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  • Writer's pictureXimena Diaz Velazquez

Pioneering Vegan Magic at Disney World ft. Melissa Kramer

In our latest episode of the Plant Based On Fire podcast, we had the privilege of interviewing Melissa Kramer, the co-founder of Vegan Disney World. Melissa's journey is a fascinating tale of passion, entrepreneurship, and a love for all things plant-based and Disney. Her story is not only inspiring but also offers valuable insights for plant-based entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the business world.

Melissa's journey into the world of plant-based living and Disney began at a young age, as she enjoyed annual trips to Disney World with her grandparents. As she embraced a vegetarian and later a vegan lifestyle, her perspective on Disney's food offerings evolved. Her eye-opening experience during her first vegan Disney trip led her to become a resource for vegans planning their visits to the iconic theme park.

Her journey began with simple Instagram posts under the hashtag #vegandisneyworld, which later expanded into a dedicated website. Melissa's website has grown into a valuable resource for vegans visiting Disney World, offering comprehensive lists of vegan options at various parks and insightful blog posts about her dining experiences.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Melissa's work is her commitment to providing accurate and helpful information to the vegan community. She's not in it for the money; in fact, her travel advisory business often subsidizes her passion project. Melissa's dedication to helping others find delicious plant-based options at Disney World shines through in every blog post and recommendation she makes.

Melissa's impact on the availability and awareness of vegan options at Disney World is undeniable. She's witnessed the transformation of the park's offerings over the years, from limited choices to a wide array of creative and delectable vegan dishes. Her work has undoubtedly played a role in pushing Disney to expand its plant-based menu.

As for the future, Melissa's aspirations include being invited to Disney events and parties as a representative of the vegan community, where she can advocate for the availability of vegan options. She also hopes to continue her travel advisory business, helping vegan travelers explore various destinations while enjoying delicious plant-based meals.

Melissa Kramer's journey is a testament to the power of passion, dedication, and the plant-based movement. Her work has not only made Disney World a more vegan-friendly destination but has also inspired countless others to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. Melissa's story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all plant-based entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in the world.

> Podcast Episode's Transcription: Bryan (00:01.09)

Hello everybody and welcome to Plant Based on Fire. I'm your host Brian and today I am thrilled to be continuing to talk about the plant based businesses, their inspiring stories and ways that they're thriving in the industry. Today joining us is Melissa Kramer and she is the co-founder of Vegan Disney World. I love it. Welcome to the show, Melissa.

Melissa (00:28.088)

Thank you for having me.

Bryan (00:30.306)

Really appreciate you being here. I am so excited to speak with you today because I am actually taking my family there in like 10 days, like we're going. So I just can't wait and I've got so many questions to ask you about it, but tell us your journey and how did you fall in love with obviously Disney and plant-based lifestyle, all that kind of good stuff.

Melissa (00:51.732)

Yeah, so I was one of those spoiled kids who got to go to Disney World like every year on vacation because I had grandparents who lived in Florida. So it kind of got instilled in me from a very young age. And then as I got older, obviously I started changing how I ate and everything. I went vegetarian when I was started college and then I met my now husband and he convinced me to go vegan. So he and I went on our first Disney trip together when I graduated college.

And that was kind of like the eye-opener to realize like, okay, what is there here? Where is there not? And I was just like, you know, I Spent all this time researching before we left I made these cute little PDFs on my like, you know iPhone 3 or whatever existed then and said like the four things that we could eat in each park and I was just like You know what? There's no resource for vegans for going to Disney and such a big part of going to a theme park is the food And I was like, I guess

Bryan (01:27.95)


Bryan (01:47.848)


Melissa (01:49.832)

I'll become the resource because I just spent forever researching everything and now there's a lot more than four things per park. So it's been a huge change through these years.

Bryan (01:57.133)


That is awesome. Yeah, obviously I started what 13 years ago and have just seen a huge influx of obviously more plant-based choices. So hopefully it will become the default. That's what I would love to see. So, did you put up a blog first or how did you dip your toe into this and then how did you realize like, this is a thing?

Melissa (02:14.348)

I would love that.

Melissa (02:23.405)


I initially started by just posting on Instagram. My friends had been using the hashtag vegan Disneyworld when he and his husband would go on trips. And I was like, I'm gonna do that as well. And then there was like a small group of us that started each Disney trip using this hashtag. And then that was kind of it. So then I was like, okay, we need something more. And I created the website and the website started with just basically, I mean, it still has this but I have lists of each part.

