Friday, November 11, 2011

November 2011 - Can we get a redo?

Yet another Disney World trip is in the books... and that’s pretty much where this one should stay. No matter how many times you go, and no matter how well-planned you believe you are, sometimes debacles just happen.

Now, I suppose in retrospect that it really wasn't all that bad. Things could have gone much worse, though my mom still refers to it as the "vacation from hell". Trying to accentuate the positives, we did have a number of new experiences (I got brought up to dance at Tam Tam Congo, and was pulled into the Ziti Sisters' show in Italy, for example), and we all had really good food...

Still, the trip had an anxious muted tone that led to a less enthusiastic documentation on my part. I’ll try to give a rundown of the highs and lows, with a little food porn thrown in for good measure.

Day 1

We opened the trip at Gasparilla Grille, as always. Before we went down, we spoke with Chef Tyler (who deserves a plug along with my sincere thanks, but more on him later). He told me over the phone that he makes a vegan tempeh Reuben, yes, a vegan tempeh Reuben! Obviously I jumped at the opportunity, and though he wasn’t actually there to make it for me that morning, he left all of the ingredients and instructions for the chef on duty. I ended up having two of these sandwiches, one on the first day, one on the last, and though both hit the Reuben spot, I think you can tell from the pictures that the one Chef Tyler made for me on the last day outshined the first. With marinated tempeh, a vegan Russian dressing, sauerkraut and “American cheese” on rye, it brought me right back to the hot Reubens of old. An excellent throwback sandwich and an inspiring opener to the vacation.

I’m hoping if enough vegans go down and request it that they may stick this sucker on the menu. (Hint, hint…)

There was some confusion about my mom’s food which led to a long wait and unfortunately, to her being fed bread which we think she shouldn’t have had. (We learned later that they changed the recipe of their ciabatta loaves to one that uses sourdough, something she’s allergic to. Cue the ominous foreshadowing music…) Thus, for anyone with allergies, even if you’ve spoken with a chef before you get to Disney, always double check before you actually order in the restaurant. Brands and recipes change frequently down there. Better safe than hospitalized.

While waiting for her food I browsed the snack selection, and though potato chips are generally vegan, I was impressed to find that the Disney brand kettle chips that they sell in the park (both original and BBQ flavored) actually have a Vegan logo on the back of the bags! That’s what I call validation that we’re making headway!

From Gasparilla we hopped a bus downtown to make my bi-annual Babycakes pilgrimage. It’s always exciting because every time I go in there I find something new. I know Babycakes donuts get mixed reviews from some. I suppose if you go in expecting a greasy fried Dunkin’ kind of donut, you may be disappointed. Rather, they remind me of really good coffee cake with a hole in the center. In fact, the chocolate crunch donut reminds my taste buds of the Louisiana Ring cake I used to scarf down by the giant wedge growing up.

This time I tried the apple cranberry toastee slice, (my favorite of the slices), a spicy pumpkin chip slice, a decadent banana chip slice, the mandatory donuts (coconut and chocolate crunch), a crunchy thin chocolate chip cookie and a mini red velvet cupcake. (None of the pics came out very well, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

With a fridge full of tasty treats, that night we ate as always at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, and as always, the salad, tofu and couscous were excellent. I’ve written about it before, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

That night is where the trip took a turn for the worse. Due most likely to the sourdough bread, (though we don’t know for certain) my mom ended up going by ambulance to Celebration Hospital at 3:00 am. We were there the entire day and didn’t get released until around 5:00 pm the following evening.

(By way of setting the stage for what was soon to be an obvious pattern of mishaps plaguing this vacation, going to the hospital wasn’t bad enough, but the stretcher getting into the ambulance malfunctioned and almost tossed my mom out of it!)

Day 2 – Celebration Hospital

On a positive note, if you ever need to go to a hospital, Celebration is basically a resort with doctors. Not only is the hospital state-of-the-art, the staff is fantastic and the building and grounds are, themselves, gorgeous.

Truth be told, since we’d spent a night there five or so years ago, I remembered that they had a mostly vegetarian restaurant on premises and I was kind of selfishly looking forward to checking out their vegan selection. Sad to say, it turned out to be quite a disappointment. They do sell “vegetarian chicken soup”, vegetarian hot dogs, and a few other hot vegetarian meals, as well as fresh fruit juices and dairy smoothies. Vegans, however, are basically out of luck.

I considered ordering a cheeseless pizza but held off because I wasn’t sure what might be hidden in the dough and sauce, and I had a difficult time getting straight answers out of anyone in the kitchen.

Case in point, they had vegetarian minestrone soup on the menu, so I asked a line cook about the ingredients. (I’ve been spoiled by Disney because every restaurant there, including all of the Quick Services, have a handy binder with every ingredient list for everything on the menu.) Not having such a book, he brought out a chef to help me. I explained that I was vegan and asked if there were any animal products in the soup. The chef told me “no, it’s completely vegetarian.” He said it was just vegetables, a little tomato and pasta. I asked if there were eggs in the pasta to which he replied “There’s always eggs in pasta. It’s just flour and eggs.” I thanked him and decided not to inquire about anything else that night.

The next day I asked someone different about the lentil stew which looked hearty and nutritious. The woman said there definitely wasn’t any cream in it, but couldn’t say for sure whether it included butter or not. Consequently, while in the hospital I lived off of an assortment of chips, popcorn and granola. Thankfully, like most Disney Resorts, they carry vanilla Silk. They also sold a series of vegan protein bars I’d never heard of and didn’t have the nerve to try.

