Vegan Voyages: Cedar Point Amusement Park - Sandusky, OH
For the past several years, the adventure-seekers in my immediate family have made an annual trip to Cedar Point, a theme park in Northeastern Ohio rightfully known throughout the world for its phenomenal roller coasters. My father (Larry), my brother (Owen), my niece (Lucy), Christine and I will often spend a weekend in early August staying at the Hotel Breakers, enjoying each other's company, and getting our favorite adrenaline fixes!
Four of us are serious coaster-riders, and Cedar Point has perfect coasters for each of us. For my dad, it's all about speed, so he'll tell you his favorite coaster in the park is the awesome Giga Coaster, Millennium Force (May 2000). Owen also favors speed over heights, so while Millennium Force is up there on his list of favorite coasters, he's also a big fan of the lower trajectory and tight, fast turns of Maverick, a Blitz Coaster that made its park premiere in 2007. Lucy (age 12) is an absolute fiend for both heights and speed, so her coaster of choice is the Top Thrill Dragster, the hydraulic-launched Accelerator Coaster from 2003 that goes from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds and, at 420 feet, is the second-highest roller coaster in the world. While I love all of the aforementioned coasters, my deepest affections are reserved for GateKeeper, the glorious Wing Coaster that opened in 2013, and Valravn, the stunning Dive Coaster that was introduced to the park in 2016. Both of these coasters offer incredibly smooth rides with loads of spirals and inversions, giving the rider the feeling of soaring on atmospheric thermals like a hawk might do. It's probably not a coincidence that the logos for both coasters are bird-related. For me, there's nothing better! Christine has tamer tastes when it comes to rides, so her coaster fix is the Iron Dragon, 1987's lower-profile, suspended, swinging Terrain Coaster. Get her on the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Tiki Twirl, or the Pipe Scream, though, and she's as much of an adrenaline junkie as the rest of us!
Our last trip in August 2019 was a bit different for Christine and I, as it's the first time we've made the journey as vegans. Going into it, we expected meals to be a challenge (and they were), but we were pleased to find that we weren't reduced to consuming only pretzels and french fries while in the park (as we were at Six Flags Darien Lake just a week before - but that's another story). Here's what we discovered:
Our first meal was lunch at the T.G.I. Friday's in the Hotel Breakers. This meal is standard procedure for this trip, as we check in to the hotel, pick up our park passes, then fuel ourselves for a long afternoon & evening of walking and riding. Christine and I were happy to discover that, since our last visit a year earlier, Friday's has added the Beyond Burger to their menu. Serious thumb's up, T.G.I. Friday's! Sure, it's a little inconvenient that in order to make the burger truly vegan, one has to request that it be served without cheese and Friday's sauce, but that's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. So, we both ordered Beyond Meat Cheeseburgers (no cheese, mustard instead of Friday's sauce); mine with a side salad, Christine's with fries, and eagerly awaited the meal to come. First things first, the burger did not disappoint. This is definitely a higher-quality product than the Beyond Burger patties that are available to the public in an increasing number of grocery stores. The texture was outstanding, the flavor was smoky and satisfying, the lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and mustard gave it a nice "classic burger" sensibility, and I have no trouble believing that this burger could, indeed, convince some omnivores who just "can't" give up burgers that plant-based options are every bit as good as "the real thing." The only thing I had to grumble over during this meal is that my salad arrived covered in shredded cheese. After a futile attempt to remove the cheese from the somewhat wilted iceberg lettuce, I gave up, and settled for a few of Christine's fries, instead.
Fast forward several hours, and we were on the hunt for some vegan-friendly food within the park, itself. Fortunately, we didn't have far to look. At Gristmill Wild Eats, a fold-over sandwich kiosk in the Frontier Trail section of the park, we found a Veggie Sausage sandwich on the menu! Hooray!! We had actually had some pretty tasty non-vegan sandwiches there in 2018, and decided to give it a try. Again, we were not disappointed! Though I don't know what brand of veggie sausage was used in the sandwich, it definitely had an Italian flavor profile. The sausage was served on a soft, pillowy flatbread with lettuce, tomato and onion, and was accompanied by a choice of fries or a side salad. In a throwback to lunch, Christine ordered the fries and I ordered the salad. In another throwback to lunch, the salad arrived covered in shredded cheese, and as a result its iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices sadly went to waste. I enjoyed every bite of my sandwich, though! The sausage was both firm and tender, with a nice bite to it. The texture and spiciness of the sausage contrasted well with the fresh vegetables, and the flatbread on which the whole thing was served was fantastic. I'll definitely be keeping this meal in mind for our next trip....I just won't bother ordering the salad.
