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Samland's Disney Book Buying Guide

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by , 11-23-2011 at 09:54 PM

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! I hope you are having a wonderful time doing whatever it is you are doing right now. Since the gift-giving season is just over the horizon, I thought I would take a moment and write about a few books that would be perfect for the Disney theme park fan in your life. And since I am still in the process of plugging my own book - Walt and the Promise of Progress City – I figured why not. By the way, thank you to everyone who has picked up a copy.

Today’s column will feature the popular Hidden Mickey books, a terrific trip back in time to the early days of the Disneyland Hotel, and a couple of e-Books I wanted to mention.

Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets
Dr. Steven Barrett - 5th Edition - 270 pages - 2010 - $12.95

Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Disneyland Resort’s Best Kept Secrets, 3rd edition
Dr. Steven M. Barrett - 129 pages - 2011 - $9.95

An increasingly popular pastime for Disney theme park guests is the search for the illusive “Hidden Mickey.” So I hear a few of you asking, “What is a Hidden Mickey?” For that I turn to the Lord Judge of the Hidden Mickey Finders...Dr. Steven Barrett. Dr. Barrett is the self-appointed champion of the cause and the author of a couple best selling books. He is one of the few non-Disney authors to have his book sold inside the parks. According to him, a Hidden Mickey is "a partial or complete image of Mickey Mouse that has been designed to blend into the surroundings in such a way that its presence is not immediately obvious.”

Most guests get started by buying one of his books as a way to spice up a return visit. Once they get there and start to dive into the hobby, they will become hooked. Then they will become the person in your party that will always try to show off by pointing them out and proclaiming, “Did you know there is a Hidden Mickey right there?” Over time, the pursuit will become a compulsion that they must feed every time they step on Disney property. Then it really hits. They start to notice Hidden Mickey’s outside of the parks and in the real world. There is no known treatment.

Personally, I love it. I think of the search for Hidden Mickey’s as the feeder to the weird world of Samland. Had this conversation with Dr. Barrett and his wife Vickie during the 40th Anniversary of WDW. You come to the parks for the first time and you are amazed and overloaded. You come back and things start to become more familiar and you start looking at the next level of detail. For some, they want to go even further so they find out about Hidden Mickeys, buy the book, and go on the hunts. The side effect is an appreciation for detail and how environmental design can possess that elusive “quality without a name” that I am usually going on about. He gets them while they are young and I hope to feed them more information, as they grow older. Bravo Dr. Barrett.

However, I have a confession to make. I am not a Hidden Mickey Finder. I know of a few but my head is so stuffed with other trivia that I couldn't possibly contain the level of knowledge necessary to be a player in the game. I apply the same restraint to pin collecting, Vinylmation or those really cool Olszewski models of the park (boy I dodged a bullet with that one). To write the review, I felt I needed to immerse myself and what I found was a fun way to visit the park.

The book is perfectly designed as a field guide. It is a handy 4" x 9" so it can fit in large pants pockets or a bag. The introduction talks about the history of the Hidden Mickey phenomena, a warning on how addictive it can be, and instructions on what is officially a Hidden Mickey. The book is only the start. They also have a website where people can post a Hidden Mickey sighting and the rest of the community votes on the validity of that finding. One day, quite by accident I found a Hidden Mickey in DCA and submitted it to the website. I guess I really did find something and it is right there on page 75, Hint 14.

While I was reading the Disneyland 2nd Edition I discovered, much to my surprise was my name! Full disclaimer, this experience in no way influenced this positive review.

At the heart of the books is the scavenger hunts. In one section is a list of what you are supposed to look for and a clue of where you might find it. For example, go to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon and "check around the stage for a classic Mickey.” If you find it you will score 3 points. The more difficult it is to find the prize the more points you score. And you know what? It is hard! Total up your points at the end of the visit and you see just how groovy you are. Even more importantly, Dr. Barrett has the good taste to recommend Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, a true hidden treasure and pleasure for many guests. It is little trivia and touring tips that add richness to the book and make it a fine travel companion.

In the latest editions, the WDW book has topped over 1,000 Hidden Mickeys. That is more then 200 in the last edition. The Disneyland book has grown to more then 400 of the little buggers with 100 newly added to the book.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review. I have purchased previous editions.

