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by Doobie Moseley (archives)
September 17, 2003

Disney 101: Walt Disney World Planning Books

Walt Disney World is a huge place. More than 47 square miles, four major theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island, mini golf and the list goes on and on. If you've been before, you know how helpful it can be to do some planning before you go. If you've never been before, and you don't know what's in store, arrival can be overwhelming!

While the Internet and all of its extensive, interactive and usually free resources is invaluable for planning a trip, sometimes it's nice to hold a book in your hand. Many of the Walt Disney World trip planning books have been in existence for years with a new edition coming out each year to keep it up to date. Those updates, along with feedback from their readers, have made the authors of these books true experts in their field. The advice received is easily worth the money paid.

Below I give a short synopsis of four of the more popular Walt Disney World planning books. I'm not attempting to review the current editions. Rather, my goal is tell you what niche each of the four fit into which may help you decide which ones to buy and give you a starting point for looking at other books.

Birnbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World: Most round-ups of Disney planning books start with Birnbaum. The reason is simple - it's the only "official" guidebook there is. By being official Birnbaum has been able to use in-park photographs, something other books have stayed away from historically. The result is a book that is full color and attractive. The downside of being the official guidebook is it tends not to be as frank as other books when describing the attractions. One of the benefits of a guidebook is to help you decide, when time is short, which attractions deserve your time and which can be saved for another time. But that kind of blunt talk about attractions is harder to find in Birnbaum's then other books. Despite that, I still think Birnbaum's is a great book for the average planner. Others may be better for the hardcore maximize-every-minute travelers, but for the family that wants a good idea of what they're getting into with a Walt Disney World trip, but not looking to plan it to death, it's a good choice, and the attractiveness of it will help you get in the mood like no other book can. (Note: Disney recently changed their policies to allow other guidebooks to include photos, so other guidebooks may now have them).

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World: I'm not sure if the Unofficial Guides are the oldest unofficial guidebooks for Disney, but it sure seems like it. It's definitely the first one I looked at back in 1995. The unofficial guide is thick! It features a complete list of all attractions with short descriptions, "star" ratings by age group accumulated from their readers, a complete restaurant list with ratings, hotel descriptions and ratings (both on-site and off-site), advice for what to do before you go, what to bring with you, and the list goes on. But the thing that has always set the Unofficial Guides apart are their touring plans. The plans take you step-by-step through your day telling what order to go on the attractions to maximize your fun and minimize your time in lines. Sometimes, contrary to what you might think, that involves criss-crossing across the parks. While the plans do work, they're not for everyone. They do involve arriving early at the parks, determination and lots of walking. For some it makes the vacation feel more like a job. But for others, the ability to wait in line less and experience many more attractions makes this book worth its weight in gold.

PassPorter Guide to Walt Disney World: What makes PassPorter stand out is it's not only a guidebook, it's an organizer. Along with the typical attraction, restaurant and hotel advice PassPorter includes an integrated organizer for writing out the plan for your particular trip. It's also useful for taking notes while you're there. Finally, PassPorter includes pockets. Talk to anyone who's a PassPorter fan (and the book seems to have a more devoted following than any other), and the first thing they bring up will probably be the pockets. Integrated into the book are pockets in which you can store park maps, rental car confirmations, FastPasses or just about anything else you can think of. The combination of the organizer and the pockets means once your trip is done, your book serves as a great memory book. In my opinion, PassPorter is the best travel planner for those who consider themselves big Disney fans. That's evidenced by the fact that there's a whole section of the book devoted to "extra-special Disney Magic" and a website, PassPorter.com where readers can gather to talk about their trips.

Walt Disney World for Couples:  I really love this book. I've been to Walt Disney World six or seven times. Exactly zero of those times have been with children of my own. All but one have been with my wife. And believe it or not, Walt Disney World is a great place for couples, even romantic if you want it to be. And that's the approach taken by this book. The result is a guidebook that spends extra times on the resort hotels and the restaurants letting you know which are especially good for couples. It also gives tons of tips on how to bring a little romance into wherever you're at. If it's just you and your honey going to Walt Disney World, and you're looking for a little more than fun in the parks, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

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-- Doobie Moseley

New Disney 101 is not posted on a regular schedule.

-- Posted September 17, 2003