Magic on a budget: Disney's Art of Animation Resort in Orlando, Florida
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new details and photographs. It was last published on Jan. 9, 2019.
Unless you live in a world where money is no object, planning a family vacation to Disney World involves trade-offs and difficult decisions. If you're a points collector, you may have a stash of hotel points you want to use in Orlando to reduce your overall vacation costs.
Once you start doing the research, you'll find plenty of reasons to stay at an official on-property Disney World hotel. As you look at the costs, though, your mind might keep wandering back to the money you can save by staying somewhere else ... anywhere else.
Before you decide that a family trip to Disney was all one big, bad idea as you do the math on how much a Disney World vacation costs, consider staying at Disney's Art of Animation Resort. If you're traveling with a family, it can be just the compromise you're looking for if you want a true Disney experience without a price tag fit for a Disney princess.
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Selecting a hotel for your Disney trip is a big step in a string of key decisions that can make your not-so-inexpensive visit to a friendly mouse house a resounding success. The TPG Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort starts with picking the right hotel or resort for your stay because it can be your most expensive decision of your whole vacation.
As you look at the list of Disney World resorts, you'll see hotels with labels such as value, moderate, deluxe and deluxe villas. Lofty titles such as deluxe and deluxe villa can make even a "moderate" resort sound, well, moderate.
So where do bottom-tier "value" resorts fit into the picture at Disney World? It depends. If we're being honest, we avoided them for a while thinking staying there involved too many sacrifices. (Spoiler alert: This one didn't.)
Not all value resorts are created equally. Art of Animation is one of the more recent additions to the Disney World resort family. Built in 2012, it's almost 20 years newer than another value property, Disney's All-Star Resort, and its family suites can represent a phenomenal value if you're traveling with kids in tow.
Resort prices vary greatly at Disney World, especially during high season, but expect to pay $100 to $300 per night for a basic room at the Art of Animation; family suites generally tack on another $100 to $200 per night. That's not cheap, but keep in mind the family suites can sleep up to six -- and this is also a pet-friendly resort.
We've been lucky enough in the past to pay $124 for a normal room and get upgraded at check-in to a suite. However, on our most recent trip during the busy holiday season, family suites were going for close to $400 per night. We sucked it up and paid that price knowing it was a better choice than paying that much for a standard room at a moderate resort.
Though it used to be possible to use your ever-popular Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Disney World resort property stays, that option is gone. You can instead use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (card no longer available for new applicants) to book your Disney Resort stay and then use the points from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per point to cover the charges.
If you're looking for the best ways to earn points while paying for a Disney World Resort stay, you can book with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and earn 3x points for the stay.
Disney's Art of Animation Resort is near the edge of the Disney World property, between Disney's Hollywood Studios and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The resort is a reasonable distance from all four Disney World theme parks and Disney Springs but doesn't have a park within easy walking distance. You can take the new Skyliner gondolas from the back of the Art of Animation resort and fly over the lake and to the Caribbean Beach Resort, where you can connect to a gondola that takes you to Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
This makes getting around easier and more fun than when buses were the only free transportation option. Additionally, taxis, Lyft, Uber and Minnie Vans are available.
Related: Is Disney's Club Level worth it?
In terms of getting from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) to the Art of Animation Resort, the Disney Magical Express Bus is a free and fully decent option as long as you aren't in a huge hurry, since waits for a bus can vary. If you decide to rent a car and park at Art of Animation, know that parking costs $15 per night.
Once you arrive, you'll note that the Art of Animation Resort is a fairly spread-out property. There is designated parking for check-in located near the entrance, and check-in agents direct you to the appropriate parking nearest your building.
The lobby at Art of Animation is colorful, sort of a cross between a candy store and the tunnel between concourses at Chicago O'Hare Airport (ORD).
There is a kids' TV area within clear view of the check-in desks to keep your little ones occupied while you take care of the paperwork. To minimize waiting, make sure to complete online check-in before you arrive. Lines can get a little long during peak check-in and check-out times, so rely on the Disney app to check in if you can.
Art of Animation has standard hotel rooms with a Little Mermaid theme, as well as family suites. In fact, most rooms here are suites. The three suite themes are Cars, Lion King and Finding Nemo. You can pick your preferred theme when you book your room or leave it to the luck of the mouse. While suite prices are often similar, sometimes one suite type will cost a few dollars more than the others. If you want to dial back the bright colors just a touch, the Cars theme may be your best choice of the three, but all of them are bright, happy and kid-friendly.
Regardless of the theme, families couldn't miss on the suite layouts that make tremendous use of the available space.
The resort may not have been themed in the same way as the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Polynesian Village Resort, but there were plenty of touches for the kids to notice.
Each suite has a dining room table with seating for four along with a mini-fridge. (Again, the exact look varies by suite theme.)