Morning. Day Two. We had a rather catch-as-catch-can breakfast, as staying at the Hotel Breakers comes with early park entry, and we wanted to get a jump on the action. My breakfast consisted of two Sabra offerings, the Everything Hummus Toast and the Lemon Poppyseed Hummus Toast, which I will cover in a separate product review, some carrots and celery, and two clementines. Before officially starting in on the day's activities, Christine and I took a walk to the Starbuck's in the Hotel Breakers for some liquid refreshment. Christine had the house coffee of the day with almond milk, and I went with an iced, unsweetened chai latte with coconut milk (which I highly recommend).
Finding a vegan lunch in the park proved to be a bit more frustrating than tracking down dinner had been the evening before. We stopped and looked at the menus of a number of the park's restaurants, only to dismiss them with "nope...it's all meat." I have to give dad, Owen, and Lucy some serious props for their patience and support during this process. They had no trouble, at all, with walking around until we found something that would suit our needs. Where did that prove to be? Panda Express. Situated in the shadow of Millennium Force in the Frontier Trail section of the park, Panda Express was doing a rapid-fire business when we arrived. With Asian food being one of the simplest cuisines to veganize, we had reasonably high hopes for our lunch. Sadly, we were disappointed. There wasn't much on offer for the vegan or vegetarian crowd: just white rice, some mixed vegetables (mostly broccoli and bok choy), veggie chow mein, and fried vegetable spring rolls. I went with the rice, Christine went with the chow mein, and we both had vegetables and spring rolls. Now, you might be thinking "Hey....that doesn't sound bad. Rice or noodles and veggies is a perfectly respectable meal, and who doesn't like a good spring roll?" While I would generally agree, this particular iteration of the foods in question left quite a bit to be desired. The rice was overcooked, the vegetables were soggy, over-salted and bland, and the spring rolls were mushy and flavorless. While I didn't taste it, Christine assures me that the chow mein was also less than stellar. Now, I don't expect to find the highest-quality, fresh, healthy, food at a theme park, but this meal was truly unfortunate. The best that can be said is that it was edible, and gave us the energy we needed to keep on riding coasters.
A few hours later, Lucy actually requested that we take a break, so while she and "Pop-Pop" headed back to our rooms for a bit of a nap, Owen, Christine, and I returned to T.G.I. Friday's for an early dinner. Christine wasn't particularly hungry, so she just had a couple of beers while Owen and I refueled. By this point in the trip, I was feeling deprived of fresh vegetables, so I bypassed the Beyond Burger in favor of a salad. I was surprised to discover that none of Friday's salads are even vegetarian as they all come topped with cheese, at the very least. This seems odd to me in a time when both veganism and vegetarianism are becoming more pervasive, and when so many omnivores are lactose intolerant or have other digestive issues when it comes to dairy. Perhaps Friday's could consider making their salads vegetarian by default and turning meats and cheese into options for those who want them? After a bit of deliberation, I went for the Charbroiled Fajita Salad, without the steak, the cheese, and the sour cream. What remained was a nice array of vegetables and well-spiced (though somewhat overcooked) rice over greens. I particularly appreciated the fire-roasted tomato salsa and the fresh slices of perfectly-ripe avocado. Coupled with my typical unsweetened iced tea, the salad made for a satisfying meal.
So, while I was pleased to see that Cedar Point is making some degree of effort toward accommodating patrons who do not ascribe to the Standard American Diet, they have a long way to go when it comes to providing enough vegan and vegetarian options. Even offering cheese-free salads or a selection of simple vegetable or grain-based sides from which coaster-loving herbivores can construct a meal would be a huge step in the right direction. Our family is already looking forward to our next trek to Cedar Point, and it very well could be that there will be additional plant-based options on their menus by then. In the meantime, however, Christine and I will plan to bring our own food into the park next time around, just so we can be sure to have some healthier choices on hand.