The newest Disney World resort is opening in stages. The first stage, Finding Nemo, is central to the lobby and food court, and it houses the giant pool (the biggest on property!) That makes it louder than perhaps you'd want, though.
The second stage, themed to Cars and Radiator Springs, opened last month to rave reviews. People love standing next to the automobiles (characters) and taking pictures.
The third stage opened this past weekend. Themed to the Lion King, it's the last of the "new" buildings for this resort (there is a fourth stage set to open next month themed to Little Mermaid, and it will look/feel more like Pop Century and All Stars resorts, since it was built as an extension of Pop Century many years ago and has the "exterior hallways" of those hotels).
Verdict: I was underwhelmed. First off, there just isn't very much "there" there. Unlike Nemo (which has the pool and copious decorations) and Cars (which has almost a dozen prop characters you can pose with, plus lots of interesting scenery and props), this new section just seems boring. There's a reliance on foliage rather than props or decorations. Understandable, given the theme and setting in Africa, but that doesn't excuse the lack of proper immersion.
Compounding the problem, there aren't that many character props you can snap photos of. And those you do find are, wouldn't you know it, way up high so you can't reach them (or properly pose with them). They are oversized props--that can be kind of exciting I guess--but that doesn't really do much to redeem the overall effect.
Instead of a pool (which Nemo obviously has, but so does the Cars section, even though it's a smaller pool), this new Lion King area boasts a playground. Except it's not a playground. It's a giant elephant skeleton that you can walk under, and there is a cave you can walk through. There's no playground equipment. Aha, you think, perhaps I'm just meant to climb on the props? Not so. There are multiple signs around that you are to keep your paws on the ground. No climbing. I don't get it. It's just a photo opp. How is this a playground again?
The doorways into the hotel rooms are lavishly decorated in both Nemo and Cars, but not here. It's not lavish. I was disappointed when I stepped foot inside to see that unlike the customized floor mats of Cars, here there is only a plain black mat to wipe your feet on. Disney is about the details, right?
The overall effect of fewer decorations, inaccessible props, and lack of anything to do (no pool, no climbing) means what you have left is a pleasant place, and something certainly worth walking through, but nothing I can ever imagine needing to see again. That's a shame, since the Nemo and Cars wings of the resort really raised the bar. Unfortunately, it looks like they won't match those higher expectations with Lion King, and if looking over the fence at the Mermaid construction is any indication, it's not an obvious home run either (but time will tell).
Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.