I still remember the first time I stepped foot in Radiator Springs. It was over a decade ago, but it’s so vivid in my mind that it feels like yesterday. Walking down Route 66 was like entering the set of Cars…if computer animated Pixar movies had sets.
From the glow of the oversaturated neon signs bathing the street in a sea of color to the lavishly-detailed shops lining the main thoroughfare. The only giveaway that this was a re-creation of Radiator Springs in a theme park was the trash cans dotting Route 66. Well, and my knowledge that I had entered a theme park that day. But otherwise? Complete suspension of disbelief.
Everything about Cars Land is pitch-perfect. From the layers of organic details to the Pixar Easter Eggs, the land truly feels inhabited (by vehicles, I guess?), rather than an artificial theme park environment. It’s the pinnacle of Imagineering, right up there with New Orleans Square and Tokyo DisneySea as exemplars of themed design that every Walt Disney World fan should see.
Of course, Cars Land does not contain any family suites and it isn’t at Walt Disney World. So, why did I just ramble about it for a few paragraphs? Partly because Walt Disney World fans are the presumptive audience of this post, and while I have you as a quasi-captive audience, I want to implore you to visit Cars Land.
More importantly, to underscore the excellence of Cars Land because it’s often brought up as a contrast (of sorts) to the Cars section of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. There’s a certain subset of Disneyland fans who take pleasure in “dunking” on this area of the Florida hotel as not measuring up to its California counterpart. Most are likely doing this not due to sincerely-held beliefs but for the sake of scoring points in some manufactured rivalry. Nevertheless, they are wrong.
They’re not wrong that Cars Land is nicer than the Radiator Springs section of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Without a doubt, that is true. Where they’re wrong is in comparing the two. One is a blockbuster theme park land–the cornerstone of Disney California Adventure’s reinvention–whereas the other is a budget hotel.
We don’t compare Port Orleans French Quarter to New Orleans Square, Contemporary Resort to Tomorrowland, Polynesian to Adventureland, or Paradise Pier Hotel to Dino-Rama (its most logical counterpart–not the nearby pier). Even my beloved Wilderness Lodge doesn’t hold a candle to Old Faithful Inn and its surrounding “IRL” setting. Resorts are different beasts and should be judged accordingly. When making apples to apples comparisons, the Cars section of Art of Animation performs surprisingly well.
Before we get to why this section of the hotel is great (beyond the obvious fact that cars are cool), let’s start with brief background. I don’t want to overdo it, as this is all covered in our standalone Disney’s Art of Animation Resort Review. In short, this is a Value Resort at Walt Disney World that features 864 standard rooms in motel style buildings with exterior walkways and 1,120 family suites in newer buildings with interior hallways.
Art of Animation’s main lobby (Animation Hall) features the front desk, Landscape of Flavors food court, Ink & Paint gift shop, Pixel Play Arcade, and the bus stop outside. Outside of this is the aptly-named Big Blue Pool, the largest at Walt Disney World. Directly beyond that, between Art of Animation and Pop Century Resort is the Skyliner station, where aerial gondolas glide over Hourglass Lake.
Guest rooms, common areas within each section, pools, playgrounds, etc. at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort are themed to one for four Disney-Pixar films: Finding Nemo, Lion King, Little Mermaid, or Cars.
As intimated above, the last of these is the best, with the Cars section being the one you should book. (Well…unless you have fans of Finding Nemo, Lion King, or Little Mermaid in your family. Then you might want to opt for one of those!)
While it’s very different from the All Stars or even nearby Pop Century, it’s worth noting that Art of Animation still follows the familiar formula of “big box” Value Resorts you might be used to at Walt Disney World. Most of the ‘theming’ is window-dressing consisting of oversized characters and objects, and vivid colors on these large, big box hotel buildings.
Consequently, Art of Animation is a love it or hate it hotel. We’ve previously likened Value Resorts to Crocs and think that comparison holds up. People love Art of Animation because it’s comfortable and cozy, with a sense of whimsy and fun that just makes them happy. Those who dislike Art of Animation feel that way because it’s tacky, loud, and abandons traditionally-nuanced Disney theming and detail in favor of something that gets by on clunky looks and characters.