Oh, and I should mention that they do, at night, have a rather nice salad bar. Due to bad timing on my part I got down there after the dinner rush so the pickings were slim. I did make myself a small salad with lettuce, cukes and vinegar the first night to assuage the guilt of eating a whole bag of bagel chips earlier in the day.

Since I’m sort of travelogue-ing the mishaps along the way this time as well as the food, I should mention one hilarious (in retrospect) situation from our hospital stay. I stayed with my mother the whole time she was in there, but we sent my aunt back to the Polynesian since there was no reason for all of us to sit in that little room. While my aunt was at the Magic Kingdom that first day, I got a rather frantic call on my cell from my cousin who was checking our houses, saying that he’d accidentally tripped my aunt’s security alarm and that the security company was unable to shut it off. Never, in all the years that he’s been checking our houses has that ever happened. And with perfectly inopportune timing! When he tried to call my aunt to see what to do, she was riding the train around the Kingdom and, unable to hear him, assumed it was me on the phone and hung up on him saying she’d call back later, leaving him in the screaming house with the cops on their way!

Long story short, it all worked out with no jail time and nerves relatively intact. At least we got a good laugh out of it afterward.

Day 3 – Hospital/Crystal Palace

The night of our release we ate at Crystal Palace for the first time in years. If you’d ever had a bad experience there in the past, I highly recommend trying it again. Chef Alfonso has really turned the place around as far as I’m concerned. We had an excellent meal (and not just because it was the first hot food I’d eaten in two days).

There are a number of vegan items on the buffet, including the corn, cucumber salad with ginger, soy bean salad, Moroccan couscous and parsley salad, regular salad, broccoli with puri puri and key lime ponzu (loved this!), vegetable medley with arugula oil (green beans with carrots and mushrooms), ratatouille, cinnamon and lemon infused basmati rice, and fresh herb pesto vegetarian pasta. Along with all of these offerings, the chef made me a delicious batch of special smashed potatoes that were super buttery and piping hot. Just the comfort food I was looking for that night. He also sautéed me a large bowl of mushrooms to augment the buffet’s pasta at my request.

For dessert he served me a special vegan brownie with berries and tofutti. The brownie was soft and fudgy and though, in all honesty, I didn’t love it by itself, it was great with the ice cream and berries. A perfect cap for the night, leaving me somewhat more optimistic about the days to come.

That night we scoped out a good spot to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade, and next in the line of mishaps for the trip, watched as the lightning bug got stuck in a track right in front of us! The parade ground to a halt for probably a good 5-7 minutes while they brought in a special vehicle to pull him free. Never saw that happen before!

Day 4 – Animal Kingdom

Our next lunch was at Tusker House, for which I have a couple of updates. I have reconfirmed with another chef (Chef Andrew) that indeed the samosas are egg-free and completely vegan. Like always he fried some separately for me. Likewise, the chutneys and sambals are all honey-free and vegan-friendly. I suspect there’s been some confusion because the recipes they supply if you want to make the dishes at home differ from the way they actually make them in-house. For instance, my aunt asked for the recipe for the Tangeirine couscous salad on their buffet which, according the recipe, uses honey. It was explained to us that due to the quantity they make for the restaurant they can’t afford to use honey, so it’s basically a suggestion for making it taste right at home.

I did find this time, however, that no breads are really vegan-friendly as, as I recall, even the pita contains L-Cystein.

For dessert they serve Rice Dream and Toffutti and also carry the ever-present Divvies chocolate chip cookies.

I took pics of my plates but since none of the food has changed since my last trip, I’ll forgo another similar posting.

Having had such an amazing experience at Kouzzina back in May, we booked two dinners there this trip. Thankfully Chef Miguel was there for us both times. It might be fair to say that he’s something of a young, up-and-coming Chef TJ, and if you can, I’d highly recommend asking for him personally and following him wherever he may end up.

On a bit of a bummer note, Kouzzina no longer offers two drinks with the Disney Dining Plan (it’s questionable whether it was ever really “legal” even though they gave them to us back in May. Our server told us someone was fired after nine years of employment for offering this to guests… whoops…). Regardless, I started with my mango smoothie. It was icier this year and less ice creamy than last trip’s, but was still like drinking a frozen mango, so all’s good.

And I can't forget to mention their amazing sesame seed and black salt-crusted bread, dipping olive oils and kalamata olives...

Chef Miguel offered to make me an appetizer since my mom and aunt were both having salads. Never one to pass up a course, I agreed. Out came this beautiful, crunchy little quinoa “crabcake” with an onion, tomato, olive relish surrounded by a drizzle of dill oil. What a light, beautiful way to start off a meal.

For my entrée, I got the same basic sampler platter as last time; the one difference being the substitution of fingerling potatoes with rosemary in place of the chick pea “crab cake” which would’ve been slightly redundant after my fantastic appetizer.

I think my favorite part of the plate was the Briami (roasted vegetables in tomato over orzo) that was absolutely bursting with flavor. (It's the small square plate in the lower left corner of the pic.) I could’ve made an entire meal on it alone.

For dessert, I got treated to his amazing berry crumble a second time, the only difference being the substitution of chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. The balsamic adds such a depth of tart savoriness to balance out the sweetness of the berries and ice cream. Truly amazing. I was so full, however, that I had to take a little home to finish later that evening.

Day 5 – Hollywood Studios

For lunch at Hollywood Studios, we usually fall back on the vegetable sandwich and baked fries at Backlot Express. Next time, maybe we’ll try something different, but they tend to be very accommodating there. One point of frustration, however, is that they keep changing the breads, so this time I could only have a tapioca roll for my sandwich. It was fine, but a bit small. The pesto is still vegan. Oh, and that day they’d run out of mushrooms. And in my opinion, mushrooms are the star of the sandwich so it was a bit lackluster; but a meal’s a meal and the fries were awesome.

