The Unofficial Guide-Universal Orlando Book Review

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I just love a good book, don’t you?  I’ve been a pretty voracious reader ever since I was tall enough to slide a library card across the librarian’s desk.  I’ll admit that I don’t seem to find as much time as I once did to devote to reading but I still love it.  Aside from actual travel, there’s no better way to explore new lands and experience new things than we do when we lose ourselves in a book.  Maybe I’ll do a post someday on my absolute favorite travel books….. (back in a sec, making a notation on my blog post to-do list…..).

Anyhoo, today I’m bringing you a quick review of The Unofficial Guide’s new travel tome on Universal Orlando, written by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger & Len Testa.  If you haven’t perused your local bookstore in the travel section, then you may not have come across The Unofficial Guide before.  There are many titles to choose from and one of the most comprehensive (re: thick and heavy) TUG’s out there is The Walt Disney World edition.  There is a new edition published yearly and it is an amazing resource in planning a Walt Disney World vacation.  The 2016 edition devotes a mere 70 pages to Universal Orlando; there is also a book titled “Beyond Disney: The Universal Guide to Universal Orlando, Sea World, and the Best of Central Florida” that is written by the same team.  These and several other books by these writers are available for purchase in most bookstores, and online in both paper and e-doc format.

As Universal Orlando has grown in size and scope, the writers decided to expand upon their previously written material to offer a more in-depth guide to the other big draw in Central FL.  I wanted to focus on a few of the pros/cons and my general impression of this guidebook.  I’ll start with the Cons first:

  1.  The biggest disappointment I have with this book is the lack of photos.  First let me say that I absolutely understand why photos are not included in this guide.  I believe the writers intend for you to be able to carry this book with you while touring if needed.  The addition of photos would add more pages, more pages equals more heft.  I totally get it.  But, I am a visual person; I learn information better when I can see it so not having any photos as a frame of reference is a little disappointing.  Can I search on Google Images or You Tube?  Sure, but if I’m feeling lazy or don’t have a computer or smart phone, I’m not going to do that.  Minor complaint, but a complaint nonetheless.  I’ll note that there are several drawings of property maps.
  2. As with any travel destination, Universal Orlando is not static; more so than any theme park in recent years, Universal Orlando is ALWAYS changing, always updating in its bid to stay current and exciting.  So, this is a problem that plagues every travel guide out there.  Despite being published in August, some of the information is already dated.  Again, this is a very minor issue that typically a few Google searches can correct (in terms of attraction closures, new attractions, etc.)

There’s very little I have to complain about with this guide.  Let’s get to some of the Pros:

  1. The size is right.  At 12 ounces and 8 inches tall/5 inches wide, there should be little problem in fitting this guide in your back pack or touring bag if you need it.
  2. The ride descriptions are easy to read and informative.  For example, here is a snapshot of the initial ride description for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit:  USO Guide Ride Review  They give stars to indicate not only the popularity of the ride but they also break it down by age group.  I have a 4-year old so I know that our ride selection will be limited (as USO is pretty transparent about its suitability for the 8+ crowd).  With an attraction like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, it’s pretty evident in the title that this will be one to skip with a young kiddo.  But, not all titles are as discernible so I appreciate the heads up so that I can better plan our touring beforehand (the height requirement in the description is a big help also).
  3. An honest review is important for any guide-book.  Granted, everyone is going to have an opinion that may not jibe with yours and services reviewed will have good and bad days so I guess you can take it or leave it.  But, I appreciate a guide-book that will tell me what to explore and what to avoid, particularly when it comes to food.  One of my favorite aspects of travel is dining.  I love reading dining reviews and planning my meals for a vacation.  As the designated cook extraordinaire in my household, I relish the opportunity to spend a week being showered with other’s delectables.  If a restaurant sucks, I want to know about it before I’m $20 into a dish my 4-year old could have made.  Here is an example of the book’s review for Moe’s Tavern:  Moe's Tavern Review  Again, the simple header gives you an idea of the value by telling you the average portion size and a grade.  You can read the full description but when you’re sitting on a bench with a screaming child and/or irritable hungry teens, it helps to have a short, bold reference to refer to quickly to help you make a decision.
  4. The last big pro I want to discuss are the touring plans.  What I believe makes this and the WDW Unofficial Guide truly stand out are the touring plans.  Simply put, they give you a step by step guide on how to spend your day in the theme park.  There’s an explanation in the books about how they developed these plans.  There are formulas, equations, perhaps some crystal ball gazing (not really), but it’s a basic predictor of how the crowds typically manifest during the day and gives you a guide to hopefully avoid standing in line.  Len Testa, a contributor to this book, runs the Touring Plans website (found here), which is another incredible resource in Disney/Universal vacation planning.  I will admit that I use this site in planning vacations both for myself and for my clients.  I believe the touring plans are an indispensable part of touring effectively and can attest to their helpfulness in moving through a park efficiently.