As someone who loves both Crocs and Art of Animation, I can still see both perspectives. If you want something sophisticated and stylish, look elsewhere. If you want a resort that evokes the essence of iconic animated films and their characters, Art of Animation is perfect for you. Kids are almost guaranteed to love it, which is a big reason why Art of Animation ranks highly on our list of the Best & Worst Value Resorts at Walt Disney World.
It may not be the pinnacle of themed design and it doesn’t hit the same high notes as Cars Land or one of the iconic lands of Magic Kingdom…but it is better than Dino-Rama, and that counts for something! But seriously, the short and simple of it for me is that Art of Animation is a fun resort thematically.
As for why Cars is the coolest section at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, a big reason is because the concept lends itself well to adaptations. Not to diminish the exemplary work of Imagineers, but this is also why Cars Land excels. As it turns out, a movie that takes place along a thoroughfare with shops and roadside attractions lends itself to a theme park land with…a big walkway, shops, and attractions.
It’s not quite so simple to simulate the savanna or various under the sea settings above water. (Although I do think the Lion King section does a pretty good job.)
So you start with the environment itself, which creates Radiator Springs by converting the walkways into a road. It simulates the barren Route 66 landscape with some arid plants, rocks, and other desert stuff. Rather than decorating the buildings with vehicles and the like, Imagineering cleverly makes the big boxes “go away” by painting the Cadillac Mountains plus blend-in blue and clouds on them.
As it turns out, the decommissioned stretch of road in the quiet Carburetor County works well at this once-abandoned resort.
But that’s not all. The Cars section then adds a few simple structures that resemble the businesses along the main drag. There aren’t a ton of these–it’s certainly not stepping into a 1:1 version of the movie “set” of Radiator Springs–but it’s enough to effectively convey the idea.
Heck, some of these businesses are even hotels themselves. That’s right, a hotel themed to a hotel. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel!
Finally, there are the vehicles that inhabit Radiator Springs.
This is another inherent advantage. The other areas have to figure out a way to make giant under the sea characters “work” on land and alongside of one another. A gigantic Ursula makes sense…until you see her alongside an equally-sized Ariel! There is no such challenge with the Cars section. They’re all cars, built to scale!
All of this is very tongue in cheek, but again, I’m not trying to diminish the work of the design team.
It’s often hard work to make things look so easy, and that’s almost certainly the case here. I don’t doubt that there’s an unbuilt version of a Cars motel that looks awful. If Dino-Rama taught us anything, it’s that low-hanging fruit concepts thematically can be butchered beyond belief.
To that point, one of my favorite examples of design done really well is the Cozy Cone Motel Pool. The layout is really clever, with the check-in building functioning as the entrance with a semi-circle quiet pool surrounded by cone-cabanas (conebanas?). No matter which direction you look from the Cozy Cone Motel Pool, you’re immersed in Radiator Springs. It is by far the top ‘scenic’ view at Art of Animation Resort, and one of the best at any resort.
Do yourself a favor and get up early one morning, grab a conebana, and just savor the scenery from the Cozy Cone Motel Pool. Seriously. In my opinion, this peaceful pool is better than the Big Blue Pool, and I will die on this hill. (You may disagree, but at least humor me and give it a try early in the morning or late at night!)
Now let’s take a look inside the Cars rooms, which are likewise the coolest family suites at Walt Disney World.
This photo was taken from the door to the room to give you a rough idea of the family suite’s layout. To the left is a portion of the living room, then the main bedroom with its attached bedroom, and on the right is the kitchen table, which converts to a pull-down queen bed.
Turning to the left, we have a full view of the living room, minus the flat screen television above the dresser.
This photo highlights the floor, which previously had orange checkered carpeting with cones (similar to the curtains). That was replaced with a hard surface. I know some people find carpeting to be unsanitary, especially in hotel rooms, but I do not care. I prefer it. To each their own, though.
An unequivocal upgrade to the room comes via the larger, wall-mounted television. Not only is this TV bigger, but it frees up surface space on the dresser below it.
I recently saw a chart showing increases and decreases in goods & services affordability over the last two decades. Unsurprisingly, TVs have dropped in price more than anything else. I told Sarah we should buy a few OLEDs to do our part in fighting inflation. She was not amused. (In her defense, this was after I had already purchased one new television. But you can never have enough!)
Another look at the main living area. It’s an eclectic mix of auto shop theming, mid-century modern furniture, and Cars motifs. Somehow, it all comes together really well.
I would say the style of this room “works” and for a wide range of guests. I know my mom and dad would both like it, as would a small child. All for different reasons.
Here’s a look at the Murphy bed and table combo pulled down. Note the the two nightstands flanking the bed/table, with USB ports and outlets above each.
For some reason, I’ve arranged the kitchen chairs adjacent to the bed in this photo. Perfect for those who enjoy an audience while they sleep, I guess.
In the opposite direction of the kitchen table/bed is the first bathroom in the family suite.
This continues the fun Cars character visuals, but it’s starting to show its age. To my knowledge, these bathrooms have not been updated at all since the resort opened a decade ago.
Here’s the updated main bedroom.
Mostly the same changes in here. Larger wall-mounted television and carpet is gone. The bedspread was also removed at some point, and the bedframe is elevated to allow for storage underneath.
Don’t call me a traitor, but I think that it’s okay for these family suites to lose their themed comforters.
There was a lot going on visually, to the point that it was a bit busy. I’d still favor a bed runner, but there’s enough going on here that these suites look well-themed and not sterile.
The main bedroom also has an attached bathroom with a walk-in shower.
The other bathroom has a door separating the toilet and tub/shower, but that’s not the case in here. This setup works and makes sense.
Here’s our video tour of the Cars Family Suite to give you a better bearing on the relationship of the rooms.
The room layout is one of the strong points of the Art of Animation family suites. There’s good separation between each of the beds, so everyone has some degree of privacy and their own space.
All in all, I think the Cars family suite looks really good. It strikes a great balance of whimsy and tastefulness and is appealing to more than just children or hardcore Disney fans.
In total, the room is about 565 square feet, which is just over twice the size of a standard room. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s simply two connected rooms. The space is used incredibly well in these rooms, and every aspect of it is purposeful. It truly feels like a suite, with plenty of room for the full family.
As always, the biggest downside to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is the pricing of the suites. Unsurprisingly, this has only gotten worse in the last few years. First thanks to the introduction of the Skyliner, the addition of which more than justified the premium pricing, in my opinion.
Following that, prices have shot up along with all the other price increases at Walt Disney World. There’s nothing that justifies this other than demand, unless you want to count scaled-back menus at Landscape of Flavors as an “improvement.” I do not.
With that said, if Walt Disney World were to re-classify Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, it might pass muster as a Deluxe-caliber resort. The rooms are tastefully-done, spacious, and modern. Interior hallways are atypical of the Value or Moderate Resorts, save for Gran Destino Tower (another outlier).
Art of Animation’s pools surpass some Moderates and Deluxes. Skyliner transportation rivals the monorail–it’s actually better, if you ask me. Even Landscape of Flavors is starting to bounce back, and is a superior food court to most of its counterparts.
About the only thing Art of Animation is missing is table service dining (I’m honestly surprised a buffet hasn’t been added), but you’re literally ~10 minutes from Caribbean Beach and Riviera Resort. It also doesn’t have access to Extended Evening Hours, but that’s something that Walt Disney World could fix, if they so desired.
We aren’t suggesting that you should compared Art of Animation to a Deluxe when determining whether you should book it (we do not think it’s Deluxe-caliber), just pointing out that the argument could be made.
Ultimately, this review and tour is a long-winded way of saying the Cars Family Suites at Art of Animation and the hotel as a whole are really cool. Obviously, this resort is not for everyone–either in terms of party size or budget–but it may be one that some of you have dismissed out of hand due to preconceived notions about Value Resorts. We’re simply suggesting that you be open-minded, as Art of Animation has a lot going for it.
While this resort’s version of Radiator Springs does not hold a candle to Cars Land, that’s also an unfair and absurd comparison. For what it is, the Cars section at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is absolutely top-notch and a great example of a certain type of themed design. Consider giving it a test drive on your next trip to Walt Disney World!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
If you’ve stayed at or visited Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, which section did you like the most–Cars, Lion King, Finding Nemo, or Little Mermaid? Think these are the best family suites at Walt Disney World, or overrated? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that Radiator Springs is the coolest area of any Value Resort at Walt Disney World? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
the theming of the area is great, but guests should know this pool is deep compared to the other pools at AoA, little ones will be urged to use a life vest at all times. The cozy cones are a great touch for a totally free mini cabana.
