Special Dietary Needs Vegan Tips

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Woesthoff is a life-long Walt Disney World fan who has been vegan for the last six years. She became vegetarian in 2003 after seeing PETA's Meet Your Meat, and decided to go vegan as a New Year's resolution in 2005. She has never looked back.

FEBRUARY 2011 — Tucked in a corner, next to the American Adventure in Epcot's World Showcase, is a vegan's true American dream. No, I'm not talking about Heritage Manor Gifts (that's cool too), I'm speaking of the Liberty Inn Restaurant. The term "American fare" does not usually conjure vegan-friendly thoughts, but the Liberty Inn brings something a little different to their veggie burger offering. You may have noticed that within recent months, Walt Disney World quick service restaurants have discontinued their offering of a Boca-style veggie burger and have, instead, started serving a vegetable patty in its place. This is a welcomed change as these patties are a bit more flavorful than their predecessors and have pieces of vegetables tucked inside, which add a little pizzaz. The difference at the Liberty Inn is the addition of everyone's favorite fruit… the avocado! That's right! Along with the standard lettuce and tomato, slices of avocado adorn this tasty veggie burger which makes the meal to feel more substantial, especially if you choose apple slices or grapes as your side dish. As another added bonus, the dining room at the Liberty Inn is usually relatively quiet, so you can take your time and relax through lunch or dinner. Also, if you want to literally spice it up a little, ask at the pick-up counter for barbecue sauce, as it is not available at the fixings bar with the other condiments. None of the other quick service restaurants have caught on to this genius avocado idea yet, so head over to the Liberty Inn next time you're hungry while traveling around World Showcase. OK, so a couple of avocado slices might not really classify as an American dream per se, and the veggie burger offerings are kind of greasy, but as a vegan Walt Disney World fanatic I'll take every small victory that I can find.

MARCH 2011 — Walking up Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, in an attempt to avoid the crowds, the best route is to fake left and go right around a wall of Photopass Photographers. Suddenly, the sweet smell of waffle cones is in the air! It is quite possibly the best scent in all of Walt Disney World, The Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. As a vegan, it's natural to feel defeated upon seeing fellow guests eating mounds of ice cream and chocolate sauce piled high on golden cones (all with cherries on top, of course!). Sadly, we seldom get to reap the benefits of any ice cream parlor, let alone one as magical as this, but take a look at that menu! It proudly states (all the way at the bottom in super small print): Tofutti and Rice Dream available! The Plaza Ice Cream Parlor offers the vanilla or chocolate variety of either brand of frozen dessert. Here's the scoop (get it?!): The Tofutti brand has more of a creamy, ice cream-like taste and texture while Rice Dream is more reminiscent of a sorbet. If your bikini weight is on your mind, Rice Dream is the way to go, as it has less fat and fewer calories than its soy-based brother. Though it can take a little extra time and a meeting of the minds between the cashier and manager to muster up this "specialty" treat, chances are they will make up for it with an extra large portion of your desired flavor. On less crowded days in the Magic Kingdom, if you order your Rice Dream or Tofutti around 8:45 p.m., you'll still be able to secure a great spot for Wishes at 9. You can then enjoy the fireworks and cry into your cup of delicious dairy-free ice cream.

APRIL 2011 — This month's vegan tip takes us over to the Downtown Disney Marketplace for some filling, vegan Italian food! Downtown Disney is known for its various shopping options, more recently for its lack of Pleasure Island, and also for its restaurants (not to mention an amazing vegan bakery called BabyCakes NYC that you should totally check out next time you're in the area!). Portobello restaurant serves traditional Italian fare which is chock full of meat and cheese, as you might expect; but there are a couple of vegan gems to be found on this menu, too! For dinner, the Spaghetti Pomodoro (sans meatballs, of course) is one vegan-friendly option if you're in the mood for a simple, yet tasty pasta dish. The real go-to item for dinner, though, is pizza. Yes, pizza! The servers and chefs at Portobello are often delighted to create a special pizza option for vegan guests. Try the Margherita pizza, but swap the cheese for tons of vegetables like sun dried tomatoes, black olives, portobello mushrooms (when in Rome!), and artichoke hearts. The crust is vegan, so is the sauce, and with all of your favorite vegetables on top, you won't even miss the cheese! The favorite here, however, is the Vegetarian Wood Oven Sandwich which is featured on the lunch menu only. The sandwich features delicious eggplant puree, portobello mushrooms, and roasted peppers between a delicious, hearty bread. You'll have to ask for this option without the goat cheese upon ordering, but this simple omission offers a great lunch option that will keep you energized well into the evening as you stroll through Downtown Disney.

