I suspect that I could take a great many of you, blindfold you, drop you into one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, and you would be able to identify which park and which land you had been deposited in. I suspect you could do this because you would use your other senses. You would use your ears to listen to the themed music and the sound effects of the area and you would use your nose to detect telltale odors in the air.
But you could only perform this feat of clairvoyance because you were already thoroughly familiar with the parks. You have visited so many times over the years that you know all of the thoroughfares, large and small. You know all of the nooks and crannies. You know the short cuts to get from point “A” to point “B” on busy days. You know where every restroom is located. And you subconsciously (or consciously) know all the nonvisual cues that identify each environ of the parks.
But what about first-time visitors? If we were to drop one of these newbies into the middle of a park, they’d probably have a panic attack. They’d walk around in circles trying to get their bearings. And once they stopped circling, they’d have a difficult time trying to determine what is what.
Take a look at these next three pictures taken at the France Pavilion in Epcot.
Most of us immediately recognize the structures. We know that the first picture is of an attraction, Impressions de France. The second picture depicts a shop, Souvenirs de France. And the last picture reveals everyone’s favorite spot for a snack, Boulangerie Patisserie (recently relocated). But how do we know this. The buildings themselves only give minimal clues. We know these things because we have visited the France Pavilion many times.
But how would first time visitors know what was behind each of these doorways? They wouldn’t. To find out, they might use the trial-and-error method. They’d have to stick their head into every building in an effort to discover what lies beyond each portal. Although there is a lot of fun to be had by non-structured exploration and discovery, this isn’t always the best method. Take for instance Impressions de France. Walking into this building reveals very little of interest. It’s simply a waiting room for the movie. But not knowing this, some guests might take a quick look around, see nothing compelling, and leave. What a shame this would be.
That’s where guide maps come into play. These handy pieces of paper are chockfull of useful information. They don’t answer every question, but they’re a great beginning.
Guide maps for the four WDW parks are available just past the turnstiles. They are offered in the following languages: German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and English.
Guide maps are also readily available at all of the shops within a park. And at Guest Relations, guide maps for all of the Walt Disney World theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney can be obtained.
Let’s take a look at these guide maps in detail. First, there is the cover. More often than not, the front page will reveal something new or recently upgraded in a given park. Disney is always looking for ways to promote their latest-and-greatest. The biggest thing to happen at WDW in quite a while is the expansion of Fantasyland. So of course, this is what graces the Magic Kingdom guide map cover.
Over at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney is currently promoting Star Tours. This attraction underwent a major refurbishment back in May of 2011. Although this was over a year and a half ago, it still represents the most recent change to the Studio and marketing wants to capitalize on this upgraded attraction for as long as possible.
Interestingly enough, at the time of this article’s writing (January 16, 2013), the Epcot guide map was not touting its most recent change, the re-Imagineering of Test Track. Instead, Soarin’ is displayed on the front cover.
Nothing of any significance has happened at the Animal Kingdom for a while, so Disney is currently advertising the park’s most popular attraction, Expedition: Everest.
Special events are also taken into consideration when selecting a front page picture. For example, during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Show, the front cover of the guide map will reflect these annual events.
The front of the guide map also reveals other bits of information. For example, the resort’s latest motto “Let the Memories Begin” is seen on the front of each brochure. Also, each park’s map invites you to enter with a special catchphrase. These are:
Magic Kingdom: Fantasy Reigns
Epcot: Discover the Wonder
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Where Action Takes Center Stage
Disney's Animal Kingdom: Adventure Awaits
For many years, the front of the guide maps also displayed a small plug for Kodak, the company that sponsored these useful handouts. On the back of the guide maps, a full page advertisement for Kodak could be found.
Unfortunately, the Great Recession and Kodak’s slow entry into the digital world hurt the company badly and they were forced into bankruptcy. As part of their cost-cutting measures, Kodak ended sponsorship of all Disney attractions, guide maps, Photo Spots, and park stores on December 31, 2012. Along with Coca-Cola and Carnation (Nestle), Kodak was one of the remaining original sponsors that ushered in Disneyland in July of 1955. However, their sponsorship was not continuous and there were gaps in their presence in the parks over the years.
As we unfold the current guide maps one page, we begin to discover some useful information.
Let’s take a look at this material piece by piece.
I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people who do not know about Disney’s FASTPASS Service. Granted, the vast majority of these people are first-time visitors, so this section of the guide map provides abbreviated instructions about how to use this time saving system.
