May 15

One Year with Disney World

When I took my trip to Disney World in December 2011 I decided to get an annual pass.  The plan was to see if I could find some good deals on trips in 2012 and hop on a plane and go.  The plan worked in some ways and not in others, but it was still a good year.

I never really found good deals, but I had some vacation time and took several shorter trips.  Actually, one of my trips was not only not a “good deal” but included expensive hotels and plane tickets, but was a great experience.

My first trip was with my sister and her two kids.  It was a fun trip, but the 4 of us in one Polynesian hotel room was a bit much for me at times.  As usually happens with kids, the trip revolved around them, we went on lots of rides, and I loved the Polynesian.

The rest of the trips I took that year ended up being about experiences more then about rides.

On one trip I actually decided to ride the rides that no one talks about, the ones you can’t ride with other people because they want to go on the good rides.  It wasn’t one of my better plans, but now I have a list of rides I never need to go on again.

Another trip was all about the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Fantasyland.  While I did do some other things, having already been 3 times in less then a year, I didn’t feel the need to do much more then that. There’s no line for the new Little Mermaid ride, better ride it lots before the lines grow! I can ride Peter Pan, Space Mountain and shop another time!

Tour a resort, who has time for that? When you go 5 times in 12 months, you have time to tour an interesting resort (Art of Animation), you probably even have time to tour a boring one (as though they exist).

The biggest thing I got out of these 5 trips was that every one I had a slightly different goal, explore a resort, experience a new party or event, ride new rides.  The goal was not to see as much as possible in as short a period of time as possible. With that, I got to spend time with the charming lesser known things, instead of on lines. I got to experience the whole of Walt Disney World.

After that year though, I did get a little bored.  The average attractions that you might do because you don’t get to do them often, they lost there thrill. You run out of new experiences to have, or at least the list gets shorter. So yes, the thrill wore off a bit, but the ability to relax on a Disney vacation started to exist, and I really never thought that was possible.

A lot of people asked when I was going back, or commented that I wouldn’t be able to give it up.  But I have no plans of going this year.  While it would be easy to go back, the desire to explore something new is stronger.  I’ll be back there, but it might not be until 2015, GASP! But I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it with an annual pass again.

Nov 28

Swim To The Left

On my September trip to Walt Disney World I stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort.  This is the last post in a series on the resort. The first post was a general overview of the resort and the common areas. The second post is about the layout and function of the family suites, it is loaded with photos of the Lion King suites.  In this post I want to discuss the theming of the resort with an emphasis on the Cars and Little Mermaid sections.  I wont be covering the rooms at the Little Mermaid section, they are the same as at Pop Century and I didn’t get to see them to see the enhanced theming there.

After checking in to the resort the directions to my room were to swim to the left, it seems the Finding Nemo section is outside the lobby.  Disney really embraces the theming of the resort, even down to telling you to swim through the Nemo section and calling the buildings in the Cars section Garages.

Wheel Well Garage
Tow Mater Garage
Luigi’s Garage

As a Value resort Disney did stick with the larger then life icons that are used at the other value resorts, but they’ve stepped it up a notch here.  At each area the icons are to scale of one of the main characters in that theme and include more decorative items then at other value resorts.

King Triton

The exerior of the buildings are unique in this resort too, this is contingent on the fact that it is the only value resort with interior hallways.  On the sides facing out of the resort there are larger then life black and white animations.  On the sides facing in there are colored images representing the films, my room was placed right where a giraffe was drawn, it’s like someone called ahead and told them who I am.  The public places in each section of the resort are themed, in Cars the walkways are roads, in Lion King they are trails, similar to what they did in the Animal Kingdom.

