Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Travel

Theme park guide: Disney opens Art of Animation Resort; 'New Fantasyland' slowly rolls out

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Walt Disney World doesn't like to be tweaked by competitors of any size. That pesky boy wizard over at Universal Orlando is the major reason behind the $425 million "New Fantasyland" in the works for the Magic Kingdom. • And you better believe the success of the Nickelodeon Suites Resort across I-4 is a catalyst for Disney's newest hotel, the Art of Animation Resort, which attempts to offer affordable suites while immersing families in popular movie themes, not to mention an epic pool. • Opening on May 31, the 87-acre hotel was originally intended as an extension of the adjacent Pop Century, a "value resort" themed via decades. But no one could garner much excitement about the '40s through the '20s (although the Great Depression is a swell name for a bar!). So the Imagineers at Disney went back to the drawing board — literally.

Themed around four classic flicks — 1989's The Little Mermaid, 1994's The Lion King, 2003's Finding Nemo and 2006's Cars — Art of Animation uses filmmaking as an architectural thread. The cavernous lobby is bedecked in original sketch work; as guests get farther into the front-desk area, the black-and-white art slowly becomes more defined, more colorful, Timon, Pumba, Simba all taking shape.

The Finding Nemo wing will be the first to open, with suites starting at $248 a night. On June 18, guests will walk through a fully realized Radiator Springs, including the Cozy Cone Motel, to get to their Cars rooms. The Lion King, with a playground instead of a pool (and a life-sized Pride Rock), roars into being Aug. 10. The Little Mermaid units, which will be the last to open, are the only standard rooms at the resort; they will start at $94.

From what I saw on a private tour, the Art of Animation is a wildly inventive improvement on Pop Century, not to mention worlds better than the — let's see, how can we put this? — "basic" All-Star Resorts. If the "value" price is a bit steep, Disney has gone all out to try and make it worth your wallet:

JUST KEEP SWIMMING . . . AND SWIMMING: With a whopping 310,000 gallons, the Nemo pool is the largest non-waterpark pool on the Disney property. Wet 'n' wild play areas feature life-sized re-creations of Nemo's pals — including flapjack octopus Pearl, a.k.a. "You made me ink!" And yes, Pearl, one of 2,500 sculpted figures at the hotel, "inks" here, too.

AND THE LAMPS ARE JELLYFISH! Only the Nemo rooms (or "underwater retreats") were ready for preview, but they were spacious and fun, especially if you're, say, 4 years old. Ceiling lights are encased in bubbles, giving the impression of being under the sea. Bruce the shark's submarine is the kids' bathroom, with the great white himself grinning on the shower curtain. If you forgot his famous mantra, it's right there on the porthole mirror: "Fish are friends . . ."

BUZZ LIGHT-LIER: The centerpiece of the lobby is a chandelier aglow with 77 genuine storyboards encased in glass. In a cool twist on the Hidden Mickey phenomenon, Pixar progenitor John Lasseter has signed one of them. (Psst: Think Mater.)

KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (MOM'S NOT TOO SHABBY, EITHER): The front-desk area, a swirl of rainbow colors, will be the first at a Disney World hotel to offer personal check-in booths instead of a long counter. The kids' waiting area next to the front desk will include a sketch artist and screening room. Just to make things fair, in the nearby video game room (four-person air hockey, sweet!), there's a lush parents lounge very close to the pool bar, which is called "The Drop Off." We totally love that.

GOOD CHOW, BAD NAME: The quick-serve food court is also quartered according to flick, with gorgeous artwork on the walls. It looks spacious and potentially yummy (Mongolian barbecue, gelato station), but the deluxe cafe's name is a hackneyed groaner: "The Landscape of Flavors." Ugh. C'mon guys.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

   
Comments
8 ways to get on the water in Tampa Bay if you don't own a boat

8 ways to get on the water in Tampa Bay if you don't own a boat

According to the old wisdom, the two happiest days of a boater’s life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it. There’s also an argument to be made for the day when a generous friend buys one. Boating, from the sun to the bre...
Published: 05/22/18
Despite Walt Disney's wishes, you can now buy alcohol at every Magic Kingdom restaurant

Despite Walt Disney's wishes, you can now buy alcohol at every Magic Kingdom restaurant

Well, you did it millennials. As of this month, every sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom now serves alcohol. It was a big deal back in 2012 when the world’s most visited theme park broke with Uncle Walt’s mandate to keep alcohol ou...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Philadelphia’s American Revolution Museum winning battle for tourists

Philadelphia’s American Revolution Museum winning battle for tourists

Associated PressPHILADELPHIA The Museum of the American Revolution is a year old and officials say it has landed a decisive victory in capturing tourists’ attention in a city with lots of revolutionary competition. In honor of its first birthday Apri...
Published: 05/17/18
Tired of the Smithsonian? These small, quirky D.C. museums are worth a visit

Tired of the Smithsonian? These small, quirky D.C. museums are worth a visit

WASHINGTONWashington is known for its museums. But venture beyond the Mall, which is home to four of the 20 most-visited museums in the world, and you’ll find plenty of smaller, quirkier institutions. Want to learn about great inventions, the history...
Published: 05/17/18
SeaWorld joins Busch Gardens in offering free beer this summer

SeaWorld joins Busch Gardens in offering free beer this summer

SeaWorld is joining its sister park, Busch Gardens, in offering free cups of beer this summer. Guests 21 and up can receive up to two complimentary 7-ounce beers per visit at Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen Patio in the park starting Friday through Sept. 2. T...
Published: 05/16/18
SeaWorld’s water park Aquatica opens Ray Rush slide propelled by water jets

SeaWorld’s water park Aquatica opens Ray Rush slide propelled by water jets

SeaWorld’s promise to add new rides instead of animal entertainers is building steam as a new ride has opened in the company’s Aquatica waterpark in Orlando.Ray Rush, a new slide with an open air half-pipe that resembles a manta ray, opened a day ear...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/16/18
Active itineraries: More vacation packages combine travel and fitness

Active itineraries: More vacation packages combine travel and fitness

Diane DanielIf your resolution to get in shape still hasn’t quite gelled, consider an active vacation where fitness is factored into your trip. The options are all over the map, and they’re becoming ever more energetic."The move from more passive and...
Published: 05/10/18
Disney brings back After Hours tickets for Magic Kingdom this summer

Disney brings back After Hours tickets for Magic Kingdom this summer

Walt Disney World will bring back its separate ticket event called Disney After Hours that lets visitors into the Magic Kingdom on select nights this summer. It’s a chance to enjoy lighter crowds during the busiest time of the year at the world’s bus...
Updated one month ago
Sesame Street land is coming to SeaWorld Orlando

Sesame Street land is coming to SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld is building a Sesame Street-themed land to replace Shamu’s Happy Harbor play area on the south end of the park, with an expected completion in spring 2019. This will be the first time SeaWorld Orlando will have a daily parade that features E...
Updated one month ago
Enjoy a beach day in Mahahual, minutes from the cruise port in Costa Maya, Mexico

Enjoy a beach day in Mahahual, minutes from the cruise port in Costa Maya, Mexico

A trip to the Caribbean conjures up visions of swaying palms and a watercolor palette of blues, greens and shades in between. Just 10 minutes or so from the port of Costa Maya, Mexico, a fixture on most western Caribbean cruise itineraries, lies an i...
Updated one month ago