MAY 2011 — Chances are, if you know a vegan, are a vegan, or have said the word "vegan" in Walt Disney World to someone, you have gotten a one-word reply: Boma.

Ahh, sweet Boma. The restaurant located downstairs in the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a fantastic dinner buffet that should please any hungry park-touring vegan, or any meat-eaters who happen to be in the party as well. The restaurant has a large dining room, so it is not usually too difficult to get an ADR that will fit your schedule. Buffets can be intimidating, and we vegans tend to hover around the pretty-looking fruit displays next to the cake and pastries that we can't eat. This buffet, however is quite different. The best strategy to tackle the line is with a professional. Ask for the chef upon being seated. When the chef comes out, she will walk you around the buffet pointing out all of the vegan options. Make sure you pay attention as the options (yes, there are actually many) can get overwhelming. Some favorites that you must sample and then go back for seconds or thirds include: falafel, lentils (ask them to prepare them without the cheese!), hummus, and especially the peanut rice! Certain items, like the aforementioned lentils can be prepared vegan to order. It will take a little bit of time, but it's definitely worth the wait. Similarly, even though there are dessert options out on the table, that doesn't necessarily mean all you can have for dessert is fruit. Just ask your server or the chef, they usually have Tofutti or Rice Dream ice cream available, along with Divvies Chocolate Chip Cookies! What's the best part about vegan dining at Boma, you ask? Well, aside from being able to enjoy a fulfilling meal in Walt Disney World, everyone crowds around the meat section (good for you, not necessarily for them). Strangely, there is hardly ever a line at the hummus or grain stations. Try walking the buffet from left (closest to the desserts) to right when it is not crowded and you'll save yourself from the buffet line, too!

JUNE 2011 — Who wants a snack? Silly question, right? Touring the parks can give everyone a hankering for a filling snack from time to time. The obvious choice for great vegan snacks within the parks comes from the various fruit carts located throughout. They typically carry apples, oranges, bananas (if you're lucky), or small packages of cut fruit. But let's face it — if you've been walking around the Magic Kingdom all day and you still have a good four hours until your dinner reservation, that apple just isn't going to cut it! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the staple for vegan snacking throughout various stadiums and ballparks: The Soft Pretzel.

When done right, this snack item can be the perfect combination of warm, doughy, and salty. Is there anything better? Sure, there is! But in the theme park vegan snack department, soft pretzels are often all we have to curb the between-meal-hunger. The best thing is that these babies are widely available in all four theme parks, and they're great for sharing!

Now, you should keep in mind that some stands have gone and corrupted our beloved pretzel by stuffing the inside with cream cheese. These are definitely not vegan, and not very appealing (to me, at least). Just go for your trusty, run of the mill soft pretzel and your hunger will be tamed for more park touring and even more attractions!

AUGUST 2011 –– After a quick Doom Buggy ride over at the Haunted Mansion, you might find yourself ready for lunch. That ghost who's following you home might be hungry, right? If you and your happy haunt are looking for lunch, head over to the Columbia Harbour House! Not only is this quick service gem an awesome place to go upstairs and relax in the cool air conditioning during the crowded summer; they also have a decent vegan option! Ladies and gentlemen, the Lighthouse Sandwich (it even has a cute name)! To make it vegan, you will have to omit the "broccoli slaw," but with a name like broccoli slaw, who really wants it anyway? OK, it's a "decent" option because in essence, it's basically a hummus sandwich with sliced tomatoes. However, it's a filling hummus sandwich with sliced tomatoes and a welcomed departure from eating veggie burgers for two out of your three meals for the day. The Columbia Harbour House also boasts a really cool atmosphere, and a tidbit of restroom trivia (the best kind of trivia). As Disney legend has it, indoor plumbing would not have been an option during the time period of the restaurant, so the restrooms are technically built on Fantasyland's property as to not tell an inaccurate story. Pretty nifty, huh? Trivia and a vegan meal all in one visit!

