By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Review: The Complete Walt Disney World 2012

By Dave Shute


I still remember my shock when I opened the first book in of this series. Such gorgeous photos, and so many of them! So many details and so much trivia! And such a nice typeface and design.

All other Disney World guidebooks immediately looked 20 years out of date after Julie and Mike Neal published theirs (Julie is the writer, Mike the photographer).

Their latest update, The Complete Walt Disney World 2012, came out in December 2011. As frequent readers of this site know, I’m particularly keen on page 375.

Unique features include a guide by character to where characters can be found, and an overview of the ESPN Wide World of Sports.  Distinctive features include the number, excellence, and quality of reproduction of photos, and the level of detail on the rides themselves. Even the most learned of Disney World scholars will find something new in the detail.

For Walt Disney World fans, it’s an essential part of a Disney library. First-time visitors don’t really need guidebooks if they use this site, but if they want one, it’s one of the guidebooks I recommend.


The 384 pages of  The Complete Walt Disney World 2012 are divided into more than a dozen major sections, including all the typical topics but also with very useful sections on “Activities,” “Walt Disney World A-Z,” and a “Character Guide.”

The book is 16 pages longer than last year’s edition: 

  • The book’s material on the Magic Kingdom now includes a nice four-page section on the Fantasyland expansion
  • Entirely new this year is a section with approximate costs of items ranging from park tickets to birthday cakes, helpful for rough budgeting
  • A section on how to use the book has been added near the beginning–a great help, but I wish it had been listed in the table of contents
  • Its material on hotels has been expanded to incorporate the Art of Animation Resort

But the heart of the book, with almost exactly half of the work’s pages, is still its material on the four theme parks.

These sections are the strength of the book, in particular their discussions of the attractions. Attraction material typically has one to three pages of photographs and text including quick overviews, extended discussion, history, fun facts, trivia, hidden Mickeys, etc.

It’s the depth of this material and the quality of the Mike Neal and Disney photographs–almost always at least one per page in these sections, and often more–that will appeal in particular to readers.

Julie Neal’s writing is sprightly, concise, clear, fair, and fun. An example from her material on Hollywood Studios: “…this theme park has no backlot and therefore offers no tour through it.”

I don’t always agree with her opinions–e.g. the high regard in which she holds Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade (personally I don’t find rickshaw after rickshaw of fellow park guests that compelling a visual spectacle)–but they are mostly well within the range of sensible response. 

One exception that does not strike me as sensible is ranking Splash Mountain below the Main Street Vehicles, the Move it, Shake It, Celebrate It parade, and the Hall of the Presidents…

Most of the attraction material is exactly one, two, or three complete pages long. (The treatment of Epcot’s pavilions is an exception–it’s hard to deal with Epcot pavilions in a way that’s consistent with the other parks, as they are less than “lands” but more than rides…)

The merit of giving attractions whole pages is that it improves “findability”–the reader quickly figures out where to look for the beginning of the material on an attraction. 

However, the result at times is the need to fill out 2 pages that could have ended at one and and a half pages, or cut material to get a review to one page that could have been one and a half. Moreover, the different structure of the Epcot section contradicts the expectations built in the other sections. 

Also impeding findability is the un-marked sub-structure of the parks material.  This can make it harder to find a specific attraction than it should be.  A conceptual sub-structure does guide the order of the book’s material. For example, the Magic Kingdom is organized by land, in the order attractions appear from the central hub.  But this conceptual substructure is not sign-posted or way-finded for the reader, leaving them to leaf through or use the index to find material.

Adding a layer of explicit structure would help, and would also give some options for presenting the Epcot material differently.  But this likely would require adding another 16 page signature and increasing the book’s price.  For first time visitors, though, it’d be a big help, and well worth it.

One approach to getting some of these pages available would be killing the ESPN section.  I have mixed feelings about this, as I can’t think of another guidebook that devotes so many pages to the ESPN Wide World of Sports–8 pages, two more than last year.  That said, to be most helpful this section should be even longer.  It needs a highly detailed map, likely covering two pages, to help participants and their families find their way around.  But that’s not where I’d invest pages if I were the Neals…

While I’m adding pages…there’s a bit of an imbalance in the number of pages spent on each park–the Animal Kingdom gets relatively too many pages, and Epcot too few. (Epcot at 38 pages has the fewest pages among the theme parks; the Animal Kingdom at 46 has the most other than the Magic Kingdom’s 66.)

The issue isn’t that the Animal Kingdom material is too long: Julie Neal’s treatment of the Animal Kingdom is far and away the best I’ve ever seen in any Walt Disney World guidebook. Her love for this park shines through, and translates into among other things uniquely helpful maps (e.g., 174).

Rather, it’s that the material on Epcot is too short.

But these are quibbles (other than that Splash Mountain thing…).

All in, this series is a rather astonishing achievement, and I am delighted to add The Complete Walt Disney World 2012 to my list of recommended guidebooks.


This review continues here.

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