Gardens of Walt Disney World Resort (1988) Book Review

Everything after this sentence of this review is superfluous: this is one of the best Walt Disney World books on the market, and given its size, photo quality, and low price, any Walt Disney World fan would be a fool not to purchase it. Head over to Amazon right now where it sells for $20 or less (assuming this review–the first I’ve ever seen of this book–doesn’t drive up the price) and buy it now.

Okay, assuming you either don’t trust my imploring first sentence (no offense taken), here’s my longer review.

At 211 pages, the Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort is a comparably lengthy entry in my collection of Walt Disney World books. It’s unique not just because of its length, but because rather than offering a CliffNotes-style reflection upon Walt Disney World, with a selection of the mostly the same photos as other books, up until the time of its publication, Gardens of Walt Disney World Resort is a more focused title with some stunning and unique photography. As best I can tell, I’ve never seen any of the photos used in this book in another publication. If I have, at the very most, 5% are duplicative of other titles. I think that number is much closer to 0%. That’s very impressive as compared to a lot of Walt Disney World books.

The title is photo-heavy, which is a plus to me not only because the photos are incredibly unique, but also because much of the text appeals more to someone with a green thumb (I don’t have so much as a green toe). Gene Duncan, the principal photographer for the title and longtime Walt Disney World photographer, does an amazing job with the photos here, showcasing the gardens in photos that are a perfect combination of illustrative and artistic. It’s clear an effort was made to take creative photos at times of day when lighting would be ideal, rather than other Disney titles which seem to just use whatever random photos the authors could find in the photo-archives, without any regard to quality.

Unfortunately, there is an inherent flaw with these photos, and that’s the fact that they showcase Walt Disney World as it was in 1988. Suffice to say, the parks were a lot more lush and less cluttered then. Photos abound of a Magic Kingdom hub filled with trees, an EPCOT Center entrance-way devoid of tombstones (and instead filled with topiaries!), and working water features in Adventureland that have long since disappeared. One can hardly fault Mr. Duncan for these “flaws,” but it’s still a little depressing to see how different (for the worse) some of the details of Walt Disney World are now.

That said, this book will likely give you a new appreciation for the floral and water details (a lot of fountains are also pictured in the book) that do still exist at Walt Disney World. After reading this title, I found myself spotting new details I had previously glossed over, and I also found myself inspired to try my hand at capturing photos in the spirit of the book. Although I didn’t pull any ideas directly from the book, I was certainly inspired to capture a new kind of shot. Some examples of these shots I took in this vein during our recent trip are pictured throughout this review (they’re the ones that aren’t on book pages!).

Presumably, some of you do care about the text, and it is interesting. Admittedly, some portions that pertain to plants generally doesn’t appeal to me, but the discussions of what type of plants are used around the resort, when, and why I do find more interesting. It’s this focus on the minutiae that makes this book really stand out to me as a substantial departure from most other Walt Disney World titles–in a good way.

Gardens of Walt Disney World ranks as my third favorite Walt Disney World book, right behind The Art of Walt Disney World and Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow (make sure to get the 240 page older one that’s slightly more expensive!). Still, third place isn’t bad, and that puts it before fan-favorite Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – The First 25 Years. That’s pretty impressive for a book that’s relatively unknown to a lot of fans. Suffice to say, if you love the details of Walt Disney World, or enjoy beautiful historical photos, you won’t be disappointed. This is an exceptional and incredibly unique title that belongs in every Disney fan’s book collection!

For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.

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Your Thoughts…

Do you own this book? If so, do you think it lives up to my hype? Where would you rank it in your library? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!

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8 Responses to “Gardens of Walt Disney World Resort (1988) Book Review”

  1. Tom,

    I love this book! I had to go back and make sure I had never reviewed it at Imaginerding, but I haven’t.

    This is in my Top 5 list of books for two reasons: it is a stunning photography book and it is a tidy time capsule of pre-1990s devastation that was wrought. It is a gorgeous book.

    Let’s hope the prices don’t go up too high!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The prices have already gone up quite a bit since yesterday. :( Hopefully everyone who wants a copy picked one up!

  2. weepstah says:

    Tom (and George),

    Thanks for the heads up, I had missed this on my list of books to get. It was $25, but looks like a great book.

    Everyone else, I wouldn’t wait too long to drop in an order, it didn’t seem like there were a lot of copies floating around.

  3. Looks like the Bricker effect played its course! Might have to look into this book once a few more hit Amazon. If nothing else, sounds like some great photography!

  4. Gene Duncan says:

    Tom- I happened upon your review quite by chance, and I sincerely appreciate your kind words. The book was a labor of love for each member of the team- Jim, Tom,Katy, Dee and myself were privileged to be a part of that project. Never before had a book been created exclusively internally, and both printings of 5000 each sold out readily, even though they were only sold at a few select WDW sites. You are absolutely correct when you define it as kind of a time capsule, as many landscape and design changes have taken place over the last two decades- not to mention the expansion of parks and resorts. It is enormously satisfying to see that the book still appeals to Disney fans worldwide. Thanks!

  5. Tommy E says:

    I picked up a copy of this book in great condition at a local thrift store for only a couple dollars!! What a steal!

    It is a wonderful book and I’m glad to see it is getting some “exposure” on your wonderful site!

  6. Steve Boutet says:

    This, and many of my other hard cover, Disney coffee table books, I was lucky (smart) enough to pick up when they were published. This is one of my favorites. One of these days, I’ve got to round up my collection, and get it into one room. I’ve collected so many titles over the years, I really don’t know what I have!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I was in the same boat (books all over the place), so I finally decided to spring for a bookcase JUST for all of them. Makes it really easy for picking one up when I have some free time and want to relax!

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