Friday, October 31, 2008

Come Sail Away...

Folks, I'm headed off to Florida for a well-deserved vacation on the Disney Cruise Line and at Walt Disney World. I've got a few books with me I hope to read while I'm gone, and I'm always on the lookout for new books on the parks when I visit, so hopefully this trip will result in some more content on the blog once I get back. See you soon!

Le Premiere Guide de Souvenir D'Euro Disney

Euro Disneyland; by Dora Loewenstein (editor), et. al. Dusseldorf, Germany; The Walt Disney Company/Mohndruck Graphische Betriebe GmBH, 1992; 96 pp.

{That's "The first souvenir guide to Euro Disney" for those of you that don't know French - at least that's what Babelfish tells me. :) }

It's been a while since I've done a review of one of the souvenir guidebooks from the Disney theme parks, so I decided to pull down a guidebook from my bookshelf that a many of you may not have seen before. Euro Disney was the first souvenir "coffee table" book from Disney's first European theme park, first sold just after the opening of Euro Disneyland in April 1992. The book sold for 105 francs in 1992, which, according to some handy websites on the Internet, would have been $18.75 for any American visiting the park at that time, or about $27.39 today; in other words, this wasn't a cheap book, but the quality of the book shows when you look at it. They spared no expense on the park; looks like they spared no expense on the souvenirs, either.

I love the first edition theme park guidebooks, because I love seeing Disney's solution to a dilemma they've run into every time they've opened a new park - namely, how do you get across the experience of this new and different place when there's not much you can show of it just yet? Like we saw in the review for the first souvenir guidebook for Disneyland look for the March 6th post on the blog if you haven't read it), they primarily relied on concept art from Walt Disney Imagineering, which for me makes this book all that much more fun; until Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez published Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality a few years ago, this guidebook was about the best source of Imagineering concept art on the park. (And by the way, if you're a fan of the Disney parks and of Imagineering concept art, get a copy of Alain and Didier's book. Now. Well, OK, finish reading this first.)

Fortunately for Disney, Euro Disneyland (it feels so strange not calling it Disneyland Paris!) was far enough along on construction at the time this book was published that they were able to take some photos of the outsides of buildings in the park; you can tell that in some photos, they really had to struggle to find a camera angle that didn't reveal the building was unfinished. There are also photographs of mock-ups of the resort's hotel rooms and a few photos of what I assume are concepts for cast member costumes; let me say that after looking at the pictures, I feel sorry for any actual cast members who had to wear these outfits! In some cases, the photographers didn't quite succeed and scaffolding is still visible in the shots. In a few others, they dropped all pretenses that the park was finished and showed the park under construction. I think it's pretty cool to see these very early photos of the park.

Disney also needed some shots of families enjoying their day at Euro Disneyland for the book; since the park wasn't quite that ready for the photographers, they went to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and took a bunch of pictures of families wearing and carrying what must have been prototypes of opening day souvenir merchandise, like T-shirts and balloons. In some cases, they also used generic and stock shots from the MK and hoped nobody would really notice, and to be fair, a non-Disneyphile probably wouldn't. But since I'm assuming most of you reading this are serious Disney fans, you'll probably figure out which pictures are from WDW - and you'll probably have a fun time doing it.

Euro Disney is a really fun book from a visual standpoint. As far as the text... well, not so much. I think the book is unusual in that it spends the first 24 pages telling the reader not only the story of the Euro Disney Resort, but also the story of Walt Disney, the Walt Disney Company, and of the other Disney theme parks that were around when Euro Disneyland opened. The descriptions of the attractions and the dining and shopping opportunities at Euro Disneyland are a little too enthusiastic for my tastes and sound more like the writers were trying too hard to convince someone that everything in the park was absolutely wonderful.

Euro Disney is a fascinating look at the beginnings of Disney's first European theme park, filled with concept art and pre-opening photographs of the resort. Unfortunately, this book may be a somewhat difficult to find; I only see it come up rarely on eBay and other auction sites. Later guidebooks are a little easier to find, but they tend to be smaller, thinner, and in paperback, which makes the newer books feel kinda cheap in comparison to this one.

While you're looking, there are a couple of great books out there on the park that should be easier to find; one is the previously mentioned Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality, and there's a good general history of the building and early years of operation of the resort called Once Upon An American Dream by Andrew Lainsbury.

