This past weekend, the fourth and final section of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (DAR) opened up to paying visitors, after a brief preview phase for Cast Members. Themed to Little Mermaid, this last wing is different from the others, since it’s actually a holdover from the initial construction on this side of the lagoon as an expansion to Pop Century. Thus, the “newest” wing is actually the oldest in terms of initial construction. Bottom line: it satisfies, perhaps more than I was expecting.

An enormous Ariel anchors the back building

Because the Mermaid wing was constructed in the Pop Century style (exterior hallways, regular rooms rather than suites), it has pricing more in line with other Value resorts. That’s not true of the other three wings, who feature only six-person suites and thus charge prices more like Moderate resorts. Given the pedigree of Mermaid’s construction, I had lowered my expectations, and braced for more Pop-Century-style overkill.

King Triton looks slightly deranged if you look closely enough at his eyes

It’s true that the over-arching sensibility and design principles are the same as Pop Century and all those All Stars hotels: basically plain-painted buildings with occasional decorations stuck to the outsides, and then truly oversized figures near hotel doorway entrances to provide a thematic focal point. Giant yo-yos, oversized foozball players, and huge musical instruments are the results elsewhere. Here in Art of Animation, the oversized props are there on the ground, and the gigantic figures tower over the doorways. But it feels different. Since these are Disney characters, there is a warmth to Ariel, Triton, and Ursula that I personally fail to find in big yo-yos.

The same is true of the ground-level props (a dinglehopper, a snarfblatt, the Eric statue, Sebastian in a clamshell). People actually want to photograph their children with these–do they do that to the All-Star Movies props as often? I was reminded of my initial thoughts about Art of Animation: this is what a Disney resort should be, and what doubtless many vacationing tourists think of when they hear the words “Disney hotel.” It’s a hotel that puts you into a Disney movie, and lets you take photos with Disney characters. That’s historically the job of theme parks, if you think about it, but why not carry that over into the hotels?

The statues are impressively large
Ursula conjures up a pretty good hotel
Except for this Eric statue, the ground-level props (and the bigger statues) are sized as though we visitors are no bigger than a minnow.
Heavy theming inside the rooms: bed, walls, carpets, drapes
The shower is Ariel's grotto. I wonder if the designers realized this is a symbol of a womb in the movie, from which our adolescent must be "born" into adulthood?

The Frog/Trashcan Theory

Have you heard the argument that frogs are good bioindicators? Their presence, absence, health, or sickness give an indication about the general cleanliness and chemical balance of a given ecosystem, since their skin is so permeable that they pick up pollutants readily. Thus, frogs are an early warning signal of any problems in that micro-environment.

Well, I have a little theory that something similar can be mapped onto Disney themed environments. This time, it’s not slimy aquatic amphibians, but rather trashcans. The “thematic health” of a given Disney environment can be ascertained at a glance by seeing what’s going on with trashcans, the same way frogs give an early warning signal.Themed trashcans are like a healthy population of frogs, happily croaking the night away. Unthemed trashcans are akin to the absent amphibians: a warning sign that not everything is as it should be.

And how does the Little Mermaid wing stack up here? Alas, the trash cans are solid-colored designs engineered to get visitors to just look the other way. They don’t stand out, they aren’t decorated, and they don’t tell a story. They are like the piping you see amid the foliage: necessary, but in no way something you’re supposed to take note of.

Perhaps the Supreme Leader has turned the others into trashcans?

I hear the objections: who cares? As long as the trashcans are functional, should we really object to plain-looking trash receptacles? Don’t we have bigger things to notice or even fret about? The thing is, when trashcans are unthemed, that’s one detail less in the fabric of the overall experience. The vaunted “Disney Difference” is not comprised of a single “wow” event like a giant animatronic yeti (oops). More often, it’s a collection of details. Dozens or even hundreds of “small” details working in concert to fool the senses into providing true immersion and a just-believable simulation of reality that is safer, cleaner, and more comforting than the “real thing” out there. And yes, trashcans are part of that. If we fans DON’T make a fuss about the loss of small details like this, then no one will, and doesn’t that given Disney “permission” to take away others of those all-too-expensive small details?

Besides, the loss of one detail is only part of the problem. Most often, a project that includes plain trashcans actually harbors OTHER offenses to the “Disney Difference” formula. If they cut corners on the trashcans, it’s likely they cut corners in other ways, too. This is why it’s like the frogs–it’s an early warning that something (else) is amiss. I don’t mean to imply any causality here, just correlation.

So what does this mean for Art of Animation? First, it should be noted that it’s not just the Little Mermaid wing which has plain-colored trashcans. The other wings do, too. So the whole resort has this challenge to its immersiveness. I would argue that the plain-colored trashcans is one of those things that the everyday tourist isn’t going to notice in any conscious way, but it’s one of those smaller details that “adds up” subconsciously to provide an overall impression of luxury, of complete illusion, of escape.

Art of Animation is at times bland (Lion King) and at times incredible (Cars), but even when it soars, it has limitations. A first-timer with us this weekend knew that Cars was not as immersive as DCA’s Cars Land, but she didn’t know why that would be. Well, the trashcans are part of the answer. They are part of what makes a Value resort “feel” like a Value resort (and not in a good way). Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t be that expensive to account for this detail. It would have been a fairly low-cost way to make a Value resort feel luxurious, but alas, a cheaper route was taken.

What are your thoughts? Are you now more interested (or less so) in booking a stay there? Just scroll on down to the comments section below and let us know what you think.


Epcot: The First Thirty Years unofficial book – Newly Published!

To celebrate the first thirty years of Epcot’s history, Jeff Lange and I have teamed up to create a new book that looks at the park’s evolution through the years, as seen through the lenses of our own cameras. The result is a full-color book with over 500 pictures of Epcot (and EPCOT Center), the vast majority of which were selected precisely because they show something you can no longer see in today’s Epcot. Even though the book is large-format (8 inches by 10 inches), it took 158 pages to cram everything in. It’s ideal for someone wanting to look back and reminisce, or to learn visually what the park looked like in past years.

The book is available for $29.99 from CreateSpace – an eStore that gives us the largest slice of royalty (versus the “regular” Amazon website). It’s as safe as Amazon (and in fact is owned by Amazon), but if you’re willing, please use CreateSpace since it helps the authors more. If you’d prefer Amazon directly, here’s the link for that.

An unofficial book celebrating Epcot's 30th anniversary

To give you a sense of the book’s breadth, I’ve included a snapshot of the Table of Contents and the part of the appendix at the back, which includes both a timeline of park history and events, and a detailed index to make it easier to find names, attractions, and shows.

Here are also thumbnail images of several pages from the book.

An older version of Spaceship Earth


The original Universe of Energy


Food Rocks




World of Motion

If those pictures grabbed you, click here to buy it from CreateSpace (or Amazon).

There are presently no plans to offer the book in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, but the European Amazon websites (United KingdomGermanyFrance) have the book as well.

If the color version seems too expensive for you, we’ve got a black-and-white version also for sale: $14.99 from CreateSpace (biggest author royalty) or Amazon.

Lastly, there is also a Kindle version of the book available for $9.99. The Kindle version is uploaded with color photos, but if your Kindle device only displays black-and-white, everything will still work, but will be displayed without color. The Kindle version, it should be noted, is constructed with the recognition that users can adjust font sizes as desired, and our “gallery” style layout of images won’t translate, so we left the images centered, full-sized, and probably one or two per page in your actual Kindle device (or when viewed on a PC using the free Kindle software). So the Kindle book will be over 600 pages long.

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations: