THE trusted source of information for a successful Walt Disney World vacation
Compiled and written by a team of experienced researchers whose work has been cited by such diverse sources as USA Today and Operations Research Forum, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World digs deeper and offers more than any other guide.
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019 explains how Walt Disney World works and how to use that knowledge to make every minute and every dollar of your vacation count. With advice that is direct, prescriptive, and detailed, it takes the guesswork out of travel by unambiguously rating and ranking everything from hotels, restaurants, and attractions to rental car companies.
With an Unofficial Guide in hand, and authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa as guides, find out what’s available in every category, from best to worst, and use step-by-step detailed plans to help make the most of your time at Walt Disney World.
About the Author
Bob Sehlinger, a Lowell Thomas Award-winning journalist, is best known as the creator and producer of The Unofficial Guide series. He’s the author of 27 books and lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
Len Testa, a lifelong Disney theme park fan, is also coauthor ofThe Color Companion to Walt Disney World, The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, and The Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line. Len leads the team at TouringPlans.com, the website and research arm of The Unofficial Guides. He lives in Orlando, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
INTRODUCTION: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING GOOFY
The Disney-character physician is having lunch with the director of park operations when the doc’s phone rings. . . .
“Excuse me,” he says. “It’s the fertility clinic. I’d better take it.”
Getting up, he exits the restaurant and returns a few minutes later looking concerned. “It’s the darndest thing,” the doctor says. “But there’s not a thing wrong with any of them. . . .”
“Any of whom,” the director asks.
“The Disney princes and princesses. They all checked out fine.”
The director can’t believe his ears. He stares at the doctor. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that you sent the Disney princes and princesses to a fertility clinic?”
“Just the human ones who are married, plus the Beast. I didn’t send Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy, Lady and the Tramp, and a bunch of others who’ve been coupled up for decades.”
Still stupefied, the director stammers, “Why, I didn’t even know there was a problem.”
“Well, the characters have never complained, but most have been married for years and years, and, um . . . haven’t you noticed that none of them have any children?”
“I’ve never given it any thought, but it’s fewer high-earning characters on my payroll.”
“Well, I’ve given it plenty of thought. We’re locked in a blood-feud competition with Universal, and their characters are having babies right and left. Shrek and Princess Fiona alone have been popping out little ogres and ogreettes like Big Macs.”
The director gives the doctor a hard look. “I could have told you there’s nothing wrong physically with the princes and princesses.”
“If that’s the case, why aren’t they having children? Don’t they know about the birds and the bees?”
“The birds and the bees shall not be spoken of at Disney! But that’s not why they don’t have kids.”
The director leans across the table to keep from being overheard. “Why do you think princes and princesses live ‘happily ever after’?”
And so it goes. . . .
What really makes writing about Walt Disney World fun is that the Disney people take everything so seriously. Day to day, they debate momentous decisions with far-ranging consequences: Will Pluto look silly in a silver cape? Have we gone too far with the Little Mermaid’s cleavage? With the nation’s drug problem a constant concern, should we have a dwarf named Dopey?
Unofficially, we think having a sense of humor is important. This guidebook has one, and it’s probably necessary that you do, toonot to use this book, but to have the most fun possible at Walt Disney World. Think of the Unofficial Guide as a private trainer to help get your sense of humor in shape. It will help you understand the importance of being Goofy.
PART 3 - ACCOMMODATIONS
Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas
Jambo House offers fine dining in a casual setting at Jiko, The Cooking Place. Twin wood-burning ovens are the focal point of the restaurant, which serves meals inspired by the myriad cuisines of Africa. Boma, Flavors of Africa, the family restaurant, serves a buffet with food prepared in an exhibition kitchen featuring a wood-burning grill and rotisserie. Tables are under thatched roofs. The Mara, a quick-service restaurant with extended hours, and Victoria Falls, a delightful mezzanine lounge overlooking Boma, round out the hotel’s food-and-beverage service. Other amenities include an elaborate swimming area, a village marketplace, and a 1-hour nighttime safari tour exclusively for Lodge guests ages 8 and up. The tour costs $70 per person and takes place nightly at 10 p.m.
Consisting of a separate building shaped like a backwards 3, Kidani Village comprises 324 units, a dedicated savanna, a well-themed pool and splash zone, and Sanaa, a sit-down restaurant combining Indian and African cuisines. Other amenities include a fitness center, an arcade, a gift shop, and tennis, shuffleboard, and basketball courts. Kidani Village is connected to Jambo House by a half-mile walking trail; DDV guests at either resort can use the facilities at both buildings.
