Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Only Bragging If You Don't Live Up To The Title

The Complete Guide to Walt Disney World 2008, by Julie and Mike Neal. Sanibel, FL: Coconut Press, 2007, 336 pp.

For me, the biggest problem I have with buying a guidebook to a Disney theme park is trying to find space for it on my bookshelf! For the more casual visitor, finding a guidebook for an upcoming visit is a bit more tricky - there are a lot of really good choices out there, and sometimes the choice comes down to what you'd like to get out of the book besides the basic facts. Should you choose a book that's well-illustrated so you can start enjoying your Disneyland or Walt Disney World vacation before you even get there? Do you want a book that's full of information or trivia? Do you want a book that provides unbiased opinions of what you'll encounter? This time, I'll be reviewing a guidebook that has a nice combination of all three.

The Complete Guide to Walt Disney World
is pretty much what the title says; the book provides a full overview of the Walt Disney World Resort, including the theme parks, water parks, on-property accommodations, dining and shopping. But it doesn't stop there. Julie and Mike Neal cover the various attractions and accommodations in great detail, including background on what inspired the attraction or the design of the resort, interesting bits of trivia and hidden details to look out for. They also cover background information on the Walt Disney Company and the resort in general, including a biography of Walt Disney, the history of WDW, an introduction to the Disney characters, and information on the various animal species you'll encounter at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The book is superbly illustrated with official images from Disney and many wonderful photographs taken by the authors. Given all of the information and all the illustrations included, the book is surprisingly concise. Calling the Complete Guide to Walt Disney World a guidebook to the Walt Disney World Resort doesn't really seem to do it justice; it's more of a mini-reference guide.

It takes either a great deal of nerve or a great deal of confidence to call a travel book a complete guide to anything, but I think Julie and Mike's book more than lives up to its title; the book is everything the Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World promises to be to its readers and then some. The Neals put a lot of work into researching this book, making over 800 trips to the resort over five years, and it shows; I dare any fan of Walt Disney World to read this book and not come away knowing a few things about the resort that they didn't know. The illustrations - maps and photographs - are outstanding. The book's full of both useful and fun information, and at 336 pages, manages to provide a lot of information while making the book easy enough to carry around in a bag or purse. It is, in short, a really impressive book.

This isn't to say that The Complete Guide to Walt Disney World is perfect. I managed to find several errors in the book, such as names of locations or persons - nothing important or egregious enough that I wouldn't recommend buying this book, but there were some really surprising errors considering the amount of detail in it. Like many Walt Disney World guidebooks, its coverage pretty much ends where the WDW boundaries do; if you plan to explore beyond Disney property, you may want to consider a second guidebook for that part of the trip (I'd recommend Pauline Frommer's Guide to Walt Disney World and Orlando). The book does provide a timetable for each theme park that will allow you to experience the highlights of the park, but there's not much else in the book in terms of touring plans or touring information for the theme parks and other activities. Overall, though, the positives of this book far outweigh the negatives.

The Complete Guide to Walt Disney World 2008
is a thorough, fact-filled and fascinating guide to the Walt Disney World Resort. It provides a lot of information but not so much as to be overwhelming, it's beautifully illustrated and organized, and it gives the reader a good background into what inspired the creation of the parks and the attractions found there. The book is a good source of information on Disney's Florida attraction and a good introduction to what WDW is and what it's all about. Julie and Mike Neal have written a book that gives Disney's official guidebook a run for it's money.

Note: Since the time I received a copy of this book, a revised edition for 2009 has been released by Coconut Press;
The Complete Guide to Walt Disney World 2009 is now available in bookstores and online.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

There's One Less Excuse For Not Visiting Tokyo Disney

Tokyo Disney Made Easy, by Kevin Yee. Orlando, FL: Ultimate Orlando Press, 2008; 180 pp.

If you've been a Disney theme park fan for a while, you've heard all kinds of stories about the Tokyo Disney Resort - about how beautiful and well-maintained it is, about the unique, top-tier attractions and shows there that can't be found at the other Disney theme parks, and about how visiting the parks is such a different experience from visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World. It all sounds wonderful, but there's just one potential problem with going for a visit to the Tokyo Disney Resort: It's in Japan. A few thoughts of spending a whole lot of money, taking a long plane ride, trying to navigate one's way around one of the largest cities in the world, and not being able to understand the culture or communicate with anyone are usually enough to discourage all but the most devoted Disney fans from making the trip to see Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. A trip to the local bookstore doesn't provide much assurance; there are a lot of guides out there to Japan and to Tokyo, but there's not much information in most travel guides to Japan about the Tokyo Disney Resort, and there are no English-language guides to help someone plan a trip to the Tokyo parks. Until now, that is.