Dinner was once again at Hollywood and Vine. I do have to make a major amendment to my earlier posts regarding this buffet. There is now NOTHING vegan on the buffet! (Except the cucumbers with ginger and the plain salad and vinegar.) All the nice salads, the bean cassoulet, everything, now use a consommé seasoning mix that contains whey protein. This is a totally unnecessary addition, and I’m thankful that Chef Eddie pointed it out to me.

Also thankfully, he made for me a delicious pasta dish with peas, onion, broccoli, garlic, tomatoes and a load of mushrooms that had been cooked down in a red wine reduction. (Fully making up for the loss of ‘shrooms at lunch!) It was totally satisfying and I was thankful to have something I could eat there in the end.

For dessert, I had the customary Rice Dream shake and Divvies cookies. (It appears I may not have taken a pic of the shake. But you get the idea...)

For whatever reason, maybe the stars had fallen into a bizarre misalignment or what have you, I recorded a record of no less than five mishaps at the Studios in that one day.

On the way there, the bus we were riding had a malfunction with the automated announcements that kept repeating half of its spiel over and over, cutting off midway through a sentence during the bulk of our trip.

That afternoon, during Lights, Motors, Action!, at the point where the driver of the hero’s red car is supposed to get out to greet the audience, his door got stuck and they were unable to get him out. He ended up having to wave at the crowd and drive off.

Next up was the American Idol Experience. Mostly it went fine, with a little “live” moment when they went to show the replays of all three contestants only to have the reel fail entirely, forcing them to skip it and go straight to the voting.

Later that night at Fantasmic, during the Pocahontas section where someone yells, “Look, it’s John Smith” and the spotlight dramatically shines on the top of the mountain where John Smith is supposed stand triumphantly before swinging across to the other side to save the day, the light turned on to reveal… a bare section of empty mountain. After a few seconds the spotlight awkwardly clicked off and the show went on. I’m sure most who’d never seen the show wouldn’t have even picked up on it. We may have seen it a few too many times…

Lastly, Hollywood Studios had magic hours that night until 12:00 am, so one of the last things we wanted to do was to try to get into the Toy Story Mania ride since the wait is redonkulous during the day. We got in line around 10:30 pm or so, and there was still a thirty minute wait to get in. After chatting with a nice Swedish couple in Halloween costumes and admiring the impressive animatronic Mr. Potato Head, we were literally the next group to enter the ride when they announced that it had just gone down and that everyone needed to turn around and walk out the way they’d come in because they needed to vacate the building before they could start repairing it. Of course!

Day 6 – EPCOT

For my lunch I opted for the basic veganized vegetarian plate at the Tangierine Café like always. Again, steer clear of the normal bread, falafel and lentil salad. All else is fine.

While at the Café I also purchased a mint tea from the coffee bar. I guess the girl must have liked me (or my shirt ( which she said with a smile that she agreed with), because she gave me a huge takeout cup of the hot tea. The second time I was there, a different girl gave me a tiny plastic mug about a third of the size. (Perhaps I need to invest in a few more of those shirts…)

As far as the Food and Wine Festival goes, they are now marking all of the vegetarian options on the various signs with a big white V in a green circle. Sadly, however, not one item from any country is wholly vegan. Only one, South Africa, had a veganizable dish. Their Bunny Chow is a vegetable curry served in a bread bowl. The bread bowl is made with egg and dairy, but they gave me the curry by itself on a plate. The curry had the standard Indian flavor palate with a moderate amount of heat. If I could eat only one thing there, I’m glad it was a curry.

I meant to get back there a second or third time but it never happened. Our last day at EPCOT (a Saturday), the World Showcase was teeming with people. I’ve never seen it that busy before. As good as the Chow was, it didn’t warrant spending a half hour in line to get a little paper plateful.

Here's what it's supposed to look like:

1900 Park Fare – First Time

At last we come to my one and only Chef TJ meal of the trip. It was, as always, stupendous, maybe even a little more delicious, or geared to my tastes, than normal. It was, as always, a shining highlight of the trip.

Course 1

Never shy about fried foods, Chef TJ started me out with a line of fantastic spring rolls bathed in a sweet BBQ sauce and horseradish mustard. Crunchy, awesome sweet and sour perfection! Next to it was a sizeable mound of hummus adorned with a plumage of fresh potato and plantain chips.

Course 2

Like little pakoras, these vegetable fritters were Indian spiced and floating in red pepper soup with a balsamic drizzle and a dollop of Tofutti cream cheese to mellow out the not-insignificant spiciness. This may have been one of my favorites of Chef TJ’s to date. Loved them!

Course 3

The salad: lettuce, pickled ginger, crispy tempeh with grapes and a sweet sesame dressing in a soy paper wrap. All the sweet, spicy, Asian flavors you would expect with fun textural elements and a slight bitterness from the crispy tempeh.

Next to it: a fantastic mushroom soup with fresh basil and cashews. Never would it have occurred to me to add either of those toppings to a mushroom soup, but the brightness of the basil and the fatty cashews added such richness and depth, you can bet I’ll be doing the same thing the next time I make mushroom soup at home.

Course 4

This one smelled so good and I guess I was so intent on eating it that I goofed and forgot to take the picture first. Luckily by this point I was so hopelessly full that I had the second half wrapped up and snapped a picture of it in its container.

