As a family who usually gets 2 rooms at Disney’s Pop Century Resort (“POP”), staying at Art of Animation (“AoA”) was like the faraway dream that we’d never pay for. My husband and I have five kids and because he’s awesome, I have been going on trips without any of them. Last fall, I upgraded to an Annual Pass, because we’d planned that I should finally bring everyone else along in January. The hope for a room discount (not to mention the savings we had on all the merch we of course ended up getting) was enough to justify shelling out for the AP. Again, I stand by my theory that justification is the gateway drug to a full-on Disney addiction. Anyway, we figured since we still have one “free before three” kid, we had to take advantage of the family suites at Art of Animation. Capacity is 6, but can be 6 and a baby (aka anyone under 3 years old). This was our one shot to get in there and enjoy the “cool pool” that we’d walked by during every Pop Century stay and never dipped a toe in.
Those “in the know” understand that POP and AoA are connected by the Generation Gap Bridge (corny name and I love it) which crosses Hourglass Lake. This is important, people. If you’ve ever stayed at either of these Value resorts, you KNOW the bus lines can get crazy long at the parks, and after a longass day you don’t want to stand in another line just to get back to your room. Sure, sometimes it’s unavoidable, but pay attention, because the bus lines for POP and AoA are always RIGHT BY each other (or okay, sometimes like 1 or 2 spots away but typically just right next to each other) at the parks. So, you see the AoA line has about 49 billion people and no bus in sight, but the POP bus is pulling up and there’s 20 people in that line? Yeah, get on that bus, get off at Pop Century. Walk through the gift shop/dining area, right out past the Hippy Dippy Pool, all the way across the bridge and holy crap you’re now at AoA, on the “far” side of the Big Blue Pool – #Winning. We have done this countless times in reverse, since we’d always stayed at POP. It of course is a little more walking (maybe 7 minutes) but worth it if you’re not making that next AoA bus anyway because it’s too long of a line!
So we have 7 people in one room? YUP. The AoA family suites are fantastic. They are themed really well. We stayed in a Cars room, and every detail was from that series of Pixar films. There’s a queen-sized Murphy bed (doubles as your table, there are also 4 chairs), the coffee table gets moved, and the couch turns into a queen-sized sofa bed. There is a queen bed in a room with a door that freaking closes, and 2 full bathrooms. There’s a little “kitchenette” with a microwave, a small refrigerator, a sink, and coffee maker. Mousekeeping also restocks the things in here: paper towels, cups, bowls, cutlery, and plates/napkins. THIS IS MAJOR. My family is one that orders our groceries, and makes meals to cram in a backpack for the parks. We eat breakfast in our room. We spend the same for the WEEK that we’d spend in one day at the parks if we didn’t make our own food. Yes, I’m also in that school of thought that the Disney Dining Plan is a waste of damn money. At POP there was a fridge (and renovated rooms now have coffee makers) but no microwave, no bowls, paper towels, etc. Seriously this alone made the family suite A-MAZ-ING. We were close to the “quiet pool” for our section, and not far from the Big Blue Pool, and the main hall (which is the same layout as at POP, with the check-in/front desk, dining area, gift shop). If you look around for sidewalks and don’t follow the masses of people, you can find “shortcuts” that put you right by the buses or your building. We stayed in the Mater building and it was much more direct to transportation if we didn’t walk by the pools every time.
Even though there are about 50 emails you’ll get prior to arrival RE: “your upcoming vacation,” it seems like nobody pays attention to the fact that you can check into your room online before you even arrive. You get a text when your room is ready on arrival day, along with a link to a map and any info you’d need. I can’t think of one time I’ve EVER been in the AoA lobby and seen it even close to empty. There is always a line. This line can be avoided like 99% of the time if you’re already checked in. *Editor’s Note: You can do online check-in at any Disney hotel and bypass the front desk. However you will miss out on the corny-as-fuck, but no less awesome Disney touches like the “welcome home” greeting or in the case of the Polynesian, the lei they drape around your neck. I personally check in online, but if the lobby isn’t full I will stop by the front desk anyway just to experience the small Disney touches.
One place I wish I could have completely avoided was Bell Services. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt because again, AoA is apparently always super busy with plenty of guests who left their damn manners at home. This does assume they have manners to begin with. I used Bell Services because I ordered our groceries from Amazon Prime Now. We literally did this on the Magical Express from the airport, and selected our delivery time window. I got the notification our order was delivered/available for pickup, and went to Bell Services. Commence gong show. One cast member asks me to sign out a gigantic cart so I can load up and bring my order to my room once it’s sorted. Totally fine with that. I’m not only a cheapass, but I can handle my fair share of manual labor/hauling my own shit. After signing out said cart, I wait. Lots of waiting, and seeing other guests pitch fits about everything from strollers to luggage to spilled water. I seriously checked five times as to the whereabouts of my items, and was given different answers every freaking time. This ranged from “we’d just deliver the groceries to your room for you, at some point, but I see you’ve signed out a cart” to “No, you’re the guest, you are completely allowed to walk back there (cast member storeroom) and get your order to take with you.” What in the actual fuck?! Nope. I finally found a manager-ish cast member and she told me “it’s just so busy which is weird because it’s Saturday.” *Editor’s Note: This fool didn’t for real say that shit did she? She let me sign my cart back in and promised to have the order dropped at our room within 15 minutes.
While this was all going down, my husband was at the Big Blue Pool with our horde. They were already done swimming and changed and ready to eat a late supper at the Landscape of Flavors, which is the food court-style restaurant option at AoA. (I highly recommend eating here, as long as it’s a little “off-peak” meal times. Even when we stayed at POP we preferred walking here and eating over the food court at POP, since Landscape of Flavors has a huge variety of options.) By the time we were done eating, all of our groceries were indeed delivered to our room. I was just sad I wasted such a long time trying to do something for myself. I want to point out that the main pool (Big Blue) is by far the coolest pool at any of the Value resorts. It’s impeccably themed (Finding Nemo) and if you are swimming underwater, or dunked, I guess, you will hear music and sounds from Finding Nemo! It’s worth getting your fancy hair wet, ladies and gents. You are on vacation with your kids, after all. The pools are heated, so even though it was January, and “cold” in Florida, we were proudly “those crazy Canadians actually swimming in the pool.” In North Dakota, where we actually live, it was more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit colder, so OF COURSE we’re swimming. *Editor’s Note: North Dakota is actually South Canada, this is not up for discussion.
If swimming’s not your thing, you can still hang out by the pool for a nightly movie under the stars, or participate in one of many activities put on by the cast members at the resort. Most of these are free, and our absolute favorite is the free drawing class. This is a miniature version of the Animation Academy classes that used to take place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the One Man’s Dream display before it was converted to Launch Bay. This is hands down the best free souvenir, a sketch of a Disney character-drawn by you. This is daily at 11AM, 2PM, and 5PM in the lobby of Art of Animation, and you don’t have to be a guest of the resort to participate. It’s located at the little alcove off to the left of the front desk, where at other times you’ll find kids watching cartoons or movies while their parents who didn’t check in online ahead of time wait in a long long long line.
Overall, we’re really sad we won’t be staying in those family suites on our next trip, and we very much enjoyed Art of Animation. Have you stayed at this resort? What’s your favorite little-known tip?