Friday, April 3, 2009

Disneyland Gets A Zagat Rating (Or Several)

Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide (John Deiner, Staff Editor). New York: Zagat Survey LLC, 2009; 108 pp.

If there's one thing you never have to worry about when you write a blog about books related to the Disney theme parks, it's a lack of material - especially not a lack of guidebooks to the parks. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are such popular travel destinations that it seems like every publisher wants to print a guidebook to them, and more publishers add to the selection regularly. This time, we'll be looking at a new guidebook to Disneyland from a well-established publisher of restaurant reviews and see how useful their reviews of an entire theme park might be to the average visitor.

If you're into fine dining and have had the need to explore your meal options in an unfamiliar city, you're familiar with the Zagat Guides. For the past 30 years, they've been providing ratings for restaurants based on extensive reader reviews; many restaurants take great pride in displaying stickers that they they've received a Zagat rating. A couple of years ago, Zagat decided to branch out and apply their review system to the Walt Disney World Resort, and in the new Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide, they do the same to the Happiest Place on Earth.

The Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide looks at the entire Disneyland Resort - both theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the Disneyland Resort Hotels, providing reviews and ratings of attractions, entertainment, shopping, and of course food - not just sit-down restaurants, mind you, but also fast food options and even fruit carts. Locations are rated on a 30-point scale, with every item having at least three separate ratings. For example, attractions and shows are rated by appeal to adults, appeal to children, and thrill level; restaurants are rated by food, decor, and service, with a separate box provided displaying average cost. In addition to the ratings, comments from Zagat reader surveys are provided for each location. The book also provides lists of top-rated locations for each district of the Resort, brief overviews of each area, and a separate color section with Disney-provided park maps and photographs of top-rated attractions, shopping, dining, and hotels.

The best thing about the Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is that the book makes finding information quick and easy; the book's well-organized and the information in it is concise. The book is also small enough that it's easy to carry along - its overall dimensions are probably the same as a small stack of park maps, so it'd be easy to carry along in a pocket or purse. I also like that it's easy to get an idea how much eating at a restaurant's going to set you back with aquick glance, and the lists at the back of the book breaking down attractions, shopping and dining into various categories are a nice touch.

So the Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is the perfect thing to take along with you on your next trip to the Park, right? Well, not quite. The biggest problem I have with the book is the format used in writing the reviews; rather than just having their staff writers come up with their own brief summary of the opinions provided by those surveyed, the Zagat folks decided to put together those review paragraphs by splicing together words from multiple individual comments. For example, here's part of the Disneyland Insider's Guide review of Dumbo the Flying Elephant:

" 'Every kid' 'has to ride' this 'quintessential' Fantasyland fixture 'at least once', as there's 'nothing like getting an elephant's-eye view' while 'soaring through the air' in 'colorful' circling pachyderms..."

Writing the reviews in this style probably sounded like a cute idea, but it gets annoying really quickly - especially if you decide to read the book all the way through (which granted isn't how this book's intended to be read). If you're looking for tips on when to visit and how to save time, there's a little bit of information in the Zagat Insider's Guide, but we're talking about one or two very short paragraphs. If you'd like some suggestions for touring the parks, the information you're provided is similarly limited; this isn't the book you want to buy if you're looking for a lot of in-depth information for planning your next visit to Anaheim. It's also not the book you're looking for if you'd like some information about hotels or shopping outside of the Disneyland Resort itself - the book deals only with what's on Disney property. Last but not least, a price tag of $14.95 for a book that's only about 125 pages in total length (108 pages of text plus the color section) may give some folks looking for the best value for their money some pause.

The Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is a well-organized and concise book that provides brief but useful reviews and ratings of attractions, shopping, and dining at the Disneyland Resort, and would probably serve as a useful quick reference to guests who are new visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth. However, its usefulness is hampered by an awkward writing style for the reviews, and some readers will find that the information provided by the book is a little too concise, keeping the book from being a useful planning tool. The book is readily available at most major book retailers and at the Disneyland Resort.

No comments: