a little more challenging, but not impossible. 

Our route took us straight down from North Carolina to Florida. We didn't leave until after lunch, so we really only had to worry about dinner- which was a smidge harder than usual because we were traveling the eve of Thanksgiving, a holiday we don't celebrate, but that doesn't stop places from closing early. What we found was a great coffee and sandwich shop in Savannah, GA:  The Sentient Bean.

The atmosphere was absolutely charming and the seating was plentiful. We sat at a traditionally table but we saw on couple eating on a big fluffy couch. The staff was incredibly nice and, even though it wasn't an all vegan cafe, they knew their stuff enough to avoid any mix ups. 

Loved the yarn wall art! 

I had the queso no queso with added tofu. It was good and somewhat spicy. My mom had a panini with hummus and veggies and Calvin had the vegan quiche with soysage. The little one had the same thing I did. 

Another two hours in the car and we stopped for the night in Yulee Florida and made the rest of the three hour drive in the morning. The first park we went to was the Magic Kingdom. We actually went on day one and day three since there was so much more to do. We had lunch at Pecos Bill's in Frontier Land, a western themed burger joint. It was dark and the lighting was warm and beautiful. I loved the paper lanterns in the dining hall adjacent to us! Needless to say, a burger joint didn't have too many options and we all had the vegetable burger, which we were assured was vegan (this may have been a problem, which I'll talk about next). 

For dinner we ended up in Tomorrowland at Ray's Starlight cafe. It took quite a while to find a way in since there were about a dozen exists but only one entrance. With a space port style to the place, you could actually only order the food you wanted if you were in the right "port". I can't imagine how inconvenient this would be with a large group, including kids, who wanted different things from different ports. 

Luckily our cashier (sorry, cast member...), had a vegan friend, and knew the criteria and menu well. While we were, again, told the vegetable burger (the exact same kind as they had at pecos bill's) was vegan, she  let us know that the bread was not. We were speechless! If you tell someone that it's a vegan burger most people are going to assume that that means the whole burger and not just the patty! We were no longer sure what we'd had at Pecos Bill's was actually vegan or not, but it seems reasonable that the bread would be the same since the patties were. They're likely mass ordered after all. Many reviews of vegan food in Disney that I've seen have relied on this veggie burger to make Disney a "vegan friendly" place. Vegan community, we need to do some serious complaining to Disney about this! 

So, Calvin ended up ordering the pattie on a alternate vegan type of sandwich bread, with onions and BBQ sauce from the condiment bar, creating a custom sandwich. The little one and I had a vegetable sandwich with squash, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, onion, and some kind of vinaigrette sauce. It was good, though not superb, but the five year old approved! If you dislike vinegar, however, you could omit this from your order.

We sat in the lower dining area and were serenaded by an animatronic alien lounge singer.

And end of day one!

Day two we had a breakfast of bananas, apples, and peanut butter with orange juice. Sorry, no photo for that one.

For lunch we got take out from Loving Hut, one of a national chain of all vegan restaurants, with all vegan employees. We were looking for quick food on the go, to get to the parks quicker. Rather than individual meals, we got orders of golden spring rolls, shish kabob, and fried tofu, and shared them all among ourselves at the resort's lake beach. It was a good way to enjoy take out.

That evening we ate at the Rainforest Cafe, which has no vegan options on the menu (other than a side of onion rings perhaps), but a quick chat with one of the executive chefs got us some an on-the-spot creation: a fabulous penne pasta with a garlic and olive oil and mixed with sauteed carrots, squash, and mushroom.

It was absolutely amazing. 

When we were stuffed and couldn't comfortably eat anymore. Calvin, who doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to what he eats, was genuinely filled with sadness not to have any more room to eat the dish. Cute, huh?

The meal went well with big 'ole tropical alcoholic drinks while sat under the (fake) stars watching a meteor shower.

If you've never been in the Rainforest cafe, it's amazing. Decked out in vines and tropical plants and scattered with animatronic animals from gorillas playing the bongos in the center, to pythons, elephants, jungle cats, and swinging monkies. If you get caught in a thunderstorm it may upset the gorillas so watch out! 

On day 3 we first paid a visit to Babycakes Bakery NYC in Downtown Disney. This is not in the theme parks, but a separate location full of specialized shops and eateries. It was difficult to find, and of all places, located in with a chicken restaurant. This was supposed to be our breakfast, but it took us so long to get there and find it that it ended up as brunch. The little one had a brownie, I had a mint chocolate cupcake, mom had a cupcake top (yes, it's what it sounds like.. just the top!) and some iced sweet bread, and Calvin had a vanilla cookie crunch doughnut. 

I have to admit, it was a little bit dry and not as great as I had hyped it up to be in my head. As my mom said, "Yours are better". Should I think about opening a vegan bakery...? Just maybe! 

For lunch we went to Wolf Gang Puck's Express, also in Downtown Disney. We got some spaghetti with tomato sauce and a cheeseless pizza with seasonal vegetables. This may have been the best pizza I've ever eaten in my life, vegan or otherwise. It was beyond amazing and we all sort of wished we'd had our own to hoard rather than sharing among us. The flavors were deep and complex and just... bursting! Much like our Rainforest Cafe pasta, this was absolutely amazing! It was shaping up to be a fantastic trip to be a vegan.

I almost cried when there was no more!

Then we went back to magic kingdom and to the Starlight Cafe once more. This time we all had the vegetable burger on vegan bread ,which, as I said earlier, you have to specify since this is a separate sandwich bread, not the burger bun.

Oh my.. what a long long day it was. That night, after leaving the Magic Kingdom we had a three hour drive to our hotel in Yulee, which cut our driving the next day by that much, thank goodness! For breakfast, we had more doughnuts that we had bought the day before at Babycake's NYC. While I wasn't too impressed with the cupcakes, the doughnuts were absolutely delicious! 

And for the way home we stopped at the recently opened Zizi's in Charlotte, NC. Unfortunately this is take out only. I would have loved to stop and enjoy my meal properly and I wish I could have gotten photos of everyone's meals. I had the peppered seitan with rice and an amazing pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. My mom had a faux-turkey club, while the little one had vegan mac and cheese. Calvin enjoyed a philly cheese steak sandwich. We all traded bites and everything was absolutely delicious! I definitely recommend it if you're around Charlotte. Also a great small business to support and the prices were much more reasonable than most vegan restaurants we've ever been to.

So that's it, that's how vegans eat on the road! Pretty darn well if you ask me! Our trip was assisted by And, though we didn't go this time, if you're in Orlando sometime, check out Ethos Vegan Kitchen, too!