So you’re taking the plunge and deciding to stay at a Disney Resort for your magical vacation to Walt Disney World? The first thing you would naturally do, of course, is go onto the website and look at all of the available options, right?
Unfortunately, there are some thirty-two resorts from which to choose, with a wide range of prices, availability, and amenities. It’s hard to make a choice, even when you factor in money and overall expenses.
But for those strongly considering Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, this review is aimed at helping you better understand all of the pros and cons of staying at this hotel. Having opened in 2012, The Art of Animation remains, in my opinion, one of the best Disney resorts for kids. And it’s also an impressive feast for the eyes for adults, as well.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most impressive aspects of this resort, starting with the aesthetics of this resort and its overall atmosphere.
Décor & Atmosphere
Whether you’re in the lobby, the courtyard, or one of the individually-themes buildings (more on those in a moment), the décor and atmosphere of this resort stand out as some of the most incredible landscaping and architecture in Disney World.
From the intimidating thirty-five foot tall King Triton to the sea jelly fountains in The Big Blue Pool, it is hard not to be impressed by The Art of Animation.
The complex is divided into five categories:
- The Lobby
- Finding Nemo
- The Lion King
- The Little Mermaid
Let’s start with the atmosphere of the lobby (since that’s where a staying guest would start, anyway).
Walking into the lobby is like walking into some sort of bizarre combination of the neon lights of Vegas, the futuristic feel of EPCOT, and a museum of television and film throughout the last thirty years.
Everywhere you look is a treat for the eyes.
The front desk area is brightly lit with mosaics of light, and, sure, you are hit almost immediately with the gift shop (which really just screams, “Pay us more! Pay us more!”), but you are also treated to several other cool things, as well.
Aside from the brightly-lit mosaics of light that form the wall behind the desk, the opposite wall displays early concept art and sketches of characters from all four of the movies represented at the resort (more on that soon).
The corridor leading outside to the living quarters also features magnified animation cells from the movies. While those are certainly cool, I really like the concept art. Even though I know they are recreations, there’s still something cool about seeing early sketches of Nemo before he was ever rendered in 3-D.
Speaking of Nemo, upon leaving the main building, your eyes are treated to one of the most jaw-dropping sights in, I believe, all of Disney World: The Big Blue Pool. This conveniently brings us to . . .
The Finding Nemo section of the resort boasts the largest pool in all of the Disney World resorts (more than 300,000 gallons of water!). Its atmosphere is incredible – like being inside the movie – and swimming in its depths feels like crossing the entire ocean.
Okay, so it doesn’t really feel like crossing the ocean, but between the fish sculptures, the aforementioned jelly fountains, and the encouragingly uplifting statue of Crush hovering outside the swimming area, the pool at the Art of Animation is, seriously, the focal point of the resort. I’m not sure, but I believe I may have actually uttered the words, “Totally righteous!”
Under my breath, of course. Always under my breath.
This is where I can attest, personally, to the rooms, as my family and I stayed in the family suites when we visited the resort four years ago. The room was spacious and comfortable, with a small kitchenette, two full bathrooms, a pull-out sofa-bed in the sitting area, and a full bedroom. It slept five of us quite comfortably, and was, frankly, cute in its decor.
Yes, I just called a hotel room “cute.” Don’t judge.
After scoping out the atmosphere of Finding Nemo, take a right from the main lobby and check out Radiator Springs. Where Finding Nemo is striking, the Cars area is very, very cool.
Life-sized, extraordinarily-detailed replicas of various characters from the films show up here and there. Some of them, like Doc Hudson, are right there ready to glare at you as you approach.
Others, like the Sheriff, are hiding behind shrubs and buildings (waiting, I presume, to catch speeding tourists). The highlights of the décor here include Filmore in all his hippie-van glory, Mater hanging outside of his tow yard, and McQueen and Sally hanging out in front of the newly-refurbished Wheel-Well Motel (which is also one of the actual hotel buildings where the guests stay. Clever, right?).
Oh, and the Cozy Cone shows up in a surprising way, as well.
If you wind your way back to the main building, instead of taking a right to go back to Cars, take a left. This will lead you to . . . .
The Lion King
Want to walk under Simba, Timon, and Pumba as they dance across a fallen log? Want to boo a life-sized statue of Scar (you know, since he’s a jerk)? Would your kids want to play in an elephant graveyard-themed playground?
The Lion King section of the resort lets you do that. With detailed rock formations, logs, and leaves, this is the area of the resort that seems the most realistic. It’s recreation of Pride Rock is amazing, and there’s something fun about rounding a corner and coming face-to-face with a mischievous Rafiki.