Though it doesn’t look quite as pretty in this picture, it was phenomenally flavorful. The base is grilled romaine with all the delicious smoky grilled taste I sometimes miss not owning a grill at home, topped with the surprisingly cohesive combination of tomatoes, horseradish, onion marmalade, pistachios, mangos, and avocado. On paper, the combination sounds straight up odd, but in the mouth… incredible! The closest analogy I could come up with would be a grilled piece of steak covered by a delicious rich tomato sauce with the almost parmesan overtones from the pistachio and a hint of sweetness from the mango. My mouth is watering talking about it…

Course 5

You know with Chef TJ that just when you're at the point of utter gastric collapse, it'll be time to usher in the obligatory enormous, sweet, spicy, plate of fried abundance. God, how I love this! Around the base were arranged whole carrots, broccoli raab, perfectly dense and crisp tofu, asparagus, potatoes, and spinach. Hidden underneath the heap of noodles were oyster and enoki mushrooms and red peppers. I took most of this plate back to the room and ate it on the beach around midnight the next night, listening as the Magic Kingdom rehearsed for their Christmas Party and flashed arrhythmic lighting patterns on the castle.

Course 6

A typically “light” dessert for Chef TJ. Upon a base of a virtual quarter of a pineapple were alternating scoops of vanilla Tofutti, raspberry, mango and lemon sorbets, and hunks of banana, all topped by two Enjoy Life cookies (which truth be told, I’m not a big fan of). The tower of sweet epicness was surrounded on the bottom by Divvies caramel corn and vegan chocolate chips (which I could eat by the double fistful).

Yet another fantastic meal! So much thanks and warm wishes to Chef TJ! It’s always a pleasure seeing him.

After dinner, since we literally closed the restaurant, we got to sit and chat with TJ for a while. In the course of the conversation we talked about the other dining options at the Grand Floridian. It turns out that they will do a vegan version of the Tea Room service if you ask ahead. You may get sandwiches, or you may get special miniature versions of Chef TJ creations, depending on who’s working at the time. He recommended we try it and so next time we very well may.

We also discussed Victoria and Albert’s which I’ve heard good things about. I knew they have an alternate vegetarian menu but he said they’re more than happy to cook vegan. The only downside is that it takes two Table Services for the meal, so I think next time we’ll likely forego the luau and do Victoria and Albert’s instead. Chef TJ said it’s a “must do once” experience.

Lastly, he gave great reviews to the California Grill at the Contemporary (a restaurant he helped open long before his Boma days), and said that they are also very accommodating to vegans. I’d be interested to hear of other vegans’ experiences in any of these restaurants.

Day 7 - EPCOT

For lunch this morning we went to Sunshine Seasons. Passing on the tofu noodle bowl this time, I tried the roasted vegetable sandwich. The chef made three special ones for my whole family, each very similar. It appears that I could have gotten the hummus on it, but I didn’t want to confuse the issue. It was tasty as is, and the thick ciabatta bread made for a hearty sandwich. The vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper) had the nicely smoked grilled flavor that I feel brings the veggies to life and adds so much character to a sandwich. It reminded me of the roasted vegetable sandwiches that Tusker House used to serve back in their old incarnation when they were a Quick Service location. I ended up with a similar iceberg and tomato salad like the rest of my family’s, simply because something got a little mixed up in communication. It was fine, though I would’ve rathered the couscous salad or one of their other takeouts.

Speaking of which, they now have a vegetarian meal in their coolers with hummus, tabouli and a few other salads and slices of pita. I don’t know for sure whether it’s a 100% vegan, but, as I recall, I didn’t spot any obvious dairy or egg ingredients.

After a moderately light lunch, I was ready for our early dinner at Chefs de France. Like always, I ended up with a beautiful, light vegetable plate. Though they’re not generally super filling, I always look forward to Chefs de France meals because the vegetables are so fresh and pure. It’s a closer meal to how I would eat at home, just ratcheted up a few notches. This plate was loaded with asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, lightly grilled yellow and green squash, green beans, a wedge of potato and a skinned red pepper inside of which was hidden a beautiful tomato sauce to bring all the flavors together.

For dessert they served three amazing sorbets: raspberry, peach, and my favorite, coconut. Chef Laurent said they just got a new sorbet machine imported from Italy. Their sorbet was always my favorite in the past, and this batch was so smooth and creamy… And I thought it couldn’t get any better.

Day 8 – Magic Kingdom/EPCOT

The next morning I returned to Tartuga Tavern, who by the way are only open from 11:00 am-3:00 pm, so plan accordingly.

Like last time, I got a special batch of delicious vegan nachos with black beans and their black bean salsa.

Due to our trying to rearrange the schedule to get in with Chef TJ once, we ended up with two counter services that day, both in different parks. So we hopped over to Epcot for a second round of Sunshine Seasons.

I opted for the tofu noodle bowl this time, to which the chef added some extra tofu and broccoli.

It’s tasty, but just not filling enough for a whole dinner for me. Close, but not quite. While scouting around for any new vegan dishes, I found that they had a vegetable barley soup at the soup station. The chef assured me that it’s completely vegan. I totally recommend grabbing a bowl if they have it when you’re there. It has a hearty homemade taste, with chick peas, beans, corn, etc. Very satisfying. I believe the flatbread cracker it comes with has egg wash on it so I declined without asking for confirmation.

Day 9 – Animal Kingdom

Lunch was a repeat of Tusker House. Nothing new to report here. Still filling and still yummy.

Now, we’ve seen some pretty hilarious mishaps at Flights of Wonder in the past, birds are birds with minds of their own, after all, but the two that we were treated to this time were really entertaining.

At the beginning of the show, one of the first birds to fly out is supposed to circle the audience and land back up on stage. Instead, he took a few extra swoops around before landing and staying perched for a good minute or more, on some poor woman’s head! One of the handlers had to come out to retrieve the wayward bird amidst the sea of laughter and camera flashes.

