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As seasoned visitors to Walt Disney world we know our way around the parks really well but the wonderful thing about Disney is there are always new things to discover. The Brits guide to Orlando is our holiday bible so when I saw that Susan Veness, one half of the Brits team, had put together a book on the Hidden magic of WDW I had to get my hands on a copy.
The shiny blue cover has a white impression of Cinderella castle and the title is easy to read. The book promises over 600 secrets of WDW.
Upon flicking through the book the first word that came to mind was "dull". There were no photographs, no drawings and no use of colour. This is a black and white book with a hint of grey occasionally if you are lucky. Simon Veness has since stated that the lack of photographs is due to Disney's strict copyright rules and the use of photographs would have made the book more expensive and since it was a new idea they didn't' want to risk it. This sounds perfectly plausible but I think the lack of any colour within the pages at all is a cheap step too far.
---Finding The Magic---
After a short introduction the book is split up into the four Disney parks; Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood studios and Animal Kingdom.
Each section starts with a very basic diagram of the park with a few of the major secrets marked on it. The narrative then discusses the secrets in more depth and gives a lot of back ground information about the relevance of the secret or the surprise and here is also quite a lot of information about the park history, past attractions etc.
One of the things that I have always loved about WDW is the attention to detail and it is the Disney Imagineers who are responsible for the wonderful large attractions as well as the tiny details that visitors can easily miss. This book is an excellent way to draw attention to all of these factors.
The secrets that are discussed fall into various sorts of categories and I wouldn't call all of them secrets as such but some are simply clever things that you may have walked past without even noticing. The best way to describe the content is to mention some of the items.
Forced Perspective: this is a technique used a lot throughout the parks to make you feel things are larger than they actually are. Buildings are seen to be 3 stories high in Main Street but actually they are built on a reducing scale so the top story is actually relatively small. This technique is used throughout the parks including the centrepiece Cinderella castle, Epcots Eiffel Tower and around the white-knuckle Everest ride.
Dates: Throughout the park there are hints to the dates that parks and individual attractions opened. The fire station in Town square is Firestation 71 to represent the opening of magic kingdom in 1971. The trolley in Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios bears the number 694 to represent the opening of that street in June 1994.
Hidden Stories: Throughout WDW there are background stories going on and it takes a quiet visitor who spends a few minutes taking in the details who will notice what is happening. There are places you can stand in Magic Kingdom where you can hear voices from upstairs windows arguing, you can hear a child's music lesson or you can listen carefully at water fountains and hear the conversations of workmen working on the pipes. These little gems are installed to make the facades of small town America seem even more real but it is easy to miss them. At night the upstairs rooms are lit up and you can sometimes see shadows moving around to give the illusion of real people too.
Things to Discover: The Disney Theme parks are made for interaction but it is very easy to walk past and miss out on fun details. If there is a crate lying around you should lift the lid, if there is a handle then turn it and if there is a telephone receiver you should pick it up. Every action can produce an amazing reaction so have the cameras ready but remember that not all secrets are working all the time.
Imagineers: imagineers who work on attractions are not allowed to directly sign their names but they are allowed to leave hints about themselves. This could be a birthstone planted somewhere, it could be a date of birth in a picture, a chess piece left by a chess addict or a craftily changed name on a voiceover. Whatever they choose it is nice to be able to give some recognition to these experts of design and imagination and to spot each individual contribution.
History: Theme parks are always evolving so it is nice to have some background of what they were like before you visited. There are a few things that I had noticed on my visits which were no longer in use but seemed a little out of place so it was nice to have some mysteries solved.
I think I have a pretty good knowledge of all things Disney and some of the information contained in the book I have already heard elsewhere, either in other books or on Forums but it is nice to have the information all drawn together in one book which is easy to take with you. There was still plenty of new information here for me though so I wasn't bored.
This book is written in a very chatty style and it is easy to read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and there are plenty of things that I will be looking out for on my next visit. I only recommend this for returning visitors rather than first timers as the lack of photographs means that it would be difficult for people who have no idea what the place looks like to envisage what they are looking for. On your first visit there is so much to take in anyway that this sort of guide would probably be excessive.
Every time I visit Walt Disney World I appreciate it more and this guide has given me even more hints and tips to help in my planning of our next trip so although it is not very exciting on first glance I am glad I bought it and will be packing it in my suitcase on my next visit!