Vacation season is quickly approaching, and this year, one of the world's most visited places celebrates its 40th anniversary. On Oct. 1, 1971, the Magic Kingdom opened its doors in Florida. Forty years later, Walt Disney World includes four theme parks, two water parks, resorts, golf courses, a campground, shopping and entertainment venues, and much more. For anyone considering a trip to Disney World, planning can be overwhelming, but there are excellent guidebooks to help.

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When it comes to Disney guides, The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2011 includes more information than any other book. Authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa begin with the motto that "knowledge is power" and back that up with 854 pages relating to Disney World and Orlando. It’s clear that the value of this guide is in its myriad details. They describe and rate the individual attractions, resorts and restaurants, and also include sections devoted to planning, money-saving deals, visiting with or without children, and more. Additionally, there are diagrams of every resort, along with the layouts of rooms and room numbers, giving visitors the ability to request accommodations based on needs and desires. The Unofficial Guide also provides step-by-step touring plans for each park to help readers avoid long lines, even at busier travel times. As a frequent Walt Disney World guest, and an obsessive planner, I call the Unofficial Guide my Disney bible—it is the first book I recommend to anyone planning a Disney vacation.

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The Complete Walt Disney World 2011 by Julie Neal is another comprehensive guide filled with information about Disney World. Like the Unofficial Guide, this book discusses the theme parks, individual attractions, restaurants, lodging and planning. What sets this guide apart is the photography by Mike Neal. The Complete Walt Disney World includes 530stunning color photos—looking through this book is simply fun. These pictures help build a frame of reference for any new visitor and provide experienced guests with a way to revisit the wonder of Disney after their trip.

In addition to the photos, standout aspects of this book include ideas for family fun and preparing your kids before a trip. Neal gives suggestions for fun foods you can make at home before you go and lists tie-ins to Disney movies that you can look for in the parks.  The Complete Walt Disney World also covers the best and worst aspects of each park and includes useful maps, a Walt Disney World telephone directory, and a character guide that identifies all the characters who appear in the park and the best places to find them. Reading through this book will make you more knowledgeable, while immersing you in the magic of Disney World. Highly recommended. 

If you want to involve your kids in the planning process, Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids 2011 is a fantastic resource. It’s written for children and includes a brief history and overview of Walt Disney World, colorful maps of the four theme parks and descriptions of every attraction, restaurant and hotel. The pages are filled with vivid color photos and drawings that are sure to please younger readers. My 9-year-old and 6-year-old love this book, and they especially appreciate that the book includes reviews, ratings and tips from other children.

Parents will appreciate the "attraction reactions," which warn about scary, dark, loud, wet and rough rides, and the entire family can search for Hidden Mickeys throughout the park using tips in the book. The final pages of Walt Disney World for Kids include a section where kids can write about their experiences, opinions and memories, as well as pages for character autographs. One caveat: Because this book is an official Disney product, you won’t find money-saving tips or criticisms. But for kids, it’s the perfect guide to add excitement to the planning process and makes a wonderful keepsake.

After reading many a Disney World guidebook, I am happy to recommend these as the best of the best. Whichever one you choose, your trip should be magical, as every Disney vacation should be!

Lauren Sullivan is a wife, mother of two and an avid reader. Books play an important role in her life, and she enjoys sharing her passion at 5MinutesforBooks.com and BaseballsandBows.com.