Which Disney World Guide Is Right For You?

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The Walt Disney World Resort is huge, and it can be a complicated destination to navigate. The properties boast four theme parks, two water parks, more than two dozen hotels, a campground, a shopping district and more than 200 dining locations. It can all be a little overwhelming to returning visitors, let alone first timers. That’s why planning your Disney vacation is so important, and why Disney World guidebooks are so popular.

But with all the options available, which guide is right for you? I’m going to look at three of the most popular to demonstrate the differences and hopefully help you decide which fits your experience level and travel style.

The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa is huge, detailed and brutally honest. The Unofficial Guide’s 2012 version features 854 pages of text, charts and drawings, but no pictures. There is a companion volume of pictures available, but the Unofficial Guide itself is photo-free, rather devoting all its space to information.

If you like charts, this is the guide for you. Want to know how long it takes to get from any resort, using any transportation option to the front gate of any park, down to the second? There’s a chart. Which rides are scary for what age child? There’s a chart. Room rates, sizes and amenities? Ticket options? Average cost of a day at Disney? Ratings of rental car companies? This book has a chart for just about everything. The authors use a team of researchers and feedback from hundreds of readers to give you a very balanced and often brutally honest look at what exactly lies in store for a family vacationing at Disney World. They look at options both inside Disney World and off-property, offering valuable insight.

This is a very informative book, and surprisingly entertaining to read, given the density of information. The quotes from readers peppered throughout the book often left me in stitches. The downside is the sheer mammoth size, which is a bit intimidating, and the tendency of the authors to look at a Disney vacation as an exercise in mathematics and cost-savings that could turn off many people that aren’t exactly Type A personalities.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find Birnbaum Guides’ Walt Disney World 2012, the Official guide to Walt Disney World. This book is less than 300 pages of much bigger type and features many photographs from all over the Walt Disney world property. Being the Official Guide, this is written with the cooperation, and approval, of the Walt Disney World Resort. It is very up to date and includes all the basic information on accommodations, dining and the parks.

The flip side of that is that you will not get one word of criticism. Disney World is a truly magical place, but it has its ups and downs like the rest of the world. Birnbaum is all ups and no downs. Honestly, while this book is fun to page through and get your family all excited about your trip, it doesn’t have any information not easily available on the Disney website, and much less than is available on fan sites all over the internet, including Chip & Company.

PassPorter’s Walt Disney World is a third option and is quite a departure from both the Official and Unofficial guides. The PassPorter guide offers more pictures and color than the Unofficial Guide, more honest reviews than the Official Guide and is unique in that it also serves as a travel planner and scrapbook.

The authors, Jennifer, Dave and Allison Marx, don’t provide the depth of detail that marks the Unofficial Guide, and aren’t nearly as addicted to charts and graphs, but they do a very good job of honestly portraying Disney World’s best and not so great. The back of the book is composed of cardboard stock pages designed with pockets to hold tickets and other memorabilia and forms for recording both plans and remembrances.

I used this book as a planning guide on our last week-long trip a few years ago without taking advantage of the scrapbook-type features and felt I completely got my money’s worth. This year, I plan to use the whole book as a way to make writing about my trip easier on my return.

No one guide is going to be right for everyone. Whether you are looking to plan every second of your vacation like the D-Day invasion or you just want pretty pictures to help you feel the magic before you leave, there is a guide for you. Or, of course, you can do like me and buy them all! One never can have too much Disney on the bookshelf, I think.

This guest post was written by our good friend Jeffrey. He is a father, husband, Disney fan and refugee from the real world. While planning his next Disney trip, he enjoys bringing the Magic into his life in all ways possible, including his personal blog, Pooh Sticks.

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