LAKE BUENA VISTA – It always seems to happen. Just as Rona Gindin and her editor are putting the finishing touches on her book, “The Little Black Book of Walt Disney World,” a news release comes out indicating Disney has decided to do something different.
“After I wrote the book, of course, the Haunted Mansion ride and the Winnie the Poo ride now have interactive things you can do while waiting in line,” Gindin said. “The challenge is crazy. My editor and I, we don’t laugh about it, we practically cry.”
What it reflects is a theme park industry that’s adapting to changing public tastes by tearing down the old – sometimes to the chagrin of long-time fans – and bringing in the new, with rides designed to be as high tech and sophisticated as possible. Disney is joining the move by expanding and doubling the size of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. One example of the changes: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a new attraction designed to be a rollicking ride into a mine, is replacing Snow White’s Scary Adventure, which has been torn down.
“Disney realizes that consumers have changed,” Gindin said.
Gindin – a writer, editor and host of TV’s “On Dining with Rona Gindin” – said covering Disney’s changes isn’t easy when you have deadlines to meet. But it’s all part of the ongoing challenge of being the author of a book that’s designed to be the perfect Walt Disney World vacationer’s pocket guide – a comprehensive, well detailed description of what’s available at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studio, Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney, and the hotels. Gindin is now working on the fourth edition of the book, which will be out just in time for the holidays.
“It comes out once a year, and the 4th version is coming out in late 2011,” she said. “It always comes out at the very end of the year, because it makes such a good Christmas stocking stuffing.”
Gindin got involved in writing the book when a friend passed on an ad from the publisher, Peter Pauper Press, looking for someone to write a travel book about Disney. She applied.
“I live right near the Magic kingdom, 12 miles away,” she said. “Peter Pauper Press wanted to start a travel line of books, and the third title they wanted was Disney World. I wrote to them and said, ‘I heard you’re looking for a writer, I may be your gal.’ “
A few months later, the publishing house hired Gindin, who set to work coming up with the most thorough Disney guide possible.
“They needed to have the basics about every single thing in the park,” she said. “The main thing they thought of was going to Disney with the book is like going with a friend who says ‘Make sure you go on that ride, and skip that one,’ written by someone with insider knowledge.”
She recalls just how challenging it was to ensure she got everything tourists need to know about Disney, all in one compact book. It required a lot of research – and plenty of time spent at the Lake Buena Vista park.
“For the first book, it was quite an undertaking,” she said. “I was lucky it was a nice time of year, in September and October. I just went to each park several times and wrote down everything, and Disney has a wonderful web site for journalists where it gives information about the restaurants and rides. They have really good background resources. Mostly it was just spending day after day after day in the park.”
Then she sat down with her editor and confronted the next challenge: taking all that information and figuring out how to compress it down into … well, a little black book.
“We kept going over everything until we boiled it all down to its essence,” she said. “It’s such a small book, really.”
Disney’s decision to reinvent itself has presented another challenge. As part of the most recent edition, Gindin wrote about Disney’s plans to replace Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney with a 120-acre waterfront district called Hyperion Wharf, which will offer new restaurants, shopping and entertainment venues. Then reports surfaced that the project might have gotten shelved, or that Disney was reworking the idea.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Gindin.
“I got the news about Hyperion Wharf not becoming Hyperion Wharf when my book was in the final stage, and I said, ‘What do we do?’ “ she said. “It turns out we had left it sort of as a maybe. The book is always out of date, no matter what I do.”
It’s particularly challenging to write a Disney guide book, Gindin said, because fans of the theme park giant are notoriously nit picky about the smallest details, and eager to catch anything they see as a slip.
“Disney has really passionate fans, people who will notice anything wrong in the book,” she said. “They even know what’s on the menus in the restaurants. If I wrote a book about Chicago and a store had closed, probably nobody would notice. But here, the Disney fans notice if one thing is wrong and it makes it in the book.”
So for now, Gindin is putting the finishing touches on her book’s fourth edition, and planning to head back to the park again next year, to guarantee that she hasn’t missed anything new and that every change, large or small, gets included in her little black book.
“Every year for the update,” she said, “I go back to the park to review it again for a day.”
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