DISNEYLAND HOTEL 1954-1959: The Little Motel in the Middle of the Orange Grove
Donald W. Ballard - 136 pages - 2011 - $35.00

Many of you probably have a copy of Don Ballard’s Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years, 1954-1988 in your collection. This is a great book and a demonstration of when you do something right you can be rewarded. You see, Don did such a wonderful job that he was flooded with new information. So much information that he penned a new book that focuses on the really early years and called it Disneyland Hotel 1954-1959: The Little Motel in the Middle of the Orange Grove. The author has provided us with the definitive history of this hotel during this time period. The book has been written. We historians will have to find something else to work on, Don's got it covered.

We learn early on that the Disneyland Hotel was as revolutionary to the hospitality industry as Disneyland was on the amusement park industry. It started with hotel owner Jack Wrather who had a clear vision for his facility. In an Annual Report he said, “While some hotels didn’t take children at all, some frowned on them and others accepted them with a grain of salt.” He added, “For the first time in hotel history, the Disneyland Hotel would offer the whole family things to do and places to stay.”

The original project description called for a 650-room “distinctive resort Hotel and Motor Hotel” with restaurants, shops, and recreational amenities. The budget was $10,000,000. The facility would be as unique as its eclectic neighbor across the street. Pereira & Luckman designed a hotel complex that fits within a distinctive, logical, rigid geometry. From on high, the hotel elements to fit nicely into an imaginary grid that is expressed by the space age girders.

Throughout the book there is an aerial of the entire property taken after major milestones have been completed. It is easy to witness the transformation of the orange grove into a first class resort hotel. Speaking of orange groves, they would be incorporated throughout the landscape design. Each garden patio room had an orange tree. Much of the adjacent groves were left intact.

The hotel was on the leading edge. The author notes, “Each guest room had a television set which was unique for hotels at that time.” The rooms were designed to sleep four people so that kids could stay in the same room as their parents. The bathrooms were child friendly and “ideal for the small fry” with fixtures built lower then traditional hotels and electrical outlets located away from prying hands. Another example is was the infrared heat lamps in the ceiling, which eliminated the possibility of burns. Each room door featured a special high-tech “Yale” lock that prevented people from entering the room and acting like a do not disturb sign for the staff.

Not only was the Disneyland Hotel the first major hotel to be built in Orange County, it was the first major resort hotel to be built in Southern California since the early 1940s. Plus, the Disneyland Hotel was going to be a “year around resort” at a time when there were very few hotels claiming that title. In addition to Disneyland across the street, Wrather built convention and banquet facilities to attract local business.

The book does an excellent job of telling the life story of Jack Wrather. Not only did he own hotels but also he was a television producer, media mogul, and oil wildcatter. The man lead an interesting life worthy of a book and was cut from the same cloth as Walt Disney; a risk taker, visionary, family oriented, and one with the right stuff to overcome any obstacles.

One myth that is shattered by the book is the story of how Wrather got the contract to build the hotel. The popular story was that Walt had run out of money and begged Wrather to participate. Apparently, Walt had many suitors but he chose his friend because he knew Wrather understood Disney’s quality standards.

The book is loaded with photos and artfully laid out. At times, multiple pages of graphics will interrupt the narrative. Historic documents are present with key text elements extracted for the book content. I hope Don keeps his implied pledge at the end of the book that this will become a series, because I want the complete history at this level of detail. This is an excellent book.

I received this book from the publisher at no charge for the purpose of this review.

Leonard Kinsey - 172 Pages - 2011 - $2.99 Kindle - $14.95 paperback

Winner of the most provocative Disney book cover ever – a topless tattooed young woman wearing only unzipped short shorts and Mickey ears with an anarchy symbol smoking something while holding a large liquor bottle. Kinsey promises an “Utterly Unauthorized Tips, Tricks & Scams for your WDW vacation” by being “The anarchist cookbook of Disney travel guides.” The book promises to show you “the best places in the parks to have sex, do drugs, and see a gritty rock show, complete with women throwing their underwear on the stage.” Right up front the author wants to remind us that he really does love Disney. The author visited WDW more then a hundred times as a boy and he still goes back every year. However, if you are into the light and happy family escape that is Disney you may want to steer clear of this book.