SEPTEMBER 2011 — Hold on to your hats, folks, we're going to Sanaa! If you're wondering why your hat is about to fall off, it's because Sanaa doesn't just have a vegetarian menu, it also has its very own vegan menu. Read it again, its very own vegan menu! Crazy? No. Awesome? Very! The bread service was delicious, fun, and easily vegan! The Papadum bread was the only vegan bread option and has a very thin, potato chip-like consistency. There are a number of different accompaniments for the bread, but the Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus and Mango Chutney were delicious (not at the same time, but you get it!). For a main course, the sampler is a must! If you're a big fan of lentils (and who isn't?!) the Stewed Lentils were delicious, along with either the Basmati Rice or Five-Grain Pilaf. If you're worried about your items being spicy, don't be! As a certified spice wimp myself, please rest assured that there really isn't much spice involved in these items at all! If you have not yet visited Sanaa, stop what you're doing right now and go there. The food is delicious and the best part about it is that there is no guesswork about which items are vegan. We love chatting up the chefs at Walt Disney World, but the presence of a strictly vegan menu just makes ordering so much easier! Even better still, this restaurant is located in Kidani Village, which sports beautiful views of the savanna. You can see a giraffe while eating dinner! No big deal.

OCTOBER 2011 — For those of us who have never had the pleasure of downing a Dole Whip on a hot summer day, we are lucky in that we don't know what we're missing. Unfortunately, Dole Whips are not vegan. The ingredient list comes pretty close, but they sneak some casein in there just for good measure. Until they figure out how to make a casein-free Dole Whip, we can either look longingly at Aloha Isle (which I may do from time to time), or we can seek out other means of refreshment to quench our collective thirst for pineapple. Aloha Isle does offer the old faithful, Pineapple Spear, which isn't bad in a pinch and makes a decent snack. A little further down the path into Adventureland, tucked away next to the Enchanted Tiki Room exit is Sunshine Tree Terrace. This snack counter offers a whole host of items that vegans can barely even look at, let alone eat. However, they do offer iced coffee, hot coffee, soy milk, and an assortment of juices. One of these juices happens to be of the pineapple variety, and even though pineapple juice will never match up to Dole Whip standards, it's a decent substitution nonetheless. Don't get down about the lack of Dole Whipping in your life! Enjoy that pineapple juice and go ride the Magic Carpets of Aladdin!

NOVEMBER 2011Popcorn! Think of the aroma that hits you as soon as you walk underneath the Main Street Railroad Station. You know the one, the smell that defines Walt Disney World for so many of us. For the longest time, I made it a point to abstain from the delight of enjoying handfuls upon handfuls of popcorn on Main Street, thinking, "surely that delicious taste of popcorn I remember as a kid couldn't possibly fit in with my adult dietary choices." I went on, defeated, and popcornless, until that fateful day when it was confirmed to me (by three different resources) that this wonderful, salty delicacy is, in fact, vegan! But how?! You might ask, since it has such a unique, buttery taste. I give you three magic words: artificial butter flavoring. My friends, this might not be the most healthful choice you can make for a snack in Walt Disney World, but if that fine scent of popcorn that wafts through the air has been calling your name, go ahead and indulge your cravings with this accidentally vegan snack! Walt Disney World touts the Disney Vacation Club as their "best-kept Disney secret," however, popcorn-loving vegans everywhere beg to differ. Snack on, dear vegans, snack on!

