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We took a magical holiday to Florida at the beginning of 2013 and decided to stay at The Walt Disney World Resort, as we knew we would be spending a lot of time there. We booked our stay online as part of a package. Art Of Animation was the newest Disney hotel to be built at the resort (it opened in 2012), I had seen photos and videos of it and just KNEW we had to stay there. Luckily enough the hotel was classed as a 'budget' Disney hotel! I was slightly worried it would be a bit too budget, but I had no need to worry. Despite being budget and despite being half the price of moderate/deluxe Disney hotels, it's still not 'cheap' to stay at Walt Disney World. The hotel is themed on a number of animated Disney films including Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. It's the perfect hotel if you have children in tow, it's an absolute wonderland! This may be a budget hotel but you would have never guessed it....
We caught the free 'Disney's Magical Express' coach at Orlando Airport, which took us straight to the Art Of Animation Resort. Checking in was quick and easy. We were given key cards to our room and a friendly gentleman took all of our bags to our room for us. The reception area is really spacious and there are lots of desks and staff (who are super friendly and helpful). The reception area is decorated beautifully with colourful lights and hand drawn pictures of Disney favourites on the walls, as well as colourful stills from animated Disney movies. There are also toilets (which were sparkling clean at all times), payphones and computer facilities (which you must pay for). There is an area for children to wait which has padded seats and a television. At certain times there is an artist who sits quietly at a desk in the corner and hand draws Disney characters (all shown live on the television) which my daughter was mesmerised by! Songs from Disney movies are constantly played throughout the reception area, which really gets the kids (and adults!) in the Disney spirit.
There are 4 different types of room to choose from. Three are large suites (suitable for larger families or groups) which sleep up to 6 people. You can choose from The Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo. There is also a standard room which sleeps up to 4 people and is Little Mermaid themed. As there were only 3 of us, we decided the standard room would be sufficient for us. Each section of the resort (except The Lion King) has their own themed pool (3 in total), although you can use any pool in the resort. You need an Art Of Animation key card to enter the pool areas and each pool has a lifeguard.
We were stunned when we walked through the resort for the first time, it looked AMAZING! The Lion King Section has giant statues of Rafiki (the baboon) and Mufasa, as well as a huge carcass with the 3 hyenas and Scar looking on. There is also a huge log with Timon, Pumpa and Simba walking across it. The Finding Nemo section has the biggest pool area and is the closest to Animation Hall (the centre of the resort where the reception and restaurant etc can be found). There are huge seagull statues (like the seagulls from the movie) that sit on giant 'wooden' poles and shout "Mine Mine Mine" every now and again. The pool area is really impressive and is where we spent most of our time at the resort, despite having our own Little Mermaid pool (which was also quite nice). It has a wet play area with all of Nemo's friends who squirt water etc (perfect for younger children). There is also a large pool (the biggest in the Walt Disney Resort apparently). The pool has underwater speakers so you can hear Nemo characters whilst underwater, I can't honestly say I heard them though! There are sun loungers all around the pools too. The only downside of the Finding Nemo pool was that it was constantly busy throughout the day. We didn't see too much of the Cars section but it looked good and had giant orange cones around it. The Little Mermaid section is also very visually impressive and has a giant treasure chest statue (full of treasure), as well as a statue of Prince Eric and Sebastian (inside a shell). There are also some HUGE statues of Ursula (the sea witch), King Triton and Ariel with Flounder. Fitting music plays throughout each section of the resort which really helps to set the mood.
There is car parking at the resort which is free for guests to use. There are also a free bus service for guests called the 'Disney Bus Transportation'. The DBT is an absolute god send and made our stay a lot more enjoyable! The buses run from around the back of Animation Hall and run to and from all the Disney parks. There are separate bus stops for each park and the buses are reliable and run regularly (there's a bus about every 10 minutes). I noticed that passengers were so kind and so friendly towards us (offering up their seats for my daughter etc), which is something we didn't see AT ALL when visiting Disneyland Paris! The Walt Disney World Resort is huge, you cannot possibly walk to the parks. The furthest park is probably The Magic Kingdom and the nearest is probably Hollywood Studios (you could actually walk to Hollywood Studios... if you wanted to!).