Little Mermaid Exterior
Mermaid building end
Lion King Building end
Cars building end
Cars drawings
Exterior of a Finding Nemo building
Inside the buildings the carpets were special to the theme, in the Lion King it was a dirt trail with different animal prints.  There is also art work representing the films in the main entrance areas of the building and on each floor. The cars rooms have traffic cones and the hallway carpet has hubcaps and checkered flags.  The hubcaps are from the cars in Cars.
Lion King Hallway Carpet
Cars Room Carpet
Cars Hallway Carpet

Inside the rooms the layouts are exactly the same, but the furniture and fixtures are different for each theme.  Typically in a value resort there would be a picture, the comforter and maybe a few other little touches designed around the theme of the resort area.  However, at the Art of Animation, every piece is themed to the resort.  Lamps, mirrors, carpet, even the furniture and shower tile is specific to the theme.

Cars room number signs
Cars Living Room, notice the couch, Lamp and Coffee Table
Cars Shower Curtan
Cars bed, notice the headboard and lamp
Cars Bathroom
Cars Bathroom
Cars Kitchenette
Sleepy Mater
Cars Kitchen Table
Cars Hallway Lights
Lion King Living Room Lamp

There are some other nice touches at the resort.  One example is the license plate of Mater, it’a  reference to the Animation 101 course all Pixar animators must take.

This might be my new favorite resort.  Depending on my group size and prices, I would always put this resort on my list for my travel agent to look into.  I hope this resort sets a new standard for Disney for improved functionality and theming.

And for those of you who are wondering at the orignal plan for this resort as the second half of Pop Century, the Lion King would have been the 70’s and Mermaid the 40’s.

Nov 14

Art of Animation Resort Family Suites

This is the second post in a series of posts about the Art of Animation Resort, there really is that much to say. The first post was an introduction to the resort and covered public areas.  The last post will cover the theming of the resort.

Here are some of the basics of this resort: it’s a value resort on the opposite side of Hourglass Lake from the Pop Century Resort.  The resort has traditional value resort guest rooms and family suite guest rooms.  There are 4 themed areas of the resort: Cars, Lion King, Finding Nemo and the Little Mermaid (traditional value resort rooms).

On my trip I stayed in a Lion King suite, it was about 640 square feet and had 2 bathrooms, a bedroom, kitchen, living room and can sleep up to 6 people.  The buildings that house the suites all have interior hallways and you require a room card to the building to gain entry via RFID, a very nice security feature.

When you walk in to the room (my room at least) on the left is a full bathroom and the living room with the kitchenette.  On the right side is the kitchen table, and bedroom with full bathroom.

The first bathroom has a pocket door leading to the sink area, then there is another door separating the toilet and tub with shower head.  I love this set up as it allows multiple people to use the bathroom at the same time.

Sink Area
Shower Curtain
I LOVE the tile work

The living room has a kitchenette, it has a small refrigerator, small sink coffee maker, microwave, and some plastic and paper goods.  It’s nothing fancy, but enough to warm up bottles or make a quick breakfast.  Next to that is the couch, which folds out into a bed and will sleep 2 people.  There is an additional chair, coffee table, TV on a TV stand/dresser and a rack for hanging clothes.  Under the rack is a box you could use the top of the box for storage, or sitting on.  The box opens from the front (not the top) and is storage for the pull out coach bedding.

Coffee Table
Living Room fixtures
The reason I picked Lion King

Opposite the bathroom is the kitchen table, it seats 4 and has night tables on either side.  The table folds down creating another bed, a full size bed for sleeping 2 people.  This bed has a regular mattress, the same as they use at Pop Century Resort.  I was going to sleep on it, but couldn’t be bothered with moving all my stuff from the bedroom.

It’s a table
and a bed!

In the bedroom there is a queen sized bed with night stands on each side as well as a dresser/TV stand.  There is a full bathroom off of the bedroom, it has a sink, toilet and shower, but no bathtub.  It’s large and spacious with ample hooks for your towels.  But the sink is not separated from the toilet and shower.

Master Bath

Overall the rooms were well laid out and spacious.  I’m not sure I would put 6 adults in here, but 2 adults and 4 children would work, assuming you don’t require too much counter space.  I will talk about theming in a future post and about the tour of the resort in yet a third post.

