Open Mouse: A Review

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer

Open Mouse: A Review

I usually don't put much stock in second editions because at least half the time the authors just go through the motions, make minimal changes and corrections and slap on a "Second Edition" tag to hopefully inject some life into the book sales.

Not so with PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line guidebook by Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma (Passporter Travel Press: 2007).

You're saying, "Second Edition?" Well, yes. You see the first edition of this book was titled, PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs: The Take-Along Travel Guide and Planner! by Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma (Passporter Travel Press: 2005).

The second edition of this treasury of information brings with it a new title and a whole lot more.

New Title

So why the new title?

Co-author Deb Wills explains, "We carefully listened to the reader feedback we received from the first edition to make significant changes to the new "Open Mouse" edition.

People told us that they didn't think a book about "Special Needs" included them, so they were reluctant to purchase it.... Once they realized it included topics like traveling pregnant, with a newborn, or dealing with motion sensitivity, they realized the breadth of the book and really found it helpful."

If you're not familiar with this particular book let me bring you up to speed.

Authors Wills and Koma have put together a most comprehensive plethora of information that provides guidance for those who are not just thinking about venturing to Walt Disney World but also for those potential cruisers contemplating a trip aboard the Disney Cruise Line.

However, it's this book's attention to travelers with extra challenges that sets it leagues apart from any other Walt Disney World guidebook you will find at your favorite bookstore.

"I believe this is the most comprehensive resource available for anyone traveling with special challenges, Wills said. "We give tips on what to look for and ask for as you make plans and actually travel."

"As someone with their own set of travel challenges, it was important for me to share my experience with others; to lay important ground work so that I have hopefully alleviated some of the initial trepidation for the reader that I had," she said. "Many readers of the first edition told us the book was a tremendous resource even though they don't travel with extra challenges."

What's Inside!

So what goodies await you with this second edition? Pray for me, hopefully I can list them all before I run out of space.

  • It's bigger. This second edition has more information for its readers than the first edition. Way more. We're talking more reviews, more photos, more details, and updates to the various pieces of information dealing with traveler challenges.

  • Fresh information. The authors have brought in some 31 peer reviewers and experts to provide input and validation to the book. We are talking about travel experts, educators, parents, and especially those who deal with challenges every day. These reviewers have brought their expertise to the pages of this book and we all know that nothing has more validation than experience itself.

  • Speaking of experience, did I mention that throughout the book there are "In Focus" profiles regarding those Disney vacationers who share their experiences with readers? Experience is the best teacher.

  • Special consideration has been made in the Ongoing Medical Treatment section of the book toward epilepsy and diabetes.

  • Those who are visually impaired should also take note that the book has new and enhanced information for those who have partial or complete vision loss.

  • As much as I point how this book answers many questions regarding how to deal with those special challenges when taking a Disney Cruise Line or Walt Disney World vacation I don't want anyone to lose sight of the fact that this book also serves the reader in providing outstanding information regarding the Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World in general.

There are several aspects of this book that account for the detailed research that the authors have done and this research has resulted in information that they provide that I know I would have never thought to include had I set out to write such a book. Let me point out a few:

  • Attraction Seating Charts. This may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people but if you have certain physical challenges wouldn't you like to know what type of seating awaits you? Our authors provide us with information such as whether or not the seats have backs, if they are narrow, if there are seatbelts or lap bars, if the seats are padded and other information. The book has this information in charts so that an entire theme park can be viewed on one page.

  • Attraction Charts. I've mentioned the seating charts and their companion charts are the attraction charts thatt list restrictions, warnings, and availability of devices for the hearing-impaired. These charts offer a quick check into what attractions may not be suitable for members of your traveling party. Restrictions come in the form of height requirements, warnings in terms of certain health issues and challenges. I need to also mention that the Attraction Seating Charts usually have the general Attraction Charts on the facing page. This results keeping the book open to one spot and allowing the reader to gather all the information needed for that theme park without having to rifle through the book.

  • Resources. It's easy for an author of a guidebook to be very protective of his or her resources and it would be a disservice to the authors' readers not to provide as much help as possible and that includes extended information beyond the covers of any book. The authors go to great length throughout the book pointing out resources such as Web sites, telephones numbers, etc. to get further information on certain topics. In fact, beyond the resource tips strewn out the book there is a special 12-page section devoted to resources for readers to use. It's sort of like in "Miracle on 34th Street" when Kris Kringle sends Dad to another department store to get Johnny that special fire engine. Kudos.

It is however, Wills' and Koma's devotion to the traveler's special challenges that completely sets this book apart from all WDW Guidebooks and serves as the ultimate WDW Bible for information that goes a long way toward making a vacation as magical as both the guest and WDW would want it to be.

As in the original edition this updated version has all the amenities that make for finding easy answers to questions other guidebooks cannot provide.

For instance:

  • The authors have developed a system to identify certain challenges with special icons (such as U for Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD), C for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and M for Mobility), which are used throughout the book, especially within attraction descriptions. Thus, someone who may suffer from motion sickness can easily spot the "M" in an attraction description, which raises a flag to say that this attraction might offer a challenge to that person who has a concern in that area.

  • A most important aspect of any trip planning is to really look ahead as to what your needs will be and what to expect. This book has a "Planning Ahead" section for every challenge, which allows the reader to specifically focus on what needs to be done prior to the vacation. This insight can prove to be invaluable to those with special challenges.

  • Those pages devoted to the Walt Disney World Resort offer important information and make use of the aforementioned icons to identify those specific challenges that should be taken under consideration when choosing a resort. Mobility, dietary, and allergy considerations are just a few of the challenges that are pointed out in the resort descriptions.

When anticipating a trip to Walt Disney World everyone always looks forward to enjoying the wonderful food. For some guests dietary challenges and concerns can lead some anxiety over such questions as where they can eat and what they can eat.

Authors Wills and Koma have compiled some 60 pages of dining information and answer questions regarding how to deal with dietary challenges, dietary requests, gluten-free dining, kosher meals, and other dietary concerns. Every eatery is covered in detail to provide readers with comprehensive information such as meals offered, prices, ratings, and many other special pieces of information.

Also, there are sections devoted to "Best Bets" in the theme parks for "Special Diets."

Learning from Experience

Of course I could go on and on spewing forth all the information squeezed into this guidebook and I'd be forgetting the most important component, that which I think adds so much value to this labor of love, and that is the effort put forth by the authors to invite so many people to contribute to the advice, guidelines, information, and features.

The "In Focus," "Tips," and "Stories" sections that adorn this book are nothing short of invaluable pieces of information brought to these pages by those who live with challenges each and every day of their lives. Be it a challenge for themselves or a family member these people have brought their insight to the readers of this book and, in many cases, serve as pioneers to those who are in need of their experience

Wills and Koma have thus recognized that experience is the best teacher and they needed to compliment their research with actual success stories that would best serve their readers.

"Our readers asked for more personal, firsthand information," Wills said, "so we added special 'In Focus' profiles and additional tips on various challenges one might travel with."

So in a way, you might say that Deb Wills and Deb Koma, pioneers in their own right, built their own team of pioneers to help them help us.

This may be the only Walt Disney World Guidebook anyone would ever need - especially when it comes to guaranteeing a wonderful vacation to help you - Remember the Magic!

Next Time: Running Under the WDW Moon.