The Little Mermaid section is the furthest from Animation Hall, which was slightly disappointing but to be expected (you obviously pay more for the larger suites). I wouldn't say it's a long way but it does seem it after walking miles each day! The Little Mermaid rooms were set out in blocks. I think they went up about 3 floors, we were on the second floor. We had an elevator, stairs and vending machines in our corridor. The room was as we expected, pretty basic but had everything we needed. However what we didn't expect was the STUNNING décor, it's every little girls dream! I'd say the only downside is that we didn't have much of a view (there was just a small window next to the front door which gave a view of the car park!). Our room consisted of a main sleeping area and a separate bathroom. The main room had 2 double beds, a table and chairs, television cabinet with plenty of drawers, alarm clock, mini fridge, television, telephone table with telephone, wall mirror (with lights) and plenty of plug sockets. The sink area had a curtain which ran across to separate it from the main room. The sink area had a sink, large mirror, bin, complementary toiletries, towels, a hairdryer, iron/ironing board, a safe (free and easy to use) and a clothes rail. Next to the sink area was the bathroom (which had a lockable door!) which had a toilet, towels, bath and overhead shower. The beds were really comfortable to sleep in and there was also air conditioning which we needed to use quite a few times. We also had access to free wi-fi (as does the rest of Art Of Animation Resort). The maids came in most days and done a lovely job of cleaning our rooms, as well as leaving us fun shaped towels on our beds! The room was absolutely flawless and perfectly clean (although the rooms had only just been built when we visited).
The headboards on the beds looked like shells (each had a built-in light) and the beds had underwater themed bedspreads. The carpet in the main room was underwater themed and the mirror in the main room was edged with friendly looking fish from The Little Mermaid! In between the beds was a picture of Flounder (the fish) and Sebastian (the crab) and on another wall was a framed picture of Prince Eric with his dog Max. The curtains were underwater themed, as was the table and chairs. The curtain that seperated the main room from the sink area was covered in colourful fishes and an octopus. The mirror in the sink area was edged with purple 'coral' and lights. The shower curtain in the bathroom had a big picture of Ariel on and behind the curtain (the bath) looked like the inside of Ariel's Grotto. So much detail has gone in to these lovely rooms.
The resort has its own restaurant called Landscape Of Flavours. It's quite a basic restaurant (more like a large canteen) but like the rest of the hotel, is nicely themed and decorated. One whole side of the restaurant has a glass window (overlooking the main pool area) so there's a lot of natural light inside. We were on the 'Disney Dining Plan' which meant our meals were pre-paid for throughout our trip, so I can't really comment on the prices . To give you an idea of prices - a steak and egg breakfast burger (with potatoes or fries) cost $8.29, a chicken burger (with coleslaw or fries) cost $9.49 and kids meals generally varied between $5.00 - $6.00.
The Disney Dining Plan is accepted at Landscape Of Flavours (along with most other Disney restaurants. I would definitely recommend it) and you can also get unlimited drink refills (hot or cold) at any time (you are given a big refillable cup on arrival at the hotel). I was really pleased with the selection of food on offer, there was pretty much everything we could have wanted. There were a few things that I wasn't so keen on, like naan bread for breakfast! Vegetarian options were slightly limited too but we found this was the case in many of the restaurants. I particularly enjoyed breakfast, where I mostly opted for chocolate chip pancakes with fruit. My daughter doesn't really enjoy eating breakfast but she was happy to eat cereal, yoghurts, pancakes and Mickey Mouse shaped waffles! It's really convenient having a decent restaurant so close to your room (plus it's vital that you have a full belly before you begin your long Disney days!). I was generally quite happy with Landscape Of Flavours - it was well stocked with a good selection food and drinks every day, the staff were nice, it was clean, the décor was good, it was simple but just what we needed. The only real downside is that it got really busy at times (although not during the day), especially at breakfast where we had to queue quite a long time just to get our food. Drinks, snacks and cold foods were totally self-serve but hot foods had to be ordered and collected at counters (I think there were about 3 or 4 different counters). There were separate checkouts to pay at. Despite the queues to get food, we never actually had any trouble finding a table.
Inside Animation Hall (in between the restaurant and reception) is a shop called the 'Ink & Paint Shop'. It is mostly a gift shop, which sells EVERYTHING Disney that you could want (and looks great, naturally!). It also has a small section of essentials, I managed to buy plasters and sun cream in there.
Other things that the resort offers is laundry and dry cleaning services, childcare services and locker rentals. There is a different Disney movie screened every evening in The Lion King courtyard too, which is nice for kids.
Overall I think the Art Of Animation Resort is a brilliant resort, despite being branded a 'budget' hotel. This is the PERFECT resort for children and families. The theme and décor is incredible, there's a surprise around every corner and clearly no expense has been spared. The pools are great, there's plenty of amenities, the restaurant is ideal, the Disney Bus Transportation is super, the staff are wonderful and The Little Mermaid room was ideal for us (as well as beautifully decorated). I would say the only minor downsides were that The Little Mermaid section was a bit too far away from the centre of the Art Of Animation Resort, plus our room didn't have much of a view. In all honesty, this resort and our room served us very well. We didn't really spend much time there (there's SO much to do at Walt Disney World!) but the time we did spend there was very satisfactory indeed. I'd happily stay at the Art Of Animation Resort again in future.