Staying at Art Of Animation With Children

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The Internet has been buzzing with articles, pictures, and videos of Walt Disney World’s newest resort, Art of Animation. Media and Cast Member tours of the resort began a month ago, but the resort did not open for guest stays until May 31, 2012. I stayed there opening night because even though I had seen all of the coverage, I wanted to know, as a mother of 2 toddlers, what it would be like to actually stay there with my family.

My family consists of me and my boyfriend, both in our mid-20′s, and my two sons aged 3 and 21 months. We arrived at the resort a little after noon on opening day to check in. It wasn’t too crowded–mostly families checking in and a few stragglers from the morning’s media event. Right away, my boys (and I) were blown away by the amazing art work in the lobby. There was so much color! And there were so many of their favorite characters! We spent quite a while just wandering around the lobby and letting the kids take everything in. We even ended up at a station where kids can watch an actual artist drawing, and it is shown on a television screen. My boys loved sitting there and seeing Disney characters come to life. They would get so excited once they recognized who was being drawn. It was so much fun for them.

Once they had their fill of the lobby, we headed over to check in. The Cast Members could not have been any friendlier! We were greeted very warmly, and then were led to our check in station where we were introduced to our “Concept Artist” who would help “sketch us in” (instead of “check” us in…see what they did there?). Sure, some of the theme-based language may be cheesy and over-the-top, but we thought it was fun. In keeping with the theme, our Concept Artist gave us directions to our room that included, “stay to the left side of the EAC (East Australian Current).” She then wished us a happy “Animation Vacation,” and we were all set.

As we were walking away from the desk, a different Cast Member stopped us and said he had a gift for the kids from Nemo. He went into the back room and returned shortly with two Finding Nemo balloons for the boys. It wasn’t anything huge, but it was a special touch, and the kind of magic many have come to associate with Disney World.

We headed to our room, which was the very last one at the end of the hall in our building. However, unlike Animal Kingdom Lodge or the BoardWalk Inn, this did not mean 20 minutes of walking. It only took about 5 minutes to get from the lobby to our room (and that includes 2 slow moving toddlers).

I knew the rooms were very colorful and had lots of detail. They are even what some would call “tacky.” What I didn’t know was how into the decor my kids would be. They had a great time wandering around the room and checking everything out. They were thrilled to see sharks on the shower curtains, Nemo characters painted onto drawers…even the brightly colored lights and end tables were exciting to them. I’m sure that seems silly, but what was important to me was the fact that they just enjoyed being in the room. We have stayed at many Disney World resorts (value, moderate, deluxe, and off-site), and I have never seen them react this way to a room. For our entire overnight stay, we never even opened the backpack that contained the toys they brought from home. That was the first time that had ever happened on a trip. Usually, they are “over” the novelty of a hotel room after about 20 minutes, but not this time. It also helped that this was a family suite and there was more space for them to run around.

After settling into the room, we all got changed and headed out to enjoy some pool time. Even though I knew that the pool looked awesome, I was apprehensive. With 2 toddlers, time at the pool is never relaxing. Pool time with young children generally means sitting on the steps while they try to jump off, and you have to make sure they don’t drown or get sunburned or run off and fall in the deep end. For me, pool time means stress more than fun.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. First, the Big Blue Pool area has a play area called the Schoolyard Sprayground that is built specifically for young kids. There is cushy ground with fountains that squirt up, and it is surrounded by Nemo’s friends, who also spray water. This is where we started out. It wasn’t crowded at all, so my boyfriend and I sat in lounge chairs and let the kids explore the water area. They were able to run around and splash, and we could easily see them from our seats, so everyone was comfortable and having a good time. Other kids would come in and out and play with them, too. And sometimes we would get up and run around with them in the water to cool off. All in all, the Sprayground was a huge hit.

After a bit we all decided to go check out the main pool. Since it is a walk in pool, and there are no stairs, the boys were able to easily enter the pool without too much help. We were right there with them, of course, but it was easier for them than the usual stairs. The pool is fairly shallow, so the boys could go in pretty far and still stand up, despite barely being 3 feet tall. Again, unlike a regular pool, they were able to roam freely in this very shallow area, instead of sitting on the steps, so they had a much better time. We all played and splashed together. They even had giant jellyfish that dripped waterfalls that we could sit under and get soaked. It was so much fun!

This pool area is truly set up with young children in mind. There was so much for them to do, they were able to enter the pool up to any level they felt comfortable, and they had more freedom – while still staying safe – than they have at other pools. This was by far my best pool experience ever with my children. When it was time to go back to the room for naps, I wanted to stay at the pool just as much as the kids did.

