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June 7, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation offers its guests a variety of outdoor and indoor recreation

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Walt Disney World resorts are known for their recreational offerings, and the new Art of Animation hotel is no exception.

The centerpiece for the new hotel that is themed around four animated movies -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" -- is The Big Blue Pool in the Nemo courtyard. At 12,000 feet, the pool is the biggest on Disney property, excluding the ones at the Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and it is designed to be enjoyed by guests of all ages.

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A zero entry at one end allows swimmers of varying abilities to wade in gradually. In the shallow water there, kids can splash under the dripping-water tentacles of four pinkish-purple jellyfish structures. The deepest area of The Big Blue Pool is the center at 4 feet, 9 inches. Perhaps the coolest feature, however, is the underwater sound system -- a first at Disney World. Guests who dive beneath the surface can hear Disney music and even messages from the "Finding Nemo" characters.

Like the recreation courtyards at other Disney resorts in the value category, the theming is larger than life. Imagineers want guests to feel as though they are experiencing the area from Nemo's point of view. It's difficult not to feel dwarfed when you're standing next to a 30-foot-tall Crush or a Mr. Ray sculpture with a 26-foot wingspan. Being immersed in the animated story is what sets this resort apart from others.

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Other characters from "Finding Nemo" come to life in the adjacent Schoolyard Sprayground. Nemo and his father, Marlin, sit atop a 16-foot-tall sea anemone they call home in the movie. Tad, Chicken Fish, Sheldon and Pearl squirt water from the perimeter of the splash pad. Just beyond the sprayground is Squirt's Righteous Reef, a dry playground with three slides and a soft landing spot at each.

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Cast members host family friendly activities, such as Bingo, water basketball and hula hoop games, poolside each day from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The most popular events -- The Big Blue Pool Party at 3 p.m., the Righteous Dance Party Extravaganza at 4 p.m. and Arts & Crafts at 4:30 p.m. -- occur when many guests return to the resort from the theme parks. At 9 each night, a Movie Under the Stars is shown on a huge inflatable screen near the pool. Guests can swim or relax in lounge chairs for the show. My almost-8-year-old-daughter was eager to dance to hit Disney songs and to make a shark-themed picture frame during her afternoon at the pool. She reluctantly took a break for dinner before donning her swimsuit again for the evening movie.

Older kids might enjoy the ping-pong tables on the Mr. Ray side of the pool, including one that allows for four players. (Family-style gaming seems to be a recent trend, with DisneyQuest installing a four-person air hockey table and a four-player Pac Man system.)

With so many activities to choose from, my elementary-school-age children soon forgot they were ever concerned that there wasn't a water slide at the pool. And when Art of Animation's other wings open this year, two additional swimming pools and a playground will be available to guests. The "Cars" section opening June 18 will house the Cozy Cone Pool, and "The Little Mermaid" wing will have the Flippin Fins Pool beginning Aug. 10. The Elephant Graveyard play area will be located in "The Lion King" courtyard on Sept. 15.

Guests visiting the swimming pools and playgrounds at Disney's Ar of Animation will want to remember to bring two things -- towels from their rooms because they are not distributed at the pools and their room keys because the new recreation areas are gated.

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If it's a rainy day or you just need a break from the Florida sun, head inside Animation Hall for other recreation options. Many consider shopping a fun pasttime, and the Ink & Paint Shop offers resort-specific merchandise as well as popular Disney World souvenirs. Just outside the gift shop is Pixel Play Arcade for those who love to game. To play, guests must purchase a digital points card and choose how much money to load on it, beginning at $5. The arcade houses old-school favorites and newer attractions. A smart addition is the group of plush benches and small tables at the front for waiting parents.

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Out in the lobby, tucked next to the front doors, is an area where guests can learn to draw various Disney characters step-by-step. An animator is there from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday to lead guests through the process. Classes start on the hour and are free. This is a popular activity at DisneyQuest and at The Magic of Disney Animation in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Of course, it's a perfect fit for Art of Animation.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

June 5, 2012

Disney World's Art of Animation hotel suites well-planned for families

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Walt Disney World has taken its focus on multi-generational travel a step farther with the addition of more family suites to its hotel inventory. On May 31, Disney's Art of Animation, the newest resort in the value category, officially opened its first wing with 320 family suites.

And there are more to come. By mid-August, Art of Animation will have two more wings open for a total of 1,120 suites. Although the theming for each wing will be based on a different animated movie -- "Finding Nemo," "Cars" or "The Lion King" -- the suites will offer the same amenities.

Each family suite can sleep up to six people, and the functional and innovative furnishings ensure everyone has adequate space. The suites are essentially two single rooms put together and divided into three living areas.

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When you enter the suite, you'll first see a dining table with four chairs -- perfect for eating a meal that was prepared in the kitchenette or for use as a workspace. (Outlets are located above the side tables.) No need to balance a plate or computer on your lap! At night, the chairs -- which are quite sturdy despite being plastic -- are easy to stack and tuck in a corner when the Inova Table Bed is opened. This invention is similar to a Murphy bed, and it comes down easily as the table collapses underneath it. The Inova Table Bed fascinated my kids when we stayed in one of the Nemo suites recently and they couldn't wait to sleep in it.

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The second area of the suite houses a kitchenette with a refrigerator, microwave, sink and coffee-maker. For families, having the equipment to easily prepare breakfast and even some other meals in the room can greatly enhance their Disney World vacation. Not only does eating in save money, but it also may save time when family members don't have to get cleaned up and travel to other locations for reservations. Also, Pop Art Pizza delivers the Italian pies and other popular entrees, along with sodas, beer and wine, to guest rooms, and the kitchenette is useful for saving leftovers and reheating them.

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Next to the kitchenette in the family room is a sleeper sofa, a lamp table, two small coffee tables, an upholstered chair that spins, a television, chest of drawers and an area to hang clothes. This space is a comfortable place to hang out that converts into a second sleeping area at night. One cool feature here (and in the master bedroom) is that guests can plug in their videocameras and watch what they've recorded so far on the television. If that special experience wasn't taped properly, you'll know and have time to try again. Jacks for gaming devices and other electronics are also available.

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The third area of the suite is the master bedroom, which has a queen bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers with a television and DVD player, and a place to hang clothes. There are no closets in the family suites, but the master bedroom has several places to stash your suitcases. I usually am a heavy packer, and even with all my bags and suitcases, we had ample room to move around the suite.

In the Nemo suites, the decor of the rooms is coordinated with bright colors and an under-the-sea motif that kids and parents both are sure to love. Everywhere they look, they will find new details -- from the lamps shaped like sea urchins to the coral design in the backs of the plastic chairs to the wavy pattern in the carpet.

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Guests also have two full bathrooms at their disposal, and they are designed to make you feel as though you are in the movie's submarine. The master bath incorporates the brown tones and offers a more upscale feel with a large, glassed-in rain shower and a vanity that looks like a piece of furniture. The second bathroom has a tub with a Bruce the shark shower curtain and toilet that are separate from the sink. On mirrors in both is etched the saying, "Fish are friends."

The family suites at Art of Animation are priced from $248 to $415, depending on the view and season. Guests soon can choose to stay in the "Cars" wing, which opens June 18, and "The Lion King" wing, which opens Aug. 10. The Little Mermaid wing -- the only part of the hotel with single rooms -- opens Sept. 15. Those rooms start at $95 per night.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Walt Disney World Resort during my stay at Art of Animation. This did not influence my story, and my opinions are my own.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Art of Animation category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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