Pick the Best Disney World Guidebook for You

A trip to Walt Disney World can be daunting, but with the right guidebook, you can have all the magic at your fingertips.

The author's wife embraces her inner five-year-old…and Donald Duck. (Anthony Falcone)

Not long after my wife Stacy and I first started dating, I surprised her with a trip to Walt Disney World (WDW). After the initial delight of an unexpected vacation wore off, I was met with the all-too-familiar eye roll of "Disney...again?" After all, she had already known me long enough to know about my fanaticism for all things Disney, as well as my repeated trips to WDW (thirteen and counting!).

I was worried whether she would like it as much as I did. I hedged my bets, taking her during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Some good wine would go a long way towards making up for a dud trip, just in case she didn't feel the magic.

I needn't have worried, though. Our first morning at Epcot, she actually squealed when she saw Minnie Mouse. Stacy had gotten in touch with her inner child.

I got something out of that trip, too. I got to see the parks again for the first time. I saw them through her eyes. I tailored the trip to her interests, while still taking the time to point out my favorites, hoping they'd become hers as well.

A good guidebook should do the same thing for you that I did for my wife. Not only should it help you find the things you'll like, but it should also help guide you to things you wouldn't normally try.

Here are reviews of the three major guidebooks. These reviews should help you decide which book best suits your needs.

Which guide? Birnbaum's Walt Disney World: The Official Guide ($16.95)
Who's it for? The rookie
Why should you read it? Consider this guide "Disney World 101." If you've never been to WDW, and you need an overview of everything that's available, this guidebook is the place to start. As the "official guide," it has extensive and detailed information that covers every aspect of your trip, from figuring out how you'll get there, to choosing your hotel and deciding which tickets to buy. (Its explanation of Disney's vacation packages is easier to understand than the one on the Disney World website.)

This guide is heavy on the details. You'll find yourself over a hundred pages in before you find a single ride description! But if you need to find a local church or temple, just head to page 53. (Yes, it's that detailed.) Such precision may seem like overkill, but it groups together important facts in easy-to-read sections, allowing you to skim over the info you don't need. (Not traveling with a party of eight or more? Then skip the whole "Magical Gatherings" section.)

A three-page color-coded comparison chart of the individual Disney hotels is a user-friendly way to pick the hotel that's right for you. Immediately following it, you'll find in-depth descriptions of each resort to help you feel sure that you picked the right place.

The ride descriptions are a little light. In some cases, more space is devoted to the gift shops and restaurants than to the actual attractions. But this guidebook does showcase the myriad of activities outside the theme parks—such as golf, surfing, and horseback riding—which can be easily overlooked by a first-timer.

Which guide? The Complete Walt Disney World ($24.95)
Who's it for? The seasoned veteran
Why should you read it? Now that you have a basic understanding of Disney World, it's time to dig deeper. WDW is built for repeat visits. Every trip yields new surprises and subtle treasures you never noticed before. Illustrated with beautiful color photographs, this guidebook details every attraction, scene by scene.

It also offers an in-depth history of the attractions and the parks themselves. Each ride has a "Fun Facts" section offering surprising tidbits. (Did you know that Country Bear Jamboree fan-favorite Big Al was voiced by Tex Ritter? And that the song he "butchers"—Blood on the Saddlewas a Tex Ritter hit in 1960?) If the attraction is based on a Disney film, expect a sidebar with a synopsis of that movie and a list of the plot elements that were incorporated into the attraction.

The Complete Walt Disney World primarily focuses on the theme parks. If you're looking for a primer to choose a hotel, this is not the guidebook for you. But what it does offer is ride length, average wait times, and even seating capacities at every restaurant and snack bar on the property. This is more than a history book!

Get Inspired with more from

Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

Budget Travel Real Deals

  • From $2,727

See more deals »


Our newsletter delivers vacation inspiration straight to your inbox.

Check Prices