We stayed at AofA, Cars suite , cool yes , value resort , no
We have stayed at Mermaid, Lion King, and Cars. I much prefer the Lion King for theming. I am not at all fond of 50s -60s style because I lived through it. I find it sterile and plastic. But we did enjoy taking the dogs to the Cars suites. They had a great doggie run area. The suites are really not as good as adjoining rooms if you desire to have any table area. We had six in our suite and missed not having a table area when someone was in bed there. I hate this feature in all the “upgraded” remodels. We like the food court at POP much better than at AoA. We like basic comfort food and very little Asian . They need more Mexican!!
I think Tom mentioned that he also liked The Lion King suites in the AoA review post.
For my own experience, I like both the Cars and TLK outside/grounds theming in between the buildings better than Nemo and TLM. It’s not so much preference about the subjects – I like the ocean and those movies! – but because my opinion is that the level of theming in those first two areas feels more immersive than the “giant character statues” of the other two. Because of that, the Cars and TLK sections of AoA are the most interesting areas of any Value Resort to me.
When we went to Cars Land I was amazed – it was like walking into the movie. Several years later we arrived at Zion National Park in the middle of the night. Woke up the next morning and walked out of our cabin – and it was just like being in Cars Land! Makes me a little sad there are only 3 of us and we have no need for a family suite.
I think that’s definitely the order to do them—Cars Land first and then the Utah (or other) National Parks. The land probably doesn’t have quite the same impact when going in the opposite order!
The Cars section of AoA is the scene of my most cherished family vacations, and the backdrop for my favorite family Christmas card photo of all time. We did two extended trips, the first only months after the resort debuted, when my kids were toddler/preschooler and then preschooler/school aged. My son used to jump up and down next to the door of our room each morning, straining to get outside so he could “hug” Lightening McQueen and Mater. We tried to talk ourselves into a different section for the second trip, but we couldn’t justify it. I think you nailed it Tom, in calling out the scale as a major factor for why this section works so well. The other areas of AoA do convey that “this is intentionally large” loudness of an All Star or Pop Century resort, but the Cars section just feels perfectly proportional to how you’d imagine yourself relating to the animated version of those characters. The resort, overall, has so much going for it, from the lobby animation classes, to the awesome pools, to the additional dining and bus options you can use at the Pop Century. We haven’t opted to stay here again in the past 6-7 years, though, because the prices have skyrocketed. During both our trips, our average nightly room cost was in the $200’s, but for our recent trips family suites priced out $500-$600 a night. My now tween/teen kids are more engaged at Fort Wilderness, and it’s been a bonus that the cabins were priced significantly lower during our dates. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Cars suites to families with means.
When we stayed at Pop Century ~5 years ago, I took my son over to that area of the resort one evening. He absolutely loved it. It was gloriously uncrowded, and a nice reprieve from the theme parks for a bit. It was definitely a fun diversion for part of the evening, and I think any younger Cars fan will get a huge kick out of it. We got to experience Cars Land at DCA this summer, and couldn’t agree with your assessment more. That land is amazing.
We are big fans of the Art of Animation because those family suites perfectly fit our immediate family of four plus my in-laws. It’s especially nice that they have two full bathrooms. We usually stay in the Finding Nemo suites for convenience, as they are closer to the Skyliner and lobby area, but we will definitely take some time to walk through this part of the resort and go to the pool there for my Cars-obsessed five-year old.
How many does this room sleep? Does the couch pull down to a single bed?
It sleeps 6. Two on the queen in the bedroom, two on the table pull down and two on the fold-out couch.
We find that the pull-down bed and sofa bed are perfect for an adult + a child. My husband and I haven’t tried both of us in one of them yet!
We stayed at AoA almost 10 years ago and absolutely loved it. We are a family of 7 and at the time our youngest 2 were still in pack n plays so we still could fit in the family suites. Our kids ranged in age from 2-10 that trip and we stayed in the Nemo section. We did spend significant time enjoying the resort as a whole and since that stay I have suggested visiting AoA as something to do with younger children on a break day. The theming is just so so good and for preschoolers that it can be a destination all on its own. The big blue pool was really great, but I totally agree that the Cars section was kind of jaw-droppingly awesome, especially the cozy cone pool area. We were really immersed in the Cars universe! We spent a lot of time playing and taking pictures in the Cars area in the late afternoon as the sun was setting. That golden hour is one of my all time favorite Disney trip memories.
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