Both Jambo House and Kidani Village have studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas. Most rooms at Kidani Village are larger, however, and the difference is anywhere from 50 square feet for a studio to more than 200 square feet for a two-bedroom unit. (The three bedroom Grand Villas at Jambo House, 148 square feet larger than those in Kidani Village, are the exception.) Kidani’s villas also have one more bathroom for one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. Because of the difference in area, one-bedroom units in Kidani Village can accommodate up to five people, and two-bedroom units can hold up to nine via a sleeper chair in the living room. At Jambo House, one-bedroom “value” rooms sleep four; standard, savanna, and Club Level rooms sleep five.
Having stayed at Kidani Village almost a dozen times, we think it’s quiet and relaxed. The lobby and rooms have a smaller, more personal feel than Jambo House’s. The exterior isn’t anything specialessentially a set of green rectangles with oversize African-themed decorations attached. Kidani’s distance from Jambo House makes it feel especially remote. The bus stops are a fair distance from the main building, too, and it’s easy to head in the wrong direction when you’re coming back from the parks at night.
Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas is connected to the rest of Disney World by bus, but because of the resort’s remote location, you should seriously consider having a car if you stay there.
A family of four from Lincoln, England, gives Animal Kingdom Lodge a mixed, though mostly positive, review:
We had a fab holiday, but we wouldn’t recommend people paying the extra money to have a savanna room. The animals are scarce, and you don’t really spend much time in your room. The pool and the children’s club were fantastic and the hotel stunning. The food court was fine, although we wished they’d change the menu, as after two weeks you’re fed up of the same choices.
Good (and not-so-good) rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas
(See tinyurl.com/aklroomviews for photos.) A glance at the resort map tells you where the best rooms and villas are. Kudu Trail and Zebra Trail, two wings branching from the rear of Jambo House, form a semicircle around the central wildlife savanna. Along each wing are seven five-story buildings, with accommodations on floors two through five. Five buildings on each wing form the semicircle, while the remaining two buildings jut away from the center. The best rooms, on floors three and four, facing into the circle, are high enough to survey the entire savanna yet low enough to let you appreciate the ground level detail of this amazing wildlife exhibit; plus, these rooms offer the easiest access to the lobby and restaurants. Second-floor rooms really can’t take in the panorama, and fifth-floor rooms are a little too high for intimate views of the animals. Most of the fourth-floor rooms in Jambo House are reserved for concierge guests, and the fifth and sixth floors house the DDV units.
Most rooms in the outward-jutting buildings, as well as rooms facing away from the interior, also survey a savanna, but one not as compelling as that of the inner circle. On the Zebra Trail, the first two buildings plus the first jutting building provide savanna views on one side and look onto the swimming complex on the other.
Less attractive still are two smaller wings, Ostrich Trail and Giraffe Trail, branching from either side of the lodge near the main entrance. Some rooms on the left side of Ostrich Trail (see map on page 196) overlook a small savanna. Rooms on the opposite side of the same buildings overlook the front entrance. Least desirable is Giraffe Trail, extending from the right side of the lobby: Its rooms overlook either the pool (water view) or the resort entrance (standard view). A Portage, Indiana, family begs to differ with our assessment, however:
We stayed in a pool-view room in Giraffe Trail and loved it. The view was beautiful, even without the animals (which you can see elsewhere). The proximity to the pool, lobby, and restaurants was great, and we saved about $500 over what we would’ve spent on a savanna view.
The best views in Kidani Village are the north-facing rooms near the bottom and middle of the backwards 3. These overlook the savanna next to Jambo House’s Kudu Trail rooms and beyond into undeveloped woods. South-facing rooms in the bottom half of Kidani Village overlook the parking lot; west-facing rooms in the top half have either pool or savanna views. (See tinyurl.com/kidaniroomviews for photos.)
PART 9 - THE MAGIC KINGDOM
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (FastPass+) ****
What it is Indoor/outdoor roller coaster.Scope and scale Major attraction. When to go As soon as the park opens, or use FastPass+. Special comments 38" minimum height requirement. Author’s rating Great family coaster; not to be missed; ****Duration of ride About 2 minutes. Average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you About 4 minutes. Loading speed Fast.
Description and comments In the pantheon of Disney coasters, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train fits somewhere between The Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; it’s geared to older grade-school kids who’ve been on amusement park rides before. There are no loops, inversions, or rolls in the track, and no massive hills or steep drops; rather, the Mine Train’s trick is that your ride vehicle’s seats swing side-to-side as you go through turns. And “what a coincidence!” Disney has designed a curvy track with steep turns. There’s also an elaborate indoor section showing the Seven Dwarfs’ underground operation.
