Earlier in the week the lovely and talented Scarlett Litton shared her thoughts on staying at Disney’s new Art of Animation resort with children. I’m here to fill you in on all the pesky, facty, grown-upy stuff that she didn’t cover.
While Disney classifies the Art of Animation as a value-level resort, since most of the resort is suites, the rooms themselves have more in common with the deluxe one bedroom villas or the moderate Fort Wilderness cabins than they do with a regular All Star or Pop Century value room.
As with all WDW hotel rooms, the price at Art of Animation (AoA) varies seasonally, and discounts may apply. My suite, which is the standard room type, on June 2, 2012 was priced at $375. When I’ve told people this, they’ve gasped, “For a value room?” But let’s compare this to a Fort Wilderness cabin that was priced on the same day at a very similar $360 per night. Both the AoA suite and the FW cabins sleep six. The AoA suites are approximately 565 square feet, the FW cabins are approximately 500 square feet. The AoA suites have two full bathrooms, the FW cabins have one. The AoA suites have a kitchenette, the FW cabins have a full kitchen. The cabins have outdoor space, the suites do not. There is an elaborately themed pool at AoA, but a beach area at FW. Depending on your needs, there are pros and cons to each, but they do have a lot in common. And think about both these in comparison to a one bedroom villa at the Boardwalk, also with similar room amenities, for $565 a night, and the AoA suites are looking pretty good.
Of course, with any Disney room pricing, your milage may vary. Promotions, pin codes, or other discounts could materialize, making a stay at AoA more or less appealing depending on the circumstances.
Lobby & Check-In Area
As Scarlett mentioned, the AoA lobby is bright, clean, and engaging for children. Nearly every child I saw there stopped to look at the character images on the walls and point out his or her favorites. Check-in was efficient and friendly, as you would expect from a Disney resort.
Next to the main check-in area is a group of benches where you could wait for family members. A real sketch artist is there for several hours each day and guests have the opportunity to speak with him or her and purchase drawings.
Off the lobby is a small “business center,” open 24 hours. It contains several computers with Internet access at which you can buy time, like at a cyber cafe. The rates were somewhat steep, but I can see this being a boon for international guests who don’t want to carry a laptop but do need to periodically check in with email. There is also one terminal dedicated to free printing of boarding passes. I was excited to try out this feature, but on the morning of my last day, a boarding pass for my flight was left in an envelope on my door. I’ve stayed at WDW hotels many dozens of times and can’t recall this ever happening before. It was a nice touch.
Additionally, the business center features a departure time screen directly linked to Orlando International Airport. I can see this being helpful during storm season when delays and cancellations are plentiful.
The Room Key
AoA is the first Disney resort to use RFID technology in its Key to the World Cards. Instead of inserting your key into the door, you just wave it in front of a touch pad. When I’m at WDW, I keep all my cards in a mesh pouch. I found that I didn’t even need to take my key out of the pouch to have it open the door. This was super convenient for me. I’m sure that in the future the Key cards will also be encoded with FastPass information and all sorts of other happy data. On a macro level, I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the key sure was easy to use.
The Room Overall
My Finding Nemo suite was functional, clean, and blindingly bright. When my kids were younger, this would have been heaven for them. As a solo adult I found the abundance of color to be overwhelming, but then again, the place isn’t really designed for solo adults.
I had everything I needed in the room: FREE and reliable WiFi, a full length mirror in the master bath, iron and ironing board, fridge and coffee maker, electronics inputs for the TV, and a port on the clock to plug in my iPod.
My one complaint from a usability stand point was that there were not nearly enough outlets in the room. For example, there was a two-plug outlet on each side of the master bed, giving four nearby power options. However, three of those outlets were filled by the clock and the lamps, leaving only one spot for a phone or similar device. When my husband and I travel together, we both like to keep our phones by the bed. Any time I stay at AoA, I’ll be bringing along a power strip.
An additional observation, not exactly a complaint, but not really not a complaint, is that there are no closets in the room, just open hanging racks. I have a feeling that with a full compliment of guests in the room, this could contribute to a cluttered, messy visual. That, combined with all the bright colors, gives you a lot to be distracted by.
The AoA suite buildings are constructed with the room entrances INSIDE the building. This is different from the other value and moderate resorts at Walt Disney World, where you enter your room from the outside. This one element gave a real upscale feel to the place. As a solo female traveler, I felt safer than at other value resorts, and during the day of my trip where it rained, I was drier than I would have been at another Disney value.
An added bonus of the suite construction is that the master bedroom is blissfully quiet. My room was away from the pool, facing into the Cars section. When I closed the master bedroom door, I heard no residual noise from guests passing by in the hallway. I also didn’t hear the showers or toilets of other guests as I have in many of the other Disney hotels. Yay!
The AoA suites include three sleeping surfaces: a queen size bed in the master bedroom, a full sized pullout couch and a full sized Innova table bed.
The queen bed was perfectly serviceable, I got three good nights of sleep. The sheets and pillows were not as soft as at the deluxe resorts, but I wasn’t really expecting them to be. While the linens were fine, the bedspread itself was made of some indestructible plastic blend fabric that I could barely stand to touch it was so hard and petroleum-based. Once the bedspread was folded on the floor, then I was happy.
