Book Review:
The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation
2011 Edition
Scan of front cover of The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation
Steven M. Barrett
Intrepid Traveller
Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
November 30, 2010

If you’re a frequent Walt Disney World guest, you’ve probably had a conversation like this with a friend (or neighbor or co-worker or relative).

Your friend asks, “Did I tell you I’m going to Disney in Florida next month?”

“No,” you respond, “What are your plans?”

“We’re going to stay four days,” your friend explains, “because I heard they have four parks, and we want to see everything.”

“Seeing everything in four days would be impossible,” you caution. “We go every year, and there are still things we haven’t done. You have to use your time wisely.”

“In that case, what should we do with the time we have?”

You describe the attractions in each park, and which ones are best. You explain how to use the transportation system and FASTPASS. You share all sorts of discoveries you’ve made over the years. You help make sense of the myriad of ticket options. You mention your favorite restaurants, including ones at resorts. You provide tips for saving money. You suggest detailed itineraries for each park, with different itineraries depending on whether or not the park offers extra hours to on-site guests.

“That all sounds great,” your friend remarks, “but I’ll never remember it all. I sure wish I had it in writing.”

Author Steven M. Barrett, best known for his books about Hidden Mickeys, has put it in writing—so you don’t have to. The result is The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation.

Recently, the publisher offered to send a review copy to me. Perhaps she noticed that I ran a book review of The Unofficial Guide - The Color Companion to Walt Disney World.

Scan of back cover of The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation Trade paperback
5.5" x 8.5"
270 pages
20 color photos
74 b&w photos
Release date:
October 2010

The 2011 book is the 11th edition of a book that Steven has been updating and refining annually.

The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation relies heavily on touring plans—detailed sets of numbered instructions that a park visitor is supposed to follow in order. Recognizing that one-size-fits-all touring plans don’t work, Barrett offers numerous touring plans for each park, with variations based on age (adults and teens, families with young children, seniors) and whether or not it’s an early-entry day.

The touring plans can be very detailed, such as this: “17. Exit left. Go through the passageway to Frontierland, turn left, and see Country Bear Jamboree if the wait isn’t too long (15 minutes or less).”

I’m sure there are people who love touring plans. And I’m sure that it’s possible to save time by using a good plan rather than wandering aimlessly. Barrett’s touring plans have some flexibility and downtime built in, which is good.

However, I’m really not a fan of touring plans—not for myself, and not for people to whom I’m giving advice. I prefer “educated spontaneity,” where educated means doing some homework ahead of time, and spontaneity means not being tied to a fixed itinerary. To me, following a touring plan is a hassle—not the best way to have a hassle-free vacation.

The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation
The book is printed primarily in black and white.

Fortunately, The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation also provides plenty of useful information, advice, and opinions.

The book describes every attraction at the four parks of Walt Disney World, with a rating based on a scale of one to five mice. Steven Barrett defines his ratings like this:

The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation

Actually, it’s a scale of two to five mice, because no attraction gets only one mouse. That means nothing is merely “average but still fun,” and nothing is below average, because there’s not even such a rating. Even Cretaceous Trail (at Disney’s Animal Kingdom), which is little more than a path through some labeled landscaping, gets two mice. There is no doubt that Steven Barrett enjoys all of Walt Disney World.

Mission: SPACE at Epcot
Barrett gives five mice to Mission: SPACE at Epcot.

Barrett apparently loves thrill rides, giving all major thrill rides five mice—even Mission: SPACE, which I consider a very flawed attraction. But the Walt Disney World Railroad and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, which I enjoy every time I visit the Magic Kingdom, only get two mice.

If I were making such a list, I would give higher ratings to attractions that can be enjoyed by guests of all ages and physical conditions.

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros at Epcot
Barrett gives two mice to Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros at Epcot.

With two mice being the bottom tier, I was surprised that Barrett put Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros down there. Okay, it’s not one of my favorite rides either. It’s a boat ride past screens showing animated film loops, scattered through the sets of an earlier version of the ride. It comes across as what it is: a way to add Disney characters to an existing ride, without spending money on new sets or new Audio-Animatronics. But it’s still an enjoyable ride, at least the first couple of times.

Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Barrett gives five mice to Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Of course, these ratings represent Barrett’s opinions, not mine. That’s fair. After all, it’s his book. And in many cases, I agree completely with Barrett’s ratings.

For example, I consider Kilimanjaro Safaris to be a five-mouse ride too. The scale is grand. The setting is beautifully designed. And because the animals are real, it’s never the same ride twice.

Where Barrett really adds value is with his tips throughout the book. His tip for Kilimanjaro Safaris is: “If you have a choice, sit on the left side of the vehicle for the best overall views of the wildlife.” Good tip!

In fact, I wish Barrett would include more tips. As I mentioned earlier in this review, I’m an advocate of “educated spontaneity” as best approach to the parks, and good tips can make a big difference.

The American Idol Experience at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Barrett gives five mice to The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Based on the Steven Barrett’s blurb on the back cover (“A wait of more than 15-20 minutes is too long!”), I expected more advice on how to avoid long lines. Often, the advice in a touring plan is simply that if a line is too long, skip the attraction and try again later.

One bit of advice that I give people about Epcot is to avoid Spaceship Earth before noon, when guests are streaming into the park and Spaceship Earth is the first attraction they see and the line can be long. Later in the day, it’s usually a walk-on attraction. So I was surprised that several of Barrett’s Epcot touring plans have guests going on Spaceship Earth during mid-morning.

FASTPASS closed for Toy Story Mania! at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Don’t wait too long to get a FASTPASS for Toy Story Mania!

Barrett succinctly describes FASTPASS in a half page and mentions it throughout the book. But I think he could have written more about how to make the best use of it.

One of the biggest mistakes that first-time visitors make is not using FASTPASS efficiently—or not using it all because they don’t understand that it’s available to all guests at no additional charge. For some attractions—notably Toy Story Mania!, which can have a 120-minute wait even on slow days—using FASTPASS can save considerable time.

Using FASTPASS means skipping the standby queue. But that can mean missing something good. At Toy Story Mania!, it means missing the amazing and entertaining Audio-Animatronics Mr. Potato Head because the FASTPASS queue doesn’t go anywhere near him.

If the FASTPASS return time for an attraction is only 30 minutes later and the standby wait time is less than that—as can be the case for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on slower days—one good strategy is to get a FASTPASS, then head for the standby line, enjoy the ride once, and then enjoy it again with your FASTPASS soon after your first ride.

Barrett writes, “FASTPASS tickets are often unavailable during the late afternoon and evening hours.” He doesn’t explain that this varies widely by attraction. Some attractions have FASTPASS available most of the day, but some run out much earlier—notably Toy Story Mania!. Also, during Evening Extra Magic Hours, the FASTPASS machines are restarted for on-site guests when the park hours end for other guests. (That’s something I didn’t notice the first couple of times that I was at the Magic Kingdom during Evening Extra Magic Hours.)

Despite some of my comments in this review, I consider The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation to be a useful book for first-time (or first-time-in-a-long-time) Walt Disney World guests. It’s filled with accurate, up-to-date details. Steven Barrett knows his subject well. And if touring plans are more appealing to you than they are to me, it could be a very good choice.

Book: The Vault of Walt
Book: Color Companion to WDW

© 2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 14, 2011.

Scan of front cover, back cover, and selected pages of The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation: © 2011 The Intrepid Traveler; photos © Steven M. Barrett
Photo of Mission: SPACE at Epcot: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros at Epcot: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of FASTPASS closed for Toy Story Mania! Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: This is a book review of The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation. 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.