Then, as anyone who’s seen the show knows, (and I supposed I should issue a bit of a Spoiler Alert here) there’s a poignant moment at the end when the raven is supposed to return the tour flag to Guano Joe. Only, Poe, this particular raven, completely ignored the storyline and instead strutted around the stage eating all the leftover treats, leaving the two human actors to try to save the storyline. Absolute unscripted brilliance thanks to a hungry bird.

That night we headed over to Wolfgang Pucks for dinner. But first, since I’d expertly rationed my Babycakes stash to run out that morning, it was time for a refill. This time I tried the lemon cupcake that almost reminded me flavor-wise of a lemon meringue pie, and a rich homemade “Mounds” candy of chocolate covered coconut. Do try at least one!

But most exciting of all was that they were baking fresh waffles to order! Big, square, soft of the inside, crunchy on the outside hot vegan waffles! The man asked if I wanted chocolate chips in it… um, yes? It was then smothered in maple syrup and joined by a side cup of vanilla sauce. (I don’t even want to think about the caloric content.) That was the first I’d seen the waffles there; hopefully they’ll be an all-the-time inclusion to the menu.

Already full of waffle, I waddled down to Wolfgang Puck Express West Side. I have a sort of sad update regarding this restaurant too. A few years ago they made me a great vegan (I believe) pizza, but I learned that they now use honey in the dough, so pizza is off limits for strict vegans.

Chef Danny was nice enough to offer to make me pasta from the Café side. I got a big platter of spaghetti with mushrooms, tomatoes, peas, and broccoli. It was spicy, garlicky, and a totally satisfying pasta dish. Definitely worth the trip downtown, though their pizzas still looked awfully tempting.

Our trip up until this point had been fairly tense and not entirely celebratory since my mom had spent the entire vacation sick and in pain for various reasons not related to the sourdough bread.

That night she felt so terrible that we ended up returning to Celebration Hospital by ambulance at 11:00. We were released around 5:00 am the next morning, and though we missed a lunch, headed out to the park around noon to make the most of the day.

Day 10 – EPCOT

Already late in the day, I grabbed another veg platter from Tangierine Café, along with the smaller mint tea.

I think Turtle Talk with Crush, though ostensibly made for kids, is one of the funniest and most ingenious attractions in all the parks, so we always try to catch it a few times because every show is vastly different. The very last show we went to on our last night at Epcot was the strangest by far.

Everything was proceeding normally, the crowd was receptive, but Crush seemed a tad, stagnant. He was “swimming” pretty much in the center of the tank regardless of who he was speaking with, and at the point in the show when Dory is set to appear, Crush made the announcement that he was going to cut it short and watch everyone leave. And like that, we all stood up, the doors opened, and Crush just sort of hung there saying goodbye as everybody was ushered out mid-show.

I’m sure technical problems happen all the time, but out of all of our 20+ trips, we’ve never been there to experience such an inordinately high percentage of them. Which is rather funny because during the Main Street Electrical Parade, I happened to be sitting next to a man who designs software for Disney, who explained that they just opened up a whole computer room in January that monitors all of the shows and rides in real time and logs any malfunctions so they can improve the performance of the attractions. They must have been working overtime!

On another interesting Disney Insider note, in speaking to a manager who I met on a bus one night, I got some pretty cool insight into the workings of the emergency end of Disney World. Below the parks, I learned, there are medical crews stationed every hundred yards or so. They drive fast golf carts through the tunnels giving them an average response time to an emergency in the park of about 28 seconds!

Also, if you ever need to call 911 while you’re down there, (and for some reason, a cast member isn’t around to do it for you) make sure to ask for the Reedy Creek Fire Department/Ambulance. They have a contract with Disney to take guests to Celebration Hospital for free. (Disney always pays for a return cab back to your hotel too.)

The other reason to ask for Reedy Creek is response time. Their ambulances are all pre-screened and approved for Disney. If you call the general 911 and get the Orlando Ambulance, not only will they want to drive you to the Orlando Hospital which is further away, but before they can bring the ambulance onto property, two security guards need to search the ambulance inside and out to make sure they aren’t bringing in any prohibited items. That could be life or death time depending on the severity of the emergency.

One last fun fact that I learned from him speaks highly of Disney’s already legendary guest services: should you get admitted to the hospital while visiting the Disney parks, they’ll provide your family with a complimentary hotel room for the length of your hospital stay. If you’re already in a hotel and you’re due to check out, they’ll try to keep you in the same hotel, or if necessary, move to you a comparable one. And even if you’re not staying on Disney property, they’ll put your family in a free room in one of their hotels for the time that you’re admitted to the hospital.

Anyway, I suppose we should get back to the food now.

That night was our last at Kouzzina, and of course, with Chef Miguel.

Again, he offered an appetizer, but I was so off that day (having had too few hours of sleep and being so stressed and run down that bed sounded more appetizing than food), I asked for something very light. He accommodated with this perfect little “chickpea ceviche” as he called it. Mixed with the chicks were baby zucchini, fresh oregano, cilantro and lemon. A delicate little beginning to a hearty comforting meal.

At the end of our first meal there Miguel told me he was going to make me something special, “comfort food”, for our second night. I didn’t know what to expect, but he said it was big. And it was. Here are three pics documenting its eventual demise:

The pictures don’t do it justice, but this was honestly the best vegetable pot pie I’ve ever had. The crust alone was revelatory. It was buttery (he used Earth Balance), savory, and also a little sweet with a hint of cinnamon. Inside was a thick creamy sauce filled with every imaginable vegetable. The list goes from the customary: carrots, peas, fingerling potatoes and broccoli, to the intriguing: brussel sprouts, purple cauliflower, red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini. I’ve never had one like it. It was, as was promised, complete comfort food, and I swear, when I was eating it, I felt worlds improved.

