If you ask a question like, “what’s the best hotel on Disney property?”, you’ll most likely get about 15 answers. There are so many conflicting opinions on dining, hotels, and attractions that it can become overwhelming. In the event that you feel so overwhelmed by booking a Disney vacation, I advise using a Travel Agent (like me) to help you customize your plans.
Now, in the second event that you’re in need of advice, but are more of a vacation DIYer, you’ll look to guides for help. Whether they are physical guidebooks, blogs, or websites, you’ll need to do some research before your vacation! So, here’s a list of awesome Disney park resources that helped me plan in the past and will hopefully help you too! You can click on my links below to find the books on Amazon.
P.S. I’ve only listed links for Disney World books, but most of these publishers write books for Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line as well. Kindle versions are also available for most.
This guidebook is referred to as the “Disney Bible” and is written by the same people who own and operate the reputable touringplans.com. Every year they come out with an updated version of their unofficial guides and every year they get better and more detailed. I started buying these books in 2012 and have purchased it every new version since. The size of the book can be intimidating, but I treat it as an encyclopedia rather than something I need to study cover-to-cover. The book covers far too much for me to explain, so I’ll give you the highlights:
- 5-Star Ratings: Every attraction, show, restaurant, and resort is graded by their 5-star system, and I agree with their ratings most often. Restaurants are divided by Quick-Service and Table Service, then described in detail ranked by quality. Resorts, both on and off property are treated the same and contact information is provided for all of them.
- Packing tips and “bare necessities” are described in full detail. From credit cards to souvenir shopping, to finding gas stations, it’s all there.
- Advice for a spectrum of travel groups like Disney for seniors, Disney for toddlers, and how to entertain your teenager.
Bonus: If you’re a true Disnerd, also read Unofficial Guide’s: The Disneyland Story. The story of Walt’s first conception of the park and how it evolved to the current form. I prefer listening to it on audible, but I also have the physical book for novelty reasons.
In second place is The Easy Guide to WDW. This is another comprehensive guide that is useful for first-timers and veterans alike. Dave and Josh have experienced Disney inside and out, so they have the ability to provide honest opinions about resorts, dining, and everything else. The coolest thing about this book is that if you buy the 2018 edition they will provide an updated copy once their 2019 edition is released in summer. All you have to do is shoot them an email to the address printed on the inside cover. Cool stuff!
This is the only guidebook with Disney’s official stamp of approval. It’s also the most compact guide of the three I’ve mentioned. This may sound juvenile, but I love it because of the high-quality, colored pictures. It’s a fun guide to look through if you have kids, or if you’re a kid at heart. And a great book to get you excited about your vacation! They also have a Birnbaum’s 2018 Walt Disney World For Kids if you’re looking for trip tips geared towards families.
Frommer’s is a trusted destination publisher that covers more than just Disney books. Their overviews are not quite as detailed as the Unofficial Guide and not quite as colorful as Birnbaum’s, but still very as useful. At this point, I would say buy it if you are partial to the Frommer’s brand.
Lou Mongello is among the elite Disney experts out there. He offers Disney guidebooks, podcasts, and videos dealing with tips and history to enhance your vacation. Always well-researched and entertaining, his tips for budgeting for your vacation will help you immensely. It’s mostly targeted at first-time visitors, but I found a few tips to be helpful as well. The Walt Disney World Trivia Book and 102 Things To Do at Walt Disney World At Least Once are also a joy to read.
Making a dining reservation at Disney World has become one of the most difficult things to do when planning your vacation. Offsite guests are allowed to make a reservation 180 days before your vacation and onsite guests are allowed to make them 190 days beforehand. This has made booking reservations at popular restaurants an absolute monstrous task. Also, the restaurants on property are constantly being updated, replaced, or closed down completely. This can be both exciting and aggravating. The Dining Guide can be a really helpful resource when deciding where you’d like to eat and how to get those reservations. It’s also updated every year to keep with Disney’s ever-changing atmosphere.
Are you a Disney foodie? Pretty much any restaurant and food item on property is reviewed on Disney Food Blog. The eBook is beautifully done with photographs, four planning worksheets, updates on closures and refurbs and fun tips like the “trendiest bar” or “best hot dogs.” The other advantage of an eBook is that they have the ability to embed hyperlinks into the text. Not sure what a Mickey’s Premium Bar is? Click on the links inside the ebook and it will send open to a description. Pretty nifty. And if you’re already an expert, it’s fun to peruse for the sake of Disney daydreaming.
