Susan Shumaker and Than Saffel
"Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando"
This interview appeared in the October 22, 2000, Issue #55 of ALL EARS®
ALL EARS® has been wondering, too, so we decided to find out for ourselves! To share that insight with you, ALL EARS® continues the series: Meet the Authors! These interviews give you an opportunity to meet the authors of the best WDW guide books on the market, as well as ask them questions directly!
We are pleased to now present an in-depth interview with Susan Shumaker and Than Saffel, authors of Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando.
Many thanks to everyone who submitted questions!
On behalf of ALL EARS® subscribers, Welcome Susan and Than!
ALL EARS®: Let's start by having you tell us a little about yourselves.
SUSAN AND THAN: We've been working together almost since the day we became a couple, from washing dishes and waiting tables in the same (very veg-friendly!) restaurant, to helping curate, design and produce exhibits for Harvard University's Peabody Museum.
We decided to "go veg" on Valentine's Day, 1991, after a successful opening and celebratory dinner at the museum. In 1993 we left Harvard and went out on our own, producing educational CD-ROMS that garnered national praise and awards--one of our clients even won the Presidential Humanities Medal for the CD-ROM we developed together.
We continue to do some CD-ROM and Web work for a few clients, but writing for Vegetarian Times Magazine and working on the Vegetarian World Guides is our main focus--at least when we're working.
Our real project is our family, our daughter Rhowyn, our two dogs Hannah and Morgan, the old stable we're (slowly) renovating into a home, the farm we live on in northern West Virginia, and being as silly as we can, as often as we can.
ALL EARS®: What prompted you to write the guidebook in the first place?
THAN: 1993 was a watershed year for us. Just before we started out on our new multimedia careers, we got married and took our honeymoon in Great Britain. Our self-designed itinerary focused on the enigmatic stone circles scattered throughout the British countryside, and the myriad wonderful veggie restaurants and B+Bs to be found there as well.
To help us, Susan put together an amazing notebook of phone numbers, addresses, directions, maps, itineraries, sights to see, photocopied articles and chapters from books--a travel guide! Slowly the idea for Vegetarian World Guides began to grow until we finally took the leap.
We launched the series with this guide to Walt Disney World for one very simple reason: we were completely taken aback by the yummy veg food and great service to be found at WDW! They really go out of their way to ensure a special dining experience for everyone--even vegetarians. ;-)
ALL EARS®: What is your favorite thing to do at WDW?
THAN: I could watch the choreographed shows at Epcot's Fountain of Nations for a loooong time.
SUSAN: Before we had Rhowyn, my favorite thing was having a romantic dinner for two in Epcot. We'd make our PS arrangements so that we were seated right as the park was closing. Then, we'd linger over dinner, drinks and dessert (service was usually quite good, since we were among the last people left in the restaurant), exiting the restaurant into an empty park. There's nothing more magical than wandering through the countries of the World Showcase without a soul in sight, accompanied by the sounds of inspirational music swelling from every bush.
Now that Rhowyn is in our lives, I've gained a totally new appreciation for Walt Disney World. EVERYTHING is great--the pools, the restaurants, the wildlife, many of the rides (especially It's a Small World!)--and designed with even the littlest kids in mind. And, even after nearly 20 visits, I still love Pirates of the Caribbean (my absolute favorite in 1972)!
ALL EARS® READER GAY BACHMANN: I'm currently reading your book. Thank you so much. I've been delighted to see the increased availability of vegetarian food over the last few years at WDW. Your book is a great resource, even for those of us veteran Disney types.
My question is about the s'mores at Ft. Wilderness. Are the marshmallows vegetarian? I never would have questioned such a thing, but recently having an unusual itch for a s'more I was surprised and disappointed to find that all the marshmallows in my local supermarket contained gelatin. I was able to find marshmallow cream and make a 'make do' s'more in the microwave, but it wasn't the same. Any idea about the Ft. Wilderness marshmallows?
SUSAN AND THAN: Thanks for your question, Gay, and for the kind comments about our book! Your excellent question points out a rarely discussed ingredient in marshmallows (and a lot of other seemingly innocuous foods, including many mints and multivitamins).
