Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 267 (10/28) -- Two Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World by Sehlinger and Testa

This is the fifth and last Book-A-Day entry to cover guidebooks to the tourist traps of Orlando; I write this about ten days before the family heads out, though the post itself will go up sometime later. (You'll excuse me if I keep my vacation plans vague, when writing for an unknown, public audience.) The previous four were: 192, 214, 224, and 240 --and, yes, I did rather overdo it this year. On the other hand, I've been trying to read books wholesale to keep Book-A-Day going, and these worked nicely both as grist for that mill and to help actual vacation planning [1]

The two books here are among the very few I considered my "main" vacation planning tools, which may seem backwards, since I got to them last. (And I do have to admit that I'd done most of the serious planning this year -- dates, hotels, airfare, etc. -- before I dove into the guidebooks.) But this is the Hornswoggler family's third year straight at The Mouse, and I've used the current edition of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World each year, so I think I've internalized a lot of authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa's ideas by this point anyway, and that I just read the books to remind myself of the things I already know and to jog my memory about what worked or didn't work in the parks last year. (Or what things we didn't get to, or thought the boys wouldn't enjoy yet.)

The Unofficial Guide is massive (850 pages), comprehensive, irreverent, honest, indispensable -- and as scientific as a guide to a bunch of theme parks possibly can be. Unlike most guides, which are written by a single person or small team, behind this book is an Unofficial army, including a statistician, child psychologist, Disney historian, and phalanxes of data collectors, writers, hotel inspectors, proofreaders, and general factotums. It will be too much book for some people, I suppose -- particularly the terminally disorganized and the folks who think making any plans interferes with their special secret snowflake status -- but, if you believe in doing things right if you're going to do them at all, and if you'd prefer not to spend too much money doing it, there's really no alternative.

This is a book to buy about a year before your proposed vacation, since it will walk you through all of your options: time of year, days of the week, travel choices, housing possibilities, and all of the little details of getting to Orlando and getting comfortable there. (There's four hundred pages of book before Sehlinger and Testa even get down to the all-important topic of dining, let alone the park attractions.) Since the Unofficial Guide is an annual, a lot of this information doesn't change radically -- though hotels can get better or worse over time, so caveat reservationer -- and so you could probably get a library copy for the early going.

But, in the end, if you're going to WDW, you'll probably want to bring a copy of the Unofficial Guide along. It will probably stay in your room most of the time -- did I mention this book is big? -- but you'll find yourself scanning it before heading off to the parks in the morning or ripping out the touring plans in the back to shove in your pocket. It's best feature is its comprehensiveness -- whether you're researching hotels, restaurants, or rides, it will give you as much information as you can handle (and maybe more, for some of you) and rank everything based on both the author team's objective analysis and the reports from thousands of past guests.

The other notable aspect of the Unofficial books is their tone. Most guide books are written in a neutral (not to say flat) style, describing the scenery without any color commentary. The Unofficial books do muster massive quantities of data, but they also make value judgements, have clear preferences and have been known to use sarcasm. If you demand that your guidebooks consist primarily of lists of phone numbers and prices, this may not be for you.

New this year is The Color Companion to Walt Disney World, which I suspect may have been inspired by The Complete Walt Disney World, a full-color guidebook I covered in #240. Like Complete, Color Companion aims to be a smaller (350ish pages) guide with the same scope but, obviously less depth of coverage.

It has a lot of the same information as the big book -- just condensed, and without a lot of the commentary and details. On the positive side, it adds 560 photos -- and a couple of bursts on the covert to make sure browsers don't miss them -- which help a lot to show what things actually look like. You could definitely use this as an on-vacation reference, and it has enough detail to be useful for planning, particularly for repeat visitors. The photography is all good, if sometimes a bit pedestrian -- I do have to give Complete a slight edge in that department -- and it does its job: you'll have a better sense of what the parks and hotels look like after reading this book.

So: I promise there will be no more books about tourist traps for the duration of Book-A-Day (which is just under another hundred days at this point).

[1] As I've said before, it's a poor man who has only one reason for doing something.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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