Some of the tricks are a bit odd and something you probably never thought about. You learn how to scam a day pass for the VIP lounges at the airport, how to buy DVC points really cheap, how to sneak into the parks through non-public entrances, the perils of timeshare presentations, how to cut in lines, and where to buy drugs or to have public sex (including photos of his choice locations).

Some of the "advice" is just stuff you would find anywhere else. He is not thrilled with the Dining Plan, tells you how to eat cheap by splitting food or making a salad from the Pecos Bills toppings bar, recommends Giordano’s off property for pizza, laments on how the stuff in the stores is all the same, and how to do a proper monorail pub crawl. He even slams Winnie the Pooh for having a fetish for honey.

He also details other hazards such as bed bugs, bacteria and alligators.

The book is a breezy romp through the resort that promises much debauchery but delivers very little. His advice is public sex will get you in trouble. Buying drugs will get you in trouble. Using improper tickets will get you in trouble. And sneaking down into the Utilidors used to be fun but will now get you in trouble. As an e-book it is really cheap and a fun read but don’t get your hopes up too high.

I purchased this e-book on Amazon.

AJ Wolfe - $8.95

AJ Wolfe is the founder of the very popular Disney Food Blog. Her site is a great resource for planning and she has been responsible for a number of inexpensive e-books on the topic. Disclaimer: I have sold the e-books through my blog Samland’s Disney Adventures. So far she has produced a WDW dining guide, a guide to the 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and this little gem – Mini-Guide to Magic Kingdom Snacks.

The Mini-Guide takes a look at more then 70 snacks that you will find around the park. They are bunched up under Savory or Sweet Snacks. For each food item there is a photo, a description, the specific location where you will find the item, its price, and whether it counts as a Dining Plan Snack Credit.

Other features include an assessment as to the best snack values and themed “snack crawls.” She even recommends snack pairings such as blending a churro and a Plaza Ice Cream Sundae or popcorn and cotton candy.

The book is colorful, logical, easy to use, and I don’t advise browsing on an empty stomach. I would recommend the book to any family that is trying to understand their snack options and attempting for a bit of consensus before a trip. Essential if you are on the Dining Plan and important if you enjoy the obsessive side of vacation planning (you know who you are and be proud).

I received this e-book from the publisher at no cost for the purpose of this review.

Of course, there's one more book we'd like you to consider for your holiday shopping this year . . . MINE!

New Book Explores Walt Disney and His Prized EPCOT Project
PASADENA, Calf. (October 22, 2011) –In the middle of Central Florida swamplands and ranch property, Walt Disney aspired to build the greatest American city ever conceived--EPCOT. While Disney would die before realizing this epic achievement, he still left behind the blueprint for one of the boldest and most unique projects ever proposed on American soil.

Walt and the Promise of Progress City is an amazing new book that explores how Walt Disney—the master of fiction—was determined to bring new life to the non-fiction world of city design and development and, in doing so, fundamentally improve the Great American way of life.

Walt and the Promise of Progress City (ISBN 978-0615540245) is published by Ayefour Publishing at a list price of
$19.95 for the book version and $9.95 for the Kindle version.

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  1. oldhotelguy's Avatar
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    Sam, I am loving you new book. As far as this goes (regarding my book)" I hope Don keeps his implied pledge at the end of the book that this will become a series"...... I am already at work on a 60's edition.
  2. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Thank you Don. I am very excited about the rest of the series. What you have done is the ultimate goal of any historian - writing the go to resource on the topic of choice. Congratulations!

  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thank you for another great article Sam.

    Don, we are SO glad to hear that you are working on a new book! You are an absolute favorite here on MiceChat.

  4. oldhotelguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dustysage
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thank you for another great article Sam.

    Don, we are SO glad to hear that you are working on a new book! You are an absolute favorite here on MiceChat.

    I have a very special photo presentation I am working on for forums.
  5. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Interesting selection of a recommendation.

  6. LeonardKinsey's Avatar
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    Thanks for the review of "The Dark Side of Disney", Sam! The paperback version is heavily discounted right now on Amazon, and would make a great Christmas present for the right sort of DisFan (i.e., probably not your grandmother, pastor, or 8-year-old daughter).

    Just finished your book during a visit to the parks a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed it. I kept wishing the TTA would break down in front of the Progress City model so I could check out some of the more obscure details you mentioned, but no such luck (even though seemingly every other ride I went on that day broke down).