Disney Dining Plan 2018: Tips & Tricks for Making the Most of the Dining Plans at Walt Disney World
If you just want an overview of the nefarious Dining Plan, Leah Crocker Althiser’s book covers the plans concisely and is free on Kindle Unlimited. There are a lot of blogs written about this subject, but I’ve found Althiser’s eBook to be well-organized. She clearly lays out the basics the Disney Dining Plan to help you determine the pros and cons of the dining plan.
Maybe the Unofficial Guide is a bit overwhelming in size for you. Passporter’s has more general tips and guidance for the planning process, so if you’re looking for a categorical overview, it would be a good choice. Also, the structure of their planning binder actually makes planning fun. With pockets placed inside, you can keep all of your printables and resources in one place. It also has pages dedicated to a Trip Diary. Make it a goal to complete a diary entry every day so you can remember the good times…and the things to avoid on your next trip.
I know this feels like a no-brainer, but the official website is indispensable. Especially when you’re trying to budget your vacation or find official Disney answers. Besides the My Disney Experience feature, here are my favorite tools from the official website:
- Printable Guide Maps: You don’t have to be at the resort to get a handy park map. I find these helpful when making itineraries for myself. Marking and highlighting your favorite Disney attractions is almost meditative. You can find the PDFs by clicking on Parks & Tickets>Magic Kingdom (or any park)>Magic Kingdom Guide Map. Here’s a Magic Kingdom map link.
- Free Disney Planning DVD: The planning movies are detailed overviews of the parks and resorts. They’re also fairly well-produced and the perfect little Disney-pick-me-up when you’re missing the parks. I download a new one every year! Here’s my link to the guide below. You can have a hard copy sent to your home or a downloadable version sent straight to your email. Here’s my link to the free planning video.
- Compare Package Prices: Did you know that you can do a side-by-side comparison of packages? Just choose a resort and ticket option then press “continue.” At the bottom of the page, you’ll see an option to “Compare Vacation Offers.” This allows you to price out your vacation and save your offers for later. You can see my example below.
So, the number one rule among bloggers is to try not to drive traffic to other people’s blogs. For me, however, if there is a blog that offers something I cannot, like Disney Tourist Blog’s beautiful photography and eBooks, then I’ll happily send my readers to them. Disney Tourist Blog is the first the Disney blog that I followed and they are constantly inspiring me to create a more beneficial blog for my readers. If you can’t find everything you’re looking for in a guidebook and prefer to book your own vacations (rather than through a Disney Travel Agent like me), then you’ll find this website very helpful.
Another useful website are The Dis Boards. Think of this as a giant chat forum for you and the thousands of other Disney fans in the world. You can post questions and get honest feedback from fellow Disney vacationers. Since every user is anonymous, you can feel more comfortable about their honesty. And no question is too big or small! Want to know where you can get your karaoke fix on Disney property? Ask away! (It’s Kimonos at the Swan Resort, by the way)
Now that you’ve researched your resort, made your dining reservations, and learned how to budget, it’s time for the fun stuff. Here are some books that keep you will keep you entertained during the more grueling parts of your vacation. Mainly, waiting in line.
Hidden Mickey’s is the ultimate guide to…you guessed it…Hidden Mickey’s. If you’re not familiar with a Hidden Mickey, it’s the image of Mickey’s head hidden subtly by Imagineers around Disney property (and movies). A sort of inside joke from Imagineers throughout the years. The book makes a game out of seeking out the Mickey’s hidden around the parks. There is also an app version available.
Like a Disney scavenger hunt, this activity book gives hints regarding subtle details and trivia hidden throughout the parks and line cues. With limited cell phone reception in some cues, it can create some momentary distractions and beat some boredom while you wait. Some find this book very entertaining, others say they can pass on it. If your family enjoys trivia, then I would suggest it.
These two are the most popular “hidden secret” books, so I had to throw give them a mention. Sometimes, it’s fun to add a little insider magic while you wander the parks. However, Hidden Magic is outdated in some parts and holds most of the commonly known trivia. If you’re a first-timer, it’s a fun read, but some attractions have been removed since it’s publishing in 2009 (RIP Great Movie Ride). It’s also free on Kindle Unlimited as well.
These are the books and resources that shaped me into the Disney expert I am today. Since I’ve discovered them, I can plan a mean Disney itinerary like nobody’s business. And of course, as I’ve mentioned before, if all this information is completely overwhelming to you, never fear. I can help! Feel free to reach out to me here. You can also sign up to receive your free planning itinerary at the bottom of the page.
In the meantime, I’ll digress from guidebooks for a bit and say that if you’re a true Disney buff, I suggest looking into these historic texts as well. Happy planning, everyone!