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SAMLAND - Disney World Essentials

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 05-11-2011 at 07:47 PM

If you are anything like me, you crave information about the Disney Parks. In today’s column, I submit for your consideration a handful of essential new Disney theme park related books.

If you have read any of these books, I encourage you to post your review or thoughts in the comments section below. I like reading a variety of views and find it helpful when trying to decide where to spend those precious dollars. Plus, I have the smartest readers on the web, so you know… you are really the experts that I am longing to hear from.

The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia
A guide to the flora, fauna, and fun of the World’s greatest theme park!
By R.A. Pedersen
- 2011

As regular visitors to SAMLAND know, I have a special thing for Epcot and I would be there often if I didn’t live on the other side of the continent. What R.A. Pedersen has tried to do is to draft the definitive resource book about this ever-changing theme park. Does the author accomplish this rather daunting task? For the most part, yes. I have a quibble regarding format but I will get to that later.
Overall, the book is written in a breezy lighthearted style I believe works best for somebody who has visited the park before. There is just too much information for the first time visitor and they may miss out on what they should be focusing on. For the veteran, the book will change the way you look at the park the next time you visit. The layers of history will become vivid and you will learn about the DNA of Disney’s most unusual theme park. This is the book’s greatest strength. The author has done a wonderful job of pulling together the details and tells a clear, straightforward, story. And what a fascinating story it is.

After a quick history lesson, we are treated to a step-by-step tour of the park. For example, you will learn more about the parking lot then you ever thought possible. Let’s just say info junkies are going to be in heaven. You will have answers to questions you never thought to ask. I especially enjoyed the incredibly detailed descriptions of the Future World pavilions past and present. The essays include the pre and post shows and bits of the dialogue. For many of the attractions, the author also provides operational details such as staffing levels and Cast Member working positions.

For me, other highlights were the detailed history of CommuniCore and Innoventions. For most visitors with limited time these spaces function primarily as air-conditioned walkways but for those with a bit of time on their hands, they can experience the closest thing to Walt’s original goal for EPCOT; a place where the public can learn how technology and imagination can make for a higher quality of life. To keep the displays fresh, sponsors are limited to three years by contract. The book does a good job describing the contrast between the CommuniCore and Innoventions.

I noticed that the author pretty much assumes that the Imagination pavilion will be entering Yesterland someday soon. I did not previously know that there was a link between this pavilion and the unbuilt Discovery Bay at Disneyland (you’ll have to read the book to discover that fascinating connection for yourself). I already knew that Cyber Space Mountain came before Sum of All Thrills but did not know that you could originally build your own Coaster at Compute-a-Coaster. There are lots of fun details such as these which will fill your brain with Disney knowledge.

Things I wish I could have seen at Epcot: The original pre-show for the Universe of Energy with the kinetic film by Czech artist Emil Radok, Horizons, Kitchen Kabaret and Food Rocks (Bonnie Appetite and Pita Gabriel – really? Was it any good or just silly? I like corny stuff sometimes - when it is good corn. How else can I explain my passion for Billy Hill and the Hillbillies?

I felt the Future World section was very comprehensive. The World Showcase discussion is naturally less so. It is kind of depressing to see how little this side of the park has changed over the years. It is not like Disney is filling in the suburban cul-de-sac of nations. The author does a good job describing each pavilion in detail with a complete design history, which I enjoyed.

What I enjoyed the most was what was not built. This was the Epcot theme park that could have been but was never realized. Imagine a Rhine River Ride in Germany, the Meet the World show in Japan, the India, Turkey, or South Korean pavilions. There is the story of how we really got Via Naploi and why there are Danish bathrooms next to Norway.

My biggest complaint about the book is its title. This book does not feel or function like an encyclopedia (as its name would imply). There is a certain expectation that comes with that term. Call me old fashioned but The Disneyland Encyclopedia by Chris Strodder is the shining example of this kind of book.

Overall, if you are a big Epcot theme park fan and you want to learn more about the park’s history, then I highly recommend this book.

Link: The Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia: A guide to the flora, fauna, and fun of the world's greatest theme park!

