In June 2014, I went on holiday with my family for two weeks to enjoy the various touristy delights that Florida has to offer, including: Disney World, Universal Studios, Discovery Cove, and Cape Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center). It was a wonderful trip but naturally it was sometimes difficult for me to find something to eat in the restaurants and cafes that we visited there. Here I describe the good, the bad, and the downright ugly: the places I ate, what I thought of them, and my recommendations of where to visit and where to definitely avoid!
- Crystal Palace – a buffet with the characters. The wonderful thing about buffets is that you can try many different dishes and go back for seconds of your favourite ones. That is definitely what I did here, there were lots of really good salads, and even some good vegan main course options such as cooked vegetables, Asian-style noodles, and an amazing edamame salad! For dessert the only option is fruit.
- Columbia Harbour House – open for lunch and dinner, quick service (no table service). Although there wasn’t really much choice here, I had the vegetarian chili and some steamed broccoli, both of which were delicious. I asked for an ingredients list for the chili and was pleasantly surprised by how short it was with no sign of any dairy or animal products at all.
- Tusker House Restaurant – a buffet with the characters. Such good options here, it was so delicious! Lots of salads, lots of hummus, roasted plantain, vegetables, a tofu and vegetable curry, and brown rice! One of my favourites for sure! Again for dessert the only option is fruit.
- Allergy Dining Tips – this was a small stall on one of the bridges which served gluten free and vegan gluten free options like donuts, granola bars, muffin, fresh fruit, and beer! I tried the donut and it was absolutely delicious! I spoke to the guy working there for a while and he said how they had been experimenting with different products for a while to determine which were the most popular, and were planning to incorporate this kind of stall in all the parks, which is amazing news! Apart from fruit there is really no other option as the stalls by the roads all sell popcorn, ice cream, and hot dogs.
- Coral Reef Restaurant – open for lunch and dinner, table service. What a disappointment this was. But then again it is a seafood restaurant so I should have guessed it wouldn’t be ideal. The only vegan option is soy chicken with black rice and various vegetables. The rice was the only really good part about this dish. Half the vegetables weren’t cooked properly and the soy chicken was just strange and was not kind on my stomach. I would avoid this one.
- Hollywood Brown Derby – open for lunch and dinner, table service, reservations usually required. I loved this place, the staff were so friendly, the atmosphere was great, and the food was so delicious! There is only one vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free option on the menu of course, but it is so so good: Noodle bowl with wok-fried coconut tofu, soy beans, sugar snap peas, bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms in a red curry broth. Doesn’t that sound so appetising? It was truly the best meal I had!
- Abc cafe – open for lunch and dinner, quick service. Two great salads here, an Asian salad and a quinoa salad, which you can have either with salmon, chicken, or just the salad by itself, which of course I had. Both really yummy, just remember to ask for no dressing!
- Portobello – open for lunch and dinner, table service. A wonderful Italian place with rally friendly staff. Although it has no vegan options on the menu, I asked to make my own pizza with a ton of vegetables which they said was absolutely no problem and was so delicious! They also didn’t charge a lot for all the extras which was very kind of them, so it costs about the same as the other pizzas.
Universal Studios (Harry Potter World):
- The Three Broomsticks at Hogsmeade – quick service. Pretty much the only option is the “soup and salad” option, which is leek and potato and I checked is vegan. Very nice, but to be honest I wouldn’t have cared if it wasn’t great because it’s the three broomsicks! (Potterhead here)
- The Leaky Cauldron at Diagon Alley – same as above, except split pea soup instead (which is obvious to those who have devoured the movies and books intently).
Discovery Cove (all-inclusive park):
- Breakfast – the only vegan option here is fruit, so do what I did and have most of your breakfast before you go!
- Lunch – absolutely nothing. The only way to get something vegan is to ask the chef to make something for you. They have vegetarian burgers and vegetable spring rolls available, but only if requested. For some unknown reason they decide not to even include them on the menu. After seeing some of the sides that were included with other meals I asked the chef to make me a plate of stir-fried vegetables, some corn on the cob, and spring rolls. After 20 minutes of waiting and having to ask them for it twice(!!!) it finally arrived. The veggies and corn were great, but the spring rolls were bland and tasteless. So if you do go here, insist on talking to the chef, and tell them what you want!
Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center:
- Moon Rock Cafe – absolutely useless, all I could eat was a “garden salad” (a huge bowl of iceberg lettuce with half a tomato and a few measly bits of carrot), and fries. There was a tomato soup which sounded promising but the ingredients list was half a mile long, contained endless chemicals, whey, egg whites, and milk powder (why? just why?), so that rule that out. I was hungry so I ate a lot of fries. I tried to eat the salad but there’s only so much plain lettuce a girl can take! While I do add salt to various dishes I make this was definitely a salt overload for me. The only way I can describe it is a “salt high” – my heart was beating really fast, I had a rush then a slump of energy, a headache, and felt dehydrated for the rest of the day. The only way I would ever go back is if I managed to sneak my own food in.
The general Orlando area:
- Cedar’s House: a Lebanese restaurant which was recommended to me by someone on Instagram (THANK YOU!), which was absolutely amazing! Although none of the main courses really took my fancy I chose 4 starters instead including falafel, an aubergine dish, salad, and stuffed vine leaves. All of it was super delicious, and what i didn’t finish (about a third) I took home and had for dinner the next evening!
- Columbia Restaurant at Celebration – a Spanish restaurant where I had the most enormous plate of vegetable paella I have ever seen. It was absolutely delicious but way too much for me so I took the rest home! For all you raw til 4 folks, you would have died and gone to heaven! Once again, of course, I asked the chef to confirm there was no dairy or eggs involved, and it was all gluten-free too.