However, I knew that without naps, the evening would be a disaster, and we were all worn out after 3 hours of playing, so we headed back to the room. This is when the “family suite” set up came in handy. Normally, when we are in a hotel and the kids need a nap, we put them down and then try to work or read or watch TV as quietly as possible and do everything in our power to not wake them up. This time, we put my 3-year-old in the bed in the bedroom, put the pack-n-play in there was well, and closed the door. The boys slept in the bedroom while we lounged in the living room area. We sat at the dining room table and worked for a while until I decided I wanted to rest too. Even though my son was in my bed, it was no problem. I just went over and pulled out the pull out sofa bed, put on the tv, and napped there. So, the kids rested in the bedroom, I was on the pull-out couch, and my boyfriend was at his computer at the dining room table. We were all comfortable, no one was disturbing anyone else, and no one had to compromise. It was wonderful! Even though there were only 4 of us, and we could easily fit into a regular hotel room, this set up made everything so much more convenient.

Once everyone was awake, we headed to the food court, Landscapes of Flavors, for dinner. Although it was just a typical food court, we felt the food was higher quality than at many of the other food courts on property. There was a wide variety of food choices, even for those with dietary restrictions, and this food court is the first of any on Disney property to sell the vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, kosher (and still delicious) desserts from BabyCakes NYC. The only other notable difference is that this food court uses real plates and flatware instead of paper and plastic, which is nice, except that bussing your own table can be a bit more of a hassle, especially with little ones.

After dinner we headed to Magic Kingdom via bus to take one final ride on Snow White’s Scary Adventure. There was a very short wait for the bus, and the trip only took about 15 minutes. The resort has its own dedicated buses and does not share with Pop Century. That being said, when we left Magic Kingdom, there was almost no line for Art of Animation, but a HUGE line for Pop Century, so there were many Pop guests who rode on our bus and then walked across the bridge to get to their own resort.

Overall, we had a fantastic stay. There were just a couple of issues. For one, there is pretty much no cell phone service in any of the buildings. Luckily, the hotel has Wi-Fi, so the Internet will work, but I couldn’t make any phone calls or receive text messages in my room or the hallways. I spoke to a manager who said that this is a known issue and that they are trying to correct it.

The other problem was the temperature of our room. It was FREEZING! I turned the thermostat up as high as 82 and still never stopped shivering. Even wearing warm pajamas, I had a tough time sleeping. Luckily, the kids had very warm clothes and were worn out from the busy day, so they slept fine.

Those things would not be enough to prevent me from returning to stay at Art of Animation. Of all of the places I have ever stayed with my children, this was by far the most pleasant. Would this be my first choice for a romantic, adults-only weekend? Absolutely not. But, for a family with young kids, this resort is ideal.

Have you stayed at Art of Animation? What did you think? Are you planning to stay there? Let us know with a comment.

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Posted on June 5, 2012

20 Responses to “Staying at Art Of Animation With Children”

  • Looking forward to my reservation at the Little Mermaid wing in November!

  • Great article. We are staying at Contemporary in September but going to AOA in December. Looking forward to our stay now!

  • What does the “Sketch-In Artist” do? Does he draw a caricature of your kids? Is the artist on the TV drawing “live” and taking requests?

    This place sounds great! I can’t wait to visit it!

    • by Scarlett Litton on June 7, 2012, at 4:56 pm EDT

      Do you mean the “Concept Artist” who “sketched us in”? That is just fancy themeing speak for “check in desk clerk” who “checked us in”. The artist on the tv was live! He sits right there in the room. We didn’t try making any requests, but I bet he would take them…I don’t see why not.

  • This place seems awesome, but over-priced. Especially if it is more expensive than fort wilderness cabins for example. The information in the review doesn’t make me think that it’s better than staying at the fort: (Rack rates are slightly cheaper, but after typial discounts FTW is sometimes cheaper).

    Direct comparisons:
    Pool area at AoA compared to FTW: no slide; no hot tub; kiddie area are different; AoA is only better due to zero entry pools and zero-depth water attractions.
    Parking: at FTW cabins you park right next to cabin. at AoA it’s a lot.
    Room size: FTW cabin is bigger and you get a full kitchen. AoA seems nice. I’d like to know what the “quality” of furnishing, fixtures, and linens is like in the new AoA.

    Bus service: at FTW it’s boat ride to MK and you can watch fireworks on the beach. At least AoA had better bus service than Pop (which might go away once pop guest realize they can just cross the bridge).
    But with a car, FTW is so much more convenient when going to any other park because of parking right at your door.

    Dining: Better counter service at AoA. You get great options at FTW with trail’s end buffet, hoop-de-due, and backyard BBQ. And at FTW your room has a better setup to cook meals in.

