A Guide to the Orlando Guidebooks
If you are considering a trip to Disney World, you should know that a little bit of planning and advanced preparation can make your vacation much better. You should not read every single book out there about the trip, it will make you bonkers. I have read them for you. You’re welcome.
I like anticipating and planning, I find it enjoyable, especially when the snow won’t go away, the sky is gray, news is depressing and work is stifling.
I’m not paid for my opinion (but if you are interested in giving me money, I’m listening!). I suggest you read over these reviews, figure out what book is right for you, then get it out of the library. Bring the book along in your suitcase, sure, but don’t lug them around the park. Use apps and the park’s map. At the end of my reviews I’ll list the books I plan on using on my trip. Check back to see another blog on recommended websites and Apps I plan to use.
A comprehensive book that includes all the latest updates, but some of the descriptions of the rides and shows are as cynical and unappealing as the ones from the food critic in Rattatouie. It is for a reluctant tourist who has been dragged into an Orlando experience, and mentions gritting your teeth through parades and skipping rides because they’re dated. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have kids, because height requirements are not listed, and he suggests preschool activities whenever he mentions “kids”. The descriptions of food are also a bit snobbish. He recommends jamming two parks into one day because there’s “not enough to do”. He’s not all doom and gloom, he encourages people to talk with the experts, the craftspeople and the imported people of different countries who are there to share their culture. He says what each shops sells (besides the usual). The descriptions of the tours given by Disney World are detailed and clear, and include prices. The book includes a full sized folded map of the area.
This is the officially authorized book, and it shows. It has the licensed characters through-out, and the descriptions can be described as “gushing”. Magic bands are “technological wonders” and Extra Magic Hours are “a great value”. I don’t know how all the volunteers are paid, if they are at all. It would be cool to be one of their testers, if it meant free passes or hotel stays. Because it is official, it has all the phone numbers, up-to-date details and lists of what characters are at what restaurants. The book is designed to be used up, to rip out pages, write in the back. What is noticeably missing is any mention of anything non-disney. The 8 day planner only has spaces for Disney related activities like what fast-passes will be used, what park you are going to and so on. The book has coupons in the back. The only one that was tempting to me was the one for Basin (but this is a library book). The book suggested both full day and half-day itineraries. Some of the choices were a bit odd (see the safari in the afternoon, go to all the shows). I would recommend this book to people who want to get hyped up and don’t plan on moving East of Route 4. It adds in cruise information. Were you planning on taking a cruise while in Orlando? No? Well, why not? Now you have all the information!
Here’s real people telling you real stuff, people who love going to Disney, but aren’t in Disney’s official pocket. This version of the book is more than a list of rides and restaurants, it reads like a parenting manual, self-help guide and Yelp review. A group of testers try everything and rate it based on interest and age. Quotes from real people pepper the book. To give one example, they rented strollers from different vendors to see which ones had the best service, and talked about the advantages and disadvantages of having your own stroller.
They remind parents that their children will not suddenly turn into angels because you are on a special trip, give advice on handling meltdowns, following through with consequences and how to childproof a hotel room. They cover the “take the kids out of school” controversy as well as the “off property/on property” debate. What if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding? Should your child bring a friend? Can grandparents survive taking the kids without the parents? They have suggested strategies for avoiding losing children (tattoos, anyone?). They rank rides based on small child fright potentials, discuss where to find characters in the parks, list restaurants and what they offer, and emphasize, over and over- DON’T SKIP THE NAP. (I never heed the advice to go back to our hotel, but we do take a rest after my husband insists). There is a brief chapter in the back about Universal Studios, Seaworld and everything else, but they do suggest readers get a more comprehensive book that they happen to sell. They have touring plans for different scenarios, like parents with toddlers or teens splitting up from parents. There are 6 itineraries for Magic Kingdom, and 4 each for Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios. They mention several times that you can have a subscription to their website/app to get more individualized, up to the minute plans. That would be my only complaint, but they need to make money just like the rest of us.