Many American Disney fans may not get the chance to visit Disneyland Paris, or at best may get to visit once or twice in their lifetime; this is a shame, because it really was and is an amazing place. If you can't get to Europe anytime soon, picking up this guidebook or one of the other books I've mentioned may be the next best thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Find The Details of DCA? It's Elementary!

Disney's California Adventure Detective: An Independent Guide to Exploring the Trivia, Secrets, and Magic of the Park Dedicated to California, by Kendra Trahan. Mission Viejo, CA: Permagrin Publishing, Inc., 2008; 213 pp.

Before we get started, I need to do a bit of full disclosure. The author of the book I'll be reviewing this time is a friend of mine (and hopefully still will be after this review!) and, as president of the NFFC, is also my boss. I also played a minor role in reviewing the book's content prior to its publication. Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's begin...

I know I've written this before, but it bears repeating: The magic of the Disney theme parks is in the details. Someone can enjoy a visit to Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, or any of the Disney parks without ever really noticing the details, but to truly appreciate what makes the Disney theme park experience different from going to any other amusement or theme park, a visitor really ought to take the time to find and appreciate all the little things that work together to immerse guests into an environment unlike any other they've ever experienced.

The trick is, how do you discover the details? For a long time, your only options were to find yourself a devoted Disney fan to take you around the park or spend a lot of time doing research. (I've probably spent way too much time doing both.) In 2004, Kendra Trahan came up with a third alternative; she wrote Disneyland Detective, a fascinating book that collected many of the most fun and interesting details and stories from the Happiest Place on Earth, so casual Disney park fans could discover for themselves a lot of what they'd been missing. So if you're Kendra, what do you do for an encore? You write another book about the Disney theme park next door!

Disney's California Adventure Detective is the first book published about Disney's second gate in California. The book covers the theme park as well as the Downtown Disney district and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, sharing the some of the stories, secrets, and hidden details that guests can find in these places if they take a moment to look. There a lot of secrets and stories to be found at DCA and in this book - everything from hidden Mickeys and subtle references to movies and television shows to references to people and places in California history, as well as tributes to milestones in California architecture. The book is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with various sections of the theme park, and also contains three appendices that each go into greater detail about specific attractions where there are numerous references to be found. The book's layout highlights certain categories of information throughout, such as "lessons to learn" (background information on people and places referred to in the park), "treasures and trivia" (props to be found in attractions and fun facts related to an area or an attraction), and opening day attractions.

Kendra's done a wonderful job with this book. For a theme park that's been accused of not having a lot of "there" there (apologies to Gertrude Stein), Kendra's discovered a lot of interesting facts and details about Disney's California Adventure and its attractions. The book is a fast read, but I never felt like I was being shortchanged as far as content or detail. If someone can make it through this entire book without learning something new about Disney's California Adventure or about California, that person may want to consider applying for a job teaching California history or a job at the Walt Disney Archives! The book has wonderful photographs of the park and very nice illustrations of people who are significant figures in California history or who played a role in creating the Disney films and shows referred to in park attractions.

So, do I have any quibbles with this book? Well, yes (sorry, Kendra), but they're pretty minor ones. First off, while I think anyone from the first-time visitor to Disney's California Adventure to the person who's been to the park many times will get something out of this book, this isn't a book for "theme park commandos"; if your overriding goal when you visit DCA or any other theme park is to visit as many attractions as possible in a day, you're not going to have the time or inclination to really appreciate all the little details that make up the park, and you're not going to get all that much out of this book. (And if I've just described you, you may want to reconsider how you visit a Disney park - trust me, you're missing out on a lot!) If you're a first-time visitor to the Disneyland Resort, I'd recommend getting a good guide book in addition to this book to help you plan your visit (consider the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland or the Passporter Disneyland Resort); be sure to bring this book with you to refer to when you're in the park, though! There are a few factual and grammatical errors, but I don't think they really detract from the overall quality of the book.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss one of the bigger objections people might have to getting a copy of Disney's California Adventure Detective - namely, "The park's going to be totally different in a couple of years - why buy a book on DCA now?" As you may know, Disney's announced a major construction and renovation project that will dramatically change Disney's California Adventure; when the project's done, DCA is going to look a lot different from what it looks like now and is going to have a lot of new attractions. Keep in mind, however, that the project's going to be completed in phases and won't be fully complete until about 2012; while parts of this book already no longer reflect what's actually in the park and other parts of the book will soon no longer reflect what's there, a lot of the things that Kendra points out in her book are still there and will continue to be there for a while -- all the better reason to take a little time to learn about them and appreciate them now while you still can.