Then came the dessert which was a full-on roller coaster for the taste buds. I like to think of them as “extreme sorbets”.

The one on the left was a made-in-house meyer lemon with chamomile. This was super tart, like puckery, with a prevalent undertone of the herbal, flowery chamomile. Next to it was a beautifully rich, sweeter, but still slightly tart berry sorbet made of cassis, or black currant, also made in-house. And on the right, a scoop of vanilla Tofutti covered with the rose jam that they import from Greece. This one was sweet and creamy with a strong floral taste akin to rosewater. Going back and forth and down the row was an enormously enjoyable experience as my tongue got ratcheted from the super sweet and floral to the astringent and the fruity and back again. I do enjoy exciting food.

And so ended another spectacular meal with Chef Miguel. He’s a young chef, and a major asset to not only Kouzzina but to Disney in general with his kind smile, outgoing personality and significant culinary skill. I sincerely hope he’s there for many years to come.

When we returned to the room that night a very thoughtful surprise was waiting for my mother. They'd been sent by the manager at the Polynesian who I can't thank enough for all that she did for us during our stay.

Day 11 – Magic Kingdom

As I said in the beginning of the post, we returned to Gasparilla for a second lunch where I was treated to one of Chef Tyler’s must-have Reubens and my once-a-trip indulgence: a root beer float with a big scoop of vanilla Tofutti.

Just because I don't think the first pic does it justice, here's a second mid-consumption:

And the float:

Due to our hospital stay, we had a couple of extra quick services to use, so though I didn’t really need it, I opted for one more of those fabulous nacho plates at the Tortuga Tavern a little later in the afternoon.

I also saw that they now sell a non-alcoholic sangria. After checking their mix (artificial yes, but also vegan), I was given one by the very kind manager as a special treat. The drink came with floating raspberries, blueberries, maraschino cherries, mandarin slices and lime. They add Sprite to give it some fizz, and though maybe not exactly what I was expecting, (and maybe a tad artificial-tasting,) it was a rather refreshing and welcome treat. I'd certainly get one again.

That night we returned to 1900 Park Fare for a Chef TJ-less meal, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew he’d been talking with Chef Tyler to make sure my mom’s food would all be correct, but I didn’t know exactly what I’d be getting. That morning at Gasparilla, Chef Tyler had said that he’d been up since 5:00 am and consequently didn’t plan on staying for dinner service at 1900 PF.

Lo and behold, though, when we arrived, Chef Tyler had stayed on to make my meal for me at 8:00 at night. I have to extend a massive thanks to him for another delicious meal, and for making the last meal of the trip such a special one.

For the first course I had a heaping bowl of red pepper hummus and crispy seasoned potato chips. Yum!

For my entrée, he made me three small, though hugely filling, dishes. On the left was a bulgur salad with raisins and zucchini with lemon, dill, and agave. It was sweet and very tasty.

In the middle was, for a mushroom lover like myself, total heaven: mushroom risotto with enoki and oyster mushrooms. Soooo good!

And on the right, a mound of soba noodles with tofu that had been marinated in a rich, flavorful chimichuri sauce with cilantro, oil and saracha. Perfectly spicy and with the noodles, unexpectedly creamy. I felt at times that it had an almost cheese-like consistency. It was, however, so filling that I had to take some home.

In fact, I was so full that for dessert I could only ask for a little Tofutti to cap it off.

The meal was delicious, unique, and completely unexpected. What more could I ask for?

And so wraps up our strangest trip to date. Not that we’re at all dissuaded. In fact, we’re hoping to return next spring for a healthier, and hopefully hospital-free, vacation. Until then, I plan to spend the winter trying to get caught up on my sleep, while hopefully shedding those extra Disney pounds…

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. As always, thanks for filling us in! Hope your mom is feeling better and that the next trip is incident-free.

  2. I love reading your blog because your posts are so entertaining and informative. I can't believe how many mishaps you had but it'll definitely be unforgettable. Your poor mom...sure hope she never has to go through that again but it's good to know about the quality of the Celebration Hospital. Thanks again for all the restaurant recommendations and names of chefs. Your meals always look amazing and your food pictures turn our so well. Thanks again for a great post!! :)

  3. Thank you for your post. I'm sorry to hear you had such a rocky trip! I wanted to let you know that my husband and I went to California Grill last year as vegans. We had a fantastic meal! They had some sourdough bread for us to start with. We then ordered an avocado and mushroom sushi (I think?) for an appetizer. We just asked for those things because we like them, but it was delicious! We then both got "Vegan Unplugged" plates for entrees. I've posted a picture of it on Facebook's Veg Disney page. It was one of the best tasting meals I've ever had. It came with 4 individual plates. A delicious salad with beets and candied pecans, a mushroom flatbread, a roasted veggies plate, and a veggie stir fry (the weakest of the 4). We didn't order a dessert as we weren't on a dining plan. We also booked our meal on a night during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and we got to go out and enjoy the Christmas themed fireworks from Magic Kingdom. They have a viewing deck where they pipe the music in for the guests. The whole experience and food was fabulous. We've made reservations again for this year. Even though we're on the dining plan this year, we won't use our credits for it. It's 2 table service credits, but the Vegan Unplugged dishes were under $20 each.

    We have reservations for 1900 Park Fare this time too, and I'm so hoping we get Chef TJ. How can we find out if he's scheduled to be there? (Also, I'm so glad to see Kouzzina still looks great. We'll be trying 1900 Park Fare and Kouzzina both for the first time on this trip!)