Long story short: The s'mores at Fort Wilderness are made with Campfire brand marshmallows, which do unfortunately contain gelatin. In fact, though we've searched high and low.
The only solution we've found is to make your own (yikes!): the Vegetarians in Paradise Website offers a recipe for veggie marshmallows at http://www.vegparadise.com/asknettie11.html
READER LINDY HIGHAM: Being a vegetarian and a WDW fanatic, I've been to
several restaurants and counter service places that
will leave the meat off for me. Unfortunately, they charge the same or more, which is something that is very perplexing. Since it costs more to have the meat rather than to leave it off, why do they charge the same or more? Also, are there places at the World that will actually charge you less for getting less? How about the buffets or all you can eat places, for example 'Ohana? Thanks so much!
SUSAN AND THAN: Hi, Lindy! Thanks for your question. Our experience at WDW, and elsewhere, has been similar to yours. Although we've never been charged *more* for ordering our meals without meat at Walt Disney World, we frequently are charged the same price, and occasionally (at El Pirata y el Perico in the Magic Kingdom, for instance) we've received a slight price reduction.
To get the real scoop, we asked the powers-that-be at Walt Disney World Food and Beverage for their official policy. Here's what we heard back:
"For Dinner Shows, buffets, or any dining experiences with set menus and pricing (including Character experiences) the pricing will be the same. As always, any special dietary requests can be accommodated with enough advance notice, but again, the price will not be adjusted. At à la carte restaurants, we focus on offering high quality vegetarian dishes on the menu. Changes to any items on the menu (from non-vegetarian to vegetarian) will not change the price."
Being total cranks, we weren't satisfied with that response, and have asked for further clarification: Why doesn't the price change? The folks at Disney Food and Beverage honestly did not know the answer, and they've forwarded the question on to the big guns in Disney finance. As soon as we get the answer, we'll be sure to pass it along to Deb for posting in ALL EARS and on WDWIG.
ALL EARS® READER SHARON CLEVELAND: Hi, as a UK resident, committed vegetarian and avid Disney fan (who isn't?) could you tell me whether your book will be available over here please? Planning for our next trip, hopefully late 2001, is due to start and a vegetarian guide will be invaluable, although Deb's guide on her site is very useful. Thank you.
SUSAN AND THAN: Hi, Sharon! We're so glad to hear that you're interested in finding Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando in the UK. We're hoping to get the guide into bookstores throughout the British Isles next year. In the meantime, you can order the book through amazon.co.uk. You should receive your copy via post within 2 weeks. You can also obtain a book directly from us. For more information, contact us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for your interest in the guide!
ALL EARS® READER DIANE HARRINGTON: Hello Susan and Than, Your book was such a surprise to me. I'm a vegetarian who absolutely loves Disney World and Paul McCartney. I belong to a Macca and a Linda list. One of the things I asked last year was where we should eat on our vacation in that area. Nobody really had any answers. Then I heard from a friend that you had written a book with exactly what I was looking for. Thank you! Now for my question: How did you ever get Paul to agree to write for your book?
SUSAN AND THAN: Hi Diane! We're huge fans of Paul's, too, especially now that we've had some personal dealings with him. We initially approached Paul and Linda in 1997. After a couple of fruitless attempts to reach either of them through their US agents, we sent a promotional packet to their UK publicist and crossed our fingers. A few weeks later a mysterious envelope from England, with no return address, appeared in our mailbox.
"I bet this is from Paul and Linda!" said Susan, ever the idealist. "Don't be pathetic!" sneered Than, the perennial crank. Than was wrong.
The envelope contained a letter from Linda's publicist, asking us if we "would allow Linda to authorize the forward" to our series. We graciously consented! ;-) After Linda's untimely death, we assumed all bets were off. But Paul made a point of honoring all of Linda's commitments, saying he was just as strongly behind the series as Linda had been. The result was the wonderful foreword he contributed.
