Planning a Walt Disney World vacation can be a stressful task. There are thousands of websites, a plethora of books and a ton of Disney podcasts dedicated to helping you research a Disney vacation. So, what books does a Disney travel professional recommend? Honestly, it depends on your planning needs and comfort level.
So, here’s my guide to Walt Disney World travel guides:
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa is an amazing book, but it can be a little daunting for a first-timer. Often, if I’m talking to a new client that has never visited Walt Disney World, I will send them a copy of Birnbaum’s Official Guide to Walt Disney World. A lot of people bypass the Official Guide thinking that it sugarcoats everything; I say it’s a great title for people to learn more about the world’s largest and busiest vacation. Disney Publishing sent me all of their 2013 Walt Disney World titles for review. Let’s see how they stack up!
This one has been around since 1982 and is a standard. It was the only guide with photos (until the Neal’s book in 2007) and I can remember staring at those tiny black & white photos for hours. As I mentioned earlier, what I love about this guide is that it is great for first time visitors or for people who haven’t visited in years.
The guide starts with some general information about the Walt Disney World Resort and gently pushes you into planning your trip with information on time of year to travel, budgeting, tickets and what to expect. The rest of the book looks into the resorts, the theme parks, everything else (golf, Downtown Disney, recreation, etc.) and eating.
By far, the largest parts of the guide are dedicated to the theme parks and eating. Each park is broken down, land-by-land, with each attraction and show given a few paragraphs. The descriptions are really well-written and will offer a great introduction to the attractions. Almost 40 pages are dedicated to eating at Walt Disney World. Each eating location at every park, resort and area is covered. It is broken down by table service and fast food & snacks, with each eatery described, including signature foods and price categories.
Some of the newer features include multi-day touring plans (half day, full day and two days) and a Kingdom Keepers Quest. It’s still a great guidebook and one I purchase every year (along with the Unofficial Guide) for my research collection. If you’re planning a first trip, then this is one you should definitely own.
This is a very simple, colorful and fun guide for kids. Birnbaum has taken their popular Official Guide and distilled to the essentials. Most of the coverage is on the parks and the attractions. Each show or attraction is given a rating (or several): loud; scary; wet; dark; and rough. They do a great job of describing the attraction and what’s going to happen without any spoilers. The unique feature of the guide is the contribution of short reviews by other kids.
There is minimal coverage of the resorts and the restaurants, which is understandable based on the audience. A large portion of the book is dedicated to recording the trip. There are pages for autographs and for writing down favorite rides, foods and moments.
This is a great book to give a child who is is new to Disney or has a lot of questions about the upcoming trip. I tend to buy this one before each one of our trips for my kids to read up and study. It’s a great way to get the kids excited and thinking about helping out with the trip.
So, about five years ago, Birnbaum shrunk their Official Guide to create a Pocket Parks Guide. It’s 139 pages and is 4″ X 8″. It will fit into a pocket…sort of. This really is a quick and dirty guide to the Walt Disney World theme parks and water parks. There is no hotel information or anything about eateries outside of the parks.
The descriptions are shorter and more appropriate for the quick-reference need of the guest in the theme park. There are no maps but there are small color photographs. So, you’ll need to make sure you grab a park map on your way in.
I always recommend the Official Guide to newcomer’s and I would put this book in the same vein, but it’s use is really for a first-time in the parks. Do you really need to pick up this book? I can imagine so, if you don’t have access to other resources or need to get attraction information while you are inside the parks (or on the bus from your resort).
After the theme parks, dining is the ultimate and most popular part of a Walt Disney World experience. It can also be one of the most expensive parts of your vacation. The dining choices are astounding, from popcorn carts, to fast food burgers, to sit-down restaurant of all types. There are also bars, lounges and quick service eateries.
So, does this warrant a book about dining at Walt Disney World?
Basically, yes and no. Most of the information is readily available online–especially from Disney’s website and other online sources. Where this book fits warmly and snugly is where most of the other Birnbaum guides fit–for people that want to take it into the parks or the hotel. It’s also a good resource for someone who wants a handy guide for home or the parks that likes doing their research the old-fashioned way.
The book is pocket-sized (4″ X 8″) and is 160 pages. It’s divided into sections based on the parks, resorts, Downtown Disney and other areas. There’s also a section on lounges and bars. For the uninitiated, the editors explain the Disney Dining Plan and how to get Advance Dining Reservations. The descriptions of the restaurants are fairly short–about 40-60 words. The signature restaurants get more attention. The guide offers price ranges in dollar signs and which meals are served. Most of the entries feature the popular dishes served and the noted wines, if appropriate.
A handful of recipes are listed, but it seems like an afterthought. There is a great index of where to find particular foods, types of dining, themes and hot dogs!
As with the other guides, there is a specific audience–mainly guests visiting for the first time. With the availability of so much information online, especially from Disney, I’m hard pressed to give the Dining Guide full marks. But if you want a handy and pocket-sized reference guide, then pick up a copy!
Is there a guide book that you always purchase or recommend? What do you think about the various Birnbaum guides?
Written and edited by George Taylor. .
George Taylor is a Mice Chat Travel Consultant with Fairy Godmother Travel.
He is more than happy to help you book and plan your next Disney vacation. Feel free to email him at [email protected] or call him at 336-287-8114.
Don’t forget that the travel agents at Fairy Godmother Travel offer concierge level service at no additional charge! They would love to help you plan your next vacation to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney or Aulani.