Hotel refurbishments, resort construction, and room renovations are ongoing at Walt Disney World in 2019 & 2020. This updated resource will help you determine where to avoid, which are safe to book, room requests to make, and what to expect in terms of hotel construction at Walt Disney World. (Last updated May 17, 2019.)
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 at Walt Disney World hotels is unprecedented. I cannot offer a single reason as to why there’s an explosion of development at Walt Disney World all at once.
Speculating, I think there are a few motivating factors: 1) hesitance to do non-Disney Vacation Club projects during the Great Recession leading to a post-recovery surge; 2) healthy consumer confidence, which sustains higher room prices; and, 3) a sense of urgency to have as many rooms–in as good of condition–open as possible prior to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge followed by Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021.
There are other potential factors, but I think those are the big ones. A number of hotels had rooms that were looking tired even ~7 years ago, but with discounting at high levels due to a weak economy, projects were postponed. Not just hotel projects–pretty much everything short of New Fantasyland. That created a backlog that needed to be addressed once recovery began, something we’ve seen the last few years.
Then you have the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge component. The infrastructure investments in things like the Skyliner and new resorts demonstrate that Walt Disney World has internal forecasts that this is going to set all sorts of attendance and guest spending records. This is a justifiable and fairly reasonable prediction, and should come as a surprise to approximately no one. Star Wars is a license to print money, and Disney executives are going to be jumping into McDuck-style money bins once it opens.
With that in mind, the goal is to do everything possible to increase capacity, proactively address issues (so rooms don’t have to be taken out of inventory for the first several years once it opens), and make upgrades to justify higher rates. And have everything ready in just two years from now.
In short, a bunch of projects not intended for today’s guests, but 2020’s guests. Many of the changes made right now, from chic rooms at Pop Century to waterfront dining at Caribbean Beach to dog-friendly resorts are all aimed squarely at attracting clientele that will spend more money. Of course, plenty could happen in the next few years to derail some of those plans, but that’s all beyond the scope of this post.
Rather, we’re taking a look at what has happened, what’s going to happen, and how you should take that into account when booking a 2019 Walt Disney World vacation. There’s also the matter of what is not yet opened–the announced Star Wars Hotel is under construction, as is Disney’s Riviera Resort, and the Gran Destino tower at Coronado Springs.
Let’s go 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.
Once renovations at All Star Movies are finished, All Star Music will be next, followed by All Star Sports. Currently, work is entirely finished on buildings 6-10 at All Star Movies and buildings 3 & 4 are underway. Buildings 1 & 2 have not yet started. This means that you can potentially get a refurbished room if you make a request for the Toy Story or Fantasia rooms. With around half of the resort finished, your request has a pretty good shot of being fulfilled.
Due to the unplanned delays, we have no reliable estimate of when all of the work at the All Star Resorts will conclude. At this point, we would anticipate construction pausing every time occupancy is high, and it seems likely that work will drag into 2021. 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 – Room refurbishments are occurring throughout 2019, expected to be complete at some point in the fall. The above photo demonstrates how the work is being done, with staging bases in areas of the savanna. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge twice in early 2019, both times with savanna views. Based upon our experience of this work having zero impact on our stay, we previously did not list it separately here.
However, a reader recently stayed in a “savanna view room for spring break (mid-March 2019) and our savanna view consisted of port-a-potties, cranes/lifts, and trucks. Workers were on the balconies all day long. The animals would not come near the noise and activity. The hotel staff told us there was nowhere they could move us that wouldn’t overlook the refurbishment work.”
If you look at other reader comments, experiences at Animal Kingdom Lodge are all over the place; some people weren’t impacted at all, others had horrible experiences. Given the hit-or-miss feedback, it’s tough to recommend a savanna-view for bookings through Fall 2019. We’d love to hear about YOUR experience at Animal Kingdom Lodge in the comments, if you’ve stayed there this year.