In the interest of full disclosure, the author kindly sent me a copy of the book in digital form for the purposes of this review.
The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining
Steps to a Stress-Free, Personalized Plan
By AJ Wolfe - E-Book only

Let's start with a few disclaimers. First, I am a huge fan of AJ and the Disney Food Blog. Like many of you, dining in the parks is one of biggest part of the experience for me. With so many options, how do you choose? That is why The Disney Food Blog has become one of my main resources when planning a trip to WDW. Second, AJ has been a big supporter of Samland from the beginning and helped out during my charity drive for Women at Work last December. Third, if you’d like to purchase the book about to be reviewed, she has created a special discount for SAMLAND readers where you can get a 20% discount if you type in “Samland” during checkout. Now that you can see the obvious bias, what about the book I hear you asking? Like everything else, I call ‘em as I see them.

The e-book is divided up into two sections. There is no doubt about it; Disney has made where to have lunch and dinner a complex project prior to your trip. The first section is a five-step program that is supposed to make the process more of a pleasure then a pain. The second half is a very comprehensive listing of everything you need to know.

Overall, the book has a clean, well organized, easy to read format. The book only comes as an E-book. It does take advantage of the format with hyperlinks connecting you to other parts of the book that have relevant information. For a guidebook, this increases its value (unless the battery dies - more on that later). AJ’s stated goal is make you realize that that planning for Disney dining doesn't have to be a "daunting task." Of course, it still remains a very expensive experience, for some a second mortgage may be necessary but knowledge brings value and you will walk away better informed. Another goal was to write a book that is unlike any other Disney guidebook. In that respect, she has succeeded. This could only come from somebody who realizes that dining is more than just eating at Disney, it is an important part of the whole experience. Plus, the book tries really hard to find the proper balance between planning and spontaneity, which is not easy anymore. The stated reason for only offering the E-book option is one of convenience and timeliness. Plus, there are many links to the Disney Food Blog and other sites. I am not ready for e-books yet. I miss holding the thing in my hand and coming back to it as I scan my bookshelf. I know. I am old. Shoot me.

The five-step program is a must for any first time traveler. Briefly, the five-steps are deciding your budget, creating a calendar, making your plan personal, learning about new restaurants, and how to narrow down your choices. The process is logical. Even veterans will get a lot out of this section. This book will save you money. It also demystifies the process making planning fun. At the end of each section is a checklist. The book includes worksheets for budget, brainstorming, booking, and a calendar as well.

One of the most frequently asked questions about dining at Disney World deals with the Disney Dining Plan and how best to utilize it. With Disney frequently tossing out free dining, visitors have to consider the consequences. This book deals with the topic in a very comprehensive manner and will answer a lot of questions for those considering the program, including sample price comparisons.

There are some other features that I enjoyed. Scattered throughout the book are Top 5 lists that are very helpful and spark some debate. The book covers the bars and lounges including Ye-Haa Bob, Jellyrolls, House of Blues, and Raglan Road. I did not realize that there were three dining places on property open twenty-four hours a day. I loved the EPCOT section describing that rite of passage known as drinking around the world. On a personal note, AJ mentions Carl the Bartender at the UK pavilion! Wonderful and legendary chap who introduced me to what he calls the Carl Special. For solo travelers, there is a section about the best places with views and people watching.

The second half of the book is a comprehensive list of every spot that you can eat or drink at in the World. Each establishment is broken down into “Is it for me?” or “What to try.” Prices and hours are also listed. Although I am not planning a trip at this time, I found the list sparking memories. There are also money saving tips and how to make a dining reservation. Once again, this guide is invaluable for the first timer or the person who really has to watch the dining budget.

Dislikes? I like real books. Call me old fashioned, but I just haven't dived head first into electronic books. For me, without having to power up something, I would think this is the ideal book for the airplane on my way to Florida. I know. I need to get over it.

Bottom line: I want to go back to Walt Disney World! And eat!!

LINK: DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining (Enter SAMLAND during checkout for a 20% discount)
Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World
A collection of essays
Compiled by Chad Denver Emerson - 2011

DISCLAIMER: I contributed an essay entitled Walt Disney’s EPCOT and the Heart of Our Cities, which has been excerpted and posted here on SAMLAND. So let’s get this out right up front, I have a bias toward the success of the book (non financial, just pride). Let’s just say, if you like reading the stuff you find on SAMLAND, then you will love this book. It is Disney geek heaven written by the best Disney geek writers in the business. I am honored to be in the same table of contents with this cast. So think of this review as a preview.

Here’s a review by section of the book, which is divided into individual essays.