Bryan (02:38.583)


Melissa (02:53.256)

and then a full list of all the vegan options that are at each park, and then I would do blog posts. And at the time, I lived in Ohio, and so I would only do the posts based off food that I ate per trip. So, you know, we'd go for like our 10 day trip and I would like have it drag out throughout like the next five months until we went to Disney again, was like, here, we ate at this restaurant. And it's like, you know, five months ago, which sometimes things change, sometimes they don't. But yeah, it was just, it started with.

Bryan (03:04.918)

Mm-hmm. Yeah.


Bryan (03:17.377)


Melissa (03:19.86)

the hashtag that my friends were using, and then I pretty much formed the website from there.

Bryan (03:24.782)

Very cool. So what were some of the challenges you find when you go into the park and exploring the food options there? Does every restaurant now have basically a plant-based option at this point?

Melissa (03:38.684)

So, like when I started all this, obviously there was like no food. It was veggie burgers everywhere. If we were lucky, they were, yeah, it was literally like french fries. But it was 2019, Disney basically did the whole thing that they were going to call their plant-based initiative. And they said that every single Disney-owned restaurant will have a plant-based option. Now, as we all know, 2020 turned out to be very different than we expected it to be.

Bryan (03:44.458)

potato chips. Yeah.

Bryan (04:02.965)


Melissa (04:07.576)

And so all of those vegan options that we got didn't really return when the parks returned. They did it to a certain degree. I mean, I think they said that we got, they said it was upwards of 200 vegan options, or they call them plant-based options, whenever they rolled that out in 2019. And a lot of them were really creative and really great innovative ideas, and they were really delicious. And then whenever the parks reopened, it was like...

Bryan (04:07.802)


Bryan (04:13.85)


Melissa (04:34.848)

Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers everywhere. And I was like, okay, but I want my other stuff back. So at this point, we're starting to see a shift again that they are being more creative with their options and they're not just slapping an Impossible Burger with a piece of lettuce and tomato anymore, but those do still exist, obviously. But we are starting to see like the more creative options again, which is really nice to see because...

Bryan (04:52.172)



Melissa (04:59.28)

it got to the point where I was excited to go eat food for the blog, because I was like, I haven't had this, and all these things, and now it's like, okay, now which burger do I want to go eat? I'm like, they all taste the same. So we're starting to get there. We're getting back.

Bryan (05:04.586)

Yeah, yeah.

Bryan (05:08.618)

Mm-hmm. That's right. Exactly

I'm glad to hear it. Well, I will be suggesting it on my trip every place I go. Hey, where's the more, you know, I think we have to shout it from the rooftops for sure. So like, what is your hopes with the website and how to bring it forward? Are you actively making some money from it or you're just doing this out of the goodness of your heart to help the rest of us or?

Melissa (05:36.492)

I make a small percentage with ads, but mostly as I joke with there's another vegan blog as well that's called Vegan Disney Food, and her and I are friends and we were talking about it and how we spend more money than we ever make on this because people don't realize that like we spend our time and our money and we do all these things and we go try these foods and then people want more and more and more from us and I'm like, I'm literally spending my own money to do this. But that being said, I'm also a travel advisor.

Bryan (05:39.371)

Uh huh.

Bryan (05:49.6)


Bryan (05:59.159)


Melissa (06:02.92)

And so it's worked out really well to kind of negate people from my website to then being coming clients for me. So obviously vegan travel is very important and it's more than just Walt Disney World. But it's one of those things where it's kind of been nice because I've been able to retain clients because of the blog that I post on. So it all kind of worked out but I'm not expecting to make real money. Let's be real. It's just a website.

Bryan (06:12.882)

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Bryan (06:22.167)

Very cool.

Bryan (06:26.238)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I feel the same way about even the real many plants initiative. Like my goal is to bring more men to the plant based lifestyle on every level. And it's a challenge on that front. And you know, we aren't making any money yet either. So we're hoping with the podcast, we will get to so I think you need a giant tip jar to help fund the next Disney excursion for more food sampling.

Melissa (06:39.468)


Melissa (06:47.265)


Melissa (06:51.74)

Oh, well, so I do have that website, buy me a coffee or whatever. So I have mine, so you buy me a Mickey pretzel. So I have had a good amount of people do that. So it is really nice to be appreciated for the work and time that I do spend on this because it's not easy to sit here and comb through websites of all the menus and eat them all and figure that all out. So yeah, it's a lot of work.

