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Monday Mouse Watch: Will Pop Century be rebranded as Disney's Animation Inn and Suites?

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Monday Mouse Watch: Will Pop Century be rebranded as Disney's Animation Inn and Suites?

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Okay. I know. This is a really tough time to be a Disney World fan. Especially with last week's news about how advance reservations for the Resort were 'way down and WDW officials were already getting ready for what looked to be an incredibly lean 2009.

But -- you know -- it's not always going to be like this. At some point in the future, the current credit crunch is going to ease up. And -- when that does happen -- the Walt Disney World Resort wants to be ready to cash in all of those returning tourists.

"And how exactly is WDW going to do that?," you ask. "What sort of preparations is the Mouse making for when the economy recovers?" Well, how many of you remember that Fabs Rocks! story that I linked to a week or so back? The one where Shelly Smith talked about the Imagineers' plans for that long-uncompleted Legendary Years portion of Disney's Pop Century Resort.

These units have been left open & unfinished since construction stopped in 2002
Photo by Jeff Lange

Alright. Now take that bit of info and then fold in this intriguing tidbit from TouringPlans.com. Which posted the following back on November 8th :

"A permit was recently filed by the mouse for the installation of a model room somewhere on property for 'Disney's Animation Inn and Suites.' "

Here's some links to the permit in question. Now allow me to connect the dots for you. The Legendary Years redo that Fab Rocks! wrote about and that model room rumor that TouringPlans.com posted are all part of the same project. Which involves retheming / rebranding all of Pop Century so that it then can become a new family-friendly Resort, Disney's Animation Inn and Suites.

These statues will be part of the on-site theming that survives
when Pop Century Resort is rebranded as Disney's Animation
Inn and Suites. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

"And why would Disney do something like that?," you ask. Well, to be blunt, in the nearly five years that the Classic Years portion of Disney's Pop Century has been open, this Value Resort has never been able to maintain the same sort of steady high occupancy rate that Disney's All-Stars typically enjoy (Those three Value Resorts regularly experience occupancy rates of 95% and higher. Whereas Pop Century's occupancy rate is typically stuck in the 80s). Which WDW management blames -- in large part -- on Pop Century's unappealing theme.

As one Disney Parks & Resorts insider recently told me:

"Baby boomers may think that it's cool to see a huge can of Play-Doh or a giant Big Wheel. But these oversized icons had zero appeal for their parents or their children.

Copyright 2002 Disney. All Rights Reserved

It was a mistake for us to theme an entire Resort around pop culture. Especially since so many people associate the Disney name with such timeless classics like 'Snow White' and 'Pinocchio.' By rebranding this Resort as Disney's Animation Inn and Suites, we'll hopefully be able to significantly broaden the appeal of this Value Resort. Make it the sort of place that Guests of all ages will enjoy staying at. Not just baby boomers."

Now keep in mind that just because Walt Disney World has filed the permits necessary to construct a 2500 square-foot model room for Disney's Animation Inn and Suites doesn't automatically mean that this Resort is a "Go." Mind you, it's a very good sign. Disney Parks & Resorts typically doesn't build a model room unless that proposed new Resort is fairly far along in the approval process. But it still doesn't mean that Animation Inn and Suites has been given a green light.

"And why exactly does Disney Parks & Resorts construct these model rooms?," you query. So that Mouse House execs can see what a typical room at this proposed new Resort will look like before they then sign off on its construction. Back in Michael Eisner's day ... Well, Uncle Mike personally inspected each of the test units that Disney's development team built for these proposed new Resorts. In some cases, he even stayed overnight in the model room.

Model room for Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Photo by Jeff Lange

Getting back to today's topic ... Just because Disney builds a model room doesn't then mean that that proposed Resort is now on the fast track for construction. Take -- for example -- the photo above. Which shows the model room that was built for Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Pretty cool looking, don't you think? But please note what's in the background of that shot. Which is the model room that Disney Parks & Resorts had built for the All-Star Music. Complete with giant maraca.

Model rooms for Disney's All-Star Music Resort (L) and Disney's
Animal Kingdom Lodge (R). Photo by Jeff Lange

Given that there were seven years that separated the opening of that Value Resort and when Animal Kingdom Lodge officially opened its doors ... Well, you can now see that sometimes there's some pretty serious lag time between when the model room for a proposed new Resort is built and when construction actually begins.

Which brings us back to start of today's story. As is: When is the economy going to recover?

Well, you'll know when the Walt Disney Company thinks that the current credit crunch is over. And that's when you see the Mouse greenlighting the retheming / rebranding of Disney's Pop Century Resort.

This super-sized version of Tramp is expected to survive
Pop Century's transition to Disney's Animation Inn
and Suites. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

So think of Disney's Animation Inn & Suites as the canary in the coal mine. A strong indicator of when the worst of the bad times are over. At least in Mickey's eyes. When this radically reworked Value Resort (Which Company insiders feel will be a guaranteed moneymaker right from the get-go. And may even allow WDW to eventually reclassify this hotel complex as a Moderate Resort) finally comes off the drawing board and then enters its construction phase, that's when Disney believes that the economy is getting ready to rebound.

