Whether on screen or in its parks, animation is a big part of the Disney experience, so it makes sense that Art of Animation -- Disney World's first new resort in seven years -- be dedicated to the craft.
Guests can choose from large family suites and hotel rooms in four different wings -- Cars, Finding Nemo, Lion King and The Little Mermaid -- each with multiple buildings, colourful themed decor inside and out, and unique landscaping.
Cars has 480 suites in three buildings while Finding Nemo and the Lion King each have 320 family suites. The Little Mermaid wing has 864 rooms. Normally I avoid large resorts but at Art of Animation, Disney gets it right, and I would stay there again.
A meandering road lined with fullsize Cars characters -- Lightning McQueen, Sally, Mater, the Sheriff, Sarge, etc. -- leads us to Radiator Springs. En route to our suite in the Wheel Well Motor Court, we pass the Cars Courtyard and the crescent-shaped Cozy Cone Pool, where guests lounge in cabanas shaped like giant orange traffic cones.
Cars motifs continue inside our suite in myriad fun ways: Dressers and the kitchenette are designed to look like garage toolboxes, the couch is upholstered like a car seat, a coffee-table is emblazoned with a Route 66 map, bathrooms are decorated in a car-wash theme, and lamps have shades shaped like traffic cones.
Our family suite sleeps up to six and would work well for visitors not fitting the usual two parents, two kids model. It contains a separate bedroom, living and dining areas that convert to sleeping quarters, two full bathrooms, a kitchenette and generous storage space.
The bedroom has its own bathroom and flat-screen TV. There is a second TV in the living area, where the couch folds out into a bed. The dining room table is large enough for family meals but in one swift movement it converts to a double bed. (Kids LOVE this feature.) The kitchenette has a few cupboards, dishes and cutlery, a small counter, sink, refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker.
The Cars and Little Mermaid wings are the farthest from the resort's main building -- Animation Hall -- and have their own pools. Animation Hall is home to the Landscapes Cafe, the Ink and Paint Shop, Pixel Play Arcade, and an animation station, where twice daily a Disney animator holds workshops on how to draw classic characters. Nearby are the main Big Blue Pool, the Schoolyard Sprayground and the Righteous Reef playground, where other activities take place daily.
The food-court style Landscapes Cafe serves a variety of freshly made American-style cuisine -- waffles, burgers, chicken, pizza, salads, sandwiches -- plus some things you might not expect such as tandoori chicken or Mongolian beef. There is a smoothie bar, a gelato bar, and a good selection of healthy items such as juice, water, yogurt and milk, plus some wine and beer for grownups.
While there are plenty of tables, lots of natural light, and a covered outdoor patio, the restaurant seats 600 and at peak times is busy and can be quite noisy.
If you dine there at the busiest times and have older kids, I recommend surveying the offerings, taking everyone's order, collecting all your cutlery and condiments, seating the kids at a table, then having Mom and Dad go get the meals. Another alternative is to get meals to go and enjoy them in your suite.
NEED TO KNOW
Art of Animation Resort is in Disney’s “value” category. In January, rooms start around $100 US on weeknights, suites for $252 US. Wi-Fi is included.
Disney World has a special offer for Canadians. Available at many Disney Resort Hotels, the deal must be booked by May 23 for stays (most nights) from Feb. 18 through March 23, and April 2 through June 14. For example, a five-night/six-day Magic Your Way package goes for as little as $67 US per person, per day for a family of four at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort in a standard room. Total package price is $1,593 US. For details, see disneyworld.ca/offer.
WestJet offers competive rates on flights to Orlando. Prices vary depending on travel dates. WestJet Vacations also has packages for Disney World. See westjet.com.