Bryan (06:56.892)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bryan (07:11.166)

Yeah, that's right. That's right. And have to make that special, special trip to that one part of the park. Maybe you don't want to go to for the new food option, et cetera. What is exactly for another burger? What is like, I guess for me,

Melissa (07:19.968)

Yes. Yeah. For another burger. Ha ha ha.

Bryan (07:30.558)

You haven't seen any. Are there any on Etsy like you should also get into the t-shirt business? Like what is the vegan Disney t-shirt? I was trying to think like what would be really cool to dress up the whole family and just shout it out like we're all wearing. Is there such a thing like there's a good moneymaker, do you? OK.

Melissa (07:43.268)

Yeah, I have some stuff on T-Public. Yeah, yeah, no, I have stuff on T-Public and I know Lisa who does the Disneyland one, the happiest vegan on earth. She has some stuff too. I had, they took down a lot of them at first because they said Disney World on them. And I used to work for a t-shirt printing company that was very similar to T-Public. Anything that was any sort of copyright claim, they got cut. So I snuck under the radar for quite a while.

Bryan (07:53.866)


Bryan (08:01.611)


Bryan (08:08.543)


Melissa (08:11.2)

they finally have started dinging me. But I have this really cool black metal designed one with a Mickey pretzel on it and I wear that one a lot. So there's some cute ones. I have like the shark, is it Bruce from Finding Nemo? This is Fish or Friends, Not Food and stuff like that. They're cute.

Bryan (08:17.022)


Bryan (08:23.518)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bryan (08:27.498)

So what, so have you spoken to anybody officially at Disney? Like what's been the Disney community and visitors, like, you know, thought process and awareness of it?

Melissa (08:39.32)

Just chefs, but no one higher up has really ever bothered to get a hold of me. No, I've always joked that I'm not really the visual for Disney people. I have green hair and lots of tattoos, and I'm not the typical influencer, if you will. So...

Bryan (08:46.125)

Not yet, but maybe

Bryan (09:03.53)

I think that's where the world has definitely shifted. So I think you should go after it and crush it. So obviously like, do you feel like vegan Disney world has contributed to the availability and awareness of vegan options? Like, I mean, I know when I searched for it.

You were the first website that came up. So I immediately, A, wanted to talk to you on the podcast here, but just like started pouring through a few things on your site. So I know it's been a helpful resource for me as I plan my trip. So.

Melissa (09:35.136)

Thank you. It's funny because I've had friends say that, and even people that follow us on Instagram are just like, if you hadn't started this whole thing, now it was 2014, so almost 10 years ago, I don't think we would ever have had all these options. And I'm like, no, they would have eventually done it. But then I kind of have to take a step back, and I'm like, would they have? Like, is it, was it me? Like, I just, I feel too humble to like, be like, yeah, I did that. But at the same time, like,

I think I did, and it's kind of wild to think about because 10 years ago, my vegan options were literally a veggie burger, a Malibu Garden Burger, and now I can go have a full meal at Hooptie Doo Revue next to my friend eating not vegan food, and I have the full equivalent of what they had, including a strawberry shortcake. Like, that's wild. It used to just be sorbet and nothing else. My husband got a fruit cup once for dessert somewhere with like a candle in it. It was literally a fruit cup, and we were just like...

Bryan (10:13.036)


Bryan (10:31.852)


Melissa (10:32.872)

Count it, I guess. So, yeah.

Bryan (10:35.114)

Yep, yep, yep. So what like what is the best most sought after? Like, what is the thing that we should definitely rush towards in the park for what's your favorite one right now? How do you narrow it down?

Melissa (10:48.856)

I have too many favorites. That's really hard. Especially when I'm like on the spot. I will say one of my most favorite recent meals that we have had in the last year was at Toledo, which is at Coronado Springs Resort on like the top of the resort. They do like a brick oven cauliflower, which usually it's like, oh, it's cauliflower steak, but their sides are ridiculous. They've got these killer Brussels sprouts.

Bryan (10:52.366)


Bryan (11:03.719)


Melissa (11:15.72)

And like those gigantic beans and the best rice I've ever had my entire life, um, it's like top tier. But if you just want like a quick service thing, obviously I would say go to Satuli Canteen in, um, Animal Kingdom because they make a really great crispy tofu bowl.

Bryan (11:21.486)

Very cool.

