Interview with Len Testa

I am so honored that one of the authors of my favorite Disney guidebook took the time to answer some questions. I didn't want to take too much of Len's time, so there aren't many questions, but I believe in quality over quantity! I tried not to ask the boring, "ins and outs of Disney" questions, because honestly, you can read their awesome book for that. I tried to think of some different questions that would let us know more about the personalities behind the book. Here is my "mini interview" with Len Testa.

How did you come up with the concept of a "touring plan"?

Bob came up with the idea after touring the Magic Kingdom with his family in the mid-1980's. Before publishing, Bob taught operations research classes at college, so he was familiar with how to solve scheduling problems.

Are touring plans for all ages, or do they just work best with kids?

We've created touring plans for adults, for seniors, and for 'tweens, teens and every combination of those, plus kids. They work well in lots of scenarios.

What's the ideal length for a Disney vacation, in your opinion?

You'd be hard pressed to see the highlights of WDW in a week. I think six days is a minimum for a first-time visit that includes all of the theme parks. But let's face it - you could be there for ten days and still not do everything.

How do you balance having a detailed plan and just enjoying the magic?

I take the time I save in line by using the plan and go looking for the magic. :-) Think of all the people you know, Ashley, who went to WDW without preparing. Compare them to the people who had a plan. Which group found more "magic" in WDW? Which group had more fun?

Do you have a favorite ride or attraction?

My top three would include Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Spaceship Earth, in that order. Epcot is my favorite park. IllumiNations is my favorite fireworks. I'm chaining myself to the World Showcase Lagoon fence if they ever get rid of it.

If someone does just one thing to prepare for their Disney vacation, what should it be?

Figure out the first six attractions you're going to go on for the day.

Since the holidays are approaching, any special tip(s) for this time of year at Disney?

Unless you've got the dining plan, don't worry about finding a sit-down meal for your children. If they're like mine, most of them don't care about it enough for you to stress over. They'd be just as happy hanging out with you over a burger and fries.

Why are you passionate about Disney World?

The amount of thought and effort that went into creating the parks is just so far beyond what anyone thought possible. I tried in our new book to explain that it's things like Epcot that really show Disney plays at a whole other level when it comes to themed entertainment. And I think Walt was a visionary.

What's one of your personal favorite memories at Disney World?

Hanging out with my brother and sisters on weekend trips when we were old enough to drive ourselves.

What makes the Unofficial Guide special, and why do you think it's so successful?

We're the only travel series in the world to apply math and science to travel problems. My Masters thesis was on minimizing waits in line at theme parks. We have a statistician, a child psychologist and an economist, among other experts. Bob's put together a team of really skilled people, who happen to be huge Disney fans. And we spend far more money than the average guidebook on basic research to stay current and try new thingst. It's hard to match that.

If your life was a Disney movie, which one would it be and why?

Pirates of the Caribbean. Because like Jack Sparrow, it didn't work out between me and Kiera Knightly either.

You've written a super-helpful and successful Disney guide. How do you keep things fresh when you go back to Disney World over and over?

Early on, I was interested in understanding how the parks worked. Now I'm interested in understanding why they work. For example, we just did a set of pages for a new book, where we had our urban designer Sam Gennawey explain the back stories of each "land" in WDW, using the design and architecture of the buildings and landscape to illustrate his points. The tension between man and nature in the Animal Kingdom, for example, and how the state of the buildings in each land represent different stages in that battle. I'll never look at that park the same way again.

Is there a Disney "secret" you can share?

Depending on how full the resort is, who you ask and the mood they're in when you check in, it's possible to get club-level access without paying for or staying in a club-level room.

Is Disney better as a kid or as an adult?

An adult. Even better as an adult when Bob's paying for the trip.

Any final, amazing, world-changing tips? :)

The secret to happiness is good shoes.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Exciting News!

After featuring my favorite resource for planning a trip to Disney World, I received an email from Henry, who works for the Touring Plans website (which is the Unofficial Guide website). He kindly thanked me for mentioning the book. After several emails back and forth.......

I am thrilled to announce that Len Testa, one of the authors of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, will be answering some interview questions from me! This will be posted soon, and I am so excited to share it with you.

Thank you to Henry for making this happen, and thank you in advance for your expertise, Len!


My Favorite Resource

Maybe it's because I'm the first-born child in my family, or I'm severely Type-A, or I like organization.....

But I love a good plan.

And my number one tip for Disney World, hands down, is to have one. A plan.

There are several schools of thought on this. Some people think that if you over-analyze, it ruins the magic. To some degree, that's true. Then again, some people think that you can casually stroll through Disney World, aimlessly, and decide spur-of-the-moment, "Oh! Let's go on this cute little ride!" then discover that there's an hour wait.

If you want a great Disney trip, you have to be balanced.

The best book resource, in my opinion, is the Unofficial Guide (and no, I'm not being compensated to say that). The layout of the book, thoroughness, and content are all great. They include honest reviews and an easy to understand star system for each ride, attraction, hotel, and restaurant. If you're new to Disney World, it takes you step-by-step. If you're a veteran, the humor and reviews from other readers keep it interesting. It's easy to read, funny, and honest. And my favorite part? They give you a PLAN!

In the back of the book, there are several options for touring plans. You follow the steps. Kurt and I used a touring plan when we went to DW last October. We tailored it to what we wanted to do, but I had an agenda printed out, which included the times and confirmation numbers of our dining reservations. This made everything SO EASY. There was a point when we wanted to change our dining situation, and so I just pulled out the printed agenda, which included all of the restaurant info (including the phone number), and I sat down in Hall of Presidents and made the change. No stress.

Especially with children, you must steer your group in the order and direction you want to go. In other words, organize the magic. Because you, as the adult, have done your research and you know that PhilarMagic is an attraction that you can save for some downtime (because it holds large crowds and is air-conditioned), but if you want to ride Toy Story Midway Mania, you need to run, not walk, to get a chance to ride that thing.

See what I mean?

Here is the Unofficial Guide's website. But it's worth every penny to buy the book. I read it like a novel. But I'm weird. You might not (probably won't) be interested in getting THAT much information, but it's so important to map out your strategy weeks in advance, rather than praying you picked the right time to go on Space Mountain.

Now, I'm going to state the obvious: a plan is not a guarantee. It's a goal. Things WILL change. There will be a diaper explosion or a hungry-baby emergency. (Random tidbit while I'm thinking about it: the Hall of Presidents lobby is wonderful for regrouping, and diaper changes that don't require a massive overhaul. It's also air-conditioned with good seating. Oh, and it's a good spot for parade-watching.) Anyway, be prepared, but flexible.

Don't bother with the other books; this is the one you want to buy!

Coming soon: I'll give my own answers to my "Disney Series" questions!