The exterior design includes waterfalls, forests, and landscaping and is meant to join together all of the surrounding Fantasyland’s various locations, including France and Germany. The swinging effect is more noticeable the farther back you’re seated in the train.
New Disney attractions always generate a lot of reader comments, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is no exception. First, from a Rhode Island couple:
As far as new rides go, we give high marks to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It’s faster than it looks in videos, and the animatronics are top-notch. It broke down during our FastPass+ window, so we were given an additional pass. On our next day in the Magic Kingdom, we rode it at night. Much like Big Thunder and Splash Mountain, this ride is even better at night!
From an Aurora, Illinois, woman:
It’s a pretty easy coaster, somewhere between Big Thunder and The Barnstormer in intensity, and I’d ride it just to see the mine scene over and over again!
A Chester, Virginia, mom offers a little analysis:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a great ride, but not worth a 90-minute wait.
A mom from Horsham, Pennsylvania, felt let down:
Our family’s rating of the 7 D Mine Train is two stars at most. The detail and activities in line were great, and I thought that the animation of the character’s faces was amazing. But we were all sadly disappointed in the ride as it’s over so quickly, it really isn’t worth your time. Realistically, if we only had to wait 15-20 minutes, we still would only give it two and a half stars at best.
Finally, from a Hesston, Kansas, dad:
The Mine Train was fairly forgettable to my wife and I, but my 5-year old loved it. The middle dark-ride section was amazing, but the rest was over very fast. It’s a perfect step between The Barnstormer and the bigger Mountains, but without FastPass+ or being there first, it can be skipped.
Touring tips If you have only a day to see the Magic Kingdom, make FastPass+reservations in advance for around 9:30 a.m. at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and around 3:30 p.m. at Space Mountain. On the day of your visit, ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train as soon as the park opens, then hotfoot it to Splash Mountain to ride immediately. Your FastPass+ reservation for Big Thunder Mountain will be valid by the time you’re done, and you’ll have experienced three of the park’s four headliners in about an hour.
If you have two mornings, do the Fantasyland and Frontierland attractions, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on one day and Space Mountain the next. Spreading your visits over two mornings eliminates a lot of walking.
Other FastPass+ strategies combining the park’s mountains with other headliners have been incorporated into our Magic Kingdom touring plans.
PART TWENTY - RECREATION, SPORTS, and SPAS
RUN, DISNEY, RUN
Walt Disney World staged its first long-distance road race a 26.2-mile marathon in January 1994. By hosting this one-day event, Disney hoped to attract a couple thousand people to Orlando during what would otherwise be the middle of a slow winter season. It was an immediate hit, drawing more than 7,000 runners and their families, most staying in a Disney hotel for longer than the one or two nights needed to run the race.
Disney added a Saturday half-marathon race to the event in 1998, just in time to catch the wave of popularity that distance running started enjoying around the turn of the millennium.
Today the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is a four-day affair, with a 5K on Thursday and a 10K on Friday. It’s not uncommon to see 25,000 runners in the big races, and a few thousand hearty souls run all four events (you get a special medal for doing so; it’s appropriately of Dopey, one of Snow White’s dwarfs).
Disney’s race schedule has also expanded throughout the calendar and country, with no fewer than eight major races held in Disney World and Disneyland; a complete schedule and summary of events is below. Disney even has a full-time, staffed organization, runDisney, to coordinate and promote their events. Visit rundisney.com for the latest details. Prices are comparable to the big races in New York, Boston, and Chicago, but you don’t get to run through Epcot in those.
As noted in Part One, Unofficial Guide staff and friends have run dozens of Disney races over the past decade, from simple 5Ks to the two-day, 39.3-mile half-marathon/full-marathon combo (dubbed “The Goofy” for obvious reasons). If you’ve never run a distance race, Disney is the perfect first event for many reasons.
Table of Contents
- Why “Unofficial”?
- Walt Disney World: An Overview
- What’s NEW at Walt Disney World since your last visit?