    Touring Plan 2

    One Day Touring Plan for Adults at Universal Studios.

Each touring plan has a map with numbered dots on top of the attractions listed in the order in which they suggest that you tour.  These maps are meant to be “clippable” for even easier portability but keep in mind that there are no perforations so either rip them out or get your scissors to work.

There is so much more to this book than can possibly be covered in a single blog post.  Bottom line, I believe this book is worth your time and cash when planning a Universal Orlando vacation.  I purchased the paperback version of this book for $13.49 from here.  As of this writing, it is listed for $13.27 so you never know with Amazon’s pricing; it could go up or down.

If you have any questions about this post or would like assistance in planning a Universal Orlando vacation, feel free to comment below and/or contact me at any time for more information!  You can find me on Facebook at Magical Vacations by Tracy or email at  You can also follow me on Instagram HERE.  See you soon!

Tracy PhotoTracy Hurdle is a work-at-home mother of one and a former social worker turned travel agent.  She’s always had a love of travel planning and couldn’t be happier at being given the opportunity to do so on a broader scale with families just like yours.





LOVE DOING THINGS FROM YOUR PHONE!!!!!!mickey cell phone cover

10 Things Outside The Parks My Kids Always Want To Do.

My kids told me on our last trip down to Disney that they were done with the Parks.  I was shocked to say the least!!  I mean, how can you not go to the parks?!  They told me that they want to go to the Parks and hit their favorites and then go and then do some things outside the Park.


Here was their list:

1. Ride the monorail

2. Walk around at Art of Animation Resort

3. Head to Downtown Disney

4. Go to Goofy’s Candy Company and get some candy…duh! :)

5. Lego Store is always a must for both my kids

6. Eat at Cook’s of Dublin

7. Build a Mr. Potato Head at Once Upon A Toy

8. See what kind of entertainment is at Downtown Disney and sit and watch

9. Watch fireworks from the Beach at Polynesian Resort

10. Go to BoardWalk Resort and walk around

10 things to do at disney

Disney is our happy place as I am sure, it is for some of you.  So we try and make everyone happy by doing what ever we all want to do while we are down there.  The rules are simple, if  it is something we can all do as a family and everybody is good with it we do it!


What is on your list of things to do at Disney that is not in the Parks?  Do you change up the list every time you go?  Or is it pretty much the same every trip?



If you are looking to book a magical vacation, please contact me at 678-449-6680 or

Why I Love Epcot’s Mouse Gears

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By Melissa L.

By far, my favorite shop in all of Epcot and arguably all of the Walt Disney World parks is Mouse Gear.  It is the largest shop in Epcot and really I find myself wanting to skip Downtown Disney when I am staying in the Epcot Resort Area since you can find a little bit of everything here!  My favorite Mouse Gear story came this Fall when I decided to grab two vinylmations: Star Wars (hoping for Darth Vader) and Pirates (hoping for Captain Jack) and as luck and Disney magic would have it I scored both!

Without the Hollywood Boulevard or Main Street shop set up this is vital to Epcot and worth a trip of its own! The store is set up in sections as you wind your way through.  You will find:

  • All kinds of toys for kids of all ages
  • Disney World Souvenirs (including dated)
  • Apparel for the entire family (including a large ear hat section)
  • Disney Trading Pins & Vinylmation
  • Candy, Snacks, and novelty foods
  • Picture frames and Collectibles
  • Seasonal merchandise
  • Epcot themed merchandise and apparel
  • Cookware and Kitchenware
  • And much more!

