Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation Resort Tour, part two

If you didn't see my post yesterday, I show you one of the family suites at Disney's new Art of Animation Resort, as well as provide you a bit of the background into why Disney's newest value resorts is mostly suites. Today, a little bit more history and some pictures of the 2,500 characters that can be found on the resort grounds.

When you arrive at the resort, passing the 40' retro sign that acts as the cover of their storybook, then pass through the similarly themed gate, you will be directed to the parking at Animation Hall.  Those who have stayed at Pop Century will realize that this building is a mirror of the Classic Hall found at the sister resort across Hourglass Lake, at least in layout. 

Once you walk through the entrance, you will find the Ink and Paint shop immediately to your left, which you will have to pass through to get to the Landscape of Flavors and Colors food court. This is where you will really notice that things have changed in several ways.

 First, as you make your way to the various stations to order your food, you will notice that the food is being cooked to order and served on real dishes. This is just one of the many 'green' features of the resort.  Another thing you will notice:  NO disposable cups.  You can purchase bottled beverages or a reusable cup. 

The food court has four sections, each themed to correspond to one of the resort's stories.  In an effort to dampen sound that would have been absorbed by the carpets, giant murals are placed throughout the food court, partitioning the four areas from each other. 
Cars murals
Lion King Lighting
Little Mermaid cavern mural, showing her collections.

Back out in the lobby area, there is a large chandelier. If you circle it, the progression of the four stories can be seen in order. (I get dizzy fairly easily, so I took the tour guide's word for this.)

John Lasseter, President of Disney/Pixar Feature Animation, took a tour of the resort shortly before it opened. He was so impressed with the work that he wanted to be a part of it. They got him a large ladder, and he actually signed this 'storyboard' of Lightning McQueen.

The check-in area represents the move from ink and paint (the pods where you check in) to the digital age of animation (the pixelated tiles on the floor). Cast members are 'Story directors', as they guide you in your 'story' for the time you are at WDW.

The sketches along the walls show the progression from initial character ideas at the far end, with closer to finished product at the end closest to the Ink and Paint.
Early Nemo concept art
Many mid-progress sketches
Mine!  Mine!  Mine!
Nemo, little fin appearing to flap wildly

Every design element Disney puts in happens for a reason. In this case, the character sketches lead to storyboards, which you'll find on the walls outside Ink and Paint. In animation films, these are not finessed images, rather they convey the color palette for characters, scenes and a whole movie. When you view the whole wall with this in mind, it is quite impressive.
Art of Animation is the first Value resort to feature a business center. Guests can use the computers and printers to check email and print boarding passes. Also in the business center is a monitor that displays the departures from Orlando International Airport (MCO), a nice feature that I suspect will help when the weather is frightful and flights are canceled to northern destinations.

Ink and Paint features some very nice resort-specific merchandise with the iconic entrance sign. Alas, they were out of refrigerator magnets that day. I guess it's an excuse to go back!
The game room is cashless. You can purchase a card and put credits on it or charge your videogame play to your room key. Me, I'd go with the former. The game room is set up with the easiest games in the front and the most difficult in the rear.
The Big Blue Pool is the largest non-water park pool on Walt Disney World property, and has zero entry.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of joining Deb Wills and the AllEarsNet team on a tour of the new Disney Art of Animation resort. This new Disney value resort opened May 12th, where the "Heritage Years" was supposed to open.

However, in the ten years since that project was put on hold, Disney noticed their guests needed rooms to accommodate more than 4 people, a segment that had previously had to either book two rooms, get a moderate hotel room to sleep 5 or to keep costs in line, seek a place to stay off-property.

Instead, they decided to pilot test 'suites' in the All Star resorts that slept 6 comfortably. The pilot was a huge success, and led to plans for Art of Animation to have three sections of family suites. However, the story doesn't end there.

Story is actually the perfect word here, for this is the first location on property where guests book their room by 'story', choosing from Cars, Finding Nemo, or Lion King (opening August 10th) for family suites, and Little Mermaid in September. When guests check in, they're asked which story they're part of, and their experience begins with the cast member talking to them related to their story.

For instance, if your story is Cars, you'll rev your engines and drive on over to Radiator Springs or be guided to 'fuel up' at the Landscape of Flavors. (More pictures tomorrow of Animation Hall, with more details, too)

Anthony was our guide and showed us one of the suites in the Cars area. There are three buildings, Tow Mater's Towing and Salvage, Luigi's Casa Della Tire and the Wheel Well Motel. Let me just say, the themeing is fantastic-the Imagineers created a desert like vista, but on our walk, we were soon greeted by this happy fella:
so we headed inside, below this sign:
Once inside the 100% Refrigerated Air (which was appreciated, it was in the high 90s already at 10:30 in the morning), Anthony pointed out many design features. The mats below us said 'Welcone' and the hallways have tire tracks, so we were welcome to leave our own. In the corner of those tire tracks, you can spy some hidden Mickeys.
When you're given your keys, you're instructed to head to 'Route 1507', and the room numbers are Highway signs, with hallway lights that are orange cones. The room keys use RFID technology, so you just have to wave it in front of the sensor to get in.

Once inside, you are in a dining area (more on this later). To the right is a master bedroom with a queen size bed and master bath with a walk-in shower. To the left is another bathroom with a tub, and a living room area with a kitchenette.

