Book Review:
The Unofficial Guide
The Color Companion to Walt Disney World
Scan of The Color Companion to Walt Disney World book cover
Bob Sehlinger
& Len Testa
“Disney Design” sidebar author:
Sam Gennawey
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
July 23, 2010

I normally limit my reviews of books and DVDs to those that deal with theme park history. Today, I’m making an exception for a new Walt Disney World guidebook from the authors of the familiar Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World.

I’m a regular reader of the SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog by the book’s “Disney Design” author, Sam Gennawey, whom I consider a friend. And I’ve had the pleasure of being on a couple of WDW Today podcasts with co-author Len Testa.

Yes, I’m running this review because I have a personal connection to two of the book’s authors. However, I’ll give you my honest opinions anyway.

Scan of The Color Companion to Walt Disney World back cover Paperback
5" x 8"
384 pages
Release date:
March 22, 2010
Color photos
and artwork

The Unofficial Guide: The Color Companion to Walt Disney World (which I’ll simply refer to as the Color Companion from now on) adds three things that you won’t find in the regular Unofficial Guide: color photos, humor, and insight about park design from an urban planner.

The Color Companion is much thinner than its 880-page behemoth sibling, although it’s still a hefty 384 pages, including its front matter.

Just because there are color photos, don’t expect a large-format coffee table book. The pages of the Color Companion are a similar size to those of the regular Unofficial Guide.

Although some photos fill a whole page, most of the book’s 560 color photos are fairly small. Only a handful are Disney publicity pictures. The rest were taken for this book and are quite good. In addition to plenty of photos of attractions and resorts, there are also some that are just there to liven things up—pictures of people or even of things that have nothing to do with Walt Disney World. For example, the “Getting There” section includes a small photo of a camel caravan crossing the desert.

The Color Companion to Walt Disney World
The page layout is an attractive mix of text and photos.

The photos in the Color Companion make it much more fun to read than the thick Unofficial Guide. The resort photos seem particularly useful. It’s one thing to read a description of a hotel, but it’s better to see if you find the hotel visually appealing when choosing where to stay.

Instead of treating Disney Vacation Club (DVC) villa resorts that are attached to Deluxe resorts as separate resorts, they’re combined in one listing. So, for example, instead of discussing the BoardWalk Inn and the BoardWalk Villas separately, there’s one entry for “BoardWalk Inn and Villas Resort.” While such combined resorts share the same location and restaurants, there are significant differences between the DVC and conventional sections. Also, Disney’s reservation system considers such properties to be two different resorts.

To be entertaining, the Color Companion includes some pages that seek only to inject humor. For example, there are two made-up hotels. There’s also a two-page spread with made-up Magic Kingdom meals. There’s a full page with colors photos showing “how to keep your stroller from being stollen.” Some readers will find such content enjoyable and worthwhile. I think these pages could have been put to better use.

The Color Companion to Walt Disney World
“Disney Design” essays and full-color photos add to the fun.

Throughout the book, yellow text boxes offer short “Disney Design” essays by urban planner Sam Gennawey. Sam explains the backstories, the real-world inspirations, and the design principles that drove Imagineers’ design choices. It’s the kind of information that makes you appreciate the parks even more.

The next few paragraphs are a rant about something that disappointed me.

For a book that is so well researched, the description of Disney’s Magical Express (Walt Disney World’s airport transportation and luggage service) is weak. According to the Color Companion, “If you’re traveling within the United States, you’ll arrive in Orlando and follow the Magical Express signs to your bus; your luggage should be waiting in your hotel room when you check in.”

But that’s not how Disney’s Magical Express works. First, there are not signs. Guests are mailed Magical Express packets that include instructions for how to go to Level 1 on Side B side after landing at Orlando International. More importantly, Disney has never promised that luggage should be waiting in your room when you check in. The reality is that Disney says that your bags are delivered to your room within three hours after you check in at your Disney resort. That’s reasonable considering that bags require manual handling at several steps. Your airline may not even have transferred your bags to Disney when you’re already on the road.

The Color Companion concludes its description of Disney’s Magical Express with this statement: “In practice, the logistical challenge of matching totes and tourists is proving to be more than Disney bargained for, with lost and delayed luggage marring the service’s reputation.”

The reality is that Disney launched Magical Express more than five years ago with a sophisticated, barcode-based luggage tracking system. In its first five years, Magical Express served 10 million guests. Undoubtedly, there have been some glitches now and then, but Magical Express enjoys a great reputation on vacation planning forums. And some of the “delayed luggage” might just be cases of guests who think their bags will arrive at their rooms before they do—because of misinformation in some guide books.

I’m not suggesting that the paragraphs about Disney’s Magical Express are indicative of similar problems throughout the book. In fact, the authors of the Color Companion are Walt Disney World experts who know their stuff. The Magical Express description is the exception, not the rule.

The authors set out to create a new Walt Disney World guide book that would be fun to use. They succeeded. For Florida Disney vacation planning, the Color Companion should be on the short list of books to consider.

This would also be a fun book for someone who is a Disney fan but unable to visit Walt Disney World. Such readers should enjoy the many photos, succinct descriptions (and opinions) of attractions, “Disney Design” insight, and some Walt Disney World trivia and history.

Book: Hassle-Free WDW
Book: Knott’s Preserved

© 2021 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 28, 2021

Scan of front cover, back cover, and selected pages of The Unofficial Guide: The Color Companion to Walt Disney World : © 2010 Robert W. Sehlinger
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: This is a book review of The Color Companion to Walt Disney World. Werner Weiss received a free review copy of the book in 2010. Mr. Weiss does not receive any financial consideration from the publisher or the authors.