Just in case you’re one of the handful of people who are unfamiliar with FASTPASS, here’s how it works.
Find an attraction that offers FASTPASS. This can be determined by locating the following symbol next to the attraction’s description on the map portion of the guide.
At the attraction’s FASTPASS kiosks, a return time will be display. This will be your “appointment” time.
To secure a FASTPASS, simply insert your admission ticket into one of the machines. It does not matter what way the ticket faces.
This is what a FASTPASS looks like. It has your one-hour return time clearly marked. It also tells you when you will be eligible to secure another FASTPASS. As the rules regarding another FASTPASS can be convoluted, just read what the ticket tells you.
At one time, Disney allowed guests to return any time after the stated end time posted on the FASTPASS. For example, on the above ticket, guests could return well after the 11:50 end time. Guests were not restricted to the one hour window. However, last year, Disney clamped down on this. Although guests may be given a couple of minutes leeway if they arrive late, FASTPASS no longer provides them with an open-ended ticket.
Next on the guide are instructions for Disney’s PhotoPass Service. This perk isn’t as widely understood as FASTPASS, although it’s just as easy to use.
Guests simply find a PhotoPass photographer. They’re located just about anywhere characters and a good background can be found.
Have your picture taken. The photographer will give you a PhotoPass card. Keep this card with you and present it to other PhotoPass photographers as you tour the parks. Each time you have your picture taken, they will add the information to your card.
To view and order your photos, just stop by one of the PhotoPass Centers. In the four theme parks, the centers are all located near the entrance, on the left side as you exit the park. You can also view and order prints via the internet.
So why should you use PhotoPass?
One of the best reasons is to get everyone into the picture. No longer will one member of your party be missing from all the shots.
The PhotoPass cast members know the proper lighting and camera settings for their given location. You’re sure the picture will turn out.
The cast members know just how to pose you to get the best shot.
The PhotoPass service can digitally add Disney characters into the picture.
There is absolutely no obligation or pressure to buy any photo you have had taken.
Below the PhotoPass section of the guide map you’ll find the “Rules & Regulations” section of the handout. Here Disney asks you to supervise your children, show common courtesy to others, wear a shirt and shoes at all times, and follow all written, verbal, and audio instructions. I doubt that any of you have ever read this section of the guide map before.
Before Kodak ceased sponsorship at Disney parks, another advertisement for this film giant appeared below the “Rules & Regulations.”
On the most recent guide maps, the space once occupied by Kodak has been filled with an advertisement for an app called My Disney Experience. This app provides estimated attraction wait times, GPS-enabled maps, and the ability to make dining reservations.
Another page of the guide map is called “TIPS & Information.” This section provides information on the following topics:
Wheelchair & ECV Rentals
And let’s not forget the advertisement for Disney Vacation Club.
Also on this page, in very small print, you’ll find the following disclaimer:
Entertainment and attraction availability subject to change without notice.
This is Disney’s very polite way of saying, “Don’t ask for a refund because you didn’t get to ride Space Mountain or see Mickey Mouse.”
Okay, now for the best part – the real reason we pick up these handouts when entering a park – the MAP.
The current map page actually offers four different segments. The first is the map itself. This gives us a graphic illustration as to where everything is located – the pathways, buildings, and the names of each land. This is also the most fun segment to peruse as it brings the magic to your eyes in bright colors and familiar shapes.
Of course, no map is worth its salt without a legend. The Disney guide maps have two. The first briefly describes all of the attractions, counter service and table service restaurants. Quick service food stands and shops are not listed. Attractions on the map are indicated by numbers, restaurants by letters.
Besides a brief description of the attraction or restaurant, additional information is provided with the help of small icons. This is where the second legend comes into play. Located on the right side of the page, this legend is divided into four sections, Guest Amenities, Attraction Info, Devices Available at Guest Relations, and Dining. It’s once you start studying this legend that you realize how much information is packed into these guide maps and how many services Disney offers to their guests.
The last segment of the map is a relatively new addition. Disney now “advertises” their parades and shows on the guide maps with large colorful inserts scattered around the page. Note, the times for these events are not given. More on this later.
Guides have change a lot over the years. The first in my collection represents the Magic Kingdom in 1983. If you notice, its overall shape was a little different than later iterations. Rather than a long and skinny handout, this one is more “book” shaped.