Kevin Yee, author of several books on Disney-related topics (including Mouse Trap, which I've previously reviewed in this blog), has put together the first English guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo Disney Made Easy. In his book, Kevin provides a lot of useful information to the American traveler who'd like to make a trip to see the Tokyo parks, including how to plan for the trip, how to get to and from the airport to your hotel and to the Tokyo Disney Resort, what to see and what you can afford to miss, and a few cultural and linguistic pointers to make your visit less stressful. Kevin even provides tips on how to save a little money during your visit and how to navigate the parks with children in tow.

I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about how useful Kevin's book would be in planning a trip to Japan. Not to cast any aspersions on Kevin or anything - I think he's a very good writer - but I'd heard that he'd only visited the Tokyo Disney Resort once, and I wasn't sure how much information he'd be able to provide to the novice traveler based on one visit. I really needn't have worried. As Kevin himself mentions, the key to a successful trip is planning and research, and Kevin's definitely done his in writing this book. The information in Kevin's book is concise and well-organized, and I think even a veteran traveler to Tokyo Disney could pick up a helpful hint or two. The book provides a brief overview of the attractions and shows that can be found in the Tokyo parks, including recommendations on what rides and shows should be on a visitor's "must see" list and what rides and shows can be sacrificed if time is short and the crowds are particularly daunting (which they can often be at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). I particularly liked how Kevin walks the reader through the steps of dining and shopping transactions, which could be a little tricky if you're not aware how such transactions are done in Japan. Kevin also provides a mini crash course in Japanese in this book, with a few useful phrases, some basic rules of grammar, and a couple of other items that a visitor may find helpful.

So, are there any potential pitfalls or drawbacks to Tokyo Disney Made Easy? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that this book is intended to be a guide to visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort, not a guide to Japan or even to Tokyo; while Kevin does provide a few pointers on how to get around Tokyo and Japan using Japan Railways, this book doesn't provide a lot of information about getting by in Japan once you leave the Disney parks. Frankly, that's not necessarily a bad thing; as I mentioned above, there are a lot of good travel guides to Japan, and there was really no need for Kevin to re-invent the wheel. Consider Kevin's book an excellent supplement to a good travel guide to Tokyo if you're planning on seeing more than the Tokyo Disney Resort while you're in Japan (and if you're going to travel all that distance, you really should see more!)

If you're one of those folks that just can't visit a Disney theme park without a touring plan, I'm sorry to tell you that there aren't any touring plans provided in Kevin's book; Kevin does provide some tips for navigating the parks and a few tips for creating a touring plan for your visit, however, and I think that the information Kevin does provide and a little research on the Internet should give readers a good start on devising a plan of their own. Aside from these quibbles, I think this is a very good guidebook.

Tokyo Disney Made Easy more than lives up to its name, providing a concise and informative guide to planning and enjoying a trip to the Japanese Disney theme parks. The book provides a good general overview of the parks and their shows and attractions, and it provides helpful tips for overcoming common linguistic and cultural pitfalls that a first-time visitor to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea may encounter during their visit. Any Disney fan that is planning their first trip to the Japanese parks should really consider picking up a copy of this book.

Christmastime (And Excuse Time) Is Here

Hi, folks. My deepest apologies to those of you who have been checking here (and contacting me) wondering why I hadn't posted a review recently.

To borrow a line from Twain, the rumors of my (and this blog's) demise are greatly exaggerated; between all the usual holiday insanity, somne changes at work, and a nasty cold virus that just refuses to go away, I haven't been getting a whole lot accomplished this month. I've almost got a book I've been reading finished (yes, I actually read the books I review!) and I've got a couple of days free from work coming up , so check back before the end of the weekend. If I don't have anything posted, well, Santa knows where to deliver the lumps of coal.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanaukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and happy whatever holidays I may have forgotten, everybody!