DECEMBER 2011 — A vegan's ideal Future World will consist of plenty of tempeh, kale, and almond milk for the masses. In Epcot's Future World, you can taste a sampling of soda from around the world, but what if you're looking for a filling yet quick option for a vegan lunch? Chances are, Sunshine Seasons is where you want to be. Ah, the former home of the quintessential healthy eating attraction, Kitchen Kabaret (RIP) — surely they will have a decent vegan option or two here! The Oak-Grilled Vegetable Flatbread Sandwich features grilled eggplant, zucchini, and hummus, and is a great vegetarian option. To get it veganized, you're going to need to do some work! First, alert the server that you need the item made dairy-free and egg-free. Chances are, a chef will be beckoned from the depths of The Land to come speak with you. Basically, the cheese will need to be omitted (obviously), the bread will need to be swapped out for a pita, and the hummus will need to be exchanged for a vegan hummus (their standard hummus is not vegan). Your choices for sides are either a bag of potato chips or potato salad. Don't shy away from the potato salad, it's actually vegan, and not too shabby either! This filling, quick-service option comes in under $9, and is a wonderful way to wait out your Soarin' Fastpass within The Land. Enjoy this veggie veggie sandwich (fruit fruit) and think fondly of Bonnie Appetite!

MARCH 2012 — It should only make sense that three of the most vegan-friendly restaurants exist within the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We've already talked about Boma, and Sanaa (located in Kidani Village), but have yet to explore the wonder that is Jiko. One of the greatest things about Jiko is that it has a "regular" menu, a vegetarian menu, and a vegan menu, much like Sanaa does. Having a separate vegan menu really takes the guess work, and question-asking out of ordering a vegan meal in Walt Disney World. Though this menu only boasts two entree selections, there are five different appetizer options that are vegan. The Roasted Mushroom Flatbread could almost stand as an entree by itself. It's essentially pizza with mushrooms and onions instead of cheese, and olive hummus instead of tomato sauce. The crust is thin, crispy, and delicious. Another great appetizer option is the Taste of Africa, which features four different dips to accompany the Lentil Pappadum and Whole Wheat Lavosh bread. The Lentil Pappadum is a wafer-thin cracker, perfect for dipping! The portion sizes are excellent, so even these two appetizers can stand in for an entree. If you choose not to get an entree, though, you'd really be missing out. You can't go wrong with either of the two options Jiko has to offer: Curried Summer Vegetables, and Egyptian Kushari. The Curried Summer Vegetable option is served over coconut basmati rice and boasts some definite kick factor, kick-ey enough to make your nose run. If you're not a fan of spice, you'll want to try my favorite, the Egyptian Kushari. This dish is very couscous heavy with chickpeas, tomato sauce, almonds, and a light vinaigrette. It's flavorful and very filling! The prices are comparable to Boma, and even though this is not an all-you-care-to-eat experience, the portions are pretty immense. If you have room for coffee and dessert afterwards, Jiko serves a delightful Kenyan coffee (which is also available at Sanaa) that rivals the Polynesian's Kona Coffee. They also offer both sorbet, and Rice Dream Ice Cream for dessert, too! This is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to dine on property. Even during busier times of year (ahem, I ate here on Christmas Day), it's not too difficult to book an ADR at Jiko. Enjoy!

APRIL 2012 — Since the restaurant was announced, I had been eager to dine at The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. Sorry, "The Wave… of American Flavors" (the restaurant's full, formal name). Originally (and still kind of) billed as a restaurant with sustainable and organic options, I had always thought of The Wave as having great potential to be this vegan/vegetarian Mecca within Walt Disney World. Though it is by no means a Mecca, it does boast some vegetarian options that can all easily be made vegan. The vegetarian menu has four entree options, a Vegetarian Cuban Sandwich (served with roasted potatoes or fries), a Multigrain Vegetarian Pasta, Sauteed Tofu (with edamame, corn, green beans, and tomato), and the meal I opted for, the Curry Vegetable Stew. Word of vegan dining advice: when in doubt, go with the curry. The Curry Vegetable Stew was an excellent vegan option, in theory. The yellow curry is delicious, made with coconut milk and served with Jade Rice. The featured vegetables included butternut squash, asparagus, and heirloom apples. Wait. What? Heirloom apples? Yeah, I thought the same thing while I was eating this dish. I was thoroughly enjoying every bite, until an apple would get all caught up on my fork. The worst part was, they kind of resembled russet potatoes and kept fooling me as I tried my best to eat around them. Without the apples, this entree is a great option for anyone dining at The Contemporary for dinner.

