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.