Walt Disney World (WDW) is home to about thirty resort properties. THIRTY! One could visit a different resort each year for thirty years, and not stay at the same resort twice. And that’s not counting new resorts still under construction (Reflection: Disney Lakeside Lodge and Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, coming soon to a galaxy near you). With such a wide range of theming, amenities, and guest advantages, it is not a simple decision to select the right resort for you and your family.
While I aspire to one day spend at least a night in most of the WDW resorts, my series on the resorts will begin with those that our family has stayed in thus far, which include Art of Animation, Port Orleans: Riverside, and Wilderness Lodge. I may extend the series to include other resorts we are somewhat familiar with, and/or that friends have stayed at, as I’d like to report first hand impressions of the experience, not just promotional materials.
Value Resorts Overview
As you may know, WDW Resorts are categorized into three levels: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. I’ll briefly discuss the Value resorts category here, then give you our experience at Art of Animation.
The list of Value resorts at WDW includes the following:
- All-Star Movies Resort
- All-Star Music Resort
- All-Star Sports Resort
- Art of Animation Resort
- Pop Century Resort
The Value resorts are defined as what you would expect – less expensive and offering fewer amenities. I should note that these two factors are relative to Disney pricing and amenities, as Disney quality is always of a higher standard than the conventional norm. The value resorts can start as low as under $100/night at the right time of year (ie, low season), which is extremely cheap for a Disney resort. The pricing can escalate to well over $600/night at Art of Animation, for the family suites. While spending $500-$600 a night hardly sounds like a value price, guests should note that this price is for a suite, relative to the price of a similar suite at higher-end resorts on WDW property. Generally, outside of the suites, a typical room sleeping a family of up to four will cost between $120 and $250/night, depending on the resort and the season.
While the amenities might be fewer at the Value resorts, the overall comfort, theming, and offerings at the resorts are still quite impressive, and they live up to the Disney standard of family entertainment and hospitality. All Value resorts have pools, food courts, and participate in the Disney Dining Plan. None of the Value resorts have sit down restaurants. The theming at the Value resorts tends to be larger-than-life, with giant representations of favorite Disney characters and themes. Because of the price point and size, the Value resorts attract large groups, which tend to be associated with specific sports (ESPN Wide World of Sports hosts many different tournaments), events (runDisney weekends), and regions (school vacation weeks). With the occasional influx of these larger groups, the noise level at the Value resorts can be higher and a bit rowdier than the other WDW resorts.
A recent development at WDW is the opening of the Disney Skyliner, which offers unique transportation in whimsically-themed gondolas between EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and four WDW resorts, including Riviera and Caribbean Beach (both Moderate level resorts) and Pop Century and Art of Animation (both Value level resorts). The addition of the Skyliner as an alternative mode of transportation has greatly improved the appeal of these resorts.
I’ll chat more about the Moderate and Deluxe resorts in a future post.
Now, for our experience at Art of Animation. The resort is broken out into four major themed areas. Three of the resort areas are themed to Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Lion King. All of these areas offer family suites (which tend to be quite expensive, despite being in the Value category). The fourth and largest area of the resort is themed to The Little Mermaid, and offers more budget friendly standard rooms. It is these less expensive Little Mermaid section that keeps Art of Animation listed in the Value category.
As you might guess, Art of Animation celebrates decades (almost 100 years!) of Disney animation. This is immediately evident before you even step foot off the bus (or your car) near the resort lobby, as animated images and silhouettes adorn the outsides of the resort buildings.
The theming continues into the resort lobby, as guests can follow the progression of Disney animation, with a variety of animation concepts, pencil sketches, and completed drawings. The color scheme in the lobby is bright and cheerful. Each of the four sections of the resort are uniquely themed to that film, with film characters – both large and small – stationed to oversee guests throughout their travels within the resort.
King Triton and Ursula dominate both ends of the Little Mermaid section, with Ariel and her friends hanging out by the Flippin’ Fins pool.
You’ll pass by Simba, Pumbaa, Timon, and other jungle dwellers on your way through the Lion King Section.
Nemo, Crush, and Mr. Ray hang out by the Big Blue Pool, and those pesky seagulls are perched atop the Finding Nemo buildings, shouting “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Guests visiting the Cars section can pose for photos with Lightning McQueen, Mater, Sally, and others, and can visit Luigi’s tower of tires.
Photo opportunities in the outdoor areas of the resort are plentiful, and a little imagination can produce some extremely fun (and Instagram-worthy) photos.
We stayed at Art of Animation for six nights in February 2013, and it was the first time we visited WDW as a family (my wife Nicole and I had each visited WDW multiple times before meeting). Our children Abby and Ben were 7 and 2 ½ at the time. We worked with a vacation planner and elected to stay in one of the Little Mermaid-themed rooms, as Abby was all about Ariel at the time. We requested a room with two queen-sized beds and a portable crib. When we arrived at our room, we found that it contained a single king-sized bed, not two queen-sized beds that we booked.
Now we love our daughter dearly, but we were not interested in sharing a bed with her for the whole week. We called guest services, who acknowledged their mistake and offered to upgrade us to a Lion King family suite at no additional cost (a difference of over $200/night). When we pitched the idea to Abby, she was amazingly understanding about the switch, and was quite happy to move to a different (and bigger) room!
Boy were we grateful, because the difference between the rooms, and the experience, was amazing. While the Little Mermaid room was nice, the Lion King suite was incredible. The intricately-themed suite included two full bathrooms, a separate bedroom for Nicole and me, a pull-out couch (which we never needed to use) in the main living room area, kitchenette, and the highlight for our daughter – a dining area table that folded out from the wall to reveal a “Murphy” bed, complete with midnight sky stars for nightlight. You would’ve thought Abby had just won a million bucks, she was so excited to sleep in her special bed. As for Nicole and I, we enjoyed a sunset over the African Serengeti with every shower.
