Disney’s new Animation-themed resort reflects success of two recent hotel trends

A 35-foot-tall model of King Triton, the patriarch in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” will be the centerpiece of the new Disney’s Art of Animation Resort at Walt Disney World.

The 2,000-room hotel will have four wings, themed around four Disney movies that have become new classics over the past 20 years: “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King.” Finding Nemo,” and “Cars.”

The Art of Animation Resort demonstrates the success of Disney’s recent experiments with two different hotel trends, family suites and specially themed rooms.

At Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, the company converted rooms into 192 family suites in 2006. The rooms include both a living room and a bedroom and sleep up to six, thanks to a sleeper sofa and a chair and ottoman that each convert to a twin bed in the living room.

Disney has always had suites in its higher end “Deluxe” hotels, but the All-Star Music suites and the new suites at Art of Animation will be in Disney’s “Value” hotel category. Value resorts have smaller, motel-style rooms, but they still incorporate that magical Disney theming in over-the-top public areas, like swimming pools and lobbies.

Rates at Disney’s value resorts often rival off-site hotel prices. Regular hotel rooms that sleep up to four at value resorts currently start at $82 per night. The current family suites start at $190.

“This resort was designed with the needs of families in mind, as we continue the Disney tradition of providing a great guest experience for every taste and budget,” said Eric Jacobson, senior vice president of Disney Imagineering. In 2008, Disney World unveiled its first themed rooms, the Pirates of the Caribbean rooms at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. The rooms have pirate-ship beds, treasure-chest themed furniture and a swashbuckling curtain. Earlier this year, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the pirate-themed rooms, which were located in what was the least popular area of the Caribbean Beach Resort, have now become the most requested rooms.

Specially themed rooms have become popular in Orlando in recent years, with the nearby Nickelodeon Suites Resort offering rooms featuring Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer. The Loews Resorts at Universal Orlando have also ventured into themed rooms, with Dr. Seuss and Jurassic Park-themed suites.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will have courtyards with “larger-than-life” icons from the four featured animated films. It is being built adjacent to Disney’s Pop Century Resort, off Osceola Parkway east of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Walt Disney World had prepped the site and started a couple of buildings there a few years back, when it was the planned second phase of the Pop Century Resort. But those plans were abandoned following the 2001 recession, and the buildings have sat empty and unfinished since then.

This will be Disney World’s 26th resort, and the first new hotel at Walt Disney World in seven years. (Disney has built three new vacation ownership resorts in the interim.)

The news of a new Disney hotel has energized Central Florida, with many believing that this is Disney’s vote of confidence that the tourism-supported economy here is turning around. Ground will be broken on the project later this summer, and it is expected to create as many as 800 jobs.

“This project also underscores our optimism about the future, as we continue to invest in new experiences for our guests around the globe,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is projected to open by the end of 2012.