Touring Guides: Birnbaum Guides Walt Disney World 2011

Birnbaum Guides Walt Disney World 2011
Editor – Jill Safro

Being the Official Guide for Walt Disney World, the Birnbaum Guide is the one that first time Disney travelers grab for first.  Just because it has the word “Official” on it does not mean that it is the best….or does it?  Let’s dive into the book and find out!

As I have said before, I have an order that I look at the books in and certain things I look for.  The first is the Table of Contents and Index. The index is very detailed, but there isn’t the typical Table of Contents.  There are color-coated sections and each section has a mini ToC.  I will go into detail about each section later in the review.

Next, I look at the pictures, as I am a very visual person. The entire book is very colorful, with colored tabs and boxes, which is appealing.  The pictures are a mix of animated pictures and photographs, with at least one on just about every page and all in full color.  A lot of the photographs show pieces of the park, giving the reader ideas of what part of an attraction may look like, which is great, especially for new travelers who have not experienced the parks.

A map is next on my list of must-haves for a guide and there are plenty to choose from in this book!  Throughout the book, there are maps of each park and of Downtown Disney and, in the back flap, there is a large colored map of the entire property.

Now onto the nitty-gritty of the book: the layout. After a word from editor Jill Safro, there is the first section titled Getting Ready to Go.  In this section, they really have listed everything you would need for your first or any trip to WDW.  They give crowd patterns, special events, weather patterns, travel, packing pointers, ticket information, dining plan information, money-saving tips, making a budget and a timeline for planning your vacation, which is a feature I really enjoy.  There is a group of sample schedules that give planners an idea how to go through their days in the park and what to do on rainy days. This section also has a tip area with tips for traveling with children, as a couple, alone, International travelers and travelers with Disabilities. And as if this wasn’t enough, there is also information on wedding and honeymoon planning, a timeline of Disney Milestones and a reference guide with several great snippets of info on everything from barber shops and camera needs to mail services, pets, tipping and religious services. This section is HUGE and packed with great information!

Before we continue, I just have to point out a little feature that goes throughout this book that I just love! It’s these little green boxes labeled “HOT TIP!”, where there is great bits of information, some of which even I, a relatively seasoned Disney veteran, did not know! My tip on the green tip boxes; Read Them!!

After the Getting Ready to Go section comes the Transportation and Accommodations section. Transporation was covered a bit in the first section, so the part here is rather small and just covers transportation to and on property.  The Accommodations section talks about the resorts in three ways; on a basics chart, rates chart and a detailed write-up on each resort.  The basics and rates charts are color coated and gives short and sweet snippets of info, which I am all about, but I know there are those who like long, detailed bits of information, which is provided as well by the kind Birnbaum people. Best of both worlds in this sense.  There is at least one picture for each resort as well; I could use more, but at least there is something. The large write-ups cover rooms, restaurants and bars, shopping, transportation and activities on the resort property. There are a few pages at the end of this section with write-ups on the Disney Cruise Line and on each of the resorts on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, which are not owned by Disney but are on Disney property.

Finally, after all of that and over 100 pages into the book, we get to the theme park sections, covering Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.  The beginning of each section has a map of the park,  a “Getting Oriented” section with information about parking and park hours and a “Park Primer” with everything from money information, baby facilities, first aid and more.  Each section of the park is then looked at, along with every attraction in that area.  There are paragraphs on the lands and the attractions describing them and giving information about FastPass options and restrictions. In the Magic Kingdom section, they do not include information on Mickey’s Toontown as it is no longer available and there is a small paragraph that talks about the Fantasyland Expansion, making new Disney travelers aware of the situation. There is also a red stamp next to some attractions that say “Birnbaum’s Best”; these attractions are some of the most popular among guests and the editors of the guide. After the attractions comes information on shopping and entertainment, including fireworks, parades and holiday specials.  Tips are sprinkled throughout all of these sections and a list is included at the end of each section, so make sure to read closely!

The next section, Everything Else in the World, covers just that! This section goes over Downtown Disney information, the Boardwalk resort scene, the two water parks, recreation activities, spas, tours and information for exclusive kid activities.  Looking for sports? The section after this covers all the sports options available to guests, from golf to tennis and water sports.

You may be thinking, “All this is good and detailed, but what about the restaurants and eating suggestions?” Well, never fear, Birnbaum’s has you covered there too! I will admit, this section is not as thorough as I would like and there are not many photos, but they do cover all of the basics needed to plan your dining options.  They go over what each restaurant and snack venue sell along with prices, if it is on the dining plan and when it is open and serving food. All restaurants have a brief paragraph, including the park restaurants, those in Downtown Disney and the ones at the resorts.  After this is a colorful chart naming each restaurant with a character meal option and what they serve along with tips, style, location and pricing.  Another few, colorful pages called the “Restaurant Roundup” go over “The Best” in many categories, such as “Best Fireworks View”, “Best Vegetarian Meal”, “Best Fixin’s Bar”, and many more! The end of this sections has pages that talk about Dinner shows, Bars and Lounges on property, and how to make reservations.

That takes us to the end of the book and, as if this book has not given you enough information, they have a couple pages for notes, 3 pages of amazing coupons to be used on Disney properties AND a trip planner page to help write down your vacation information and give you numbers you may need for planning.

And there you have it, the guide cover to cover! Here is my summary:

Table of Contents and Index: Yes, though Table of Contents is chapter by chapter instead of all at the beginning
Photos: Yes, along with TONS of color on every page
Maps: Yes, of each park, Downtown Disney and one of the whole property, all in color
Resort Details: Very Detailed and displayed in several formats
Dining Details: A whole chapter devoted to it with a good amount of detail
Attraction Details: A write up on each and a picture for many
Downtown Disney Details: Moderately Detailed
Water Park Details: Detailed with about 2 pages on each park
Other Information: Packing Suggestions, Tickets and pricing, weather, special event details, tips for traveling with children, solo and with disabilities, suggested schedules, tips sprinkled throughout the book, coupons

So, does this official guide meet up to its official standards? For the most part, YES! It has a great deal of information for planning a vacation, especially for those first time travelers.  If you are a visual person like me, you may be wishing for more photos, but that should not stop anyone from purchasing this book for the plethora of information found in it’s pages.

And if you needed any more reason to buy, how about it is only $10.33 new on Amazon.com?? Purchase today and start planning your Walt Disney World vacation!

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