The Sunset Boulevard that Was, and Never Will Be


When is the 3 O’clock Parade? Then, Now, and Forever

Tom sets the tone with two very thorough essays. The first is all about Sunset Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the second is a complete history of the WDW parades.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always been the most hastily put together theme park. Due to unanticipated demand, the park had to grow much more quickly than originally planned. Tom takes you through a very comprehensive history of the most significant expansions in the park’s history. After reading this essay, I will walk down Sunset Boulevard looking through a different pair of glasses.

His parade essay will become the first stop for anybody doing serious research about WDW entertainment. Like most of the essays in the book, there is a serious academic level of detail and completeness. Disney has rarely given up this much information about its past. If you are a fan of the parades, this essay is sure to jog some pleasant memories.

Tomorrow’s Windows: Looking Back at Horizons

A Brief History of the Future: From EPCOT to EPCOT Center

I am a big fan of Michael and his website Progress City USA. As I mentioned earlier, I never got a chance to see Horizons. Most old timers talk about it in the hushed tones of a cult classic. After reading this essay, I feel like I got a chance to experience this attraction for the first time. After Michael’s tour, I have a better sense of what was happening and why. He takes you through the development of the attraction and then we go on a scene-by-scene visit through the ride.

His second essay takes through the evolution of EPCOT, when it was an acronym for an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, to the Epcot Center theme park. This is a very interesting story and one that tends to get glossed over as “Marty and John pushed two models together and viola! Epcot was born.”

The Walt Disney World Monorail System
Spaceship Earth

Love the Walt Disney World monorail system? Are you the type of person who goes on a round trip just for the fun of it? And then you stay on for another ride? I have the feeling that Jason does that frequently. This is one of the most comprehensive looks at the monorail ever to be published. Then Jason does the same thing for Spaceship Earth. Your head will explode with details.

Jason’s Spaceship Earth essay is a reminder of how the Jeremy Irons version was compared to the updated attraction. I am not a fan of the change to the storyline from communication to technology. Once again, if anybody were doing research on either of these two attractions, you would be required to refer to these two essays.

Much Ado About Hoop-Dee-Doo

History of the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue

When Chad invited people to contribute to the book, he left the topic choice up to the writers. I have never been to the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue but I certainly have a strong sense of what this show is all about. Now if I could just get that theme song out of my head…

The 65th Year for Mickey, the Very First Visit for Kids

The Carousel of Progress: What Would Walt Think

Both of these essays give us a sense of how important the Cast Members are to the Disney theme park experience. Greg’s is a firsthand account and Michael tells a touching tale that is worthy to be shared.

Joe & Carl: Two Men Who Built the World

There are some very important people in the history of Disney that really deserve a closer look. Didier has done that for Joe Fowler and Carl Bongirno. Admiral Fowler is the better known of the two. He is legendary man that got things done. Without him, Disneyland and Walt Disney World would not have been built. Carl was right there with him at Walt Disney World. This essay is a reminder of just how much of an engineering marvel the Walt Disney World property really is.

Disney Brings Sports to the World

Once again, we are treated with another comprehensive review of the history and development of a major WDW facility. This time we get a close up look at the Wide World of Sports facility.

Whatever Happened to Beastly Kingdom?

As many of you know, the basic premise behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the celebration of animals past, present, and in myth. DinoLand USA represents the past. We have the present scattered throughout the rest of the park. What is missing at an equal level are the legendary animals. I guess the Yeti is a stab in that direction but he is now a stuffed corpse with a flashing light and no longer lives.

Once upon a time, there was going to be a whole new land called Beastly Kingdom. Holmes tells the tale of what could have been. So what would it have been like and what happened? Just know that the next time you see a dragon embedded on the back of bench it will all make sense. Plus, the unicorn maze would have been awesome.

Magic of the Night: The Evolution of Walt Disney World’s Nighttime Fireworks Displays

In an earlier essay, we learned everything one would want to know about the parades. Now we can learn everything one would want to know about Walt Disney World’s signature fireworks displays. This is another chance to spark some memories of shows in the past.

Meeting Mickey: Remembering Mickey’s Toontown Fair
For Your Pleasure: The Mythology and Reality of Pleasure Island

Jim is the ultimate collector of Disney stories. This man is on a mission to chronicle everything before it is lost. Thank you Jim. His essays are like the mortar between the bricks. They add texture and context to more familiar pieces of Disney lore.

