Get the inside scoop on Walt Disney World with the author of the best-selling, "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World", Bob Sehlinger, and our host David Lytle. Find out what makes this guide different and how dozens of authors and researchers stand in line and walk for miles to help create a great experience for you - and how they incorporate readers' comments and opinions to give you the real deal from real people! While you're at it, get some tips on the hidden Disney, advice on trekking through the park and maximizing the fun during your Disney stay.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
See transcript below for links to more information.
- Avoiding blisters: Wearing comfortable shoes instead of brand new shoes, carry blister packs
- Affordable accommodation: Outside of Walt Disney World
- Getting around: Rent a car
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at www.frommers.com.
David Lytle: Hi, my name is David Lytle. I am the Editorial Director for frommers.com. Today I am talking with Bob Sehlinger, who is the Executive Publisher of the Unofficial Guides. Hi, Bob, how are you doing?
Bob Sehlinger: I'm good, thank you.
David: That's great. As we were saying earlier, you are down in Birmingham, Alabama, and I am out in San Francisco, just to give listeners sort of a sense of where we are coming from. Bob, why don't you just give our listeners an idea of what the Unofficial Guides are, and why they are different from other travel guides?
Bob: Well, we started off with the Unofficials by looking at just about everything else that was on the market, and we really had a tough time with the way that the average travel guide is built. In fact, almost all travel guides except Unofficial. When you do a travel guide, or when most people do, you send a writer, maybe a couple of co-authors, out to rate a geography. They will write about the restaurants and hotels and so forth. But they are writing everything through the prism of their own taste, and it is largely a matter of coincidence whether the taste of the writers coincides with that of anybody who goes into a bookstore and buys that book.
Now most of us on the Unofficial Guides came out of a marketing research and operations research background, so when we started the Unofficial Guides we did a ton of preliminary work. We did hundreds upon hundreds of surveys and interviews, and what we did was to determine exactly what the reader that we were writing for wanted in the book, how he wanted it presented, the consumer orientation that was most desirable, and essentially we built the book to order.
It is kind of like in architecture, you can go out in some neighborhood and buy a tract house and they are all going to be pretty much alike, or you can hire an architect, and the architect sits down and listens to exactly what your needs are and what you want from that house, and then he designs it to your specification. And that's what we do with the Unofficial Guides, we design them to the reader's specification.
David: Yeah, I would have to say it is a smart approach. In case anyone doesn't know it. The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World is the number one travel title that Frommer's publishes. We work with the Unofficial Guides to put these books out, and it is perennially the number one seller that we have, which, kudos to you guys. I know when I look through these books I am always amazed by the sheer amount of raw data that goes in there that are laid out into really, actually easy-to-read, clear-cut tables, figuring out what your wait time would be to get on a particular ride at Disney, or how to maximize your time at the park.
How many people do you have running around Disney that are gathering this information?
Bob: We have literally got almost three dozen people that work on this book.
Bob: There are about ten individuals who are involved on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, including our hotel inspectors and our data collectors and a host of volunteers who analyze statistics for us and develop reports -- it is almost 36 people. Speaking of the Disney book, the cornerstones of that title are our touring plans, which are derived from a software application that we developed ourselves, and for which we have a patent pending, that uses evolutionary algorithms.
The long and the short of that is that we are applying the scientific method; we are going out there, spending a lot of time -- many, many days a year, maybe 45 days a year -- in the parks, collecting data that goes into this software program. The software program allows us to create touring plans where the reader can go through any of the Disney parks he chooses and save a lot of time standing in line. Our tests have shown that on a moderately busy day in the Magic Kingdom our touring plans will save the reader four to four-and-a-half hours of standing in line.
When you think of a visit to a Disney park, and somebody just says, "Here, here is four-and-a-half extra hours that you would be wasting standing on your feet in the hot sun, and you can do other things, you will see more attractions, you will have more time for rest breaks and for meals." So this software, and many of the other things that we developed for that book, come from our statistics and operations research background.
Len Testa, who runs our web site for "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World," which is called TouringPlans.com, is the fellow that developed this software, I guess about six or seven other applications that you won't find anyplace else in travel publishing.
David: Yeah, I don't know of another travel guide that really has a strong foundation in scientific data gathering. Yet, when the book is presented it is a very engaging voice in the book, and you do something that I really don't see in a lot of other travel guides as well, is that you also include feedback from people who have used the book before.
Bob: Well I think we are the only book that has an ongoing argumentative session on many topics. If we present an opinion about a specific attraction, and then a reader writes us and they have an alternative or even an opposite opinion, many times we will take what they have written us and just put it right in next to our own opinion so that the reader can see both sides of a particular argument and balance their considerations accordingly.
