The Unofficial Guide-Universal Orlando Book Review

Photo provided by Amazon.com

Photo provided by Amazon.com

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 Amazon.com 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 tracy@magicalvacationsbyme.com.  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.

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