Did I say Frommer’s Guide was snarky? It is positively mild compared to the blaring opinions in this guide. At first I thought it would be another “aw gosh” praise of all things Disney, since the Orlando locals said they were the only guidebook “honored by the Disney Company.” But I got a hint of their free spirit when they called magic bands “dorky”. Then they did not hold back on either praise or disgust as they rated rides and restaurants. They give a 1-5
star rating and think of it like a movie critic rating- it’s not the budget or the hype, it’s the viewer’s experience that counts. They gave the little Mermaid ride one star, but the carousel five. They selected the “best of” in different categories in the first chapter.
The book emphasizes its photos, and there are some great ones. Even the packing list has pictures. The map of the entire Disney domain is odd, in that the two page spread puts North on the right. This guide is wordy, a good pick for armchair readers who want history, factoids, behind the scenes details and just details in general. Each ride has at least a page dedicated to it, and at the bottom of the page they list average wait times on a daily timeline. The Animal Kingdom chapter has an extensive animal guide and where to find each species. The A-Z chapter goes all over the place, and would not be the format I would use to provide quick information. I noticed quite a few typos and strong opinions not necessarily shared by the average tourist. One of the testing things they did was stay all day for a week at a value hotel during spring break to see if it was filled with carousing college kids (spoiler- no, not really). No mention was made of anything West of Route 4- if an alien read this book they would think that there was just untouched wilderness beyond the borders of the realm of Disney.
MouseJunkies by Bill Burke
This book is hilarious, it makes me want to be friends with this guy. Unfortunately, it was published in 2011, and his website doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 2014. Still, this book is entertaining enough to read anyway. Bill Burke and his fellow “mousejunkies”, people who have become addicted to Disney magic, describe the highs and lows of their hobby.
There is no mention of anything but Disney, and no option but to stay on Disney property. Bill compares staying off property to walking on broken glass, and professes his fear of Orlando jumping snakes (no, not a real thing). Rides and shows are mentioned, including a funny description of two huge guys happily going on the Peter Pan ride, but the bulk of this book is a poetical love letter to the food and service. He describes meals in heartfelt detail, including his quest for the best Bloody Mary, the careful treatment of guests with allergies, his inability to stop eating at the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, and a loving ode to Raglan Road. His description of Dole whips made me give them a try, even though I don’t like pineapple (now a fan). For service, he talks with the tv host Stacy, who gives (gave?) little segments on hotel tvs and vacation planning videos. He covers basic information, but also his favorite benches at each park (“My name is Bill and I’m a benchaholic”). He describes an experiment with “drinking around the world”, where you have a drink at each country in the world showcase, cautioning you to not get stupid, abusive or sick. He and his mousejunkie friends talk about non-park recreation like fishing, golf and spas. They discuss the Disney Vacation Club points system. Serious addicts, they get their fix 2-3 times a year, with a few even moving to Florida to make trips easier. He talks about the difference between going as an non-parent and as a parent, and commiserated about the misfortune of getting sick on your vacation. He invents new words, like “Epcrotch”- the horrendous skin chafing you can get from the wrong clothing and excessive heat. To top it off he shares many people’s “Lightning Bolt Moments”, the moment they fell head over heels in love with Disney. I think my lightning bolt moment was when I went with my grandparents, and while everyone else was watching a parade, my grandpa and I went on Big Thunder Mountain twice, feeling like we got away with something.
I want a new edition!
So what books will I bring?
I will bring the Unofficial Guide to Disney World 2017, Eyewitness Travel Florida, the Birnbaum Disney World guide for kids, and possibly a Harry Potter book (we are currently reading the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition).
Maybe I should write my own guidebook. I have a few weeks to do more research. I want to know if I can tour the Be Our Guest restaurant if I don’t have a reservation, the best place to have a quiet time (low stimulation) in Universal Studios and Island of Adventure, where exactly is the best place to stake out for viewing the river lights in Animal Kingdom, and how to avoid being domineering over my family and instead make sure they do what they want.