This upgrade to the suite was the happiest mistake we have ever experienced at a Disney park, and we cannot offer enough praise to Disney for their hospitality in making the situation right.
Landscape of Flavors is the resort’s food court area. Its many different stations offer a variety of options including snacks, breakfast, deli, pasta/pizza/grill, and even a few select full-on entrees. There are many dessert options offered, and several drink stations which can be used for refilling your resort mugs. This food court is considered by many to be the best food court of all WDW resorts.
We enjoyed the wide range of options here, as my wife and I were able to enjoy more adult-like tastes, while our picky eater children enjoyed cozy basics like pizza and mac and cheese. We found the traffic flow at Landscape to be a bit clumsy. The lines for various stations extended in different directions, sometimes intersecting each other, and finding the end of a pay station line was sometimes challenging. We really had to keep our personal space radars alert for collisions with other guests. In all fairness, we were visiting during February school vacation week, so I’m sure we experienced a worst-case type crowd scenario, and if that’s the worst case, then it was reasonable.
Pools and Entertainment
There are three pools at the resort. The main pool, centrally located within the Finding Nemo section of the resort, is the Big Blue Pool. This pool is the largest on WDW property, and features the unique experience of underwater music. If you dunk your head underwater to play Marco Polo, you’ll be delighted to hear music and character dialog from Finding Nemo, with exceptional clarity! That was a highlight for my daughter and me. The pool has a zero entry area for smaller kids to enjoy. Next to the Big Blue Pool is Schoolyard Sprayground splash area, and Righteous Reef playground, which offer smaller kids more options for playing outside the pool.
Other amenities available at the Big Blue Pool include The Drop Off pool bar, which offers a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, basic poolside snacks (think chips and ice cream), and serves as a refilling station for resort mugs. There is a locker room and laundry next to each of the resort’s pools, but no towel station, so bring towels from your room to go swimming (you can always request more from Mousekeeping). There is no hot tub at this resort.
The two other pools at Art of Animation include the Flippin’ Fins Pool, themed to The Little Mermaid, and the Cozy Cone Pool, themed to Cars. Both of these pools are much smaller (and quieter) than the Big Blue Pool, but are still highly themed and exceptionally photo-worthy. The Cozy Cone Pool does offer one additional feature that none of the other pools at this resort offer – cabanas, shaped like orange traffic cones, which are available on a first come basis. These cabanas are furnished with several resort lounge chairs, and provide a nice break from the hot Florida sun.
Of the three pools, we spent most of our time in the Big Blue Pool, and a bit of time swimming in the Flippin’ Fins Pool.
Aside from swimming, additional outdoor entertainment is offered nearby to the Big Blue Pool, including ping pong tables, arts and crafts, kids games, Disney song and trivia contests (mainly geared towards kids), and movies under the stars at night. While we never dedicated the time to watch a full movie outside, we did stop by a few times after evening pool visits to catch ten or fifteen minutes of a favorite Disney film. It was like having a single delicious bite of one of your favorite desserts.
Art of Animation is located on Hourglass Lake – a small sculpted lake resembling its namesake. Pop Century is located on the other side of Hourglass Lake, and there is a paved walking/running trail accessible to both resorts that circles the lake. Being a runner, I enjoyed a few laps around the lake on multiple mornings during our stay. There are fun signs located along the trail that entertain with trivia bits, character quotes, and movie song lyrics. I veered off the trail during one of my runs to explore some of the outdoor areas of Pop Century, and I’m glad I did, as I spied the towering figures of Lady and the Tramp, which are among our dog-loving family’s favorite Disney friends. We went back to Pop for a family walk on our last day at the resort, specifically visit Lady and the Tramp.
The center slim portion of Hourglass Lake is spanned by Generation Gap bridge, which allowed me to circle the lake several times in a figure eight shape.
Note here that we stayed at this resort in 2013. The introduction of the Skyliner in 2019 has altered the landscape of the area. A Skyliner stop originates at the center of Generation Gap bridge, and heads toward Caribbean Beach Resort, en route to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT. I have not visited this resort since the Skyliner has been in operation, but I imagine the people traffic along Generation Gap bridge has increased significantly. On the plus side, the view of the themed gondolas serves to provide additional viewing entertainment while walking or running around Hourglass Lake.
Like all Disney resorts, guests staying at Art of Animation can access the theme parks using complimentary bus service. Unlike the All-Star Value resorts, which share a common bus route, Art of Animation has its own route, providing those guests more direct connection to their destinations. In addition, as mentioned above, Art of Animation is one of the few resorts accessible by Skyliner, offering transportation to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Much like the Monorail, the Skyliner is an attraction unto itself.
Parking is available at the resort for a daily fee. We did not have a car when we visited this resort, and the bus transportation proved sufficient. If we had been staying in the Little Mermaid section as we originally planned, the walk to the bus stop would have felt quite lengthy, especially after one of our long days in the parks.
Overall, we really enjoyed our stay at Art of Animation resort. Our experience was obviously enhanced by our ability to stay in the Lion King suite, which would otherwise have been outside our target budget. Art of Animation offers the fun and magic of a Disney resort experience to guests looking to spend a little less on the hotel portion of their vacation. If you are like our family, and you tend to be at the parks most days from rope drop through the fireworks, then this resort provides all the amenities you will need. And for fans of EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, the Art of Animation/Pop Century Skyliner station will provide you quick, easy, and fun access to those parks – a big plus for this resort.
You will not be disappointed if you stay at Art of Animation resort!