Disney’s Art of Animation resort brings to life the worlds of four popular Disney films: LION KING, FINDING NEMO, CARS, and LITTLE MERMAID. Eric Jacobson, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering, said that “These themes have both compelling storylines and vivid visuals which will come together to create a truly memorable, immersive resort experience.” Immersive is the operative word. From the building-high sheets of paper showcasing Lightning McQueen, Simba, Nemo, and Ariel at the entrance of the resort to the fabulous enlargements of evolving Disney concept art on the sketchbook walls of the lobby, you’ll understand that the Art of Animation is an 87-acre Disney art park.
Art of Animation was the 26th resort at Walt Disney World when it opened in 2012. The site was originally conceived as additional Legendary Years “decades” sections of the Pop Century resort, but it was completely re-imagined with a separate identity, though connected with Pop Century via the Generation Gap Bridge. Art of Animation is the “luxury” resort among those in the value category. The FINDING NEMO, CARS, and LION KING buildings all have spacious family suites (nearly 2,000 of them) which can accommodate up to six guests. They have indoor corridors typically seen only at deluxe resorts. They also have a more deluxe price tag – depending on the season, the suites can be at least twice as expensive as other value rooms.
The front desk is located in Animation Hall. Be sure to look up so you don’t miss the Storyboard Chandelier with 77 sheets of illustrations. The directors of the four films featured at the resort have each signed one of the boards. You may also spot one signed by Jodi Benson, the voice actor for Ariel. The lobby has modern “check-in pods” rather than a traditional front desk, in a long line backed by a rainbow wall of lighted panels. Ink and Paint Shop is the souvenir stop for creative resort-specific merchandise as well as the usual assortment. Across from the Ink and Paint Shop is the Pixel Play Arcade – one of the first at Disney to include comfortable seating for patiently waiting parents. It’s also one of the few Disney arcades that still issues tickets to redeem for prizes. At the huge food court, Landscape of Flavors, you can show your artistic side by customizing your meal with a wide choice of fresh ingredients. You can see the tandoor ovens in the open kitchen as your chicken or shrimp dinner is roasted while you wait. Notice the lighting fixtures on the ceiling and the surrounding wall art which are themed to the resort’s four animated films. No plastic cutlery and paper plates here – with the best interests of the environment in mind, you’ll dine on real plates with real silverware.
The guest rooms are equally well equipped. Family suites offer two bathrooms, a master bedroom with queen bed, and a pull-out double sofa bed in the living area. A dining table in the little kitchenette converts to a double pocket bed. The kitchenette comes with microwave, coffee maker, sink, refrigerator, and small counter/cupboard area. The Imagineers went to town when designing the detailed expression of the animated themes across the resort. Try to find time for a stroll around the whole resort.
“Righteous!” you’ll exclaim as you enter the hallways of the FINDING NEMO building. The walls and floors are done in waves of swirling blue like the E.A.C. (East Australian Current, dude!). Your big blue room is also entirely oceanic with waves in the carpet, red coral chairs and headboard, and porthole-shaped mirrors in the submarine-themed bathrooms.
You’ll think you walked right into Radiator Springs in the CARS section of Art of Animation. The centerpiece is a replica of the Wheel Well Hotel. You’ll be humming, “Life is a Highway” as you stroll past Carburetor County billboards and stop to pose with full-size versions of Lightning McQueen, Sally, Mater, Doc Hudson, Luigi, and even Fillmore and Sarge. In the room, you’ll find a blue and white vinyl sofa that looks like Doc Hudson’s back seat, a dresser inspired by an auto mechanic’s tool chest, traffic-cone shaped light fixtures, and bathrooms appropriately themed as a car wash (you’ll be “Spiffy in a Jiffy,” a sign on the sink assures you). The Cozy Cone pool has nifty traffic-cone-shaped shady seating areas – like mini cabanas – and their use is complimentary.
You’ll know it’s a jungle in there when you enter the LION KING area. Large sculpted icons of the film’s characters are poised to welcome you, including Mufasa on Pride Rock. Rafiki is nearby while Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa cross a giant fallen log above you near an Elephant Graveyard play area. The rooms have junglicious details such leafy-backed chairs, vine-print carpets, and a sunset over the savanna on the bathroom wall.
In addition to the family suites, Art of Animation has a LITTLE MERMAID building with more than 800 (non-suite) rooms which each sleep four guests. This is the only AoA building with exterior corridors. These rooms will take you under the sea with Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder. The rooms have red shell chairs, shell-shaped headboards, and bubble ceiling lights. The Flippin’ Fins Pool has an “Under the Sea Orchestra” conducted by Sebastian while a three-story-high sculpture of Ariel seems to dance along nearby. A four-story Ursula the Sea Witch is kept in line by the equally enormous King Triton.
The Big Blue Pool, located in the Finding Nemo courtyard, is the largest resort pool on Disney property. Its 12,000 square feet is subdivided into three sections: a water play area called the School Yard, Squirt’s Righteous Reef (a no-water play area), and the pool itself. Underwater speakers pump in familiar voices from FINDING NEMO. You’ll hear Mr. Ray singing, “Let’s go explore …” as well as Dory, Nemo, and Crush. Towering sculptures of Crush and Mr. Ray loom over the entrance of the Big Blue Pool. Movies Under the Stars takes place here (except when bad weather interferes) with a different Disney classic every night.
One central bus stop, in front of Animation Hall, efficiently serves the whole resort with non-stop service to Disney theme parks, water parks, and the Disney Springs restaurant and shopping district. A walking/jogging path around Hourglass Lake provides nearly a mile and a half workout. (Unfortunately, this route is punctuated with smoking areas – if you are sensitive to smoke, be warned.)
Turn in your child’s best drawing of a Disney character by 4:00 pm for a chance at the “Sketch Artist of the Day” award. The winning sketch is unveiled every evening at 5:45 pm in the lobby. Additionally, check the Recreation Calendar for the month of your stay to see if children’s drawing classes will be offered while you are there.