The sofa bed is a sofa bed. I tested it out for a while and found it to be a newer, fresher version of the other Disney sofa beds. I’m not sure that two adults would be pleased to sleep there for a week, but smaller kids would likely do fine.
The table bed was crazy cool. If I had brought my kids to this resort when they were six years old they would have beat each other to a pulp to get to be the ones to sleep on it. If you have more than one child in your group, be prepared in advance to negotiate a turn-taking strategy.
Both bathrooms were spacious. The master bathroom has a roomy walk-in shower. The other bathroom has a tub/shower combo. One bit of warning: the shower curtain in the Nemo rooms is emblazoned with a gigundo picture of Bruce the shark. When I got home and showed a picture of this to my 12-year-old daughter, she visibly shuddered and said she was going to have nightmares. If someone in your party has a fear of sharks, like my daughter does, you may want to stay in one of the other wings of the resort.
The rooms come with Disney H2O “blushing orange” face and bath bar soap, and H2O “blushing orange” shampoo/conditioner. The orange scent is quite pronounced, like you’re perpetually flying over the groves in Soarin’. I enjoyed it, but if you’re scent sensitive, you may want to bring your own bath supplies. One charming surprise was the cutie patootie Mickey-shaped cap on the shampoo bottle. I’m sure someone crafty will start scooping them up and turning them into necklaces to sell on Etsy.
When the AoA resort is fully operational, there will be three working pools: small “quiet” pools in the Cars and Little Mermaid sections, and the large “Big Blue” feature pool with splash area in the Nemo section. Scarlett already described her family’s great experience at the Big Blue pool, so I won’t repeat except to say that again, if I had brought my children here when they were six years old, we never would have made it to the parks because they’d be so happy spending the day there.
The Big Blue pool area is home to trivia games, dance parties, ball games, hula hooping, and other activities throughout the afternoon, and movies under the stars in the evening. Also nearby are ping pong tables and an ample supply of life vests that guests are free to borrow. A guest laundry room and the Drop Off bar also border the pool area.
Off the lobby, you’ll find the Pixel Play Arcade stocked with dozens of interactive games, open 7:00 am until midnight daily. Even on opening day, the joint was jumping.
There’s one store at the Art of Animation, the Ink & Paint shop, open from 6:00 am until midnight. The stock will be familiar to guests who have stayed at other Disney resorts. There’s a wall filled with travel-size packages of nearly every imaginable toiletry you might have forgotten. There are resort-themed and general Disney-themed merchandise items and a range of other souvenirs.
I’ve done an extensive photo tour of the AoA food court over on Disney Food Blog. The short version is that the food court is a quantum leap forward for Disney in terms of healthfulness, flavor, and opportunities for food customization. At every turn there were innovations (for Disney) like create-your-own pasta, yogurt parfait, fruit bowl, salad, etc. Theme park classics like hamburgers and pizza are offered, but they also have Mongolian beef stir-fry, chicken and veggie burgers, tandoori shrimp, and even gluten free cupcakes for dessert.
Pizza and a limited entree menu are available for delivery to your room from 4:00 pm until midnight.
My guess is that Art of Animation will become THE place to stay for vegetarian guests of Walt Disney World. And remember, the AoA is just a hop, skip, and teeny jump away from the Pop Century resort. If you’re staying at the Pop, then it’s well worth heading over to AoA for a meal or two.
The Art of Animation theme park transportation is exclusively by bus. Outside the Ink & Paint Shop are the standard queues for buses to each of the parks. The queues are shaded, but it can get hot out there. There is only one bus pick-up area at the resort; buses do not make multiple stops throughout the grounds.
We had gotten reports on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel that AoA would not share bus transportation with another resort. In my four days at AoA, I found that this was mostly true. However, on my way to the Animal Kingdom, the bus did first stop to collect guests at the Pop Century. My hope is that this was just an aberration and that AoA and Pop keep separate bus service.
While Disney cast members are known for their friendliness and enthusiasm, the cast at AoA was over the top friendly and enthusiastic. The were eager to please and seemed genuinely proud of their new home. Best of all, to a person, they all seemed to be having FUN. While I was waiting for my Magical Express pick-up, the traffic in the lobby was light, so the cast members decided to teach each other flash-mob dance steps to “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid. Their joy was infectious.
However, along with all the good cheer from the cast came some silly scripted language that they seemed to be required to use to enhance the animation and movies theme of the resort. For example, instead of saying goodbye, they said, “Sketch You Later.” Instead of saying, “turn left,” they said, “just keep swimming to the left.” The whole thing seemed forced and obvious. I felt bad for the folks that had to say this stuff.
For families with young kids, particularly families of five or six people, staying at the Art of Animation is a no-brainer. The room decor and pool themeing are spot on for youngsters. Although technically the room could sleep six adults, given that two of the beds are pull down/out doubles, a group of adults might be more comfortable in two rooms elsewhere.
Currently, the Finding Nemo area of the resort is the only part open. The Cars, Lion King, and Little Mermaid sections will be following in waves throughout the summer of 2012.
So what do you think? What questions do you have about the Art of Animation? Do you think your kids would want to stay here? Do you want to stay here? Let us know in the comments below.