Bryan (11:27.116)


Bryan (11:31.19)

Very cool. So do you think that the plant-based movement, like the Beyond Meats, and I mean, meat prices continue to keep going up. The plant-based meats are starting to get really quite competitive. Do you think that overall, us plant-basers, and vegans, and vegetarians, and stuff, are pushing that food landscape in Disney?

Melissa (11:53.208)

I think so. I know plenty of people that choose to eat these things that aren't even fully vegan because they're just like, I'm tired of eating chicken nuggets every day. I have friends who would happily eat those disgusting turkey legs, and if he can get an Impossible Burger, he's like, I'm getting that. So I think that the fact that they have the options, I mean you always have the person who's like, vegan, what's that? I don't want that. And it's like, no, just try it. It's good.

Bryan (12:07.205)



Bryan (12:16.478)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Melissa (12:19.564)

So I think some of their options to the point now where it's like people don't realize like a dole whip. Those pineapple soft serves, those are vegan. You're eating vegan food right now. You know what I mean? Like, yeah. It doesn't have to be made from grass. So.

Bryan (12:26.542)

Mm-hmm. That's right. Yeah. Exactly.

That's exactly it doesn't have to be a salad with a tomato on it. What? So where do you where do you hope to take it? What partnerships, collaborations do you have going? Are you I guess are you is your travel business primarily the vegan the vegan travel offerings or everything?

Melissa (12:36.644)


Melissa (12:53.424)

I mean, so I, it's hard to say. I would love, in an ideal world, I don't ever want to be expected to get anything from Disney from this. However, whenever they were offering free things for influencers and other blogs and stuff, specifically like the parties, I would love to be able to go to one of the parties and see what is available for vegans because I feel really guilty going without my child.

Bryan (13:02.73)


Bryan (13:18.027)


Melissa (13:18.196)

Especially it's like a Halloween party and you can go trick-or-treating and you know what I mean? Like I wouldn't be able to do that but I don't want to pay for myself to go one night and then another time where I pay another five, six, seven hundred dollars for my family to go so it'd be really nice if I could go on Disney's dime if you will, promote it but also be able to do my research and then the next time I get to go I get to go for fun.

Bryan (13:20.514)


Bryan (13:34.626)


Bryan (13:39.565)


Melissa (13:39.7)

So that'd be really great. But then with the travel stuff, obviously, I book everything, but anyone who usually finds me through vegan Disney World is looking for a Disney trip, so they get all the best recommendations for dining.

Bryan (13:51.842)

Very cool, very cool. And do you, are you on, like where do they find you besides the website? Are you on Instagram, obviously, TikTok and stuff? How do we get in touch?

Melissa (14:03.912)

Yes, I'm on Instagram at Vegan Disney World, as well as YouTube. I've not been super active on YouTube for like the last six months because I needed to take a break, which I think everyone should do with social media every once in a while. So I will hopefully be working my way back into that world, but those are pretty much... I have Twitter if that still exists. I don't know last time I checked that. And now I've joined threads, whatever that is. So yeah, that's where I am, but mostly Instagram.

Bryan (14:14.678)

Mm-hmm. That's right, I agree.

Bryan (14:27.486)


Melissa (14:32.642)

is where you'll find me.

Bryan (14:34.498)

Good, good, good. And so everybody who's listening, go check out the website one more time for everybody.

Melissa (14:42.958)


Bryan (14:45.25) and go and find the buy a pretzel button on there for Melissa and help support this awesome resource and some future collaborations I hope to see with you and Disney. And I don't know, my daughter absolutely loves, what is it? Is it, I don't know if it's a Disney show, but is it cake? Have you seen that one where they cut into things? Yeah.

Melissa (14:53.856)

Thank you.

Melissa (15:09.28)

I think it's on Netflix, isn't it? Yeah, yeah.

Bryan (15:12.582)

And so I could just see Disney doing that kind of a thing and inviting you on there for the vegan version of that party and stuff. So we wish you the best of luck, Melissa. Thank you so much for being on Plant Based on Fire. Any parting thoughts for us?

Melissa (15:17.848)

That would be cool.

Melissa (15:27.608)

Yeah, thank you.

Just, you know, if you want to go to Disney World, you know where to find me. And don't ever be afraid to ask questions when you're asking about food.

Bryan (15:39.214)

That's right. That's half the battle is don't be afraid of that, especially when you're on vacation and wanna maximize that. Well, again, Melissa, thank you so much for being here. That's all the time we have for this episode of Plant Based on Fire. And thank you for joining us and sharing your insights and experiences with the community. Until next time, let's keep that fire burning.


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