The living room has a small kitchen and pull-out sofa, dresser, television, chair and a rod on which to hang clothes. That chair or the small stools could serve perfectly as a fifth chair for the dining table. In the Lion King version, we found the lyrics to popular songs like "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" printed on those stools. Fun stuff for the kids to try to read and sing!
The dining table demonstrated how the living room really paid off for families. It was actually a Murphy bed as comfortable as the pullout sofa beds at other Disney World resorts.
The bedroom is compact but completely functional. It contains a dresser, television and place to hang clothes.
In terms of outlets by the bed, we've had some different experiences. Most recently, in the Cars version, the bedside lamps did have plenty of outlets to charge all of our electronics.
The bedroom had an en suite bathroom with plenty of space -- and yes, the themes continue into the bathroom.
When we travel as a family, we look for ways to redeem points for suites or connecting rooms so we can spread out. Our family of four doesn't share one bedroom and bathroom at home, so we try to avoid it on vacation. Disney World does a solid for family travelers with two full bathrooms in its family suites.
The master bedroom bathroom has a walk-in shower while the bathroom off the living room has a bathtub.
Art of Animation has three pools, one of which is the largest pool of any Disney World hotel, the Big Blue Pool. With a whopping 1,984 rooms, Art of Animation Resort is not Disney World's largest resort, but it's close.
The pool is pretty massive and hasn't appeared full during our visits. You could even listen to your favorite Disney songs while swimming, thanks to the underwater speakers. (The Big Blue Pool will be closing for refurbishment in the fall of 2020.) The smaller Cozy Cone and Flippin' Fins pools were also heavily themed for kids who enjoy Lightning McQueen and Nemo.
As with most other Disney World resorts, Art of Animation features Movies Under the Stars most nights. Your family could watch a free movie outside while relaxing on the grass.
There is also a playground, 1.38-mile jogging trail and the Pixel Play Arcade to keep kids occupied when you aren't hanging out in one of the theme parks.
If your kid is into drawing, there are free, daily animation classes held at this animation-themed resort. During a recent stay, classes were held at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. These are the type of offerings that make it easy -- and fun -- to have a day of your Disney vacation when you aren't spending cash on a park ticket.
During a recent visit, we spotted Tigger hanging out in the lobby ready and available for photos and autographs with almost no wait. That's a cool perk that we haven't frequently encountered in most other Disney resort hotels.
Lastly, near the Big Blue Pool there was a dedicated self-service laundry area. Laundry probably isn't the highlight of your trip, but it could save you having to overpack for your family vacation.
Food and beverage
On-site dining options at Art of Animation are limited but are still a good match for families looking to keep an eye on budget and spend most of the time in the parks. The primary restaurant is Landscape of Flavors, a combination of quick-service and made-to-order stations arranged cafeteria-style. It has everything from salads to pizza and burgers and other hot entrees.
For longer stays, the refillable mugs that sell for around $20 are pretty popular among soda drinkers.
Next to the pool is the Drop Off Pool Bar, which lets you keep an eye on your children while they swim (there are lifeguards at the pool too, of course.) There isn't much in the way of food options outside, though. Lastly, the resort has pizza delivery to the rooms, but there's no full-service dining or any of Disney World's best restaurants.
While staying on-site at Disney World offers plenty of benefits, your family may reasonably consider staying elsewhere to save some money. We've outlined plenty of those options, including our top-ranked points property near Disney World.
We fully appreciate that the reputation of value resorts at Disney World might scare you away, but Art of Animation shouldn't scare you off -- as long as you are OK with bright colors and cartoon characters. While the Little Mermaid standard rooms don't have the best reputation, the family suites are plenty nice and can be a great value if you need the extra space.
And here's the other thing, while adults may gravitate to the understated and less Disney-ish decor at the new Disney Riviera Resort or the Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs, kids love the bright, cartoon theming of Art of Animation. In fact, don't be surprised if this turns out to be their favorite place to stay at Disney World, especially with the Skyliner now fully operational and ready to fly them to two of the Disney theme parks.
There are nicer resorts at Disney World, and I won't use catchy phrases like "diamond in the rough" when describing Art of Animation, but you wouldn't be wrong if you did. This resort affords you the ability to book a moderate-level resort at a value-resort price. And if space is an issue, a family suite may be just what keeps your crew happy and on budget.
Read on to learn more about maximizing your time, points and money at Disney World:
- TPG ultimate guide to Walt Disney World
- Review of Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
- Review of Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
- Review of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
- The 10 Best Disney thrill rides around the world
- How to use points for Disney tickets
- How to ride every Disney World ride in one day
- Eating healthy at Disney World
- Best $69 you can spend at Disney World
Images by authors except where indicated.