Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Art of Animation (photo tour)

I've lived in Orlando for eight years, and Disney World has not opened a new park in that whole time. The only new things bigger than attractions have been DVC add-ons to hotels: Kidani Village and Bay Lake Tower. The latter is pretty boring, and while the former is more interesting from a photographic perspective, they both pale in comparison to this week's new offering: the Art of Animation resort. I'm hard to impress, but I was impressed big time by this one.

The Art of Animation resort sits opposite Pop Century, and you may recall that this resort was originally supposed to part two of Pop Century (the Legendary Years, in other words the first half of the century). The buildings were constructed partway, but then progress stalled and the whole thing kind of rotted for a while. When it was revived, it was with a new concept in mind: family suites (larger rooms that can sleep more people), and an explicitly Disney theme. There are four main sections of rooms, each themed after a Disney movie: Little Mermaid, Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars.

Let’s not mince words: THIS is my idea of a Disney hotel. In fact, it’s what I imagine everyone thinks of when they hear the words “Disney World hotel.” It’s a hotel, clearly, and you are surrounded by Disney magic… meaning actual characters, scenes, and theming that you recognize from the movies and parks.

In a way, the older Disney World hotels are really only half measures. What is so “Disney” about an oversized yo-yo, or giant foozball figures? It’s a step up at the moderates and deluxe hotels, but you’re still not all the way there to “Disney” yet. Is a very well themed hotel that looks like it’s from New Orleans necessarily Disney? Of course not. There are great hotels in New Orleans that are also, amazingly, themed to New Orleans. Ditto with Polynesian style hotels—real ones exist out there somewhere.

The baby steps they took recently with princess redesigned rooms at Port Orleans Riverside were good ideas, and met accordingly with approval. It’s a simple enough formula that I’ve been saying for years: people come to Disney World to be surrounded by the Disney magic 24 hours a day. Yes, that means character overload—but it’s what people want. Well, some people, anyway. There will be no shortage of people still wanting a highly themed hotel that is character-free.

But it would be a mistake to think people will shy away from this new hotel. Personally, I think they will FLOCK there once word gets out. It’s a Value hotel by category, but it’s more expensive. Think of it as a Value-Plus category; its own thing.

Summer weekday rates are $345 per suite (which sleeps six). Why a suite? Because larger families don’t have to book two rooms now. That kind of pricing is high, and if there’s anything that will prevent 100% occupancy, this is it.

The Little Mermaid section will be the only section that has regular rooms (each sleeps four) rather than suites, and they are priced much lower (at $139/night for the same summer weekdays). Of course, this section isn’t open yet. Here’s the schedule:

5/31/12 – Finding Nemo
6/18/12 – Cars
8/10/12 – Lion King
9/15/12 – Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid buildings look like Pop Century buildings, with exterior hallways and railings. The other buildings were not yet constructed when this was to be the Legendary Years of Pop Century, and they were constructed newly with interior hallways and only windows on the outside. The designers have gone to town with art, drawings, and concept sketches on the outsides of the buildings. It looks fantastic! [Note: this paragraph has been updated since its original publication]

The "inside" view of each building is painted in full color and usually provides a skyline or landscape view of the props in the central courtyards. The theming is first-rate!

The pool area is similarly spectacularly themed. The zero-entry pool is the largest pool in WDW, and it has underwater speakers playing songs from the Finding Nemo musical. Amazing!

The central building houses the check in lobby, with colored panels to represent the work of artists. On the opposite wall are concept art sketches of the four movies which are featured in this resort (four of the highest earning Disney movies, of course), and a wall near the shop and food court also shows scenes from those movies. 

The shop is themed to an artist’s workshop, with paint canisters adorning every wall.

The food court, Landscape of Flavors, is my new favorite food court. There is good selection (pizza, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, entrée dishes like tandoori chicken or Portuguese sausage), the prices are reasonable ($8 or $9 for most items), and they take Tables in Wonderland (the 20% discount card for food and drink). The dining areas are also themed to the same four movies, and the give off a modern, relaxed vibe. Since Disney music is playing overhead (often just Radio Disney type remakes of familiar songs from the movies), it really gets you in the Disney mood. Bravo all around.

They use real china and silverware!

Here are the menus:

My review in a nutshell: bravo all around. It’s a solid concept and flawless execution. Yes, the prices are steep for the suites, but if they save larger families from reserving two rooms, the prices are closer to being justified. My central point remains that THIS is what first-time visitors must imagine when they are told that Disney hotels let them “experience the Disney magic all day and all night.” It’s Disneyfied to the max… and that’s precisely the point. Well done.

(look for another Hidden Mickey in the Little Mermaid dining area of the food court, up in the overhead lamp)

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.