From the Orlando Sentinel’s Daily Disney:
Walt Disney World is about to begin building its first new hotel in seven years, a 2,000-room resort that will open in 2012.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will feature 1,120 suites with room for as many as six people each and another 864 traditional hotel rooms, with a design theme based on four of the company’s most popular animated movies.
The complex will be priced as a “value” hotel, at the low end of Disney World’s scale, similar to Disney’s Pop Century and All-Star resorts, where standard rates begin at $82 a night.
The announcement is one of the strongest signals yet from Disney that it thinks a sustained recovery is under way from the long travel slump brought on by the global recession. Disney executives, who have been weighing construction of a family-suites hotel for several years, finally approved the project in January.
But in deciding to add another lower-priced hotel, Disney also appears to be betting that travelers will continue the frugal spending habits many adopted during the downturn. Disney has been relying on discounts to sustain attendance during the past year, and executives acknowledged Tuesday that consumers are still searching for deals even as Disney attempts to return to pre-recession prices.
“Quite honestly, we’re in a bit of waiting for each other to blink,” Walt Disney Co. Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo told analysts during a conference call to discuss the company’s second-quarter earnings.
The Art of Animation Resort will be built on a 65-acre plot across a lake from Disney’s Pop Century Resort. The location will allow Disney to use a pair of long-neglected, unfinished buildings that Disney originally constructed as a second phase of Pop Century but which it abandoned amid the 2001 recession. Pop Century’s first phase was completed in 2003.
Plans for the new resort show 10 wings of rooms and a separate building housing the check-in lobby and restaurants. The hotel wings will be separated into four distinct groups, each with a theme from a different animated movie: The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars.
Each section will have separate courtyards anchored by icons from the movies — such as a 35-foot-tall King Triton presiding over the Mermaid section — and the entire resort will use bright-color palettes evocative of the lush scenery of animated movies. Hotel designers say they have been soliciting input from artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios on everything from building elevations to which scenes to depict at the swimming pools.
“The hope is you walk into this courtyard and you’re kind of like seeing it as a character in the movie,” said Frank Paris, a senior project manager with Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s in-house attraction-design unit.
Because the majority of its rooms will be six-person suites, the Art of Animation Resort will have roughly the same capacity as Pop Century, which has 2,800 conventional rooms.
With the project, Disney is placing an aggressive bet on what it says is a growing market for affordable suites aimed at families traveling with several children or extended families. Disney World has been testing the concept with about 215 suites at its All-Star Music hotel that were converted out of about 430 ordinary rooms about three years ago.
Jim Durham, vice president for resort projects at Disney Imagineering, said demand for such accommodations has risen in recent years as families have taken to traveling in larger groups. The trend became particularly pronounced following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.
“Ever since 9-11, we just see a lot more family unity,” Durham said.
In Orlando, the family-suites market is led by the 777-room Nickelodeon Suites Resort, which has proven immensely popular since it opened in 2005 just to the east of Disney World. The resort pairs family suites with Nickelodeon cartoon characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants.
By adding more than 1,000 new suites to its lineup, Disney hopes to pull more of those travelers onto its property. The conventional hotel rooms to be built as part of the Art of Animation Resort will also allow Disney to restore the room capacity it lost as part of the suites conversion at All-Star Music.
Disney executives said the popularity of those All-Star Music suites convinced them that there is a substantial market for family suites.
“We’re feeling very positive about the demand that is interested in both the value product and the family-suite product,” said Mark Rucker, vice president for lodging for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “The research for us is showing that the Central Florida marketplace is going to more than capably handle some inventory in this category.”
Disney declined to say how much it will spend to build the hotel. It expects to break ground this summer and open it in phases throughout 2012.
Disney said the project will generate approximately 800 construction jobs.