Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #222: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015 by Sehlinger & Testa

Now, today is definitely cheating -- I covered last year's book in a full review post at the end of August 2013, went into a bit more depth on the 2011 edition during my last string of Book-A-Day in 2010, and have written about other editions (and other manifestations of the Unofficial empire) several other times over the past seven or so years. But it's a Sunday, and this book did take up a massive chunk of my reading time over the past week, so it gets thrown into the hopper along with everything else. I'll launch a theme week tomorrow to make up for it.

So, today's book is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015 by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa, the latest in a line of annuals that stretches back to 1985 and the core of a travel empire that extends through several other regular books (an annual on Disneyland, a rest-of-Orlando book that seems to be every other year, and others) and the mighty, home of a lively blog and a lot of tools (some free, most that come with a pretty cheap subscription) for maximizing the enjoyment of the massive wad of money that a Disney trip requires.

I've been reading these books annually for the past seven years, since I've been making regular family vacations to Disney-fied locations (mostly Orlando, once Anaheim) for that time period. I found these books originally because they were published by my employer -- but Wiley divested the Unofficial books a couple of years back (along with everything else that was meant for regular consumers), so they don't have even the slightest thing to do with me anymore.

This one is the "big book" -- around 850 pages about travel, hotels, dining, attractions, and the other things you might find time to do while you're in the land of The Mouse. What makes the Unofficial Guides different from everyone else is twofold: first, Sehlinger pioneered the use of Big Data (back in the '80s, before anyone had heard of the term) in travel, collecting hundreds of thousands of wait times for attractions and creating ever-more-sophisticated algorithms for finding the ideal touring pattern for any park. Second, the Unofficial books are somewhat crowdsourced -- both to keep that flow of timing data coming, but also to get the reactions of thousands of tourists to every show, attraction, meal, and hotel in The (Disney) World. That makes this book substantially more robust than the competition, with a semi-scientific underpinning -- they make predictions, and then test them, and adapt the algorithms to newer data -- and a strikingly 21st century style: informed and professional, but irreverent and never stuffy.

To put it bluntly: most travel guides tell you what the writer, her family, and the small group of researchers saw and experienced and know. The Unofficial books have a similar-sized team, but they also draw from a much larger (and statistically significant) pool of information, as well. No one else can touch them when it comes to WDW: this is the first book to read for a major trip there, and could easily be the only book for that trip.

Or you can take my personal recommendation: I've been doing this vacation (same time of year, same general destination) for seven years now. I still bought an ebook copy of Unofficial WDW 2015 the day it was available, and still learned things from it.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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