Many of the biggest construction projects at Walt Disney World are hotel refurbishments and expansions, some of which will continue throughout 2019 into 2020. Since now is typically the time people start booking Walt Disney World hotel stays for the next year, we thought we’d give you an update on what to expect in terms of hotel construction. (Last updated January 25, 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 seems fairly 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.
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; a small soft goods refurb that won’t impact guests whatsoever, like the current one at Port Orleans Riverside (which is of the same nature as the refurbishment that just finished at Port Orleans French Quarter).
Suffice to say, a lot is happening on the hotel front at Walt Disney World. Let’s take a look at all of the major projects that have the potential to impact guests…
All Star Resorts – Currently, All Star Resorts are receiving room redesigns akin to Pop Century. Once renovations at All Star Movies are finished, All Star Music will be next, followed by All Star Sports. Room renovations were originally going to be finished at All Star Movies by Spring 2019, but the work paused a few months ago and has yet to resume, so no end date is presently known.
As of January 2019, work is entirely finished on buildings 6-10 at All Star Movies; buildings 1-5 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.
If work occurs at a similar pace as it has at Pop Century, we’d anticipate all of the work at the All Star Resorts concluding by mid-2020. The room design will be nearly identical to what Pop Century has received, with minor thematic flourishes differing, such as logos on the floor and artwork. Work should be minimally intrusive to guests during this time.
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 Disney Skyliner Gondola Construction Update – January 2019.
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.
We would not hesitate to book a room at Caribbean Beach for 2019, but if you’re averse to any construction, you still might want to avoid the work around these projects. 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 Disney’s Riviera Resort Construction Update – January 2019.
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 around May 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 – January 2019.
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.
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.
As of January 2019, Buildings 20-56 are done and buildings 16-19 are in progress. Note that none of the remodeled room buildings are in the “Near Hospitality House” booking category. If work continues along its current path, those will be among the last rooms to be redone. We stayed in one of the new rooms over 2019 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and share the experience in our New Rooms at Disney’s Old Key West Resort Photo Tour.
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. Other room refreshes are occurring at Riverside and BoardWalk, with minor projects at the Contemporary, and pool work at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Coronado Springs. 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!