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:

  • jcruise86

    Thank you, Kevin! I like seeing Walt Disney World’s hotels, and it’s nice to look at them through the eyes of a smart & eloquent person. I loved what you wrote about trash cans. The themed cans were definitely something we commented on when started visiting WDW in the 1970s.

  • Ju-osh

    If this post was a Southern Baptist church and you were the preacher, you’d have heard me shout an all-caps “Amen!” at the following lines:

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


    “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.”


    Nice article (as always), Kevin.

    • jcruise86

      I think Ariel’s eyes also look a bit demented, but I think both figures look positive, interesting and attractive, unlike ice cream cone hair Ariel who first appeared in California Adventure’s Little Mermaid attraction and was replaced. It would have been worse if the statues looked boring.

      So Ju-osh, I’m guessing that you too would be interested in reading a book, “Disney & American Capitalism.” Either Kevin Yee or David Koenig might be the two best people to write such a potential award-winning best seller.

  • SpectroMan

    Thanks for the coverage of ALL the Art of Animation wings, Kevin. I’ll take a peek at them myself when on vacation this coming week.

    Do any of the other value resorts have themed trash cans? Just curious if this is a new decline or an existing one. Agreed, it wouldn’t cost much to at least add themed decals to the sides which can be easily replaced rather than hand painted.

    Epcot book looks exciting; I’m adding it to my wish list!

  • stevek

    Hi Kevin, a quick question on the book. I love that the Universe of Energy page as a brief history. Do each of the pavillions get a similar treatment?

    • Kevin Yee


      Yes, any pavilion this is now “history” gets an extensive verbal “walk through” and as many pictures as we can muster. We have tons on Horizons and World of Motion, but fewer on Energy.

  • a-mad

    Thanks for the write-up, Kevin. We have reservations booked for the Little Mermaid section of AofA in February… so this gets us excited!

  • StevenW

    The hotel looks better than the New Fantasyland.

  • SimbaSpot

    Despite what other Value Resorts may provide as far as themed trash cans go, Art of Animation has the added benefit of existing (or soon to be existing) synergy by utilizing other Disney Park resources. Lion King Wing– Camp Minnie-Mickey at DAK; Cars Wing– Carsland at DCA; Finding Nemo Wing– Nemo Subs at DL (and lesser–Seas w/Nemo at Epcot due to the exterior Future World theme); and Little Mermaid Wing– Mermaid/Fantasyland expansion at MK (and lesser– Mermaid at DCA due to the Victorian Seaside theme).

    Anyone able to provide side-by-side photos of any of these existing options vs. existing AoA actual cans?

    As small as the subtle impact may seem regarding trash can themes, the already existing resources signify the small amount of effort needed to add the Disney difference… Kevin is correct in noticing the frog effect here!

  • Kevin, thank you. Really enjoyed this write up and must admit that I wasn’t expecting anything exciting from this new wing. Especially after all the write ups of the other wings.

    Glad to hear that the Mermaid wing impresses.

    Really excited to read the Epcot book. I’m a big Jeff Lang fan as well, so there’s double reason for me to pick up a copy!

    • Kevin Yee

      I think I was mostly happy because the characters seemed more accessible than the Lion King area.

      And, it just feels like “happy Disney” to me, which was not the case with the Lion King section.

  • gd301

    My wife and I enjoy your write-ups. We will be staying at the Little Mermaid section of Art of Animation next month. We were really looking forward to a comprehensive review of this section since you are always full of details. Instead you chose to devote the review of this new are to a lengthy discusson of thrash cans… We learned very little and am dissapointed with the poor review.

    • gd301

      Should have had spell checker on. Sorry. None the less Kevin you cannot be too happy with this review. My dog is an expert in trash cans…

    • Kevin Yee

      Sorry to have fallen short of your expectations. I confess that my eye is drawn to whatever my eye is drawn to -it’s what makes me “me” I guess. I would definitely give a more global and comprehensive review if that were my “job” but since I experience these things as a paying visitor (I get no press access from Disney) I don’t view it as necessary to be global or to be “fair”. I kind of take as my mantra to simply call it as I see it.

  • danyoung

    I thought the review of the new section was just fine, Kevin – plenty of pictures and commentary. I’m not sure what more you could have included – it’s a freakin’ hotel! And while I think that sometimes you go a bit far with the whole “declining by degrees” thing, I’m right there with you on the generic trashcans. Maybe this is something that’ll be fixed once the resort is up and running.

    I’m not sure what to think about the whole womb concept, though . . .

  • Aotphks

    I would love to see the same meticulous level of attention and theme given to the Animation Hotel also be applied to the rest of the MGM and Magic Kingdom Parks after their Fantasyland expansion is complete.


    So if they slapped a little logo on the trashcans then everything would be fine?

    Seriously sometimes the things you guys pick on is ridiculous.

  • Disneylandfan85

    This looks like a good book to read. I’ll have to put that on my Christmas wish list.

  • Timekeeper

    Good Article, on the trashcans, a simple message like “Please think of the seas” in LM and FN, or “Save the Earth.” in LK, but some those messages of that sound kind-of corny. Though so of off topic on the color of the trashcans, but related:
    Kind of reminiscent of the “Don’t See Me” walls at WDW, with the Trash cans at AoA.


  • snackystacky

    The one thing that I disagree with in your article is that Pop Century is pretty Disney intense. There are certain, oversize “statues” that are things, rather than Disney movies. But each section does have it’s own Disney “statue”, too. The 50’s has Lady and the Tramp, the 60’s has Baloo and Mowgli, and the 70’s has the Mickey phone, and the 80’s/90’s has Roger Rabbit.

    The icons you reference really refer more to the stairwell coverings.

    At least at Pop Century. All Star Sports and All Star Music really don’t have anything similar.

    But my only skepticism with your criticism is that none of the moderate or deluxe resorts are themed around a Disney movie. The “Disney-ness” comes with subtle touches in the carpets, the hardware, the soft goods, etc…..

    And I think that’s the way it should be. If you look at Magic Kingdom when it opened, Fantasyland took you into the movies. The other lands were sanitized recreations. I really believe that Aladdin’s carpets are TOTALLY out of place in Adventureland. Before them, Adventureland worked hard to take you to a different time and place. The thing is that it was a REAL (albeit, again, sanitized) place. It wasn’t a cartoon. That spinner totally killed that.

    There’s definitely an argument that giant foozball guys and a huge drumset aren’t even close to that kind of immersive themeing. My point is just that I don’t really believe that you have to have Disney characters in your face around every corner for it to be considered a Disney hotel.

  • Justonedream

    While the book seems like a great read, is this the final draft? A graphic designer could improve your book’s readability and visual appeal. The text is really long across the page. It is distracting that the photos are overlapping and freeform on one page, and then separated and locked into a grid on the next.