Where to stay was a really tough choice. There were so many options. How big of a room do we want? What type of theme do we want? What “level” of resort? How much money are we budgeting? So many questions when picking a Disney resort… really it’s the same anywhere you go.
As we planned our first trip I had the list of options narrowed down to Art of Animation and Port Orleans-Riverside (where we would stay in 2017). Ultimately, Art of Animation was just “so Disney” and it won in the resort debate. We thought we were going for our first and only trip. The kids were young: 2.5 and 5. Art of Animation would steal their hearts.
Arriving at the resort left us in awe. We were greeted by the colorful resort logo and huge renderings of McQueen, Ariel, Nemo, and young Simba. The kids were in heaven. I was feeling giddy. Inside is filled with a giant wall of sketches. Drawing pads everywhere. We definitely felt like we arrived at Disney.
The grounds of the hotel are just as fun. We stayed in the Lion King section of the hotel. The only decor near the ground was Rafiki. The kids required multiple daily pictures with him!
It was slightly disappointing to have Pumba, Timon, and Simba walking on a log high above the ground. In fact, everything else in the section was high above the ground and not so exciting for the kids because they couldn’t reach it and have fun like they did with Rafiki. Did I mention we played with, chatted with, and took pictures with Rafiki EVERY DAY for eight days?
For this reason I really wish we had selected the Cars section. In this section we were able to walk up to Doc Hudson, McQueen, Mater, Sarge, Luigi, Guido, and more. We could hang around the gas pumps. It was much more inviting for the kids to play.
The Little Mermaid section was a little better. The treasure chest is on the ground. Price Eric is too, but he was pretty tall. Triton and Ursula are enormous. They are as tall as the buildings. Ursula was actually is a little intimidating.
Other than the pool, we didn’t spend much time trying to find Nemo or much else in his section of the hotel.
Speaking of the pools… the Big Blue Pool and adjacent splash pad was our go-to. Of course it was the most crowded. The splash pad itself never seemed too crowded. The pool was only empty first thing in the morning. It was great though to have zero-entry and several water features for kids to play under in the very low depths portions. We spent some amount of time at the pool six out of eight days in our trip. Sometimes it was the reason to “had” to take a break from the parks.
We did make it a point to use the Cozy Cone pool and the Little Mermaid pool each once. Both were so peaceful and quiet. I probably would have spent more time at either one if we had a room in those sections. They aren’t as toddler friendly though with just stairs to enter the pool and no zero/extreme low-depth areas. I do think the water could have been a bit warmer in each of these pools.
About two months before we arrived we decided to switch from a standard room to a suite. It definitely spoiled us. Two bathrooms, a kitchenette, and a separate bedroom. Every website will tell you the bedroom has a queen bed, but I have to disagree. I sleep in a queen bed every night and I didn’t not feel like I was sleeping in a queen in this room. It felt very small. Luckily, the extra space in the room made up for that. We were never tripping over each other. We made oatmeal for breakfast and mac and cheese for lunch or late dinner right in the kitchenette. The kids shared the sofa bed and we were able to use the table as a table the entire trip.
The food court. Oh boy. What can I say about this? The food was fine. We are picky eaters and they had all the basics for us so that wasn’t a problem. But it was busy. Always. 7AM, busy. 7PM, busy. 11AM-1PM, extremely busy. I really wouldn’t know when to say to go. Maybe at 9:30AM after all the parks just opened? We never walked up to any window without someone or many someones in front of us. The food court definitely needs a divide and conquer plan. We had to split up sometimes getting food from different windows but more often one person was getting meals and another was distracting the kids either walking the resort property, in the gift shop, the lobby, or watching a show in the room to unwind. Good thing there were snacks in the room.
Buses. I had heard so many mixed things about Disney transportation. I was worried about the bus transportation, but I loved it from Art of Animation. One stop made everything easy. The bus was always empty/emptying when it arrived. Some people complain about the double buses, but I thought it was great. Every time one pulled up you knew the entire queue was going to empty into it. There was maybe a time or two where we had to wait for the next bus to arrive, but usually it was arriving as the full one was pulling away in the morning. In the afternoons the arrival boards were accurate with times and it never felt like a long wait from the resort. Once at Magic Kingdom I swear it felt like almost 30 minutes to get a bus. We had watched the bus drive off as we were running to catch it, knowing we would never make it. It was hot and everyone was tired and in need of a break. We sat, impatiently waiting. It finally arrived and we hopped in the cool air conditioning for a direct ride back to the resort.
The Cast Members here was not as “Disney” as I had been expecting. I’ve already mentioned our arrival day issues. I also had a packaged delivered mid-way through our trip. They couldn’t find it. So after searching for some time they sent me away and said they would deliver it. Some time later it wasn’t delivered so I called and they told me to come back and get it. Food court staff often looked annoyed though I can see why since it was non-stop busy. No one was ever rude, per se, just overly helpful or friendly. The best Cast Members were a gift shop one that was helping my daughter hunt for various silly toys and the Bell Services employees both on arrival and departure day. There was an to leaving our luggage with them, getting/returning our stroller rental, and leaving cold food items while we about our arrival day plans.
Overall, the kids don’t notice these things. They just had fun. The purpose of choosing the location was to be “all Disney” and it was a success.