You may have noticed from my tweets that I spent Christmas day at the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.
But as a food blogger, I had more than Space Mountain and Mickey Mouse on my mind. Investigating Disney eats would be a whole new adventuresome part of this trip. Could the vegan and/or healthy Disneyland food options live up to the famous Disneyland Park magic?..
Merry Christmas! in The Park.
Growing up in California, I have been to Disneyland Park many times. I have always been a passionate fan of Disney animation and Disneyland. I can remember frolicking and skipping down Main Street, my eyes wide, ogling the magical sights, dancing to the sounds of music and laughter. A wide ear-to-ear grin on my face. Disney glee. It's contagious.
Disneyland is dripping in a mysterious sort of happy magic that you really can't deny. I suspect only the gloomiest of grumps could resist the temptation to grin a "Disney smile" in this Park. Especially on Christmas.
But this day trip was my first time visiting Disney after becoming vegan. And a food blogger. So my eyes, nose and "mouse ears" were focused on more than the magical surroundings - I was aching to scout out some of Disney's healthy and vegan eats.
We arrived at the park at around 9am. Christmas is famously one of the busiest days of year at Disneyland. And with beautiful SoCal weather reaching near 80 degrees, not a cloud in the sky - I knew the park would be packed. And it was.
Hello Cali sunshine, I love you.
Disneyland on Christmas. Entering through the main gate, there was a sea of excited ticket holders. A swarm of glowing faces gushed through the entrance and spilled onto Main Street. Disney's lavish holiday decorations were twinkling in the morning sunlight. A tall elegant tree rose high above the Park. They really do pimp out the Park for the holidays - every cove, crevice and corner gets a makeover.
Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the centerpiece of the Park, was covered in an elegant silver-blue blanket of "snow." Later the castle would be lit up in twinkling white lights - more beautiful than I have ever seen it...
Disneyland at Night. Lights twinkling..
The adrenaline of Main Street slowly started to crash as 9:45am approached. I could see that growling, desperate look in my husband's eyes. Coffee. He wanted coffee. A soy cappuccino to be exact. And I could've used a soy latte myself. Since I had already done some research on "soy" at Disneyland, I heard that the Blue Ribbon Bakery was the ONLY spot in the Park where you could find soy for your latte.
No soy you say? You don't really realize how depressing this fact is until you get to the Park. We crossed the crowded street towards the Bakery. This process takes a few minutes because literally the swell of people felt like NYC's Times Square - right before the 8pm Broadway shows start. A mess of people all looking and moving in every direction. Oh and strollers. Everywhere. "Stroller Parking" for miles.
We approached Blue Ribbon Bakery and the line was swirled up inside like a sticky bun - and even spilled out into the sidewalk. Wow. People really want a bakery bite and coffee drink. I guessed that the line would take 45 minutes to an hour. And I simply could not bring myself to waiting in line that long for a latte as our first Disneyland stop. So we crossed the street to another more modest coffee shop. There was no mention of soy on the menu, but we waited in the quick ten minute line anyways. I approached the counter,
"Hi! Do you have soy milk?" I asked eagerly.
"Soy, wha?" The woman responded confused by my question at first.
"Soy milk. For coffee?" I repeated nicely.
"No we don't have that. We just have 2%. The only place that might have that would be Blue Ribbon across the street." She said.
Darn. No coffee for us. Oh well. We decided to get out of the chaos of Main Street and seek out a mood-lifting ride. Indiana Jones. My favorite. We slowly moved throughout the ever growing mobs of guests, and headed towards Adventureland. We rushed to the ride and picked up some FastPass tickets. We would return at 10:20 for admission to the ride. I love the FastPass feature. Genius.
We had an hour to kill, so we took advantage of a very short Pirates of the Caribbean line and went on that. Followed by a stroll through New Orleans Square where I spotted the famous "Bread Bowl" spot where I was dying to try the Vegetarian (vegan) Gumbo later in the day. We spotted a few "celebs" along the way too..
Spotting a princess like Ariel is always an event. Those cute kids flock..
Strolling through the sparkling sunshine, Tom Sawyer's Island in the background, I was ogling the people. I am infinitely curious about what people eat and the people watching of what people were having for breakfast fascinated me.
I noticed the prized possession of the morning was a giant cream-frosted Cinnamon Roll. It was huge. The size of my head. Giant. Price was around $5.50 I believe. I spotted a handful of small children wolfing down their own plate of cinna rolls. Then I saw lines of families waiting for breakfast feasts consisting of giant flapjacks, eggs and bacon. A few breakfast nibblers were feasting on popcorn and churros. All before 10am. I felt a little depressed by this.
This is NOT princess food! I really couldn't wrap my mind around how Disneyland was blatantly offering carnival-style eats for breakfast. Could you imagine Snow White downing a giant cinna roll. Or Prince Charming shoving an over sized Turkey Leg in his mouth (yes, they sell those too, and the lines were long.)
Would Mr. Walt Disney himself approve of the over sized food fare available at Disneyland? Cookies fit to serve five people. Ice cream treats around every corner and a quite frankly, pathetic selection of healthy food options. And no, a triple cheese vegetable sandwich on a grain bun is not my idea of the "healthy" option.
Thank goodness for fresh fruit. And sun...
My breakfast "oasis" .. next door to Aladdin's Oasis..
Sun pairs well with a fruit breakfast.
So what were the healthy food options at Disneyland? Fruit. For one thing. Thank goodness for the fresh Dole pineapple. My husband and I ate two giant sticks of pineapple, grapes and a few bananas during our day. We also snacked on a Sabra hummus and pretzel dip set (quite bland), iced tea, Vitamin Water and a few packs of almonds I had stuffed in my purse from home (thank goodness for those!) Then later on in the day, around 5pm we settled into a cozy cafe table and tried the Vegan Gumbo.
I was really impressed with that Gumbo bread bowl. I confirmed with the cast member at the counter that it was dairy-free and vegan. She said yes to both and even added a quick note that "however, it may come in contact with certain allergens." I said that was fine - I'm not truly allergic to dairy or nuts - so that was doable. The little oyster crackers on the side were not vegan, FYI. The soup was pretty good! Rich. Creamy. Rice, big chunks of veggies - including mammoth slices of okra, which I loved. A tomato-based rich broth with a hint of spice. Toasty sourdough bread bowl. Not too shabby.
Vegetarian (vegan) Gumbo Bread Bowl..
Later in the evening we did finally wait in a 45 minute line at Blue Ribbon for that coveted soy latte. It tasted amazing. Coffee bliss just as the air was turning crisp and chilly - of course my husband laughed when I said it was getting freezing out. It was probably around 55 degrees.
My husband and I left a little early, around 8pm. Still hungry, we had a light soup/sandwich dinner when we got home.
The day was awesome. Indiana Jones. Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion and more. I even convinced my husband to try the "Canoes" with me. Which turned out to be super fun thanks to our quirky guide who liked to shout insults at the Park goers on dry land. Calling out to them as we tirelessly paddled, "hi lazy people!" Sounds a little mean, but his joyfulness got away with it and everyone laughed.
Fun Fact: I always thought the Canoes were on a track or had a secret motor - but they do not! The boats move by the people actually rowing on the boat! So if you get stuck with a 'not-into-rowing' crowd, the boat guide will really have to do all the work. No wonder all their arms were all as thick as stuffed duffel bags.
So to return back to my first question about Disney's Healthy Food: Magical or Not? Sure you can find a few hidden gems of health. But really, I'm not impressed at all. Disney standards #fail on the food front.
Why not use that Disney creativity to bring healthy food to life!!
Have a few creative and delicious options. And definitely more non-dairy beverage options. There is a new Smoothie place in the California Adventure Park. But in Magic Kingdom you'll probably be stuck buying a sweet Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade on a hot day. And while vegetarian dining options are 'technically' available at many spots - they are either loaded in cheese or simply not very appealing.
Let kids choose between a gooey Cinnamon Roll versus a waxy green apple and you don't have to be a sorcerer to guess which they will want.
Come on Disney, take on this challenge! Disney is such a kid-focused place. Even more than say, McDonald's - which classically gets so much hype as being the "worst place on earth" for kids to eat. Well I almost have to say that Disney is worse than McDonald's. Really. Because Disney is not just about food. Disney teaches values. Values about using your imagination. Dreaming big. Wishing on a star. Treating yourself like a proud princess or prince. Being kind to those fuzzy woodland creatures like Bambi. Treating the environment well, like in The Lion King.
Kids want everything Disney - Mickey-shaped cookies sell big. Soo.. maybe put these on the menu: "Mickey's Special" salad with veggies cut into Disney shapes - and a healthy vegan burger called "the Cinderella Special."
Disneyland is missing out on such a precious opportunity to influence children in a healthy way. To change their lives from the inside out. To be truly magical in the foods they promote and sell. This missed opportunity comes at such a crucial time. A time when childhood obesity is a tragedy and children are being overfed the wrong types of foods. Dairy, meat and white processed grains. Too much sugar, fat and dead food.
Where is the Disney Salad Bar in the park? Where are the plentiful healthy smoothie bars? Where are the truly magical kids (and adult) meals and snacks? I don't want to have to leave the Park or sit down at a pricey restaurant to find a healthy-ish meal.
And yes, all the fresh fruit options are awesome - but it definitely plays second fiddle to the Mickey-shaped cookies, Mickey-shaped Giant Pretzels and Mickey-Shaped Ice Cream Sandwiches.
I will forever love Disneyland. I can't help it. I buy into every bit of "Someday your Prince will come" (because he did) and "When you wish upon a star." But I'm finding it hard to stomach Disney's nutritional standards.
So Dear Disney, I adore you, but I'm begging you: rethink and rework your huge portions of junk food fare at Disneyland Park. Fans don't visit to eat funnel cakes, turkey legs and cinnamon buns the size of cannonballs. They come to Disneyland to experience magic. And there is nothing magical about overeating junk. Your stories are always rooted in the triumph of good over evil. I hope to someday see this theme appear in your Disneyland food fare.
Otherwise the only dream to come true may be the story told in Wall-E.
What do you think? Have you experienced Disney Park eats? And do you think Disney's lack of healthy creative food is even worse than a fast food giant like McDonalds?