Friday, October 01, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 240 (10/1) -- Walt Disney World Guides, Take Three

Yes, I'm still reading books about the many attractions of central Florida -- as previously chronicled in Book-A-Day entries # 192, 214, and 224. And I'm still not done; I have two "Unofficial" guides that will be my main on-hand references and that I might write up for one last post to bulk up Book-A-Day. I'll just say, in my defense, that planning a vacation can be just as much fun -- and vastly cheaper -- than actually taking it. I'm not sure any readers of this blog will care about these books, but, then again, I've long suspected that most of you don't care about the majority of the books I mention here. (But I still have hopes that you don't all disdain the same majority of books.)

First, and easier to deal with, is Frommer's Walt Disney World & Orlando with Kids. (There's a new edition this year, but I read the 2008 edition, since that's what the library had.) It's very similar in scope and approach to the regular Frommer's WDW book (which I read last month, and covered in Book-A-Day # 224, linked above) -- down to some phrases and sentences that seemed very familiar -- with the addition of information on maximizing the enjoyment of The Mouse for families with kids of various ages. This book isn't an annual like the main Frommer's WDW guide, but it does appear to be updated every other year, which is good enough for most purposes -- theme parks change, but not radically, and not overnight.

It has all of the strengths of the Frommer's brand -- comprehensive, serious views of all of the options, from lodging to attractions to dining; a layout jam-packed with information that uses sidebars and icons to keep it all from becoming too much to navigate; and copious references to contact information (generally phone numbers) offered in-line rather than relegated to a section at the back -- along with more focus than the main book on what children of various ages will likely be interested in. The author, Laura Lea Miller, uses the opinions and reactions of her own five kids when evaluating rides, which is good as far as it goes, but they only appear on about half of the rides, which can make comparisons lopsided. (I also never quite remembered which kid was which age, which could be a problem -- I don't want to recommend changing those kinds of call-outs to "a nine-year-old boy thinks," since that loses the personal flavor, but getting the age of the child right at the point of recommendation would be very helpful.)

If you're going to Disney World with kids, particularly if it's not your first trip, this could easily be the only guidebook you use. It's wide-ranging without being gigantic, and fact-filled without being dull. I still like the Unofficial books better, but that's partly because their "big book" is so big (and I always like more information) and partly because the Unofficial books have an irreverent, zippy tone unlike the traditional guidebook style.

The Complete Walt Disney World 2010, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal: a full-color, heavily illustrated (with gorgeous photos) guide to WDW created and published by a wide-and-husband team (she writes, he photographs). It does spectacularly well what the DK guidebook I looked at in Book-A-Day # 214 tried to do, but didn't entirely succeed -- integrate lots of photographs of the actual rides, parks, and resorts into the guidebook format so that the reader doesn't just read about what's available, but actually sees them directly. All of the photos are professional-quality, chosen and arranged exceptionally well; they're great aides memoire for those who have already been to WDW and will be very useful planning/dreaming fodder for those who haven't yet made the schlep to The Mouse. The layout is also very impressive, and doubly so when you remember that this is a self-published book (and triply so when this reader remembers how well it stacks up in comparison to the DK book, from one of the premier illustrated-book publishers in the world): it's very browsable, integrates the photos clearly with the text descriptions, and effectively uses color in the text for added usefulness.

The scope of Complete is pretty much the same as all of its competitors -- it skimps on planning and other resources (especially compared to Frommer's or the Unofficial books), but makes up for that with better maps and really top-notch photography, particularly in the central sections about the four parks. (Complete is about 350 pages long, and just over 200 of those pages are devoted to the theme parks; about 75 pages to the Magic Kingdom alone.) Complete's sidebars focus on Hidden Mickeys (shapes of Mickey's head hidden in various ways) and interesting trivia about the attractions and their surroundings; this is a book by Disney experts/aficionados for readers who notice and appreciate the little touches.

The scope given to the photos in this book do mean that it's a bit more expensive than much of the competition ($24.95 vs. mostly $19.95), and that it has less detailed or nonexistent text descriptions of non-Disney aspects of your vacation. (Complete covers only a few "outside" resorts, doesn't touch the question of transportation to Orlando, and has no coverage of Universal Orlando or other area attractions.) But it does have the best treatment of Animal Kingdom that I've seen in any guidebook, including details of all of the animals that can be spotted in the park and a thoughtful appreciation for AK's role as a world-class zoo. And the photographs -- I really can't say this enough -- are stunning, wonderful in themselves as well as adding immensely to Complete's usefulness.

Complete might not have enough depth to function as the only guidebook for a first trip to Disney World -- particularly if there's extensive travel down to Florida to be planned, or one's vacation includes substantial time outside of The Mouse -- but it's a wonderful book for the seasoned Disneyite (particularly those interested in history, Imagineering, and Hidden Mickeys) and, so far, the best-illustrated book I've seen on WDW.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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