Art of Animation – Construction of the Disney Skyliner gondola station remains ongoing, and will be finished by mid-2019. During this time, mild construction noise may be heard in some guest rooms between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Realistically, the Disney Skyliner construction will have minimal impact on guests at Art of Animation and Pop Century. The station is being built in the middle of the lake (alongside Generation Gap Bridge) between the two resorts; noise and visual intrusions should be fairly minimal. We’d stay at Art of Animation without hesitation. Read more & see photos of the progress in our most recent Disney Skyliner Gondola Construction Update.
Caribbean Beach – 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, the Old Port Royale/Centertown project is finished, which was the major substantive issue for guests staying at Caribbean Beach.
As we reported in our latest Re-Imagined Caribbean Beach Resort Review, 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 excellent dining options.
In a surprise twist, more work started around the resort in early 2019. Thankfully, as we cover in our Caribbean Beach Construction Update for May 2019 this is now finished. As such, we once again recommend Caribbean Beach if you don’t mind the adjacent work being done.
Separately, work continues on the Skyliner and adjacent Riviera Resort, which does contribute to noise pollution and visual blight. Read more & see photos of the progress in our most recent Disney’s Riviera Resort Construction Update.
Coronado Springs – A lot of work is also occurring at Coronado Springs. The addition of the 15-story “Gran Destino” tower is the main thing, meaning part of the resort-hotel is a construction zone. Beyond that, there are ongoing restaurant and shop refurbishments, an over-the-water bar is being built, and other enhancements are occurring as part of this expansion.
While we were pleasantly surprised with the lack of guest impact during our recent stay at Coronado Springs and wouldn’t necessarily discourage people who have their hearts set on Coronado from staying here, it might be better to err on the side of caution. Personally, we wouldn’t stay at Coronado until June 2019 due to the construction–not just of the tower, but of the over the water restaurant being built in the middle of the resort. If you do stay at Coronado Springs, request a room in buildings 4, 5, 6A, or 6B to be as far away from construction as possible. Read and see more in our latest Coronado Springs Resort Construction Update.
There’s also the Disney Skyliner construction between Pop Century and Art of Animation, which won’t be done until around mid-2019. Nevertheless, we’d absolutely recommend staying at Pop Century. Prices do not (yet) reflect the upgraded rooms, and Skyliner construction is fairly un-intrusive. If you request a room in the 80s or 90s sections, you shouldn’t even notice the construction.
Port Orleans Riverside – After pausing refurbishment work from last Christmas through this Easter, Port Orleans Riverside has resumed its soft goods refurbishment project to the Alligator Bayou rooms. This includes the addition of Princess and the Frog thematic elements and other functional design changes.
Very few of these rooms are completed, and the only way to guarantee being in Alligator Bayou (period) is booking a room for 5 people. We stayed in these in Spring 2019 and wrote about the experience in our New Rooms at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside post.
Saratoga Springs – During last year’s Disney Vacation Club Condominium Association Meeting, DVC leaders released photos of the newly reimagined room concept for Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, which will feature a new style sofa bed similar to what’s being used at Disney’s Riviera Resort.
This will be the resort’s first-ever hard good refurbishment, and will result in numerous changes throughout all categories of rooms. Currently, the project is in the test design phase, meaning that a variety of rooms around Saratoga Springs have already changed, and guests are staying in them to offer feedback on the final design. The full-scale refurbishment is scheduled to begin in late 2019 and continue through 2020, possibly 2021.
Old Key West – A hard goods top-to-bottom refurbishment is taking place, with the end date likely to be around Summer 2019. The last extensive refurbishment at OKW finished in 2011, and its results were…not good. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay here due to construction, as work is confined to the units being renovated.
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.
One thing to contemplate if you’re a semi-frequent visitor to Walt Disney World is postponing a stay at Wilderness Lodge for a couple of years. Replanted vegetation around the Cascade Cabins and along the shore is still very young, and needs a few years to grow in. If Wilderness Lodge’s secluded vibe and scenery is really important to you, we’d recommend waiting to book a stay here.
In terms of major projects that might cause you to rethink staying at a certain Walt Disney World hotel, we think that’s everything currently scheduled. Aside from Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs, we don’t view any of these projects as intrusive enough to merit looking elsewhere. If you have your heart set on a particular resort on this list, stay there.
Where at Walt Disney World are you staying in 2019 or 2020? 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!