ALL EARS® READER KARL STEINHOFF: As a religious practice, we don't eat meat, fish or dairy on certain days of the week. Avoiding meat and fish is no problem, but avoiding dairy products is often a real challenge. Do you recommend making PS and contacting the restaurants directly in advance, or are there other strategies that might work in this case? Thanks for any suggestions.
SUSAN AND THAN: Hi, Karl! The most important piece of advice we can give is the Boy Scouts' motto: "Be Prepared!" Make your Priority Seating arrangements for the restaurant of your choice *at least* 24 hours in advance--we recommend two weeks' notice for vegetarian meals--by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463). Priority Seating arrangements can be made up to 120 days in advance for most restaurants, although Victoria & Albert's Chef's Table reservations can (and should) be made 180 days in advance.
Since you're on a strict vegan diet on certain days, we also recommend you call the Walt Disney World main switchboard (407) 824-2222 and ask to be transferred directly to each restaurant where you'll be dining on those days. Once connected, ask to speak with a chef and explain your dietary needs. Have fun brainstorming with the chefs about your special meal.
If you give them enough advance notice (usually a week will do), Disney chefs are more than happy to purchase special items like rice milk, kamut or seitan to make your meal memorable. Remember to get your chef's full name, and to let her know the date and time of your dining arrangements. And when you arrive at the restaurant that evening, tell the host/hostess about your special meal and give the name of the chef with whom you arranged it.
For a quick
bite in the parks, your best bet is to purchase a copy of our book (OK-we
know that's a shameless plug; but it currently is the best resource for
vegetarians traveling to WDW). We offer lists and reviews
of the *best* places to find strictly vegan meals and snacks (no dairy or eggs) in the four parks and all around property, plus specific suggestions on what to order at each place.
The guide also has special sections on finding vegan kids' meals, background information on "hidden ingredients" at ethnic restaurants, and special chapters devoted to Universal Orlando and the Disney Cruise Line. The three of us (Susan, Than, and intrepid researcher gardenia) even checked for things like ingredients in the bread used for sandwiches (yes we ARE a restaurant manager's worst nightmare!).
ALL EARS® READER KENNA WASHINGTON: I recently had to change to a low salt diet to help me avoid the symptoms of Meuniere's Disease. Do you have any suggestions for me? We have reservations for Hoop De Doo and from what I remember - the delicious meal is not what you would call low salt. Can WDW accommodate my needs even at Hoop De Doo?
SUSAN AND THAN: Hi Kenna! Finding low-sodium items on the menus at WDW can be a challenge, but a representative at the Revue's main office assured us (in an anonymous phone call) that people with special diets can be easily accommodated.
We advise you to call the Revue's kitchen (407) 824-2803, a day or two before your reservation and ask to speak with a chef. You can even fax the staff a recipe and enjoy it the next night, as long as they have the ingredients on hand. This might be a better strategy than going with the flow, since all the low-sodium options quoted to us seemed a little uninspired: steamed vegetables, baked stuffed tomatoes (without the cheese), and the ubiquitous pasta. This flexibility is one of the hallmarks of Disney's guest-focused food and beverage policies, especially at sit-down restaurants and dining venues like Hoop-Dee-Doo. Have a wonderful time!
ALL EARS®: Tell us about the website you created to complement your book.
SUSAN AND THAN: In addition to telling you where to find our books, it offers updates to our published materials. When a restaurant closes, a chef leaves, a new veg-friendly Bed & Breakfast opens, or someone writes to us about a goof we've made, we put it up on the website so that everyone will have that information. The website adds value to our books, and to our readers' experience.
ALL EARS®: What last thoughts would you like to share with everyone?
SUSAN AND THAN: Not enough people in this world, vegetarian or not, are getting the food they deserve: delicious meals lovingly prepared from quality ingredients, by people who really care. And vegetarians often feel like the last people on the list when it comes to chefs' priorities.
But Walt Disney World can be a great place to taste meatless--but not tasteless--fare that will make you think you've died and gone to heaven in casual attire!
Books by Susan Shumaker and Than Saffel
Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.