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New hotel immerses guests in details of Disney films

It used to be simple: Little girls and boys loved princesses, pirates, and Disney characters, so Disney provided opportunities for meet-and-greets and sometimes costumes, hair-dos and make-up like the characters wore.

In the last few years, Disney began decorating a small number of hotel rooms in storybook themes — and parents paid a premium for the rooms.

But now, with the opening of the first wing of the Art of Animation Resort, Disneyphiles young and old can immerse themselves in over-the-top details of four of the most popular animated films — Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.

In the Finding Nemo wing, for example, which opened May 31, furniture is painted with underwater scenes, lamps and chair backs look like coral, light fixtures resemble a cluster of air bubbles, the shower curtain has a scene from the film with Dory and sharks, and the wall art, carpet and bedding all have aquatic themes.

Outside by the enormous pool, the “Big Blue,” there are oversized models of movie characters Crush the sea turtle and Mr. Ray. The landscaping is filled with plants that resemble coral, sea grasses and underwater plants, and the light poles look like a string of air bubbles.

The Cars wing, scheduled to open June 18, is set in Radiator Springs, a fictional town in the Southwest — just like the movie — with the Cozy Cone Motel and classic cars. Inside, fold-out sofas are upholstered like car seats, the coffee table is printed with a road map, lampshades are made of orange road cones, the carpet is printed with tiny road cones, and the shower curtain is a scene from the movie..

When the last of the wings opens Sept. 15, the resort will have a total of 1,120 family suites and 864 standard rooms in Disney’s value category, with suites starting at $248 and rooms at $94.

The resort’s lobby and public areas are a celebration of animation, said Rick Allen, the hotel’s general manager. They are filled with sketches from the films, a chandelier made of animation storyboards, ceiling lights painted with movie landscapes, a wall of color scripts, and staff members wearing pen-and-ink drawn vests spattered with paint.

“We’re putting you in the middle of the animation,” he said, pointing to the roughest black and white sketches that were the early concept drawings of the film characters. The sketches continue along the wall, getting more detail, more color, and ultimately, looking like the characters in the movies.

The Art of Animation is not the first time Disney has tried to put its hotel guests in themed rooms. “We know there is that audience that wants to be immersed,” said Val Bunting, general manager of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort - Riverside.

Three or four years ago, she said, the company came up with the concept of rooms with storybook themes, and redecorated 200 rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort as pirate rooms.

“The bed looks like a pirate ship, the dresser looks like a barrel, the carpet looks like planks,” Bunting said. Disney charged a $30 premium for the rooms. “Sure enough, they are very, very popular. That was the impetus that said we can do that more and more,” she said.

Among them are 512 “Royal Rooms” that opened in March at Port Orleans. They are decorated in gold and royal blue, with a faucet in the shape of Genie’s lamp from Aladdin, headboards that turn a forest scene into a fiber-optic fireworks display and pictures of Disney princesses and banners showing princely silhouettes hanging on the walls — subtle in comparison to the Art of Animation.

Disneyphiles can purchase a few of the decor items from the Art of Animation Resort — the road-cone lamp, the shower curtains — in the gift shop. But zealous Disney fans covet hard-to-find memorabilia.

“The first people in the Royal Rooms were the Disneyphiles,” Bunting said. “They were walking away with the bedspreads.”

Even special luggage benches from Royal Rooms — supposedly a gift from Belle to Tiana — have been found in the parking lot. “We think people found they couldn’t fit them in their cars and left them there,” she said.