David: Right, so really you are displaying, pretty much, an openness to saying, "Well, this is our opinion and this is what we think is true, but in the world of opinion someone else always has a different one, so why not show them both?"
Bob: Plus it is really fun. Our readers just love to hear what other Walt Disney World visitors, fellow readers, have to say. And the way that each and every one of these readers expresses their opinion is just totally unique. We get letters from kids that are very simple, like we may give an attraction three stars, and they'll say, "Raise those stars right now!"
Bob: "Give it a four or five."
And the beautiful letters we get from readers from the U.K., they have that singular way of expressing themselves. But on almost any subject in the book where it's possible to have a difference of opinion, we've gotten the reader's letters. We just love those, and we really encourage our readers to write us with the opinions and with their trip reports. We have some readers who, after their vacation, will send us 12 or 15 typewritten pages with absolutely everything they've done the whole time, from locking the garage door on the way out to pulling back into the driveway when they come home.
David: Wow, that's really fantastic. That shows a dedicated audience, too.
Bob: Well, I think that people who go to Disney World have very, very high expectations, and they also tend to be in-depth planners. They're very detail-oriented, and they not only have a good time, but they pay a lot of attention to their success (or lack thereof) in their methodology for seeing the park, or for saving money, or finding good places to eat. They're very, very enthusiastic about writing to us and sharing their observations and tips when they come home.
David: Well, that makes sense. I learned an interesting statistic a couple of weeks ago, that, I believe, Disney is 47 square miles. It's roughly the size of San Francisco.
Bob: Yeah, it's about the size of Boston, twice the size of Manhattan Island.
David: And you can imagine a lot of space in Manhattan or Boston is taken up by residences where people live, so you would never consider visiting a majority of the landmass. At Disney, you can visit almost every square inch.
Bob: Well, yes and no.
David: I mean, obviously there's behind the scenes and things that you don't see, but there's a lot more that you actually have to do, or can do, in such a large area. So being hyper-organized is probably a good approach to trying to get the most out of the park.
Bob: Exactly. What a lot of people don't know is that Disney is a pretty green company. They've got some vast tracts of wetlands and pine forests and swamps down there that they keep very pristine that I don't think the public will ever see.
David: Oh, that's interesting.
Bob: Yeah, a lot of that acreage is still in a natural state.
David: And their plans are to leave it that way.
Bob: Yeah, and not only that, but there's a wildlife refuge that's not even connected to the Disney property that Disney also funds and runs.
David: That's fantastic.
Bob: And that's a big surprise. You can go over there and hike, and it's just beautiful.
David: So you really can get out of the ersatz feeling of Disney, from a theme park, and you can go to the total opposite extreme, which would be back to nature.
Bob: That's right. It's funny. Disney does this good work, and of course they're very eager to trumpet any good thing that they do, they're public relations masters, but they never talk about this wilderness game preserve. In fact, if you were to get on the phone today and call Disney Information, the chances are probably 90% that the person you get on the phone wouldn't know anything about it.
David: Interesting. So how does somebody access the wilderness preserve?
Bob: I think they have their own website, and if you're persistent, they'll give you information. You'll ultimately get some information. The person who answers the phone may not know anything about it, so just call back and ultimately, you'll find someone that does. We've also got information about it in the book.
David: That's interesting. I never knew that. I'm completely surprised by that. My parents winter in Florida, so now it's something I'll have to look into the next time I go down to visit them. So Bob, can you give us some basic tips for how people can get the most enjoyment out of Disney?
Bob: Most people, when planning their Disney vacation, are really concentrated on what they're going to do when they arrive at Walt Disney World. They're looking at their attractions, dining, all the other things that go into a Walt Disney World vacation. The thing they never consider is what they need to do before they ever leave home.
We've had people down in the parks walking around with pedometers, and they can tell you that you can easily hike from six, to 12 or even 13 miles, visiting a Disney theme park. Now if you're somebody, or if you're a family, and your children watch a lot of TV and are relatively sedentary...
David: I think we call them couch potatoes.
Bob: I was avoiding that term. In any event, they are. When they go down there, they are just astonished to find they can't go out and march around ten miles in 90, 95 degree sun without ill effect. So you've got people going down there who are crippled by blisters, sore muscles, after the first day.
So what we recommend is that you take your family, and you begin by just having little walks around the neighborhood. That's sufficient to find out who's got the tough feet, who's got the tender feet, where the hot spots and blisters are going to form. That largely can be eliminated by toughening the feet up and making sure you've got good footwear. But you really do need to go on a training regimen in advance of your trip to Walt Disney World.