MAY 2012 — Delicacies from the United Kingdom are not typically synonymous with excellent vegan fare, which is why it was surprising to hear so many great recommendations about dining vegan at Epcot's Rose and Crown. The menu does not boast anything that looks remotely vegan or vegetarian friendly, so feelings of trepidation are totally normal. Excited to order the most raved-about dish, I requested the Curry to be made vegan (essentially, the Slow-Cooked Chicken Curry sans chicken). It was surprising to learn that, though the curry had formerly been vegan, the chefs now cook chicken in the curry base. Unfortunately, there were no other options on the menu that could be modified to be vegan. The vegan dish ended up being far from traditional British fare, a variety of sauteed vegetables and a side order of white rice. Though not what I was expecting, the chef and manager did try their best to accommodate my dietary request. The view of IllumiNations made this visit to Rose and Crown worth the trip. I would recommend, however, trying to speak with a chef or manager directly before making a dining reservation here if you prefer a vegan meal.

AUGUST 2012 — Ladies and gentlemen, I have found the best vegan quick service entree on property. Brace yourselves, we're headed into the wilderness. Wilderness Lodge, home of Roaring Fork. Roaring Fork, home of the Vegetarian Quinoa Wrap. It's really that simple, and it's only $8.99. Also it's completely vegan. This wrapped masterpiece features delicious hummus, grilled vegetables, and prepared spiced quinoa. This sandwich definitely has a slight kick, but please do not let that deter you. Typically, the cast members behind the counter are nice enough to let you sample the contents before they make your wrap, so if you're nervous, give the separate ingredients a try! There is only one slight problem with the Vegetarian Quinoa Wrap. After you eat it, you will wonder why everywhere on property does not offer this, or at least a similar option. You'll ask yourself, "If this is possible, why do veggie burgers even need to exist anymore?" Just be sure not to ask with your mouth full of quinoa, because that wouldn't be polite. This meal will definitely be worth making a special trip to Wilderness Lodge. I have definitely been guilty of, more than once, getting out of work late and heading to Wilderness Lodge just to have this for dinner. (They're open until 10 p.m.!). While you're there, be sure to also take the time to admire the rustic beauty of the lobby, the fireplaces and artifacts on display. Enjoy!

SEPTEMBER 2012 — Seasoned Walt Disney World vacationers may already know that you are welcome to bring food into the parks, however, this is often unknown to newcomers. Though the security guards at the front gates will check your bags, they are not looking for food and beverage items. Bringing in outside food may seem like a simple idea, but it can be very helpful to those of us who follow a specific diet to plan our dining day more effectively. Now, I'm not suggesting that anyone bring a five-course meal in various sizes of Tupperware along with them for a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, but brining along small, packaged items can make a big difference in your park touring day! Sure, there are snacks and small items available within the parks and resorts, but venturing out to stock up on your own items will afford you more variety. If you're visiting from out of town and have access to a car, there are plenty of grocery stores nearby to stock up on vegan snacks and small meals. If you won't have a car during your stay, most of these items can be brought from home and serve as a placeholder for the souvenirs that will fill your suitcase on your return trip! During the cooler months, I always have a Luna Bar handy in my bag and probably flax crackers as well. Some other easily portable snacks to pack? Other nutritional bars (Clif, Larabars), Candy (Charms Lollipops, Dots, Swedish Fish, Smarties (from the US only), Sourpatch Kids, small bags of snacks (chips, pretzles, kale chips, rice crisps), and cookies (Oreos, Back to Nature). If you're looking for more variety and something more substantial, I'd suggest bringing one of those just-add-water cups of soup or oatmeal (the Dr. McDougall brand is my favorite). You'll be able to find hot water wherever coffee and tea are sold on property. While we're on the topic, don't forget to bring your refillable water bottle with you, too! The snack meals are the most important meals of the day when you're out walking pretty much nonstop from attraction to attraction. While Walt Disney World does offer a number of snacks to fit the vegan diet, it can't hurt to bring along some to add variety to the day. Happy Snacking!