Hallway Artwork

But who do I recommend the resort to other then everyone?  Obviously families, but I would also suggest it to young woman or woman traveling alone.  With the number of families at the resort the potential for a creepy person seems like it could be lower, but more importantly the card access to the buildings and the interior hallways adds a layer of security you’ll only get at deluxe resorts and for the price, this is a better deal.

Oct 31

The Art of Animation Resort

On my September trip to Walt Disney World I stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort. This is the first is a series of 3 posts about the resort. I stayed in a Lion King family suite, a lot of room for one person, but worth it.  Disney has set a new bar for value resorts.

Lobby Animation
An Early Lightening McQueen
When you walk into the lobby the first thing you’ll notice is color. The floors, walls and furniture are colored to match an animators set of colors. It starts and grey and transitions from greens to pinks. Even the small tiles are meant to represent the pixels in the new generation of computerized animation.  This design holds true for the whole lobby except one wall, which is covered in copies of actual animations from the Lion King, Finding Nemo, Cars and Little Mermaid. These animations also represent a transition, starting at the entrance with basic black and white sketches and transitioning to colored final drawings. Even the shop uses bottle designs on the walls with colors that were actually used in films.
Lobby floor with pixeled colors
Game Room off the Lobby, spot with the best wifi

While I stayed at the resort I also did a tour, which started in the lobby and lasted about an hour.  Our guide told a little history about the resort.  It was originally supposed to be the second half of the Pop Century Resort, but they weren’t quite feeling it and then 9/11 happened, halting the project.  A few years ago they decided to move ahead with the project, but as the Art of Animation instead of the depressing first half of the century.  So how were the themes chosen?  Little Mermaid, Lion King and Finding Nemo were all the top grossing films of their eras.  Cars was chosen because it’s the number 2 top merchandise seller, second only to the Princesses.

The lobby has a ton of great features, I’ll leave a few for you to learn on your own.  But the last one I’ll tease with is the chandelier in the lobby that has images depicting the story arch of the 4 films.  This is done by posting an animation on each of the prongs, there are 14 each for Little Mermaid, Cars and Finding Nemo and 13 for the Lion King.

From the lobby we moved on to Landscapes of Flavor, the quick service dining option for the resort.  There area  couple unique things here, it is the first food court with an all tile floor, they’ve used the landscape art and lower ceilings to reduce the noise level.  It’s still a bit noisy, but not unbearable.  This is also the first resort to use real plates and silverware in an effort to be earth friendly, paper is available if you choose to take your food back to your room.

Food Court Area
Landscapes of Flavor is open all day for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and it was almost always busy and it is never empty.  The menu had a great variety, I never ate anything twice there.

Outside the lobby and Landscapes of Flavor is the Finding Nemo section, complete with the Big Blue Pool.  It’s the largest pool on property.  It has a salt water filtration system, combined with a bit of chlorine.  I did swim in the pool and the water does have a slightly different taste then the typical pool.

Big Blue Pool

The pool has speakers under the water so you can hear music and also the sounds of Nemo and his friends.  Seriously, it sounds like there are fish in the pool, fortunately it’s a fake enough sound that you don’t think there is an actual fish.

There is no slide at the pool, but there is a water play area and a dryish play area. There are also smaller pools in the Little Mermaid and Cars section.  The Lion King section has another play area.

Water Play Area
Water Play Area
Water Play Area

Each section of the resort is highly themed, I would put it on the level of a moderate resort, and that will be a topic of another post itself.  Additionally, the rooms are unique.  While the Little Mermaid section has typical value resort rooms, the family suites are 640 square feet, sleep 6, have 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette.  I will talk about the actual rooms in another post, but they are quite spacious and well designed.  In case you wonder where 6 people sleep, 1 queen bed in the bedroom, 1 pull out couch and the table converts into a full size bed (with a real mattress!)

The only rooms to have hidden mickeys are in the Lion King Suites