  4. I'm so happy to see these reviews! but really sorry about your many mishaps. I made reservations for Kouzzina based on your last reviews and now I'm extra happy that I did, that pot pie looks amazing!! I definitely want to try the reuben as well.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for all the positive feedback and well-wishes!

    My mom's somewhat on the mend, but it sounds like it'll be a long road. She's had a tough year of it, so hopefully we can get her straightened out soon and get on with things.

    Spiritwick, thanks for the info on CG. I knew I'd read somewhere about the Vegan Unplugged meal but I couldn't remember where, or what restaurant it came from. That sounds awesome! (I should really have known that since I'm technically a co-moderator of the Veg Disney FB page... Apparently someone's been slacking off lately...)

    That sounds amazing, and I really appreciate the tip about the price. I never would've guessed it was that cheap!

    When is your trip? I can always try to email Chef TJ to find out his schedule for you, but even the other chefs have a terrible time hearing back from him. The man's a workaholic! (That said, if I'm not mistaken, I think he's on vacation right now; I can't remember exactly when he said he was going until.) The best bet generally is to call the Grand Floridian Cafe podium and ask to speak to a chef and ask them for his schedule about a week or two before you go down just to be sure. In general, I think he still tries to keep Friday and Saturday off. I hope that helps!

    Thanks again everyone, and please continue keeping me informed on all your vegan dining exploits!

  6. Our trip is Nov 27-Dec 3. We have ADRs at 1900 Park Fare on Tuesday, 11/29. If you could email him, that would be awesome! To get the Grand Floridian Cafe podium, do you call the Grand Floridian directly and ask to be transferred? Our ADR for Kouzzina is on Thursday, Dec 1st. Do you know how likely it is that we'll get Chef Miguel then?

    I so appreciate all your help and your trip reports. They've been invaluable for us!

  7. Wow everything looks great, I have been to a lot of these restaurants and although I always end up with a delicious meal i have yet to have any chefs make me completely unique dishes using vegan friendly items such as cheese like you have received, what’s your secret

  8. Hi Kait!

    I think the secret is to call ahead from home a couple of weeks before your trip and speak to the chefs personally. I've had, on a number of occasions, chefs say they would get food in for me or my mom special. Often they'll actually go to the grocery store the day before and pick up vegan cheese or things my mom can eat. It's truly amazing!

    There is more vegan cheese popping up around the parks, and the chefs will usually track it down or buy it for you if they know you're coming. I think Chef Tyler may have bought the cheese for the Reuben special, only because I had asked ahead if it would have cheese and he said he could make it happen. When I went to get the sandwich each day he already had the tempeh marinating in a container with the dressing and the package of cheese was right next to it in the cooler so it was all together. It may also have helped because it's in the Grand Floridian and I know Chef TJ had been looking into different brands of vegan cheeses to keep on hand, so it could be from his vegan-friendly influence. I can't say for sure.

    Either way, like I said, calling ahead will often make a big difference. No one is as accommodating as Disney cast members!

    Good luck!

  9. I've made reservations for Kouzzina, Boma and the Wave for the middle of next month. I'm currently trying to talk to chefs at these restaurants and the people on the phone are just telling me it's not necessary! What do you say to get them to let you talk to the chefs?

  10. Hey Anon,
    Sorry you're running into issues. Did you contact the special diet line, or email them? You can request the form by emailing them here:
    Then on the form ask for the chefs to call you ahead of time.

    Specifically who is telling you it's not necessary? People at the restaurants or the reservation line telephone operators? It may help if you insist that they may need to get something in ahead of time for you.

    Good luck with it!

  11. Thank you so much for your informative reports. Being vegans who travels to florida on a regular basis, it has been very helpful to us.
    I'm sorry your mum was ill and hope she'll feel better soon. We too had issues when we visited in November, I was ill, we were locked out of our villa with no contact details or phones, we had a flat tire and then my dad was also ill! Fortunately the rest of the holiday was fine and we did make it to Mickeys halloween party...eventually!...Maybe it's a November thing!!
    Please can you tell me when you order the nachos at Tortuga Tavern, do you have to ask for a special order or will they know what we are talking about as it is on the menu?
    Thank you once again.

  12. Hi Anne!
    Wow, I'm so sorry to hear your November was a bust too!

    Thanks so much for all the kindness. I'm happy I can help.

    As for the nachos, definitely ask for a manager. I've have mixed results ordering from the cashiers, mostly resulting in blank stares. As I recall, the manager may also offer to make it as burrito, but I love the nachos too much to pass them up when I have the opportunity.

    If you just tell the manager what you want they'll have no problem setting it up for you. I feel like they must do it fairly frequently, but it's not on the menu.

    Are you going back soon? We have no plans. My mom has a lot of recouping to do before we can plan another trip.

    Have a great time there and thanks again for commenting!

    1. Thank you! We are back 27th May, staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter this time. We are looking forward to eating more on site and trying out different resort restaurants!

  13. Hi!

    I just found your blog and it is wonderful!Thanks so much for all the information to help others eat vegan.

    I hope that your mom is feeling better. Traveling while being sick is no fun. I hope her recouperating is going well so you can take another trip soon.

    I just have a few questions if you get a little time to answer. (Sorry if this is a long post!). I'm feeling a bit frustrated with the Special Diets/Disney Dining. A little background: I go to Disney once a year - sometimes 2 if I'm lucky. I'm the only vegan in my family (though my mom is a vegetarian) so it's sometimes hard since everyone in my family has to make sure I can eat something each place we go. I'm also going back to disney in mid May.