Your thoughts?

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  • FINALLY!  I've been waiting for Disney to theme a resort around movie characters...

    I just can't help but feel that maybe the resort would be making better numbers if it, oh I don't know, HAD BEEN FINISHED IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    Count me disappointed and saddened.  Also how about some building up of the parks before we completely remodel a resort that would be doing better with a little marketing.  What a terrible waste of time, money, and good work.

  • I've maintained for a while that a Toontown Resort of some sort would probably do really well.  With a character-based theme for the rooms and pool as well as character appearances at the hotel (have a few lesser-seen characters occasionally appearing in the lobby, plus character dining experiences), it seems like it would be the type of resort families would actively flock to.  Of course, once you add in all of the extra touches, such a resort would probably find itself in the Deluxe Resort bracket fairly quickly, but it seemed sensible to me.

  • I think that the lack of appeal for the resort comes not so much from the periods they choose to represent, but from the way those periods are represented.  It would be one thing if there was a section of the resort with 50s style nuclear age design and architecture, its another when you have that section represented with large flat signs and sculptures of memorabilia from the era.  Not quite as unique or appealing.

    Then again, if they designed a resort around 1970s/80s style architecture, that would probably be one of the most unappealing resorts on property.  I think the proposed re-theming is the best way to go.

  • Great article Jim, really interesting.  I hadn't seen any of this concept art before.

    So, would they 'finish' the half built concrete shells that are already there?

  • I always thought this theme was a mistake.  Until I stayed there.  I love the resort the way it is. My daughter loves it too. It has plenty of Disney Characters already.  Granted the giant computer and walkman do nothing for me, but most of it is really cool. I suppose it's a decent enough idea to retheme it to basically be ALL STAR MOVIES.  And I'd love to see the LEGENDARY YEARS be completed.  But, what I notice mostly is that it would become INNS AND SUITES, which sounds like we would be losing a VALUE resort.  It's tough to get a value room reservation during many seasons, and converting this one to a moderate would be bad for those travelers who can't AFFORD anything other than a value.  Now, if they plan to make the LEGENDARY YEARS suites and leave what's currently built as regular value rooms, I'm for it.  But,  will miss the POP theming.  It is my favorite value resort, and I really get a kick out of it.

  • lostincrowds,

    The Fab Rocks! article that Jim links to says that the Legendary Years will be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.

    Pop Century is my favorite Value resort, but I agree that it needs a major makeover. As we travel further into the 21st Century, there will be fewer people who will want to stay in a resort celebrating the 20th. Switching the theme to honoring the "timeless" animated characters that made the Walt Disney Company great would be a very smart move. I hope that, if this rumor is indeed true, it gets greenlit sooner rather than later.

  • Just out of curiosity: where, on property, are the model rooms located?

  • I enjoyed my September '07 stay at the Pop Century, though I really won't be heartbroken to see it rethemed.  However, I hope it stays a VALUE resort - my family is of very limited means, and even when I'm simply vacation shopping, available Value rooms are hard to find.

  • I'd also like to know more about the model hotel rooms.

  • I knew I had read about the model rooms before, and wouldn't you know it, it was on JHM. This article had more pictures and anecdotes about them: http://jimhillmedia.com/blogs/jim_hill/archive/2007/03/30/a-special-behind-the-scenes-version-of-why-for.aspx

    As it says in that article, the model room site is gone; replaced by a CM services/laundry facility. If I'm not mistaken, it is the are marked on this map: http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=28.35534~-81.541622&style=h&lvl=16&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=8180566&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&sp=Point.nqs3mg864bh6_Former%20model%20room%20site____&encType=1

  • I've stayed at the Pop Century. And...while it's not bad...it is extremely tacky. Garish and neon, and not in a fun way. In that regard it outdoes the Nickelodeon Suites (and heck, maybe it was meant to). I hope it does get a major retheming. It could sure use it. Bleah.

  • Does anyone know if the suites will be similar to the All Star suites or more like the Nickelodeon suites, with a small themed room with bunk beds?

    I think this is a great idea. I've never stayed there, but I enjoyed the All Star Movies, which this sounds like, only better. My kids would have a blast, and I can really see this resort being completely booked. It's a marketer's dream. "Come to Disney and stay in a Disney character themed hotel." Guests will really feel like they are getting the whole "Disney" experience.

  • While I'll agree with mickeysgal in that Pop Century rethemed to Disney characters would be a marketer's dream, it seems to me that it also reveals a stunning lack of creativity, or at least a desire to take the easy way out. The Company's fallback solution to just about any attendance slowdown they have at the theme parks or lack of bookings in the resorts these days seems to be "stick in a few more characters and it'll be OK" - Nemo and Friends at the Living Seas, Monsters Inc and Stitch at the MK, the re-do of Carribbean Beach to include the Nemo and Pirates theming, etc.  

    How about opening uniquely themed resort instead of stealing a few pages from the Nickolodeon Suites playbook? It's crazy, but it just might work... ;)      

  • Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talks about DCA's lack of advance planning, what Dick Nunis once called Walt and why it's important to take a two-tiered approach when discussing Disney World

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