The focus is on two areas that have become history. First up is a very detailed look at Mickey’s now defunct Toontown Fair. He also covers Pleasure Island. Still not going to miss Toontown Fair but bummed I never saw Pleasure Island in its prime.

The Relative Truth About If You Had Wings
Thunder Mesa & the Western River Expedition: A Neverending Story

Mike is another legendary Disney history storyteller. From what I can imagine, If You Had Wings seems to be the east coast equivalent of Adventure thru Inner Space at Disneyland. The attraction was sponsored by Eastern Airlines and it did not require a ticket. It was another trippy, relaxed immersive Omnimover ride through environments designed by Claude Coats. I wish I could have seen it. I feel like I have now that I read Mike’s essay.

Mike also tackles the great unbuilt WDW attraction called the Western River Expedition. The attraction was fundamental to the development of the western edge of the Magic Kingdom. Mike does a brilliant job telling a story that has been told many times before. He finds a fresh edge. Interesting essay.

History of the Main Street Electrical Parade
History of the Contemporary & Polynesian Resort Hotels

Along with Chuck’s history of the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, he also tackles the coast-to-coast history of the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Contemporary & Polynesian Resort Hotels. As with the other essays, this is a comprehensive look at both resorts and something you must read if that is your vacation destination.


Walt Disney World Resorts That Never Were

So Chuck talks at length about the two opening day resorts. Lou Mongello takes us on a fanciful journey through the lobbies of the resort hotels that never were. When Walt Disney World first opened, the Imagineers had some rather ambitious plans. This essay looks at a remarkable collection of themed resorts that did not get off the drawing board. The reasons for why they did not happen are a fascinating story. WDW would be a much, different place if these projects had been implemented.

A Ghost Story
Another Magic Corner of the World

Probably one of my favorite essays in the entire book is Foxx Nolte’s tale of George. It seems there is a ghost named George who lives in the Pirates of the Caribbean show building. Don’t believe it? Read the essay. Then you will.

Foxx also chronicles the long twisted history of Downtown Disney. From the detailed history it becomes obvious that the shopping center’s best days were long ago. One can only hope that this facility will return to its glory days. Foxx is one of the most authoritative Disney historians around and it is hard to imagine that The Walt Disney Company would release a book on this subject.

EPCOT 1939

This is a brilliant essay. In a way, Jeffery asks if what you see and experience at Epcot got a trial run at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He makes a comparison between the landmark World’s Fair and Epcot and finds many echoes. Twins separated at birth some thirty years apart? One of Walt’s greatest strengths was synthesizing ideas from a wide variety of inputs.

An Island Filled with Tropic Beauty, Colorful Birds, and the Mystery of Ben Gunn’s Buried Treasure!

George wins the award for the longest title. I am a big fan of George. His focus is on the long and twisted history of the little island in the middle of Bay Lake that Walt noticed while flying over the property. That island was the piece of the property that cinched the deal. From its earliest days to today, this is one spot on the Walt Disney World property that has seen plenty of change. What does the future hold? And remember the idea for Myst Island? George does.

Honoring the Cast: Insider Tributes & Homages
Theme Park Archaeology

Chad Emerson chose to organize the book by placing the essays in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Like all good books, it needs a dramatic and touching climax. Somehow it seems appropriate that the final two chapters come courtesy of Kevin Yee. He is also the only author to publish photos with his essay.

Leave it to Kevin to use a microscope and identify the amazing array of tributes to those who made WDW what it is today. In his first essay, he becomes the theme park Indiana Jones and uncovers the mysteries of the ages. He would go on to expand on this idea and has completed a full length book called Walt Disney World Hidden History.


The book’s greatest weakness is part of its greatest strength. The authors could pick any subject they were interested in. This has lead to some outstanding essays. However, the book is rather disjointed and not as comprehensive as a book where the editor dictated the content. Should you buy it? If you have visited SAMLAND more than once and are a big fan of Walt Disney World then yes, you should buy this book. This is the kind of stuff I can’t get enough of as you can tell. Once again, to be a part of this project and the stellar cast of writers is a rare privilege.

LINK: FOUR DECADES OF MAGIC - Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World

By Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee has published possibly one of the wonderfully strange Disney books currently available. What he has done is return to the traditional annual memory book that Disney once published. Once a year, Disney would sell a guidebook with the latest news. Over time, these guidebooks have become invaluable research tools. Plus, they are just fun to look at and to see what was happening at the time. Kevin has returned to this tradition. In many ways, I am surprised that somebody has not done this before. Kevin is a book making and column-writing machine. Frankly, I don’t know how he does it.