PART ONE - Planning Before You Leave Home
- Gathering Information
- When to Go to Walt Disney World
PART TWO - Making the Most of Your Time and Money
- Allocating Money
- What you Get and What you Pay at WDW
- Allocating Time
- Understanding Walt Disney World Attractions
- Central Florida Roller Coasters
PART THREE - Accommodations
- The Basic Considerations
- The Disney Resorts
- Walt Disney World Hotel Profiles
- How to Evaluate a Walt Disney World Travel Package
- Disney Lodging for Less
- Hotels Outside Walt Disney World
- Hotels and Motels: Rated and Ranked
- The Top 20 Deals
- How the Hotels Compare
- Hotel Information Chart
PART FOUR - Dining in and around Walt Disney World
- Dining outside Walt Disney World
- Where to Eat Outside Walt Disney World
- Dining in Walt Disney World
- Disney Dining 101
- Advance Reservations: The Official Line
- Advance Reservations: The Unofficial Scoop
- Walt Disney World Buffets and Family-Style Restaurants
- Disney Dining Suggestions
- Counter-Service Restaurant Mini-Profiles
- Full-Service Restaurant Rated and Ranked
- Walt Disney World Restaurants by Cuisine
PART FIVE - Walt Disney World with Kids
- The Ecstasy and the Agony
- Lost Children
- Disney, Kids, and Scary Stuff
- Small Child Fright Potential Chart
- Attraction and Ride Restrictions
- Waiting-Line Strategies for Adults with Young Children
- The Disney Characters
- Character Dining
- Character Meal Hit Parade
- Special Programs for Children
- Birthdays and Special Occasions
PART SIX - Special Tips for Special People
- Walt Disney World for Singles
- Tips for Going Solo
- Walt Disney World for Couples
- Walt Disney World “At Large”
- Walt Disney World for Expectant Mothers
- Walt Disney World for Seniors
- Walt Disney World for Guests with Special Needs
PART SEVEN - Arriving and Getting Around
- Getting There
- Getting Oriented
- How to Travel around the World (or, The Real Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride)
- Door-to-Door Commuting Times to and from the Disney Resorts and Parks
PART EIGHT - Bare Necessities
- Money, Etc.
- Problems and Unusual Situations
PART NINE - The Magic Kingdom
- Getting Oriented
- Main Street, U.S.A.
- Liberty Square
- Live Entertainment in the Magic Kingdom
- Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas Parties and 23-Hour-Events
- Traffic Patterns in the Magic Kingdom
- Magic Kingdom Touring Plans
PART TEN - Epcot
- Getting Oriented
- Future World
- World Showcase
- Live Entertainment in Epcot
- Traffic Patterns in Epcot
- Epcot Touring Plans
PART ELEVEN - Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Getting Oriented
- The Oasis
- Discovery Island
- DinoLand U.S.A.
- Live Entertainment in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Traffic Patterns in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Touring Plan
PART TWELVE - Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- DHS: A Brief History
- The Studios in Perspective
- DHS at a Glance
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Attractions
- Live Entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Touring Plan
PART THIRTEEN - Universal Orlando
- A Universal Primer
- Universal on the Web
- A Word about Crowds
- How Much Time to Allocate
- Lodging at Universal Orlando
- Arriving at Universal Orlando
- Universal Express
- Singles Lines
- Universal, Kids, and Scary Stuff
- Blue Man Group
- Universal Orlando Dining Plan
- New and Upcoming at Universal Orlando
PART FOURTEEN - Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Getting Oriented at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure Attractions
- Dining at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure Touring Plan
PART FIFTEEN - Universal Studios Florida
- Universal Studios Florida Attractions
- Live Entertainment at Universal Studios Florida
- Dining at Universal Studios Florida
- Universal Studios Florida Touring Plan
PART SIXTEEN - SeaWorld Orlando
- SeaWorld at a Glance
- Discovery Cove
PART SEVENTEEN - The Water Parks
- You’re Soaking in It!
- Blizzard Beach
- Typhoon Lagoon
- Typhoon Lagoon versus Blizzard Beach
- When to Go
- Planning Your Day at Disney Water Parks
- Water-Park Touring Plans
- Aquatica by SeaWorld
PART EIGHTEEN - Behind-the-Scenes and VIP Tours at Walt Disney World
- Multi-park Tours
- Behind the Scenes at the Magic Kingdom
- Behind the Scenes at Epcot
- Behind the Scenes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- VIP Tours
PART NINETEEN - Disney Springs, Universal City Walk, Shopping, and Nightlife
- Disney Springs
- Universal CityWalk
- Shopping in the Theme Parks and Orlando
- Tips for Avoiding Buyer’s Remorse
- Walt Disney World Shopping at a Glance
- Shopping at Universal Orlando
- Shopping Outside the Theme Parks
- Entertainment and Nightlife
- Nightlife at Walt Disney World Resorts
- Nightlife at Disney Springs
- Nightlife at Universal Orlando Resorts
- Nightlife at Universal CityWalk
- Live Music at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando
- Walt Disney World Dinner Theaters
PART TWENTY - Recreation, Sports, and Spas
- Walt Disney World Recreation
- Run, Disney, Run
- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
- Walt Disney World Golf
- Miniature Golf
- Serenity Now! A Look at Disney-Area
- Readers’ Questions to the Author
- Readers’ Comments
- Clip-Out Touring Plan Companions
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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