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By Tim Rogers
Dining at Disney World is a lot of fun. With over 100 restaurants representing numerous styles and traditions, Disney offers guests a smorgasbord of possibilities when dining (including some literal smorgasbords).
But what about vegetarians? If you grew up not eating meat, like me, you might also have a ready made list of restaurants, trips, special occasions, family gatherings, and more where you found that there was nothing for you to eat, or that “vegetarian” option wasn’t actually vegetarian.
But at Disney World, you don’t have to worry, and with these tips, you can make the most of your trip to the World.
Tip 1: Do your homework
If you are reading this, I probably don’t have to tell you that trips to Disney World take some planning, from what tickets to buy, what resort to stay at, how to get there, and more. But especially if you are worried about or just thinking about food, part of your preparation should be to check out some Disney restaurant menus.
By perusing the options, you can get an idea of the places that might have more interesting options, what some of the options might be and more. Note that many of the menus are changed seasonally, so a specific menu item you see now might be changed in a year, but you will at least know the type of options available, and they might even make it for you anyway. That brings us to…
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask
As mentioned above, the first thing you can ask for is old menu items that might not still be listed. Depending on what it is, many restaurants are able to accommodate this request.
But Disney’s help to vegetarians does not end there. If nothing on the menu strikes your fancy, ask your server if there are any other options for vegetarians. Some restaurants have a separate vegetarian menu; others might ask the chef if he or she can use their creativity for you. It’s not guaranteed that this will happen, but if you don’t ask you won’t know.
At many counter service locations, you can also get specific items a la carte or ask for meat to be left off, so as to not pay for non-vegetarian items you won’t eat or miss out on something that sounds great except for that one meat item.
But sometimes asking can just be a clarification. For example, every vegetarian is different and the standard what they will eat changes. Some eat fish, some won’t eat items with chicken stock or gelatin, but just by looking it can be hard to tell what is “safe.” So if you aren’t sure, just ask.
My favorite example of this is when my wife and I ate at the Biergarten, and through some miscommunication the kitchen got notified that we had a food allergy (special note, if you have a food allergy the Disney chef’s will take great care of you), so a chef came out to walk us through the buffet so we wouldn’t accidentally encounter an allergen. When he found out we were just vegetarians, he walked us through the buffet anyway, and that extra help let us know that one of the soups was made with chicken stock (which matters to me) and confirmed some items that did not have any meat. It was incredibly helpful and a great service from the Disney CMs.
Tip 3: Go to a buffet
Speaking of buffets, go and eat at them. Besides often including characters or a show, buffets provide a ton of options for all palates. As an extra tip, look at the difference between lunch and dinner at buffets – many of them charge more at dinner and the only real difference is an additional meat option or two, which will do nothing for a vegetarian. You can get the same experience for less at lunch.
While I have enjoyed several buffets at Disney World (including Biergarten, which is probably the biggest surprise), the one I would recommend to any vegetarian (or really anyone) is Tusker House. Located in the Africa section of the Animal Kingdom, Tusker House has safari themed versions of Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy, but more importantly a wide selection of African and Indian themed foods. This theme provides a wide range of vegetarian options, all of which are great. If you are looking for one buffet to try as a vegetarian, this one should be near the top of your list.
Tip 4: Try a signature meal
While Disney service is great on many different levels, the signature meals take it up a notch. Signature restaurants are more likely to be able to accommodate special requests, and the food is fantastic. I have personally experienced this at Jiko and California Grill, and in both cases was able to get interesting and delicious vegetarian options with impeccable service. Signature meals are pricey, but for a special moment they are definitely worth it.
Tip 5: Try new things
As seen above, Disney really goes above and beyond in accommodating vegetarians who visit the parks. One of my concerns growing up, and after many of the “incidents” I mentioned in the introduction, is that I stayed very much in a narrow comfort zone of items involving combinations of bread and cheese (side note, who doesn’t love some bread and cheese though). For me, a cruise was actually the experience that broke me out of that and exposed me to a whole range of cuisines. What made the difference is I knew what I was eating would be “safe” because of the level of information, service and care given by the wait staff.
Disney does that as well. If you, or someone you know, is a little bit of a skittish vegetarian, a trip to Disney World can really open you up to a new world of culinary options. Just get out there and give it a shot.