    So, overall I would still say this place is overpriced. If it’s a choice between FTW cabin and AoA, I’d just go with the cheaper one.

    I like that AoA adds suite capacity. That’s desperately needed. But not at that price. By renting DVC points or staying at FTW or an offsite vacation rental, there’s better priced options than AoA. And they don’t feel so “value”.

    Hopefully as the new wings open, and they work out the bugs, the price will go under $200 per night in off-seasons.

    I’d love to stay there for $190 per night. Not $265 per night.

    Right now, the rack rate for AoA is still lower than FTW ($310 rack rate in December), but discounts on FTW are higher than AoA so there’s that.

    Even at $13 per point for DVC rentals; a 1BR for about 25 points per night is $335 per night. So, you can stay in a 1BR on the boardwalk or monorail for just a little more than AoA if you planned ahead.

    Looks like art of animation wins it: I would totally stay there over the limited availability of family suites at the all-star resort.

    In a direct comparison to alternatives: I’d choose AoA over family suite at all-star: I’d choose a FTW cabin over AoA if price was better. I’d do any 1 BR DVC points rental if I could get into the boardwalk or bay lake tower for less than the AoA price. (that would be harder to do; probably have to find someone willing to do $10 per point.)

    It’s still all way more expensive than a 3 bedroom 3 bath townhome “minutes” away from disney on old lake wilson for $99 per night. If staying a whole week, there’s a lot I could do with the extra $1300. Even considering paying for parking at the parks (which there are ways around) and car rental expense, you’d still have about $1000 more if you stay off site in a condo for around $100 per night compared to an approx $250 per night stay at Art of Animation.

    If doing a 4 night stay, I could see how AoA is more reasonable. But for all the “time” saved staying on site, you could do a 7 day vacation for the same price by staying off site.

  • Right now in the next few weeks: $255 per night at FTW cabin with a discount but rack rate was $340.

    AoA is about $345.

    If it’s a choice between $255 per night and over $300 for AoA, there’s no way I would go with AoA.

    If AoA was cheaper than FTW by $30 or $40 per night, I’d do that. And it would take probably about $50 less per night to get me to choose all star family suites (which just isn’t going to happen given the limited amount of family suites at the all-stars).

    I would guess that FTW cabins are going to continue to be heavily discounted as more and more people try out AoA family suites.

    • by Scarlett Litton on June 7, 2012, at 4:54 pm EDT

      Wow. These are probably the most well-researched comments ever on the blog! I totally understand what you are saying about the price and many of the comparisons to the cabins. For me, the extra cost was worth it for the ease of everything with such young kids. However, I’m sure once my rough-and-tumble boys get a bit older, the “cabin in the woods” type of vacation will be more up their alley.

  • My family and I will be staying at Pop Century very soon! I had read in a different blog that the pools were gated and had to have a room key to enter them. So there was no pool hopping allowed. Could you confirm for me if this is true. Sad if this is but on a positive note, I’m happy that there is babycakes close by and we are able to walk across the bridge! Thanks for all the info!

    • by Scarlett Litton on June 7, 2012, at 4:51 pm EDT

      This is true. The pool is gated and you need a room key for entry. The Babycakes is a wonderful addition! I wish they were at every resort and in the parks!

  • What a great review! Now we are really excited about checking it out. I’m glad to hear that the bridge is open between resorts… so IF we stay at Pop, we can at least cross the bridge and explore the new A of A resort (or the other way around!).

    • by Scarlett Litton on June 7, 2012, at 4:52 pm EDT

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Even if you stay at another resort, it is worth stopping by AoA just to see everything. It is gorgeous!

  • Thanks so much for this review! My family is staying at AOA Finding Nemo Suites in Jan 2013 and we can not wait! My husband and I are going with our 3 kids that are 4, 2, and 1. We picked AOA because it looked like the most convenient and easy for so many little ones and your review confirmed it. So now I am even more excited :) Totally agree with you about the cabins…that was our other option but it was not at all appealing to have to drive or get a golf cart to get to a bus to get to the park or not be steps from a pool with little people that can’t walk a long way. Maybe when they are older! Thanks again!

  • I am beyond excited! Watch out Disney, May 5th, here we come!

  • I really want to go here but people say it cost to much
    Will we want to stay in the finding nemo rooms
    So if you went agin would you stay in a dinfferent room
    And YES it has WIFI that made me the happiest because
    I know I can’t ever stay somewhere for a week with out wifi

    • by Scarlett Litton on June 2, 2013, at 8:38 am EDT

      If I went again I would stay in a different room, but just for variety sake. Nemo rooms are great though. I highly recommend them.