Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sanibel pair publishes new book detailing everything Disney World has to offer

Sanibel residents and co-authors Mike and Julie Neal.

WDW insider tips from Mike and Julie Neal

Get to a park before it opens. The first two hours are precious, with short lines nearly everywhere.

Make your dining reservations early, a few days or more if possible. You can make reservations online at or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

Use the free Fastpass automated reservation system. It can save literally hours of time waiting in line. And Disney doesn't advertise it, but the end time for using your Fastpass is the end of the day, not the time of the hour window printed on your Fastpass.

Don't try to do everything. It's impossible. Relax and have fun!

After literally hundreds of trips and thousands of photographs, island residents Mike and Julie Neal know Walt Disney World inside and out.

In fact, they probably have more experience from their frequent visits to the Orlando theme park complex in researching the latest edition of their book, entitled "The Complete Walt Disney World 2010," than most of the cast members and Imagineers that work there!

Released earlier this year to book stores worldwide, the Neal's newest edition follows a successful run of guidebooks detailing the nearly 700 rides, attractions, restaurants, shops and hotels in an around the most visited park on the planet.

But what's the biggest difference between publishing a new book and publishing a new edition?

"The obvious answer is the amount of time it takes," Julie Neal said. "The first edition of the Disney book, which came out in 2007, took us a full five years to finish. Each new edition takes between four and six months to publish, although we do research and photography year-round. One of the best things about producing a yearly guidebook is that we can listen to feedback and make the book better each year."

However, coming up with a few new ideas for every book and keeping track with all of the changes that happen at Walt Disney World is not without its challenges.

"With Walt Disney World as our subject, keeping up with the myriad changes is a constant issue," she added. "We also have a hard time hitting our publishing deadline; we always want more time to tweak our writing or add another photo."

For the most part, Julie writes the text of the books while Mike is responsible for the photography. And with more than 550 full-color images included within the latest version of their guidebook, that keeps the Neals in the Orlando area almost as long as the time they spend on Sanibel.

As they have done in past editions, "The Complete Walt Disney World 2010" provides up-to-date information on new and refurbished attractions at the parks, Downtown Disney shopping area and partner hotels, which seem to change with every visit they make.

"One big change is the new emphasis on interactive experiences for guests," said Julie. "Disney is focusing more and more on having guests be a part of the show, such as in the street party attractions like Block Party Bash at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! in Magic Kingdom. In both cases, guests are encouraged to join the characters and cast members in the street to dance."

Another example Neal noted is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, where guests use a cell-phone-like "Kimmunicator" to trigger hidden effects in a secret-agent scavenger hunt.

"Another change is the spotlight on Disney characters, with more and more opportunities for guests to meet their favorites and get autographs and photos," she added. "One of the newest characters, Tinker Bell, has her own meet-and-greet spot called Pixie Hollow, with wait times usually exceeding an hour."

So, what makes Walt Disney World such a great destination for residents of Sanibel and Captiva?

"Walt Disney World is perfect for island residents because it is so different from here," said Neal. "It's like a combination of the two places adds up to the ultimate experience. Islanders can go to Disney for a dose of the world's biggest and best choreographed fun, and then come back home to our peace and quiet. It's really the best of both worlds."

But having visited Walt Disney World several hundred times per year (including more than 1,400 visits total), Julie explained that the theme parks offer her something new nearly each time she has passed through the opening gates.

"I wondered if I would grow tired or bored with going to Walt Disney World after so many trips, but instead familiarity has made me appreciate the place more," she said. "It's like an old friend. And I keep discovering new little gems I hadn't noticed before."

For example, Neal explained, on Soarin' in Epcot, guests can faintly hear a voice that sounds like it's coming from another guest yelling out "Catch anything?" to a fisherman onscreen. Another example: On Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom, painted on the exit ramp's moving walkway, "shoeprints" that indicate where to step consist of a normal right shoe and a peg-leg left mark.

As for her favorite attractions at "The House of Mouse," Neal offered some definitive picks.

"At Magic Kingdom, I love PhilharMagic, which is Disney's best 3-D movie celebrating the best Disney songs. At Epcot is Soarin,' which replicates the sensation of flying. Disney's Hollywood Studios has the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which always succeeds at being Disney's creepiest and most thrilling ride. And at Animal Kingdom - my favorite park - I love the animal trails and the Festival of the Lion King, Disney's best live show."

And if Walt Disney World weren't the happiest place on Earth, the Neals wouldn't keep on going and going and going.

"The Complete Walt Disney World 2010" ($24.95 MSRP) is available for purchase online at as well as at island and area book stores.

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