    My trip to Disney last summer was not the best because I did not get much help from anyone with my veganism. When I call Disney Dining prior to a trip, I tell them that I'm vegan and they always say "that will be no problem just tell the server when you get to the restaurant" but when I get to the restaurant, I get the same dish each time - pasta with a few vegetables becuase the chef was not prepared for me. It's nice that the chef goes out of his way so that I can actually eat, but it gets bland eating the same thing every time. Also, my husband really wanted to go to the beer garden in Germany one night. I called Disney Dining and they said it will be no problem for me to eat sonething there. We get to the table and order drinks. Then the waiter brings the chef over and he takes me around the buffet and shows me what I can eat - salad and fruit and something else small that I can't even remember. So for the set price of $40 that's all I could eat - no offer to make anything else for me. I was very dissapointed. :(

    I emailed Speical Diets after reading that it might be a better option than just Disney Dining. I told them my reservation numbers (we're going to LeCellier and San Angel Inn) and asked if it would be possible to maybe get something besides just pasta and veggies. Maybe a little tofu or beans or something else with more protien. I also asked if there would be a way that I could have some vegan cheese on my veggie enchiladas at San Angel Inn. I got a response back that answered none of my questions. It looked like it was just cut and pasted together from general emails they usually send out.

    I'm just so dissapointed with how they handled things. I am used to Disney being so good with guest requests.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to speak with a chef before going so they could be aware of me and maybe make something special? I feel like no one will give out any restaurant phone numbers and they will not take my eating seriously. Right now I know I'm eating at LeCellier and San Angel Inn but we'll probaby find another nice restaurant as well. I will probably not be able to make it over to the Grand Floridian this time around but that ruben might tempt me! If so, how did you call Gasperilla Games?

    Sorry this is so long! I just got so excited to see your blog!

  14. Hi Mary Ellen,
    Thanks for the nice comments!
    I'll write more later, because I need to get ready for work, but I just wondered, have you filled out the Special Dietary Needs form, or actually called them in person? That usually helps immensely. If you fill out the form, you can ask the chefs at each individual restaurant to call you directly. Often that's our best bet.

    Thanks again, and talk to you later.

  15. Thanks for getting back to me!

    No, I haven't filled out the form. I actually can't seem to find it. I went on the Disney Special Diets page but I don't see it there. Maybe I'm just overlooking it?

    I'll give them a call today and see what they say as well.

    It would be wonderful to speak with a chef before I get there. Thanks again for your help!

  16. Hi again,
    Sorry it took me so long to respond.
    They should have sent you the form when you emailed Special Diets. Did you ever get through to them on the phone? If not, email them and ask for the form. On the bottom you can list every reservation, and ask specifically to have the chefs contact you at home first. It sometimes takes a while to get everyone to respond, but we always talk to a chef from each restaurant before we go down. It takes so much of the pressure off!

    As for Gasparilla, restaurants in resorts are the easiest to get hold of. You just call the resort, then ask to be transferred to the podium at whichever restaurant you're eating at. From there you can ask to speak to a chef. Gasparilla, 1900 Park Fare and Grand Floridian Cafe all share the same kitchen, so you could call any of them to get to a chef.

    As for the vegan cheese, I know it's around in the parks, but it's very inconsistent. It's unlikely Mexico will have it on hand, but hopefully if you talk to a chef ahead he'll get some in for you. A lot of the chefs are unaware that it exists in the parks, but they'll usually offer to do some research.

    I hope that helps! Do you have any other questions?
    Good luck!

  17. Thanks for getting back to me! I did get a chance to call. At first the woman said that she didn't think there was a way to get my special cheese. I got a little upset and asked if there was any way at all that she could help me. Then she put me on hold for a little while and came back and asked for my info (and cheese info. She said she'd have someone (hopefully a chef) get back to me.

    I never got a form when I emailed them though. Maybe I'll email them again and ask for a form. It would be good to have. If I do get to speak with a chef beforehand, it would be so much less stressful.

    Thanks for the tips on calling the resort hotels. I'm really wanting a vegan ruben now so if I do go, I'll let you know how it is.

    I think that's all my questions for now. I'll let you know how my experience goes and report back at the end of May.

    Thanks again!!!

  18. Hi,

    Hopefully I'm not being a pest with all these comments but I just wanted to send you an update about the special diets form in case anyone asks. I emailed special diets again because I wanted to tell them about my reservation to LeCellier and ask for the form so I could tell them about being vegan and maybe having some sort of protien in my dish. I recevied this email back from them.

    "Thank you for contacting us.
    Please note we have recently modified our process based on feedback from our Chefs and Guests. For future reference please know, Guests no longer need to fill out the Guest Allergy Dietary Request Form unless there is a member in the party with requests associated with the list below:
    - PKU
    - Metabolic disorders
    - A single Guest with 4 or more allergies/intolerances

    As safety is our number one priority, please find a copy of the Guest Allergy Dietary Request Form attached to this message.

    When booking your dining reservations, please be sure to advise the Cast Member of your special dietary restrictions. If you book online, please make sure you include your dietary restrictions on each reservation. If you have already booked your reservations and you are not sure you included the restrictions, please contact our Disney Reservation Center at 407 WDW Dine or 407-939-3463. We stress that you ask to speak to a Chef or a Leader at each location in which you dine."

    They did send me the form since I asked but it seems as though they don't want anyone really contacting special diets unless it's a big allergy or something.

    I guess I'll email them back and ask if there's a way to get some tofu or something in LeCellier and see what they say since the chefs might not be prepared for me. Last time I did that though, I didn't get much back from them. Maybe calling the number is better now since they changed thier approach?

    Mary Ellen