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Book Review: Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World – The Official Vacation Guide 2020

Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World – The Official Vacation Guide 2020Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World – The Official Vacation Guide 2020 Edition is available now.  This annually updated resource dates back to 1981 and has the goal of providing a comprehensive resource to help you plan your vacation to Walt Disney World (WDW).     Over the years the book has continued to expand along with WDW.  This year’s paperback checks in at over 350 pages divided into eleven chapters.  These include general vacation planning information such as: Getting Ready to Go, Transportation & Accommodations.  A chapter devoted to each of the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).  As well as chapters on Sports & Recreation, Dining, and everything else in the World.   Also included is the Disney Cruise Line (for several years this was a separate book but it is now in the WDW book.   Lastly the book concludes with nine pages of coupons good at various locations around Walt Disney World.

Almost the first third of the book is devoted to initial vacation planning including an introduction to the property, FastPass+, MyDisneyExperience, sample budgets & schedules and the Resorts.   I always find guides interesting to see what they highlight and how they try to advise guests.  Everyone tours theme parks differently based on their likes, habits, family, etc..  Guides are usually written with common tips/tricks and information that can be applied across the board.   As I read through these introductions and guide sections something I try to do (and unfortunately fail to do since I have way too much baggage) is put myself in the shoes of a first time visitor.  Walt Disney World has always been a challenge from a planning perspective with the vast number of options and price points, but in recent years this seems to have only become more complicated and the array of choices and decisions that need to be made far in advance only add to the potential stress for many.    Factor in the cost of these trips and the “pressure” to get your money’s worth or times worth or just to have fun and it can be a daunting task to plan a vacation.  The Birnbaum guide offers you a solid overview and provides a reference/resource to look at while planning your trip.

The chapters devoted to the theme parks include sub sections on Getting Oriented, Park Primer, Attractions, Shopping, Entertainment and Hot Tips.  Every attraction is given some space with a description as well as warnings and some tips.   Shopping is also highlighted with descriptions of most stores.   Entertainment, seasonal and special events are mentioned and discussed briefly too.

The book concludes with an assortment of coupons good at select locations inside and outside the parks at Walt Disney World.  The cover says they are worth $400.  One traditional coupon that is not present is one for 20% off WDW Fishing Excursions.  This was listed in the text but nowhere to be found in the back of the book.  Also interesting to note at how some differ from Disneyland. For example Wetzel’s Pretzel in Anaheim is a buy 1 get 1 free. In Orland its buy 2 get 1 free.

As with all print publications it is a challenge to keep them up to date and timely given the long lead times.  The book does an ok job of referencing changes that are or may be coming in 2020 and beyond but it is always a bit of a challenge and some changes have already occurred that are not mentioned in the book at all.   For the most part though they are on top of the major changes and do reference checking the official site and app for more up to date information.

With the vast amount of information collected and the rate of change there are some questionable items in the book and some inconsistencies or maybe editorial decisions. For example the Ratatouille Attraction coming to France is listed in a small call out box vs a new attraction with more detail on it.  Or the three film changes coming to Epcot World Showcase in January are handled differently with the Beauty and the Beast sing a long highlighted as new with an icon, the China film no label but the text says new and the Canada film listed as updated.

I thought the  “Birnbaum’s Best” choices really seem like they should have more info/categories.   For example in Epcot Future World they picked the  Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival, Turtle Talk with Crush, Test Track and Soarin as Best picks.  And in World Showcase Impressions De France and American Adventure.  These are all solid attractions but not really comparable.

I have always found the Birnbaum guides to be great resources for the state of the parks at any given time.  They offer a fairly straight overview and description of the attractions and other offerings.  The trip planning information seems like a solid initial resource as you wade into planning your vacation.

I remember picking up editions from the library each year growing up to see the changes in the parks.  On year’s my family was planning a trip to WDW we would purchase that year’s guide or receive it as part of the vacation package.  In retrospect now they act as a great time capsule to capture those vacation and planning memories.  I have about a dozen in my library dating back to 1990.   Flipping back through them now it is really great to see what was featured and to look at how the parks and options have evolved.

The internet is a great resource for learning about Walt Disney World.  You can get a lot of detail and opinions on just about anything now a days in an instant.  But for a traditionalist like me having a print publication to flip through and discuss with the family is still a great tool.  (Also as a pack rat having the paper to keep as a reference vs a digital page that will vanish or be updated usually is a plus).

Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World – The Official Vacation Guide 2020 Edition carries on the legacy of the book’s original author Steve Birnbaum and continues to be a solid reference for Walt Disney World planning.  If you are looking for descriptions and information to help plan your vacation to WDW you should consider adding this to your planning tool chest and library.

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