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ARTS & CULTURE TO GO 


;Intrepid Traveler

;; An Orlando vacation is a bit like invading a foreign country: If you don't go in with good intelligence, you're going to leave broke and bleeding. Stepping forward to be your Baker-Hamilton commission is Intrepid Traveler. (Full-disclosure alert: Years ago I was a research assistant on a book from this publisher; none of my work remains in these books.) On offer are three newly updated guides that cover the complete range of local attractions, with varying degrees of success.

;; Walt Disney World guidebooks are a growth industry, with a Mouse manual for every niche, from vegetarians to gay couples to seniors. Steven M. Barrett, author of the well-received Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets, has waded into this crowded arena with his boldly named Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation 2007. In the introduction, he claims that the advice in other guidebooks is "obvious," but that he will share secrets that are "mentioned only in this book." He successfully covers the theme-park basics, with helpful tidbits like where to find less-crowded rest rooms, and he very nearly makes sense of Disney's byzantine new ticket-pricing system.

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; The highlight is two chapters of little-known activities around the resort, from the reasonably priced haircuts on Main Street USA to the swamp trail at Fort Wilderness. Unfortunately, the book's flaws undermine its boasts. Food and lodging expenses outweigh the cost of park tickets for most visitors, but there are few details on WDW's hotels and restaurants. The touring plans are of limited utility because they don't fully exploit the FastPass system. I tested one during the slowest season of the year, and despite Barrett's repeated insistence that "a wait of 15 to 20 minutes" is "too long," I found half-hour-plus waits for C-ticket attractions.

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; For a 2007 edition there are too many mentions of attractions that haven't operated since early 2006. But the biggest weakness is the lack of a distinctive voice. The prose is mostly bland and uncritical — and who ranks "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" above "Haunted Mansion" and "Pirates"?

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; Lack of voice is not a problem in the vastly superior Universal Orlando 2007. Author Kelly Monaghan reviews the Mouse's biggest rival with far more readable and useful results. The coverage is up-to-date, with detailed ride descriptions (sometimes too detailed; beware spoilers) and sharply insightful ratings.

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; The book's real strength is Monaghan's witty and literate writing, whether he's waxing rhapsodic about Marvel Comics' "profound effect on contemporary notions of the body beautiful" or describing E.T. as "rather like ‘It's a Small World' on acid." Monaghan points out Universal's absurdities — like the CityJazz club, which offers no jazz — while still making a strong case that it's Orlando's superior vacation destination.

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; While these first two books are aimed at out-of-towners, there should be room for The Other Orlando on every local's shelf. In this volume, Monaghan has the expected information for the area's second- and third-tier parks — not just SeaWorld, but Old Town and Reptile World as well. What makes it essential reading for residents is the exhaustive coverage of the kind of off-the-beaten-path attractions that tourists rarely explore — museums, theaters, nature activities and more.

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; This is a great resource for locals looking for a place to take the kids (or a date). From the Lakeridge Winery Tour to the Kelly Park Rock Springs to the Maitland Telephone Museum, Monaghan details enough diversions to silence anyone who whines, "There's nothing to do in Orlando."

; arts@orlandoweekly.com

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