While the areas change and don’t always have the largest selection on property you will find this is an Epcot one stop shop! There are also great ways to save here:

  • Disney Visa Cardmembers can enjoy their 10% discount on most merchandise orders $50 or more here
  • During busy times it has been reported that quick service dining receipts have also featured 10% off coupons

With so many specialty shops in the World Showcase, Land, Seas, and Imagination pavilions this is a great stop for a less crowded store with lots of selection!

Have you ever been to Mouse Gears, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

When Melissa isn’t teaching, snapping pictures to post on Picturing Disney on Facebook, updating her photoblog Picturing Disney, or prancing around Disney Parks like a kid, she is lives her life filled with love, laughter, and happily ever after in New York with her husband and their adorable dog.


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Disney World Guidebook Round Up

By Melissa L.

With such a huge costumer base, it is no wonder that there are entire shelves in bookstores dedicated to Disney World Travel Guides as well as website companions that offer online subscriptions to the company’s best planning tools.  How do you make your way through the stack in order to find which is best for you? Use the guide below to find what resources you are looking for in order to make the perfect pre-trip purchase for you!


Most fun and personalized: Passporter

What makes the Passporter guide book my go to choice is the fun I have filling it up with personal information.  The moment after I book my next Disney World trip the first thing I do is order the most current Passporter! I pour over the pages for hours before planning trips, going over ever detail, adding every last minute that I have planned to my pass pockets and updating all of our personal trip information.  I am a Passporter addict! I even used leftover pockets on my honeymoon!

This innovative guide has excellent descriptions of the hotels, attractions, and restaurants at Walt Disney World, as well as, ratings and worksheets that help make your trip planning fun.  What I love about Passporter is that I can hold onto my guidebook as a memento after our trips and flipping through it feels reminiscent of flipping through a scrapbook or photo album.  The deluxe version is fabulous and they offer updated refills each year as well as Disneyland Resort refills.

Most comprehensive: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

To use the singular of Unofficial Guide does not do this line of books justice.  Not only is the original namesake filled with a plethora of Disney Planning information for planning your vacation from beginning to end, but there are multiple companions which include a color companion, guide specifically for traveling with kids, one for traveling without kids, one for traveling around other parks in Orlando, and editions for Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

Best quick look for Disney pros: Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World

I have found myself with a small collection of Birnbaum guides over the years.  Planning a Disney trip is exciting and for some reason I usually find myself with a copy of this at some point in my planning.  It’s usually under $10, and I find it great as a guide when I am planning out where to eat or what new attractions to look forward to.  I carried it in my work bag for two months before our last trip.  It is slim and had lots of quick descriptions which are great for skimming through on a lunch break or when I have a few minutes here or there.

Best pictures: The Complete Walt Disney World

Like the other guides featured here, this has great descriptions and reviews of the parks, restaurants, hotels, and attractions to be found at Walt Disney World.  Unlike the other guides here this is so chock full of photos you may find yourself lost in a day dream before you make it through the first 20 pages.  There is so much not just to read, but to see in this book that its hard to resist once you take a peek inside!   There is also a really neat section that is a Disney encyclopedia of sorts called “Disney A to Z”!

Online Subscriptions

This is the digital age, so while there are plenty of books out there on the topic of Walt Disney World, there are also tons of websites out there  filled with Disney planning information.  There are also a small handful of online SUBSCRIPTIONS where you pay for a span of time to use a website’s own planning tools.  The Passporter guidebook has a company website which offers monthly access to their Passporter’s Club in which you can view any of their many available e-books for free.  This is great for getting companion information to their guide book.

Most fun, personalized, and comprehensive: Tour Guide Mike

Tour Guide Mike is a personal favorite as far as planning tools.  You begin by filling out a survey about your trip plans and aver a few minutes your Automated Vacation Planner is prepared for you with personalized trip planning information to fit you and your family’s needs.  It is amazing how spot-on the tour and dining recommendations can be! Furthermore, you can add reminders for making Advanced Dining Reservations, later on add your confirmation numbers, and are privy to being able to access the loads and loads of vacation planning articles on the website.  My very favorite feature: The Least Crowded Park Charts! They rock and are incredibly accurate! I plan my park days based around these recommendations and they are constantly updated if changes come from Disney!

