Disney World building another 2,000 rooms for the budget market

Walt Disney World's Cinf=derella CastleGood news, budget Mousketeers! Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is expanding the inventory of its lowest-priced rooms. The new Disney's Art of Animation resort will add 1,120 suites and 864 standard, motel-style rooms in a section of the park beside another value-class resort, Disney's Pop Century. It opens in 2012, in time for the vacation playground's revamp of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.

Right now, Disney's "value" resorts are the cheapest it offers ("moderate" and "deluxe" are more expensive), with prices starting at $82 per night for a standard room in the lowest season, and $154 during the busiest nights of the year. Similar suites currently start at $190 and sleep six.Even before the opening, Disney has 8,640 rooms at its cheapest price level, which is more than most mid-size cities. If it sounds like a sign that the recession is ending and Disney is diving whole-hog back into the business of resort building, you're only half right.

A somewhat overlooked aspect of the resort's announcement is that some of the buildings for it were actually put up nearly a decade ago, and they have sat derelict since then. The last "value" category property opened at Walt Disney World, Disney's Pop Century Resort, was intended to be twice as large as it is now. The first half, dubbed The Classic Years, opened in 2001 under the supervision of Michael Eisner, and the second half, The Legendary Years, was to come next.

Then 9/11 happened, and the travel market tumbled. The Legendary Years never opened. Instead, a few pieces of it sat in mothballs, within sight of the opened half of Pop Century, gradually obscured by growing foliage. Its existence was a reminder of market failures in the Aughts.

In the intervening decade, Disney tested a new "suite" design at one of its similar properties, the All-Star Music resort, by busting a door through the wall separating two motel-style rooms, conjoining them into what it termed a "suite." The concept worked because it inexpensively transformed standard rooms into premium ones with very little construction effort.

Like the other "value" resorts, the area will be adorned by a few enormous monuments. So far, Disney has released images of a design for a 35-foot-tall statue of King Triton from The Little Mermaid, one of the Disney films the buildings will celebrate.

Disney's value properties are not perfect. They're generally far from the action, they're too sprawling, their hospitality is not particularly special, and most importantly, they can cost twice as much as lodging of a similar quality level right outside the gates of the Disney property. But for fans of that Disney vibe, there's no substitute for staying on the company's property, and the company is finally, after a decade, putting the needs of budget travelers at the forefront.

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