Disney's California Adventure Detective is a fun and enjoyable way to learn about the history, secrets and details that make one of Disney's newest theme parks a fun place to visit, and in the process the book challenges the notion that the theme park has very little to discover and enjoy. Some readers will appreciate the book as a historical snapshot of a theme park that will be radically different a few years from now, and others will appreciate having an expert guide to discovering and appreciating a Disney theme park. Either way, anyone who's interested in learning and discovering more about Disney's California Adventure should consider picking up a copy of this book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Passport Ahoy!

PassPorter's Disney Cruise Line and its Ports of Call 2008 (Sixth Edition), by Jennifer and Dave Marx. Ann Arbor, MI: PassPorter Press/MediaMarx Inc.., 2008; 352 pp.

I'm in the process of preparing for my first cruise, which - surprise, surprise! - is going to be a Disney cruise. As you may recall, a few months ago in one of my first reviews, I talked about the Birnbaum Guide to the Disney Cruise Line, which I thought was OK, but could have used a bit more information, especially about the cruise experience. While I was going through my local bookstore recently, I came across the PassPorter's Disney Cruise Line and its Ports of Call; all three of you folks out there who read my blog regularly may recall that I previously reviewed the Passporter Disneyland Resort and I was pretty impressed, so I picked up this book in the hope that it'd be a big help in planning for my cruise as I'm sure that PassPorter Disneyland Resort would be to someone planning a trip to Anaheim. After having read the book, I'm convinced that I made a great choice.

PassPorter's Disney Cruise Line (please forgive me for abbreviating the title!) is a comprehensive guide to the Disney Cruise Line experience. If Jennifer and Dave Marx don't provide just about every bit of information you might need for planning and enjoying a Disney cruise, they come pretty darned close. They thoroughly cover your options when booking a Disney cruise, including the different types of cruises available, the best times to go, and even the differences in stateroom categories, and give the reader tools and tips to help plan out their cruise itinerary and budget; they also cover everything happening on board, including dining and activities for various age groups. Jennifer and Dave also cover the ports visited by the Disney Cruise Line, giving the reader a rough lay of the land for each port, discussing the various port excursions offered by Disney (and alternatives to Disney-sponsored port excursions that might save passengers some money), and briefing the reader on activities that cruise passengers can pursue on their own.
As you might expect from a PassPorter guide, the information is well organized and easy to review and refer to, and as with their other books, Jennifer and Dave are happy to share their thoughts and their readers' thoughts on the various elements that make up a Disney cruise. They even provide information about the latest Disney itineraries and ports of call and provide information about the new Disney cruise ships - information that was curiously missing from the Birnbaum Guide.

I was really impressed by Passporter's Disney Cruise Line, but it's not a perfect book. Fans of the ringed binder format of most PassPorter books and of the PassPockets for storing important documents and reminders of their vacation will be disappointed to learn that the book comes in a standard bound format, with nary a PassPocket in sight (although you can pay a little more for the deluxe edition of the book and get it in the traditional format). It's not quite as colorful as the traditional PassPorter guides or the Birnbaum Guide, and since it's not an official Disney book, there aren't any photos of the Disney characters (although the Marxes include enough photos of their family enjoying the amenities of a Disney cruise that you'll still get a good idea what being on board is like). None of these faults is a deal-breaker, though.

PassPorter's Disney Cruise Line and its Ports of Call is a thorough and easy to use guide to just about everything you'd need to know to plan and get the most out of your Disney Cruise Line vacation. I think Disney could take a few lessons from the Marxes on how to put together a guidebook to Disney cruises, as the book does a great job of providing almost all the information someone would need to plan, book, and prepare for a voyage on the Disney Magic or the Disney Wonder. If you can only pick up one guidebook to prepare for your Disney Cruise Line vacation, make it this one.