Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Biggest WDW Guidebook Of Them All

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010, by Bob Sehlinger with Len Testa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2009, 850 pp.

As you folks who read this blog regularly know, I love to read a good guidebook about a Disney theme park. Not only can they be helpful in making the most of a visit to a park you're not familiar with, they serve as a snapshot of what a particular park was like at a certain time; if I ever need to settle a bet about whether or not an attraction was open or not in a certain year, I almost always turn to my collection of guidebooks. I figured it was about time that I turn my attention to one of the biggest (in terms of popularity and in terms of size) out there, so this time we'll be reviewing the grandaddy of all Walt Disney World guidebooks.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has got to be one of the most comprehensive guides to planning and enjoying a Walt Disney World vacation. From providing resources and suggestions for planning a trip to central Florida to in-depth discussions of lodging, food and entertainment options, as well as a comprehensive guide to all of the Disney theme parks and a couple of the non-Disney parks, the Unofficial Guide just about has it all; if there's something you need to know about Walt Disney World that isn't in this book, I haven't found it yet. Unlike most guidebooks, the Unofficial Guide's advice isn't solely based on the knowledge of a well-traveled author (although Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa certainly have lots of experience traveling to WDW); the book also depends heavily on the opinions of its readers to provide judgements on attractions and restaurants and on computer algorithms to determine the best plans for touring the parks. Also unlike some guides, the Unofficial Guide is opinionated - not just about whether an attraction, hotel, or restaurant is good or bad, but also about some of Disney's policies and business decisions, but the opinions are based on a love of and respect for the product.

As you may have guessed by that lengthy synopsis (well, hey, it's a lengthy book!), I really enjoy reading and using the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. It's a great source of information on what's new and what's changed (for better or for worse) at the Disney theme parks, and it's a great read to boot. Bob and Len provide a lot of useful stuff in this book, whether it's your first trip or your 51st, and they provide it in a witty and opinionated style that prevents all the knowledge being provided to you from being overwhelming. Bob and Len aren't afraid to bite the gloved hand that feeds them, but you never get the impression that it's meant out of spite or solely to stir up controversy.

So who's not going to like this book? Well, first and foremost, if you're one of those people who prefers to see the (Walt Disney) World through Mouse-colored glasses, this probably isn't the book for you; Bob and Len aren't afraid to criticize Disney if it's warranted, but there'll always be people who think that Disney can do no wrong, and they won't be happy to be told otherwise.

I know some folks are going to be intimidated by the sheer size of this book. (An important note: Don't drop this book in the vicinity of your foot or any small children or pets - you'll probably do some damage.) The Unofficial Guide probably isn't the book to pick up in the airport newsstand while you're waiting for your flight to Orlando, because it's going to require you to invest a little of your time; it's better to invest a little of your time before you go than to invest a lot more time and money when you get there because you didn't pick up some important advice. (If the size of the book really is a problem, look for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Mini-Mickey, which is a condensed version of the regular Unofficial Guide.)One other minor quibble I have with the guide: Does it have to have so much of the illustrations and text in blue? There's nothing wrong with blue, you understand, it just gets overwhelming after a while, particularly if you're crazy like me and read it from cover to cover. Aside from that, no worries.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010 is a comprehensive, informative,and well-written guide to planning, enjoying, and saving time and money on a Walt Disney World vacation. The book will require a little more time to read and review because of its size, but it's time well-spent; readers who prefer their Disney guidebooks with a little less opinion or heft and a bit more pixie dust may want to consider another guidebook, such as the Birnbaum Walt Disney World or the PassPorter Walt Disney World guidebooks. The book can readily be found at most major chain and online bookstores, as well as independent bookstores with a good selection of travel books.

Oh, and one last thing: Happy holidays, everyone! Thanks for reading, and I promise lots more fun and interesting reviews in 2010.