David: Because they're going to be walking a lot.
Bob: That's right. They're just not physically prepared.
David: It is probably a good idea, as well, to maybe take a familiar, comfortable pair of shoes with them as opposed to a brand new pair of shoes.
Bob: You would never want to take a brand new pair of shoes to Disney World. If your kids need shoes or you need shoes, and you are going to Disney World in a couple of months, buy the footwear right now and do your training walks in the footwear that you are going to take to the parks.
David: That is a great tip to get across because I know that we work in travel writing and one of the things we do, and I am sure you are familiar with this; whenever you take a trip you observe people and what they are doing in their environment. One of the ways I can often times pick out a tourist is because they have on bright, white new tennis shoes. It really makes them stand out. I always think that their feet must really hurt, as well, because new shoes are never comfortable.
Bob: Absolutely right! I was hiking out of the Grand Canyon last year, which is about a 5,000-foot climb and about two-thirds of the way to the top, all of these people who were coming down from the rim began to appear and they weren't carrying water, and many of them were walking in flip-flops. The park service just has a horrible situation because those people get down there and then they can't get back up. They come up about a mile or two and then they are shot for the day and they are blistered. That is not unlike what we see routinely at Disney World.
David: Right, I always travel with special bandages that are very lightweight they fit in your pocket and they will fit in a top kit that you can just put over your heels. Basically, they are blister packs and they prevent you from getting blisters.
Bob: Those things are wonderful and they really work. There are even some brands that you can put on a blister and it stays there for as long as the blister is there. When the blister heals, it falls off but you can shower and have it on there for several days.
David: That's great. I hope we have at least done good today by protecting our listeners' feet. There is nothing worse than having something like that ruin your vacation. What's a great money saving tip that you can offer readers and listeners?
Bob: Obviously, there are two or three different categories where you can save money. Probably the category where you can save the most money is lodging. It is really nice to stay at a Disney hotel and really feel like you're more a part of Disney World if you do that. But you can find really nice, clean, comfortable accommodations outside Walt Disney World and very close, in terms of commuting, for $35, $45, $50 a night. The least expensive resorts in Walt Disney World are the so-called "value resorts." They start at about $80 and go up to $110 a night.
David: So you are immediately almost cutting that budget in half.
Bob: You can even do better than that. There is a huge market for vacation homes in the Disney World area. There are a lot of different ways that you can access these homes. They are all over the Internet.
If you go on Google, for instance, and just type in "vacation home rentals Orlando," more sites will pop up than you will have time to look at in a week. In any event, you can rent three, four, or five bedroom homes for less than what you would pay for one night even at the Disney Value Resort.
David: That is a tip that applies to any destination that comes up again and again. Keep an eye out for alternative accommodations. Oftentimes renting a vacation home is one of the cheapest ways that you can stay almost anywhere in the world.
Bob: Instead of just having a hotel room, you have a family area, a full kitchen, and a dining room. Most of these vacation homes in the Disney World area even have a private pool. Most of these pools are enclosed in screens so that you can be out there in the evening and not worry about the mosquitoes.
David: That is fantastic! Now if somebody stays off of the Disney property, do they need to rent a car, or is there an affordable way for them to get from where they are staying to the Disney park, because that is going to be an additional cost they might not have considered.
Bob: We really advocate renting a car whether you stay on or off Disney. The Disney transportation system is very good when it comes to getting you from your resort hotel to the theme parks. But as far as going anyplace else in Disney World, it is very lacking.
For instance, if you are staying at the All-Star Resorts and you think you want to go over to the Boardwalk for dinner (where there are many restaurants), you are going to have to take a bus to one, or two, or three different hubs and then connect to the Boardwalk.
If you have your own car, this is about a five-minute drive. If you have to take the bus, you are talking about anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. That can wear a person out. Then you come out from dinner and you have had a hard day in the park, and at that point in time the buses are not running as frequently so it may be even longer to get back.
We really think a car is worthwhile. Almost all families, whether they are staying on property or not, want to go to the grocery or they want to have some snacks to take to the park. A lot of families have a cooler where they have cereal and milk so they can eat their breakfast in their room. That is a great way to save money. The car allows you to go to the grocery and get re-supplied when your stock runs out.
David: Good ideas there! That is all the time we have today. Thanks so much for talking with us and giving us some of these valuable pointers. For listeners who want to get more information, they can always pick up a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Thanks, Bob! [music]
Bob: Thank you, a real delight!
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Transcription by CastingWords