In fact, in the early years, they were referred to as guide “books,” not guide “maps.” This particular guide book contains 24 pages.
If you study the above picture carefully, you might notice that Polaroid was the handout’s sponsor, not Kodak. Inside the guide book, Polaroid presented a two-page spread discussing how to take the perfect picture. For those of you old enough to remember Polaroid, you’ll notice the familiar border surrounding the pictures found on this page.
Each land was given a two-page spread in this 1983 handout. In addition, shops were also discussed, something not done today.
Next let’s take a look at a guide book from 1988. It now has the long, slender look we’re familiar with today. It also uses a glossy paper where earlier versions used a less expensive stock. However, this guide book still retained a book-like appearance when its 12 pages were opened.
Older guide books also provided a lot more narrative when describing the parks. Let’s take a look at several attractions and compare today’s description to that of 1988.
Today: Indoor Roller Coaster
1988: Experience a winding, soaring, race through space on a roller coaster-type ride.
“it’s a small world”
Today: Musical Indoor Voyage
1988: Join hundreds of singing, dancing international dolls on the happiest cruise that ever sailed.
Liberty Belle Riverboat
Today: No description provided – only the name of the attraction.
1988: Cruise down the Rivers of America aboard an authentic steam-powered stern-wheeler.
Besides discussing the Magic Kingdom, the 1988 guide book also presented information about other aspects of WDW, like EPCOT Center, the dinner shows, golf, the WDW Shopping Village, and coming attractions.
I couldn’t find a date on this next guide map, but I suspect it was in circulation sometime around 1994 as “Legend of the Lion King” graced the front cover and as we know, Disney always promotes their latest attractions.
This guide discarded the book-like structure and used a “fold-out” approach.
When initially opened up, this guide map was five panels across. When opened completely, it featured a ten panel map measuring 17”x20”. It was easy to read, but difficult to handle when walking about. This new design was an obvious attempt by Disney to try and cut down on the amount of paper used in order to curb costs, but still retain a maximum amount of information.
A year later, the Magic Kingdom cover design was changed again. In addition, the guide map change from a 5/10 panel configuration to a 4/8 panel configuration to create a more convenient size.
Here is the guide map issued on October 1, 1996, WDW’s 25th anniversary. Notice the Birthday Cake (Pepto-Bismol pink) castle. This guide map also used the 4/8 panel configuration.
For many years, guide maps also included park hours, parade times, and other ever-changing information. This meant that the guide maps would only be good for a week or two before requiring a revision (see the dates on the above handout). This created a lot of waste. To remedy this, Disney stopped including park hours and show times on the guide and started printing a separate Times Guide. The Times Guide was printed on a single sheet of paper, roughly the same dimensions as the guide map. In addition, the Times Guide paper was a lower grade stock from that used on the guide map. This change allowed the guide maps to have a much longer shelf life and cut down on waste.
Another companion piece to the guide map was recently introduced to the Animal Kingdom. This Animal Guide lists all of the animals on exhibit in each of the park’s lands. This will help guest realize and find all the amazing creatures that can be found here.
Guide maps make great souvenirs. They’re free and they give you something to scrutinize between vacations. Here is a frame picture I created using these wonderful handouts. It contains guide maps from all eleven Disney parks. Among these are Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary, WDW’s 25th Anniversary, Hong Kong Disneyland’s opening day guide map, and a guide map entitled Euro Disneyland, not Disneyland Paris.
Alas, this picture will be out-of-date in a few years when Shanghai Disneyland opens. I guess I’ll just have to get it reframed.
Guide maps also are a wonderful way of tracking Disney history. When viewing the maps over the years, you can see how attractions have come and gone. One of the most recent transformations is currently taking place at the Magic Kingdom. Take a look at these next three pictures. In the first, we can see Mickey’s Toontown Fair has been removed. In the second picture, we can see that a portion of Storybook Circus has replaced this former land. And on the third map, we can see that Storybook Circus has been completed and a large portion of the New Fantasyland has opened. Also notice how Disney uses “greenery” to disguise the construction areas.
Guide maps are great fun. As I mentioned earlier, they are free and they can offer hours of dreams between Disney visits. So even if you know the parks like the back of your hand, you should still pick up one of these handy manuals on each and every visit. If you haven’t already started your own collection, do so soon.
The previous post in this blog was Flame Tree Barbecue.
The next post in this blog is It’s Over My Head - Part One - Magic Kingdom.