Hotel refurbishments, resort construction, and room renovations are ongoing at Walt Disney World in 2020 and beyond! This updated resource will help you determine what to avoid, where to book, room requests, and what to expect in terms of hotel construction at Walt Disney World. (Updated January 14, 2020.)
Our January 2020 update to this list adds a project we’ve sorta been dreading: Wilderness Lodge. To be fair, this hotel certainly could use a refresh as it’s rooms have felt a bit worse for wear the last several years. However, Wilderness Lodge is our favorite Walt Disney World resort, and we’re terrified the end result will be scaled-back details and theme. Here’s hoping Disney goes the route of the richly-done new rooms at Animal Kingdom, rather than the boring and bland designs of Beach Club and BoardWalk Inn!
We do Walt Disney World hotel stays every month, usually emphasizing resorts where there are new things, changes, or ongoing construction to see how that harms, improves, or otherwise impacts the guest experience. In addition to updating this resource, we share our latest experiences via our emails. If you’ve yet to book a hotel for your upcoming Walt Disney World vacation and want to be notified about all of the latest resort changes, sign up here for our FREE Disney newsletter here.
While refurbishments are a normal part of the hotel business and the sheer number of resorts at Walt Disney World pretty much guarantees there will always be a project somewhere, the prevalence, scope, and scale of refurbishments right now is unprecedented. With that in mind, the goal is to do everything possible to increase capacity and undertake a bunch of projects not intended for today’s guests, but for guests visiting in 2021 and beyond for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
When booking a 2020 Walt Disney World vacation, we highly recommend taking into account recently-completed and ongoing construction projects at the various resorts, as these absolutely can impact the quality of your trip. Booking a hotel with a closed pool or construction noise and cranes right outside your window is obviously going to be a worse experience than a resort that just finished its big refurbishment and still has that fresh feeling and ‘new hotel’ smell.
Let’s start by going around the various resorts that have wrapped up projects recently, currently have major ongoing projects. Also, we want to place an emphasis on major, or work that has the potential to be felt by resort guests. Room renovations and changes around the grounds that won’t impact guests whatsoever don’t make the list simply because they’re likely to go unnoticed by 95% of hotel guests.
Suffice to say, a lot is happening on the hotel front at Walt Disney World. Let’s take a look at all of the current and upcoming major hotel projects that have the potential to impact guests…
Ongoing or Upcoming Hotel Refurbishments
All Star Resorts – Currently, All Star Resorts are receiving room redesigns akin to Pop Century. We stayed in one of these new rooms this spring, which you can read about in our Photos & Video: Newly Reimagined Rooms at the All Star Resorts post. This is a huge upgrade from the previous design, which was more minor leagues than all-star caliber. Suffice to say, we’re fans.
Currently, work is entirely finished at All Star Movies, which means all of the rooms have now been refurbished. Over at All Star Music, work has started with Calypso Building 10 now being finished and work underway on Buildings 8 & 9 (Jazz Inn and Broadway Hotel).
At the current pace, All Star Music will finish towards the end of 2020 or early 2021, at which time All Star Sports will begin. The room design is nearly identical to what Pop Century has received, with minor thematic flourishes differing, such as artwork. Work should be minimally intrusive to guests.
Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House) – Room refurbishments are occurring into early 2020. We recently stayed in a finished room and shared that experience in Awesome Animal Kingdom Lodge New Rooms. Once this work is finished in the regular hotel rooms at Jambo House, the Value Studio villas will be renovated through Spring 2020.
Note that staging areas for this project occur in areas of the savanna. Impact on the guest experience is highly variable–some readers have reported zero issues while, others have shared horror stories. Point being, it’s a your mileage may vary scenario; recent feedback as the project is winding down and unlikely to be noticeable to most guests.
Animal Kingdom Lodge (Kidani Village) – Refurbishments of the common areas are also underway over at Kidani Village. This is apparent upon entering the lobby, which has the breathtaking savanna view out its floor to ceiling obstructed by large scaffolding that has been erected outside the entire outside window. Elsewhere outside, scrims cover much of the Kidani Village facades, as repainting, roof work, and thematic details are retouched.
Construction equipment sits in the grass between green construction walls and the savanna, and this area is being treated as a staging area. However, most of the work (at least at present) is confined to this area between the Kidani Village exterior and the savanna. If you walk outside a bit further, you pass this staging area and have unobstructed access to the fire pits and public savanna viewpoints at Kidani Village. It’s our understanding that this is routine maintenance that shouldn’t impact guest rooms, but the duration of the work is unclear.
Art of Animation – As you can read in our dedicated Upcoming Projects at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, there are a few things of which you should be aware if you’re considering a stay at this hotel in the next two years. The lobby overhaul and Big Blue Pool closure are the main ones that have the potential to impact the guest experience.
Additionally, rooms are quietly being refreshed in the Art of Animation Suites, with the carpeting being replaced with laminate flooring and other slight changes to furniture and furnishings. We attempted to get a new room during a recent stay to no avail. Work is now done on most of the Cars suites, with Nemo suites now underway, followed by the Lion King suite and Little Mermaid standard rooms.
Fort Wilderness Campground – For the next 3 years, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground will be impacted by construction of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, which is the next Disney Vacation Club property that’s slated to open in 2022. This new resort is being built on the former River Country water park site, and the construction area will cut away part of Fort Wilderness, as well.
At present, work on Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge is largely in the land clearing stage, with portions of the beach at Fort Wilderness and other common areas already closed. In fact, the Settlement (the waterfront area of Fort Wilderness where dining, boat docks, and many amenities are located) is currently a maze of construction walls. This is only likely to get worse as construction on Reflections goes vertical.
Port Orleans Riverside – The soft goods refurbishment project that includes the addition of Princess and the Frog thematic elements and other functional design changes is now mostly finished at Port Orleans Riverside. We stayed in these and wrote about the experience in our New Rooms at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside post.
As of January 2020, the Royal Rooms are still left to be renovated, and that should happen at some point this year. We don’t have a timeline for those, but anticipate them being done before the summer.
Saratoga Springs – For the first time in its 15 years of being open, Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa will receive a top to bottom refurbishment of both the exterior and interior of the resort. This will bring with it a reimagined room concept, which will feature a new style sofa bed similar to what’s being used at Disney’s Riviera Resort. The first of these rooms have already reopened (albeit in very limited supply), with more coming online over the course of the next two years.
As we reported in our new Photos & Report: 2-Year Overhaul to Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, this project is now underway and will last through 2021. This is Saratoga Springs Resort’s first-ever hard good refurbishment, and will result in numerous changes throughout all categories of rooms, as well as the exteriors of the buildings. We’d expect more changes elsewhere at the resort, as well.
Wilderness Lodge – It seems that every year has a big, unannounced refurbishment project, and it’s finally Wilderness Lodge’s turn for that. Fans of Wilderness Lodge will no doubt recall that the resort was significantly impacted not too long ago when many hotel rooms were converted to DVC villas and the Cascade Cabins were built. However, none of the other hotel rooms were touched at that time.
Consequently, a phased refurbishment project began in January 2020, starting with 7th floor. Work is now underway to overhaul the Yellowstone and Yosemite Suites, and redesign the Club Level guest rooms. During this time and through early March 2020, the Old Faithful Lounge will be closed.
Once this floor is finished, work will move down to the 6th floor and so on. There has been a ton of speculation about the scope of this work and what will change in guest rooms. (None of the new rooms have opened yet.) We also can’t confirm the scope of the work in common areas, as Walt Disney World has been totally silent to guests about what this will entail.
To the best of our knowledge, the New Test Rooms at Wilderness Lodge we shared last year do not reflect the forthcoming design of the standard guest rooms. For those, look to the new Copper Creek Villas. Additionally, it’s safe to expect the addition of walk-in showers, elevated beds, and removal of bunkbeds…let’s just hope Disney doesn’t remove the themed design and charm of these rooms while they’re at it.
Beyond that, Coronado Springs saw a number of improvements and upgrades around the rest of the resort. The pool saw a refresh, regular rooms were remodeled, and a new over-the-water bar debuted. While Coronado Springs isn’t our favorite resort from a thematic perspective, these enhancements definitely improve the guest experience there.
Caribbean Beach & Riviera Resort – Thanks to a trio of projects: Skyliner construction, Old Port Royale overhaul, and Disney Vacation Club expansion, Caribbean Beach was the major construction project last year. Thankfully, this is all completed now.
We are huge fans of the finished product at Caribbean Beach Resort. The new lobby is chic but well-themed, and Sebastian’s Bistro and Banana Cabana are solid restaurants. The Skyliner is a huge plus, and Riviera Resort adds a nice slate of dining options to this area.
Old Key West – A hard goods top-to-bottom refurbishment just wrapped up at the start of summer. This was the resort’s biggest aesthetic overhaul to its rooms since it debuted. Among Old Key West die hard fans, the results have been controversial.
Many have derided the overly modern, generic style. Others prefer the fresh new look to the old “grandma’s beach house stuck in the early 1990s” vibe of the previous design. You can judge for yourself by taking a look at our New Rooms at Disney’s Old Key West Resort Photo Tour.
Additionally, the Disney Skyliner station at Pop Century, which is shared with Art of Animation, is now completed. This gondola offers efficient and (critically) non-bus transportation to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Port Orleans French Quarter – Similar soft goods refurbishment project to the Port Orleans Riverside project discussed above. This made minor thematic and functional changes to the rooms, and concluded last year.
Yacht & Beach Club – Both of these resorts have finished their top-to-bottom hard goods refurbishments of guest rooms, and Yacht Club has similarly now opened all of its guest-facing public amenities with the debut of Ale and Compass Restaurant & Lounge.
As we previously shared, we’re fans of the newly-refurbished rooms at Yacht Club. The response from other Disney fans has been decidedly more mixed (and we are more mixed on the new rooms at Beach Club). In other words, your mileage may vary on the rooms, but don’t let the Convention Center construction discourage you from staying at either–it’s a nonissue.
Where at Walt Disney World are you staying in 2020 or 2021? Any resorts you’re intentionally avoiding? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!