Best quick look for Disney pros: Touring PlansDisney Wishes, disney photography, Picasa, Disney, Magic Kingdom photos, fireworks, Photoshop, photo editing

From the makers of the Unofficial Guides, Touring Plans is a site focused mainly on, well, Touring Plans! Here you can find comprehensive plans for touring all Disney parks as well as another super-accurate park chart.  The Touring Plans Crowd Calendar not only makes suggestions as to which parks to visit or avoid each and every day (for up to a year in advance) but you are also giving estimates on how crowded Disney will be!   Whatsmore, your Touring Plans subscription (available for Walt Disney World, Disneyland or both) allows you the ability to login to the smartphone app which gives you up to date and accurate ride lines and wait times!

What is your favorite guide? Did it make the roundup? Let me know in the comments below!!

When Melissa isn’t teaching, snapping pictures to post on Picturing Disney on Facebook, updating her photoblog Picturing Disney, or prancing around Disney Parks like a kid, she is lives her life filled with love, laughter, and happily ever after in New York with her husband and their adorable dog.

Disney Nails… A Little Magic at Home

By Melissa L & Frances

Most of us wish that we can move to Orlando and be a part of the Disney magic all of the time. Since that’s not a reality for most of us, here are some ideas of doing your own Disney nails at home.

In the nail world, these are Pink & White Nails. To get the black for Mickey’s Chest, it’s actual polish vs powder.

This is how you can do you own Mickey Mani Pedi!

1. Start with a fresh pedicure that has at least set- no wet nails!

2. Grab your tools: black polish and a Q-tip

3. Remove the cotton from one end of the Q-tip as best you can- mainly you want the tip to be cleared of cotton.

4. (This is the long and hard step.)

Practice on a piece of paper and carefully dip the cotton end of your Q-tip in black polish. You should get a feel of how hard to push down to get a decent circle. Do the same with the other end (that you removed the cotton from). Your cotton end will make a bigger circle and you will use it for the head while the bare end will be used for the ears.

Variations for nails: I have never done this as a Mickey mani but have made tiny mickeys before. You can create smaller circles by simple touching your nail more lightly with the Q-tip ends

When she isn’t teaching, snapping pictures to post on Picturing Disney on Facebook, updating her photoblog Picturing Disney, or prancing around Disney Parks like a kid, she is lives her life filled with love, laughter, and happily ever after in New York with her husband and their adorable dog.

If You Are Going to Play at Disney All Day, Spend Some Time at the Gift Shops After Closing

The craziest lines I have seen at Disney World? The lines to get on the boat and the monorail at Magic Kingdom closing time are just crazy. I am not claustrophobic, but looking at these lines could surely make me.

Mouze Kateerz tip? If you are going to push yourself to stay until closing, hang out for a little while longer as the parks empty out. [Read more…]

If You Want to Save Money on Food at Disney, Take This With You!

One thing Walt Disney World and Disneyland have in common is good food, but dining at Disney has a reputation for being pricey. The good news is that portions are usually reasonable and in most cases large. When you walk away from dinner, your tummy will be full even if your wallet is significantly lighter. [Read more…]

Want to Save Some Money at the Disney? Bring This With You…

One thing Walt Disney World and Disneyland have in common right now is that it is HOT.  The average person needs to drink 8 glasses of water on a day of light to moderate activity. Spending time at either of the California and Florida theme parks, in the sweltering summer sun, walking miles and standing in often un-shaded lines, you will definitely need to drink even more water to avoid dehydration. If you are buying all that water at the theme parks, you are going to spend a small fortune on an already expensive vacation. [Read more…]

Like to Save Money on Food at Disney? Order One of These…

One thing Walt Disney World and Disneyland have in common is some of the best food around, yet dining at Disney certainly doesn’t come cheap. Unless your children are still of the “Eat Free” age, then you will spend a lot of money on food for them and your whole family on vacation. [Read more…]


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