Truthfully, where the other areas are decorated really, really well, this one is most like stepping into the movie. The path winds through shrubs and trees, over and under rocks and logs, and brings you in very close contact with many of the characters from the film. While it isn’t my favorite section, per se (Cars wins that distinction), it is the most realistic, and well worth walking through, even if you end up staying in a different section.
The Little Mermaid
Remember how I mentioned the intimidating statue of Triton, which towers some four stories over the guests? There’s a (slightly) terrifying version of Ursula, too. I imagine standing next to her statue is very similar to what Ariel and Eric felt at the end of the movie, when Queen Ursula rose out of the ocean in all of her thunderous and imposing wickedness. Glad there aren’t any ghost ships circling the resort because of her.
One final word about atmosphere: One of the most peaceful memories I have is when I took a stroll across The Footbridge. The bridge, which is located at the eastern end of the complex, spans Hourglass Lake, and connects to the Pop’s Century Resort (depositing you into the 60’s area, I might add, so you get a nice view of Baloo, Mowgli, and a giant container of Play-Doh). At night, the bridge is softly lit, with Pop’s glowing in the distance and the soft LED’s of Art of Animation behind you.
Oh, and did I mention you can see Illuminations from the bridge? Yeah . . . there’s that, too.
Aside from the Big Blue Pool in Nemo, The Little Mermaid and Cars areas also contain swimming pools (though significantly smaller than Nemo). The Big Blue Pool area also has its own small playground. Want something to do other than swim in a pool or watch your kids play on a playground? The Art of Animation offers an array of other things to do, as well.
There’s obviously the store. And while it is a shameless grab at money, to be sure, it’s still fun to browse. The resort also offers bike rentals, so you and your family can take a scenic bike ride through the resort themes and across the bridge over Hourglass Lake.
In the Lobby, there’s an arcade (with some pretty awesome throwback games, like “Pac-man”), and, on occasion, someone from the Disney Animation Studios will offer a free drawing lesson (for those of you who miss the drawing lessons at Hollywood Studios). The resort also participates in the Movies Under the Stars program, so be sure to catch a film, if you can! While it’s true that you won’t find Bob Jackson-esque entertainment, the kids will be too busy at the pool (and you’ll be too busy enjoying the atmosphere) to notice.
Menu Options and Dining
One of the drawbacks for many people is that this resort doesn’t offer a full-service restaurant, as many of the other resorts do. However, its commissary-style dining is phenomenal.
Called “Landscape of Flavors,” this offers the best breakfast at Disney World I have ever eaten. Aside from the standard Mickey Waffles and bacon (which they also offer for those who just HAVE to have them!), they also serve a variety of dishes inspired by different ethnic menus from around the world.
My personal favorite was the spinach and paneer wrap – an obvious nod to Indian cuisine. I don’t go vegetarian often (I should have been born a T-Rex, I’m certain), but even I would order this again without a moment’s hesitation.
For the parents who need a break, there’s a poolside bar (they serve non-alcoholic things, as well), and for an extra treat, the resort will deliver a pizza straight to your room. Let’s face it, after a long day at the parks and a quick dip in the pool, sometimes delivery is just what you need.
Prices and Availability
Here’s where I have to give a word of warning: this place isn’t cheap. It’s not the most expensive resort at Disney, but it’s also not the cheapest. A family of four can stay in one of the family suites for right around $400 a night. You also might want to resign yourself to booking it at least three months in advance, because it books up quickly.
Now some of you may be thinking, “That sounds pretty crowded to me. No thanks.” And, frankly, I would agree with you. However, the resort is so massive and so spread out that the crowds are barely noticeable. Even within the Big Blue Pool, it is amazingly uncongested – a bit loud, perhaps, but certainly uncongested.
However, saving up a little extra money in order to stay here is definitely worth it, especially if you plan on spending any time at the resort.
But its size brings up one more concern: it can be a looooong hike from the parking area to your room, so be prepared for that, especially if you’re staying in The Little Mermaid area, which is at the far northern end of the complex (the resort faces West to East). There is, fortunately, parking nearby, so you won’t have to lug your suitcases all the way across the resort, but you will want to factor in a few extra minutes for walking when you head down to breakfast.
Art of Animation Analysis
Pros: Breathtaking landscaping and décor, a fun atmosphere for kids and parents, decent quality food, clean and spacious rooms
Cons: Moderately expensive and somewhat difficult to book
Overall, if you save up a little extra and plan ahead, this is absolutely worth booking. I would, without hesitation, rate this at a five out of five stars.
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