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.