It wasn't until we stayed at Disney's Art of Animation resort last year that I realized how low key most other Disney resorts are about incorporating Disney characters into their architecture and design. Many of the other hotels are more about transporting their guests to a real place rather than into the magical setting of a Disney movie. The Grand Floridian where I honeymooned almost 25 years ago harkens back to Victorian-era Palm Beach. The Wilderness Lodge recreates the atmosphere of a Northwest National Park lodge. And the newly opened overwater bungalows at the Polynesian Villas & Bungalows will make guests think that they've escaped to the South Pacific. The Art of Animation resort, on the other hand, is all about making guests feel like they've stepped into a Disney animated movie.
|Enlarged sketches decorate the Check-In area|
Upon arrival, were were ushered into the Check-In area of Animation Hall which is fittingly decorated with enlarged pencil sketches of modern era Disney animated characters. A majestic chandelier is composed of storyboards which visually convey the development of the plot. The rest of the lobby has a bright wall of backlighted colorscripts. These images help guide computer animators regarding the lighting, colors, and mood of each scene. If you're a fan of the movies they reference, it's quite fascinating to see parts of the production process before it ended up on screen.
Animation Hall also houses a game arcade and the Landscape of Flavors, a casual dining restaurant featuring five cafeteria-style, mini-restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6AM to midnight. Diners can choose items from World Flavors, the Soup-Salad-Sandwich Shop, Burgers, Pizza and The Market. Resort guests can also call here to have pizza delivered to their room if they're tired after a day running around the parks. Souvenirs can be found in the Ink & Paint Shop.
The resort is divided into four areas that each feature a different, modern-day, Disney animated movie as its theme.
|This not-so-Little Mermaid is three stories tall|
The Little Mermaid buildings make guests feel like they are part of Ariel's underwater world. The medium-sized Flippin' Fins pool looked inviting with Sebastian the crab conducting the Under the Sea orchestra. The building with Ursula the Sea Witch looked rather intimidating though. I wonder if kids who have to walk past her to reach their rooms feel like poor, unfortunate souls.
|Ursula the Sea Witch is scary indeed.|
The Lion King buildings are supposed to make you feel like you are in Africa, of course. If the kids need to burn off energy -- if that ever happens after a day at the parks -- they can always run among the huge, curved bones of the the elephant graveyard playground. Mufasa proudly watches over the area while young Simba, Pumbaa and Timon prance across a log.
|Hakuna Matata (No Worries) when you stay at the Art of Animation Resort|
The centerpiece of the Finding Nemo section is the 12,000 square foot pool which is the largest in all the Walt Disney World resorts. It's very kid-friendly with plenty of shallow areas perfect for splashing around. For the adults, there's a poolside bar called The Drop Off. Another play area is located behind the pool with stairs and slides so that kids can pretend their exploring the reef.
|The largest pool in all of Walt Disney World|
Because my younger boy was a huge fan of Lightning McQueen when he was little, we stayed in the Cars section of the resort. A large billboard welcomed us to Radiator Springs, and the building facades evoked the American Southwest setting of the movie.
Each building's main entrance was disguised as one of the businesses from the Cars movie. Of course, all the favorite characters were on hand for plenty of photo opportunities.
|Sally Carrera and Lightning McQueen|
|Flo and, in the background, Luigi|
All these buildings faced the Cozy Cones pool with large traffic cones serving as pool cabanas.
What drew us to the Art of Animation Resort in the first place is the value-priced family suites. With three kids and more than one person in the family who is 6 feet or taller, we needed more space. Each suite sleeps up to 6 adults. The suite includes a separate bedroom with attached bathroom, a living area with a bathroom, dining area, and a kitchenette with a sink, mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker. One bathroom has a walk-in shower, and the other one has a tub/shower combo. The best part of the room is converting the dining table into a double bed. (No, you don't just plunk a mattress on top of the table.)
|Bedroom with a Queen size bed and an attached bathroom|
|One of two full bathrooms|
|The sofa converts into a double bed.|
|The dining table converts into a double bed, too. Clever!|
Other Disney hotels that I've been in have decorative motifs that tastefully reference Disney characters in subdued ways. Art of Animation emphasizes the movie setting and amps up the theming. I really did feel like I may have been staying the in the Cozy Cone Motel from the Cars movie. The couch looked like a classic car bench seat, and the kitchenette evoked an automotive repair shop. The bathrooms had carwash signs, and the pictures on the walls were of the movie characters on an old Route 66 roadtrip.
|Highway map on the coffee tabletop|
Considering that we would have needed two rooms at one of the more expensive resorts, this was a very economic option. The only drawback was the distance from the parks themselves. Disney provides complimentary bus transportation to all its parks and the Disney Springs shopping district, but I found the late night traffic jam we were stuck in as the parks started to close to NOT be what I needed at the end of a long day. Despite that, I think that the Art of Animation Resort will be a strong contender for lodging the next time we visit Walt Disney World.
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