Vegetarian Dining Strategies
for Quick Service at WDW
by Michelle Scribner-MacLean, AllEars® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the April 1, 2008 Issue #445 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
There are many things that are easy to do at Walt Disney World. It's easy to get caught up in the magic, it's easy to shed a tear or two when you see your kids interacting with the characters, and it's easy to realize that you've spent an entire day with a silly smile on your face because you're having so much fun. One thing that's not quite so easy to do is to eat vegetarian at Walt Disney World.
My husband and I have been vegetarians for 15 years and our kids have grown up vegetarian. (We are lacto-ovo vegetarians: we don't eat meat, but we eat dairy. Vegans don't eat meat or dairy.) While having a specialized diet is certainly not the toughest barrier a family can encounter, it can be tricky at WDW, especially if you're looking for quick service in the parks.
When we first started taking our children to WDW and were looking for quick counter service, too often we found ourselves in a familiar scenario. After quickly browsing the menus we found that our choices were very limited in many places -- pizza and garden salad were often our only choices. Who doesn't love pizza, right? As much as you might adore it, try eating pizza every day for lunch -- it gets old and unappealing very quickly.
At home when we go out for the occasional meal, we can easily visit our favorite restaurants and choose from our favorite vegetarian entrees. It's a whole different ballgame when we're on vacation at WDW -- we have three meals a day to plan -- for a week we need to find as many as 21 veggie-friendly meals. It can be daunting, but with a bit of planning and patience, vegetarians can navigate around WDW quite nicely.
My first strategy was to "tough it out" during our trips and then go home and complain. A day or two upon our return, I'd write a polite but pointed note to Disney's Guest Services describing our plight and requesting that they try to accommodate vegetarians a bit more. They always responded positively, basically saying that this was "on their radar," offered suggestions of one or two places to try, and mentioned that I could always ask for menu modifications.
I started to feel empowered to ask for options and that was my next strategy and one I'd strongly recommend to vegetarians: If you don't see something you'll eat, ask what else they can offer. I've done this time and time again and about 90 percent of the time the cast member is able to offer us other choices. In fact, the choices have been offered so automatically, it seems as if this request is made frequently (and with the number of people who visit WDW, that makes sense). Asking for other options is very important because at some quick service spots, there are absolutely no vegetarian kids' choices on the kids' menu (there might only be chicken nuggets and hot dogs). Here's something else -- whenever I've asked, I have never been made to feel like an overbearing, nasty guest (which is important to me -- I want to be polite and kind and model that type of behavior for my kids). With a big smile, cast members have usually said, "Yes, of course! We can offer you this... and this..." So, go ahead and ask.
The next thing I found turned out to be an extremely valuable resource: AllEars.Net. I don't know how I happened upon this glorious website, but when I discovered that there were menus of all the restaurants posted online... well, let's just say I did a little jig. What a valuable planning tool! Now I print out menus for places that we're thinking of going and we have a family discussion over dinner. We circle potential choices and use this list to make our Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). Here's one of the great things about this approach to thinking about meals, sort of an unexpected outcome: not only does it help us plan, but every time we look at a menu and discuss the park we'll be in and what we'll be doing that day, we all get a major jolt of that Disney anticipation (if you're reading this, you know the feeling). So planning becomes fun, not a chore.
There are some great book resources that have been useful, as well. Vegetarian Walt Disney World (yes, there IS a Disney book about pretty much every subject) by Susan Shumaker and Than Saffel provides some great suggestions for vegetarian and vegan eating throughout WDW and the Orlando area. Even though some of the references are outdated, we still use the book a lot for general planning tips about how to cope as a vegetarian in WDW.
My newest cherished resource is PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line: Easy Access Vacations for Travelers with Extra Challenges by Deb Wills and Deb Koma. I love that they recognize that dietary restrictions ARE extra challenges and that this book provides a coding system to easily find tips for vegetarians.
Having shared my tips, here is my short list of quick service places around WDW that offer vegetarian choices.
Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station (open seasonally)
Pinocchio Village Haus
Sunshine Seasons: lots of choices
Japan: Yakitori House
Moracco: Tangierine Cafe
France: Boulangerie Patisserie
Pizzafari (aside from pizza, there aren't a lot of vegetarian quick service options at this park)
Studio Catering Co. Flatbread Grill
Back Lot Express
Rosie's All American Cafe
Earl of Sandwich (lots of choices)
Wolfgang Puck Express
Blizzard Beach: Lottawatta Lodge
Typhoon Lagoon: Leaning Palms
When you're a vegetarian, planning ahead helps save valuable time -- you want to be spending time visiting attractions, not running from one quick service restaurant to the next trying to find something suitable. There are options at WDW, you just need to know where to find them -- and then you can spend more time being caught up in the magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Scribner-MacLean is a college professor by day and a Disney fanatic in every other bit of free time. She first visited WDW when she was a teenager and now is a DVC owner who visits Walt Disney World two or three times per year. Michelle lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two boys and loves roller coasters, the fantastic food at Disney, and always cries when she sees IllumiNations. She is also a Disney podcast addict and adores WDW Today.
Special Dietary Needs: http://allears.net/din/special.htm (with links to our "At a Glance" tables for Vegetarian Dining around the World!)
Other articles by Michelle Scribner-MacLean: http://allears.net/btp/michelle.htm
For more information about PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line: http://openmouse.com
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.