Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Vegan Disneyland


At one point during our trip to Disneyland, Marilyn and I stared at a duck on a fake body of water.

MARILYN: Is that duck real or fake?
ME: I have absolutely no idea.

And that right there is the problem with Disneyland. It's difficult to tell what's real or what's not, and that feels overwhelmingly creepy. Everything is very contrived, which automatically makes me suspicious. It was like Stepford -- with life-sized cartoon characters.

I don't want to sound like a complete sourpuss. There were good parts, too. Space Mountain was really fun. And of course I was ridiculously amused by all the sullen goth kids trotting around the park in Mickey Mouse ears. (It's ironic, see?) And it's hard to not get swept up in the giddy, ultra-hyper, happy vibe of the place.

Also, I have to admit: I was completely impressed by the food options.

Naturally there were carts shilling buttery popcorn, cotton candy, french fries and all kinds of other junk food. It is an amusement park, after all. But in addition to that, there was definitely a fresh fruit presence.

It actually seemed like it would be more difficult to NOT find fresh produce. I swear there were fruit stands every few steps, all selling sliced mango, apples, bananas, oranges, watermelon chunks, pineapple and grapes. It was all rather pricey, yes, but it was still very cool to see.

Marilyn and I were actually at Disney for work. This assignment was part of the follow-up story about Natalie, a baby recovering from brain cancer. The family had a wish fulfilled by a local non-profit, and so they were sent to Disney for five days of rest and relaxation.

Here's the gorgeous and spirited Miss Natalie:


And here's her brother, Carson. These huge hands of his cracked me up, even when he was pouting:


Because Marilyn and I were trailing the family around the park and had to meet up with them soon after lunch, we grabbed our meal at a random spot in Frontierland. My vegan options were looking slim, because I didn't see anything around us but fast food and burger stands. I thought I was going to have to make do with an apple from the fruit stand.

Surprisingly, the burger stand had a vegan veggie burger on the menu.

Veggie burger

With the texture of a urinal cake and the flavor of plywood, it was not the greatest veggie burger I've ever had. But I was thankful and grateful to at least have that option.

With some advance planning, I have no doubt I would have ended up with a creative and satisfying meal at Disney. (The Blue Bayou had a mushroom/couscous dish on their menu that looked amazing. I wish we would have had time to make reservations there. That's on my list for next time!) The park was also less restrictive than I thought they would be; I easily could have brought in my own food.

For dinner, Marilyn and I had dinner with Natalie and her parents, Andrew and Kristen, just outside the park in downtown Disney. The restaurant was called Catal, but we ate outside at their UVA Bar, which had a nice tapas menu.

The server couldn't answer all of my questions, but he did know what vegan was, and he brought out a little book from the kitchen that listed all the ingredients in all the dishes.

It was wonderful. I absolutely pigged out on olives, baba ghanoush, plus this lovely artichoke:


And then I couldn't resist this beet salad. In addition to the root veggies, it had chunks of orange, shaved fennel and fresh herbs. Yummy.


Overall, I'm still not 100 percent sold on Disney as a vacation spot for people in my age group, but I will happily eat there any time.

Mouse balloon

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