Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 224 (9/15) -- Two More Books About Orlando

Family vacations are a big deal -- they're expensive, and time-consuming, and the danger of one's children's scorn is something never to be taken lightly. But I may be somewhat overdoing it on the preparation front, since these are the fourth and fifth books about Orlando -- the place La Familia Hornswoggler went on vacation last November, and the November before that -- that I've read recently, mostly after I made solid plans for this year. [1] So this is another cheat, following Book-A-Day #s 192 and 214, and it may yet be joined by another post or two before I finally do take this vacation.

Universal Orlando 2008 is slightly out of date -- I got it from the library, since even I'm not crazy enough to buy a dozen guidebooks to a place I've been several times -- but it's also the only book I've found so far that focuses on the Universal resort, which made it very useful on that front. (Most Disney guides have a short chapter or two on the Universal parks and CityWalk, but Universal's offerings are as big and complicated as the similar Disney locations, so they are worth a whole book, particularly if that's the focus of your trip.) It's written by Kelly Monaghan, who is a bit too much of a rah-rah Universal booster than I was comfortable with, particularly in the early chapters. But he is willing to (very mildly) criticize Universal about things that aren't as good as they should be, so that's mostly a matter of adjusting expectations -- when Monaghan says something is the greatest restaurant in the history of the universe (which he nearly does say about Mythos in Islands of Adventure), the reader just has to discount that to "really quite impressive for something inside a theme park."

Universal now has two large theme parks -- the original Universal Studios, a movie-themed park, and Islands of Adventure, a newer park with a vaguer overall theme but several major audience-grabbing areas (Dr. Seuss, Marvel superheroes, Jurassic Park, and especially the just-opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which this 2008 book can only mention as in development) -- plus the restaurant, shopping, and nightclub cluster of CityWalk, which connects the two parks, and three large resort hotels tucked around the edges of the above. And this book covers all of those pieces pretty well, detailing all of the rides and shows in the parks and giving a good sense of the styles and attractions of CityWalk and the hotels. It only has a few pages of black-and-white photography, which keeps the price of the book down, but does mean it's not as visually enticing as it could be. Similarly, the maps here are very blocky, simple things that really just function to show the general layout of areas and signpost where rides are in relation to each other. Still, if you're planning a trip to the big Harry Potter "park-in-a-park," the newest edition will be the best guide you can find to all of the other stuff surrounding Mr. P. (But the Wizarding World is so new that I wouldn't expect it to be covered well in anyone's guidebooks until next summer.)

Frommer's Walt Disney World and Orlando 2010 is focused on the more traditional center of gravity in the central Florida theme-park world: The Mouse. (It's also published by my employer, so I wouldn't heavily criticize it even if I really hated it -- and I didn't.) It's in a standard guidebook format, with a lot more detail (and smaller print, in columns) than the Monaghan book, above -- covering in great depth how to plan a trip to Orlando (timing, weather, cost, travel), what there is in Orlando and vicinity as far as attractions go, all of the different options for lodging (though, as I said in Book-A-Day # 214, there's really a whole book to be written on just that, so this book, like every other, has to condense the myriad options into something compact to fit into a book of wider scope), all of the nearly-as-varied options for eating, and, of course (at the heart of the book) details of the rides and attractions at the Disney parks as well as their competitors.

I came to this book late in my process, so it wasn't as helpful as it would be for a newbie. But if you're thinking about taking a trip to Orlando and you want a guidebook that will cover all of the options, this is an excellent choice. (The only book I'd recommend above it -- conveniently, also published by Wiley -- is the even larger and more exhaustive Unofficial Guide, but Frommer's has a more serious tone that many travelers may prefer to the idiosyncrasies of Unofficial-dom.) The Frommer's guide also has a pull-out double-sided map, covering Disney, downtown Orlando, and the larger area -- which I haven't seen in any other guidebook to Orlando yet, and which is of tremendous use for planning (to see where things are in relation to each other) and, of course, once you're actually on the ground and on vacation. The 2011 book will be out in early November, so this is actually -- shockingly, given that I'm getting most of these from local libraries -- the most recent version available right now.

So these are both good, for different subsets of the vast horde of folks flocking to Orlando for ride-related merriment. If that describes you, yippie! If not, tomorrow I should be back to writing about more comics.

[1] Don't ask how many I still have stacked up, or that I'm still poking through. I have to admit that I find planning for a vacation almost as much fun as actually taking one -- it also lasts longer, and is vastly cheaper.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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