Friday, March 28, 2008

Setting Sail With Disney Cruise Line

Birnbaum's Official Guide to Disney Cruise Line 2008, by Jill Safro (editor); New York: Disney Editions, 2008, 220 pp.

Okay, some folks out there may dispute my reviewing this book in this blog, since it's about the cruise ships owned by Disney, not one of the theme parks. But so many people take advantage of a Walt Disney World vacation to try cruising with Disney that it really didn't seem like that much of stretch to me; besides, Disney markets the cruises along with their theme parks, WDI had a role in designing them, they're under the same division of the Walt Disney Company as the parks, and the characters are everywhere - if they can't be considered part of the Disney theme park family, they're at least close relatives. Now that we've got that settled...

The Birnbaum Official Guide to the Disney Cruise Line is the latest addition to the series of Disney's official guides to their destinations; like the rest of the books in the series, it lays out the basic information about your destination, some of your options as far as accommodations and things to do, explains some of Disney's policies and procedures for your visit, and does it all while including many images from the destination and of the Disney characters.

As a guidebook, it's a pretty good introduction to the DCL ships and cruise itineraries. The information in the book's concise (maybe a little too much so in some cases), it gives you a pretty good feel for what'll be happening, and it's a quick read (I was able to finish it in a couple of hours, and I didn't have to devote my full time to it). If you had your heart set on a Disney cruise or someone in your family surprised you by announcing that you were going on a DCL cruise, this is a pretty good way to get your feet wet (pun intended). There are plenty of general guides to cruising out there, with varying amounts of information, but few books out there that narrow the focus so precisely.

Unfortunately, the book has a couple of problems. The biggest one's the result of its biggest selling point - it's an official guide produced by Disney, and as such the book's pretty uncritical about Disney and it's activities; it also tends to be a bit vague on some details, like the costs of the items not covered in the cruise price. There were also a couple of really bad screw-ups in the book, like a map of the 7-day Western Caribbean cruise that shows the wrong destinations, even though the itinerary is published right next to the map, and the book contains little information about special itineraries and no information about upcoming changes to the cruise line, like new itineraries and the new ships. Now, I realize a fair amount of information in any guidebook's going to be out of date almost from the minute it leaves the printers, but it doesn't look good when an official guide that you're paying for has less accurate and up-to-date information that a brochure you can pick up from your travel agent for free.

Almost half of the book is devoted to the shore excursions available in each of the DCL ports, with prices and brief critiques based on the authors' personal experiences or the experiences of others who've taken the shore excursions included. It's a nice touch - again, many books on cruising in general don't share much information on ports or share information about many ports besides that ones you'll actually be visiting. There's very little about the destinations themselves, however; if I were serious about shore excursions, I think I'd still pick up or check out a separate guide to Caribbean cruise ports to learn a little more about my options.

Overall, Birnbaum's Official Guide to Disney Cruise Line is a good starting point for the person who's serious about booking a Disney cruise or finds themselves going on a Disney cruise but really doesn't know what to expect. Like most of the Birnbaum Guides, I'd consider the book only as a starting point for someone who wants to get their most out of their Disney experience. It's a good start, but realize that if you want to be really serious about saving time and money and being ready for your Disney cruise, it's only a start.

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