Disney with Special Needs: A Vegan with a Plan (Dining That Is)

Have you heard the story about me breaking my foot carrying Avalon through EPCOT? Just kidding. True story, but I promised that we were going to get away from the upsetting stuff and start talking fun again, so that’s what we’re going to do.

By now you probably know a couple of things about me. I’m part of a group of Disney travelers that are the epitome of special. I think of being on the spectrum as my super power and wouldn’t change it even if I could because it lets me experience things that other people don’t get to. I’m a vegan. I love, love, love the Disney dining plan.

Today we’re going to combine the last two into one glorious exploration of how you can take the most advantage of this fabulous little plan even when you have special dining requirements. Because….food.

So, here’s the thing. You know I have to throw in a disclaimer every now and then, so here’s the one for this post…the dining plan might not be right for your family. I know. I know. You’re probably all like…but, Taryn, you just said that it was the greatest thing since sliced multigrain bread. It totally is — for my family. It might not work out as well for your family, but since there is so much out there that gives you all the reasons why you shouldn’t choose the dining plan – including if you are a vegetarian or not a big eater – I wanted to be the voice of the other side for you. In my family we have a vegan, two people with a condition that makes it difficult for them to eat more than a small amount of food at a time, and two people who are big eaters. Throw in the fact that I also have an issue with my heart and blood that requires regular nutrition and water to manage, and you’ve got a fun approach to eating. Even with all of that, though, I am still an active proponent of the dining plan, and I’ll tell you why…

Dining Planning It Up with the Vegan:

Breakfast. I love breakfast. I love to start the day with a big meal and then not have to think about eating again until the end of the day. There are some days, though, when we have a special lunch or early dinner planned, so I don’t want to fill up in the morning. Either way, the dining plan makes sure that we can fuel up easily and still have plenty of credits for the rest of the day. Our usual plan goes like this…we head down to the food court and fill up my refillable mug with coffee. Wonderful, wonderful black coffee. We then order the Bounty Platter. Have you seen this thing? It has eggs, bacon, potatoes, a biscuit, and either pancakes or waffles. Crazy. That plus an extra side of bacon and a bottle of orange juice as the beverage option feeds both Tutu and the baby for one meal credit. BAM. For me, the chefs are happy to whip up some vegan waffles or pancakes and a side of fruit salad for a meal credit. I can also wander over to the grab-and-go section and snag a big fruit salad or a container of hummus, vegetables, and pretzels for a snack credit. Make sure that you fill up your refillable mug with your beverage of choice, and then grab a juice or a bottled smoothie as your included beverage for extra bang. Those smoothies are substantial enough that I have been known to have hubby get one of those as his included beverage with his meal and that is my breakfast. Another twofer. Woot!

Snacks as meals. The change to make the dining plan include two snacks rather than one snack and a dessert with quick meals is one of the greatest things ever. We are not huge sweets people. Don’t get me wrong, Bubba spends all year planning his ice cream consumption and they will get down on some cupcakes, but we are just not eat-two-desserts-every-day type people. We are, however, snacking people. Especially when I am able to use those snack credits as a whole meal and then slide my leftover meal credit over to Bubs or Hubs so that they can eat a little more on days when they are particularly hungry. Disney is a snacker’s paradise and so many options are vegan right off the menu. Popcorn – even buttery and caramely – VEGAN. Mickey pretzels – VEGAN. Dole Whip – VEGAN. Baked Potatoes – VEGAN. This is all without even mentioning the fresh fruit, veggies, and pre-packaged items. Imagine spending two snack credits and getting a huge bowl of vegan chili and pouring it over a baked potato. YUM and super filling. That will easily get me through a whole afternoon and evening. If you are in Animal Kingdom you have an even bigger variety to choose from. Head over to Mr. Kamal’s and have some wonderful hummus, veggies, and adorable tiny pita or falafel without the tzatziki

Make the most of combos. If you have ever been to Pecos Bill, you know just how amazingly delicious the food is – but also how much they give you. These are not dainty plates. The fajitas are massive and then there is the glorious, glorious toppings bar. I can eat until I feel like I’m floating away on a sea of guacamole without spending a single credit. How? Mommy orders a fajita platter with the meat on the side, plain rice, and an extra order of tortillas. This gets us a heap of peppers and onions, rice, and three tortillas each. She also has the serving of meat on the side. Then we head up to the toppings bar and the real magic happens. We fill up the little containers with roasted corn, pico de gallo, guacamole, and lettuce, and Mommy grabs cheese and sour cream. We can then both eat super filling fajitas and there is enough meat leftover to give some to hubby or bubba to supplement theirs. One meal credit. BOOM

Table service meals. If you want to feel really, really special head to a table service restaurant and talk to the chef. Hopefully you will have made reservations well in advance and made a notation that you have a special eating request involving no milk, fish, shellfish, or eggs, and then called the dining line and had them note that you are vegan. If you’ve done this, you’re golden. Show up to the restaurant and remind them of your vegan-ness. They may give you a fancy allergy-friendly menu and they will send a chef out to talk to you. They’ll get your preferences and then make you something amazing. For me, this means telling them that I’m vegan and that I can’t have anything spicy, because that overloads my sensory situation. The dining plan makes it extra easy to take care of these meals because it doesn’t matter what anyone else orders and you don’t have to wonder what the chef is going to charge you for the meal they make for you. You might also be lucky enough to get lemon sorbet with blueberries. That’s what I got at Cinderella’s Royal Table and I could have just climbed into the bowl, burrowed myself in, and been happy for a few days

Food festival booths. Are you traveling to EPCOT during one of their festivals? Let me give you a hint… you probably are. With the exception of the middle of the summer, there is always a festival going on over in the World Showcase. I’m one of those who thinks this is fabulous. Nothing is better for learning about a culture than going to a festival and that’s what the World Showcase is all about. That and festivals mean food. Lots of food. If you read my trip report from this past fall, you know that my family went to the Food and Wine Festival and had an amazing time. Frolicking through the countries sampling all kinds of different foods is a blast, but it is also a great way to use your dining plan. Most, if not all, of the food items at the booths are available for a snack credit. This doesn’t just mean that you can use just your snack credits. If you find a booth that has three items that you want to try, you can use a quick service meal to get those three items. This meant that every time I used a snack credit for a meal or shared a meal, there was an extra quick service meal to use at the festival. So much food!!!! While the festivals are a little skinny on vegan options, there are a ton of vegetarian options, so if you are of the lacto-ovo variety, you will definitely have a world of variety available!

So there you have it…why this vegan still says the Disney dining plan is the way to go. On a side note, the plan is also fantastic for me for other reasons as well. There’s nothing quite as freeing as knowing that meals and snacks are already paid for when we arrive on vacation. Stress? Gone. Because the meals are done by credits and not by cash, you don’t have to crunch numbers trying to figure out what you can afford or if you are willing to spend the money on a certain dish. Freedom? Absolutely. The plan also means not having to count cash, accept change, try to divide up amounts, or any of those other things that might mean interacting a lot with others. Relief? Definitely.

I’ll leave you with one final tip – about tips. Gratuity is not included in table service meals. This means that even when you use your dining plan, you are still expected to leave a tip for your server. I have two techniques for making this easier on myself and both work super well. The first is to rely on charging to the room. I put a debit card down at the front desk and just charge the tip straight to the room. I can then pay it off at the end of the day or at the end of the vacation. The second is to declare Bubba the Grand High Pubbaa of the dining plan. He is then responsible for keeping track of credits and for paying tips. I give him a handful of gift cards at the beginning of the trip and he uses them to pay the gratuities of each table service meal.

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop It’s Better in Vinyl.

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