Kevin has collected all of the changes that happened at Walt Disney World during 2010. You can see what was added, what was removed, and what changed. Most importantly, you can see it. This book is loaded with full-color photos and is quite comprehensive. The index is a good idea. The book doesn’t overlook the really little stuff that makes the difference. Who else would notice that doors had been added to the trams or a coffee stand was added to the Ticket and Transportation Center let alone document such changes? The author has provided other information, such as prices for food and hotels, which will become invaluable over the years.

Quibbles? The 72-page book is not inexpensive. The cost of full color photos throughout the book naturally upped the cost of production. However, compared to the cost of the Disney annual guidebooks, the price is in fact pretty consistent.

I hope this becomes an annual tradition for Kevin, and if so, I would like a subscription please.

I received this book at no charge from the author for the purposes of this review.


Well folks, those are my book reviews for today. I hope you spotted something to help you quench your thirst for Disney knowledge. Would love to hear your personal reviews of any of these books and if you have ideas about other books you’d like to see me review in the future, please post below. That’s what that comment box is for.

We invite you to join Sam and MiceChat at the Huntington Gardens in July
Saturday, July 9, 2011 at the Huntington Library and Gardens

Presented by the Los Angeles Region Planning History Group in cooperation with the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West Huntington Library and Gardens, Friends’ Hall Saturday, July 9, 2011 Coffee & Pastries: 9:30 a.m. Colloquium and Lunch: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

The Los Angeles region has evolved as much from out-sized dreams and inventions as from traditional rules for establishing human settlements. Carey McWilliams called Los Angeles an “improbable” place not destined to succeed, but determined to do so. As Southern California developed, the visionaries who built this region knew it was less about location and more about destination. The enormous popularity of “invented” or themed destinations – Venice of America, Olvera Street, Disneyland, Third Street Promenade, CityWalk, The Grove and many others – has provided planners, designers and developers with inspiration and lessons on both success and failure. What is the difference between those places that have a “unifying vision” and those that celebrate a “messy vitality”? Where do “invented” places end and “authentic” places begin? In a land where set designers build houses, architects design movie sets, and many of our most cherished “public” spaces are privately owned and operated, anything is possible. A distinguished panel, moderated by author and planner Sam Gennawey, will address these questions.

  • David Sloane, Professor, USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development
  • Hassan Haghani, Community Development Director, City of Glendale
  • Vaughan Davies, Principal and Director of Urban Design, AECOM
  • Tim O’Day, O’Day and Associates
  • Neal Payton, Principal, Torti Gallas and Partners

Cost is $40; for students with valid student ID, $20

Fee includes coffee and pastries, lunch, parking, and day pass to the Huntington

Seating is limited; please RSVP to:
Alice Lepis, Secretary
[email protected] (preferred) or at 818.769.4179 no later than
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

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Updated 05-12-2011 at 01:12 PM by SAMLAND



  1. Jerm's Avatar
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    Samland, if you are looking for your best chance to see a lot of the old Epcot stuff and some other great "history of" videos this is the website for you!

    Epcot - Martin's Videos

    This person has taken home videos, stills and anything else he can get his hands on and done his best to give you the chance to enjoy attractions long gone. Plus give great detail and background on the attractions.
  2. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    I wonder with all our recent involvement in Iran, if anyone has ever unearthed the EPCOT Iran Pavillion Model that was shipped there and was never returned. PD
  3. DMagic's Avatar
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    I have read most of your contributions to MiceChat with great interest, and I do my best to save your stories for future research purposes, they are just great!

    There are apparently a lot of us Disney Fans that have a desire to read and view anything having to do with Walt, Roy the family and their businesses.

    Although I was at Disneyland on opening day. I was 5 years old.

    I never had the privilege of meeting anyone from the Disney Family, althiough Michael Eisner did sign his book for me (he, he... big deal, I know) but I would encourage you to visit my company's web site just so you can see how far a Disney Fan is willing to take things...

    Thanks for all your hard work !

    Denny Magic
    c/o Denny Magic Studios
  4. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Nice reviews, I think I will try to look for the book on Epcot and maybe the essays on WDW.

  5. Gwenchanter's Avatar
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    Someone should make an Earbook for Disneyland, concidering all the fine-detail scruteny that goes on there! I've never written a book but if someone wants to make one I would love to help!