The master bathroom vanity.
The queen bed in the master bedroom, which has a decent sized flat screen television.
The living area. This sofa has a Tempurpedic mattress and according to Anthony, is more comfortable than the bed in the master bedroom.
Above the sofa, a picture of Judge.
The retro styled kidney bean table.
Across from the very comfortable sofa, there are dressers that have a flat screen TV on top and some storage. I loved these, because they fit the theme so well!
The kitchenette contains a microwave, a mini fridge that has a small freezer, a coffee pot and a wet sink. The last few hotels my family has stayed at have had similar setups and it is so nice to have a cold drink and some breakfast snacks in the room to enjoy.
Okay, so you saw the master bedroom and the sleeper sofa, and you may be thinking about the fact that I said these room sleep six-and I entered a dining room. Well, yeah, I did, but this room has something cooler than GameTeen's Murphy Bed:
It is a bed, but in seconds, Anthony had it converted back to a dining room!
A couple of other people brought up that the table seats four, but there is ample seating in the place, so a couple of people could sit in the living room and eat. I forget what resort was mentioned, but they'll be getting these same beds with tables that seat six.

I want to note that there were about twenty of us in that room during the tour and we all fit comfortably! So if you are concerned that it's not enough room for your family, I think that's a good barometer of how well 4-6 will fit if 19 or 20 can be in there and not be squished like sardines. (well, we were for a group picture later-in one corner of the living room.)

The second bathroom has a door between the tub and toilet, and the vanity, which has a second door, so potentially, three people could be getting ready in the morning at the same time. Pretty cool.
Here's where the Disney attention to detail comes in again-look at the overhead light fixtures:
And the living room light, too.
Tomorrow, I'll share some pictures from around the resort, which is quite impressive. Even though we only live a half hour away, I want to spend a couple of nights in this resort, and immerse myself in the story. It's what Disney set out to do with this new property, and they succeeded in a big way.

Again, thanks to Deb and her hard-working team for having another great event!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Texas Roadhouse, Lakeland

It was my birthday a few days ago and Ed decided that he was taking me out on a date to mark the occasion. (Oh, and I got some nice Star Wars items for my desk, which was really nice.) I wanted steak, considered getting the free one offered at Texas Cattle Company here in town, but I was told that they a la carte you to death. While I'd have a free porterhouse, the sides and drinks would net us a $70 check. No wonder they don't have prices on their website! Now that I checked out the Urban Spoon reviews, I see that the feedback my friends gave me is similar to what other reviewers have to say.

So, I wanted steak. I perused the dozen or so birthday emails I'd received from restaurants, because I'm thrifty that way. For some reason, I thought I had one from Outback, but I didn't-but I did have one from Texas Roadhouse. One opened up on the other side of town in early spring, and we'd considered going, but a couple we know had complained about lousy food and service, two deal breakers for us. Still, I had the coupon, it was a weeknight, it was after dinner rush (8 pm), so we gave it a try.

Once we walked in the door, I realized I'd been in one up in Gainesville soon after moving to Florida. My boss back then had sent me several stores to be vacation coverage and I had 3 nights in town and a per diem for food. This vist, there were two hostesses, no one waiting, and we were taken to our seats immediately.

Yes, the place is one big room and it is LOUD. That said, we aren't bothered by a lot of ambient noise, so it didn't bother us. At one point, I heard a major commotion, and later found out what that was about...

Our server came over, Saw my birthday coupon and wished me a happy birthday. We selected their Blossom, because it looked like a Blooming onion. I'd taken off my glasses, so when the server suggested a birthday margarita and I explained I don't 'do' tequila, I didn't see that the alternative she suggested didn't have alcohol. It was good, but darn, missed my birthday drink!

We both agree we liked the Blossom much more than a Blooming onion. The batter coating this onion is much thicker and crispier. The best part is that it was not greasy at all. My complaint with a Blooming Onion is that many times, the bottom of it seems underdone-the Blossom is not like that at all. Completely crispy the whole way through. It reheats nicely, too.

Ed and I both went for sirloin steaks, mine an 8 oz, his a 10 oz. I ordered a sweet potato all the way and a side salad, Ed went for a loaded baked potato and salad. They make the dressings in house (like Outback), and I opted for the Ranch while Ed went for the 1,000 Island.

The salads come with lettuce, tomato, onions, cucumber, cheese, croutons, and egg on them. Fair warning, because I didn't know about the eggs. Server Brittany was very kind when I said I didn't realize they come with eggs and got me one without really fast. They were cold and crunchy and I liked the dressing.

Our steaks arrived before we were even finished with the salads, mine medium rare, Ed's medium. Both of these were very tender, with just a tiny bit of fat on each.
I wasn't sure what to expect with the loaded sweet potato, but it appears that it is some people's idea of the Thanksgiving side dish. More dessert like than side. I liked it, but I ate most of it the next day as lunch, because it was just too sweet to have with my steak. Next time, no all the way for me, just some butter, thanks.

Oh, that commotion I'd heard earlier? It seems they expect guests celebrating a birthday to saddle up and they hoot and holler. I was a good sport, I rode side saddle and braced myself by putting a foot up against the booth. My horse riding days are long over. Who knew five servers could make that much noise? Be warned, if you're going for a birthday, you will not escape riding the 'bronco'!

They'll reward you with a scoop of ice cream with homemade hot fudge. I was already stuffed, had two bites and it tasted like Blue Bell vanilla. Yum.

Overall, food and service were fantastic, it was noisy due to the open floor plan and no carpet to dampen the noise. Our check came to $35, which was less than we thought we'd pay, even without the appetizer.

One thing to note, they serve peanuts and have shells all over the floor-so those with allergies to peanuts should steer clear. Ed and I will definitely be back.

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