One of the biggest projects at Walt Disney World over the past few years has been the many hotel refurbishments and expansions, some of which remain ongoing and will continue through 2018 into 2019. 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 in 2018. (Last updated July 9, 2018.)
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 this has all happened at once. Speculating, I think there are a few motivating factors: 1) hesitance to do non-DVC 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 at 2018 Walt Disney World vacation. (There’s also the matter of what is not yet scheduled–the announced Star Wars Hotel should begin construction soon.)
Let’s go around the various resorts that have wrapped up projects recently, currently have major ongoing projects (emphasis on major; a small soft goods refurb that won’t impact guests whatsoever, like the upcoming one at Port Orleans French Quarter, does not merit discussion), or have ones on the horizon…
All Star Resorts – This one caught us by surprise, as the original calendar for the year only showed minor work set to occur at All Star Movies. In any case, in late February, word came out that the All Star Resorts would receive room redesigns akin to Pop Century.
As of July 2018, work is underway on buildings 8 and 9, and finished on building 10 at All Star Movies. This means that you can potentially get a refurbished room for Summer 2018 if you make a request. Keep in mind that currently only one building at the resort is done (a small percentage of the overall rooms at All Star Movies), so your request may not be fulfilled.
It’s anticipated that work will occur building by building (also a la Pop Century), starting with All Star Movies, followed by Music, followed by Sports. If work occurs at a similar pace as it has at Pop Century, we’d anticipate All Star Movies being finished by the end of 2018, Music being done by mid-2019, and Sports concluding by early 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 will occur throughout 2018. 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 in 2018. Read more & see photos of the progress in our Disney Skyliner Gondola Construction Update.
Caribbean Beach – Pretty much everything you can possibly imagine is happening at Caribbean Beach: Skyliner construction, Old Port Royale overhaul, and Disney Vacation Club expansion. Spyglass Grill, a quick service dining spot adjacent to the quiet pool in Trinidad South, is now open and has pretty good, especially as compared to the temporary options at the resort.
If we could only avoid one resort in 2018, this would be the one on which we’d use that ‘lifeline.’ If you do opt to stay here, request a room in Trinidad, buildings 44-46, or buildings 51-53 to minimize the construction impact. Keep in mind that even these rooms will be able to notice Skyliner construction. About the only rooms away from all construction are some of the Pirate Rooms, but we typically do not recommend those. Walt Disney World has not released an updated completion date for the Centertown/Old Port Royale project, but we believe it’ll be finished around October 2018. Read more & see photos in our latest Caribbean Beach Resort Construction Update – Summer 2018.
Coronado Springs – A lot of work is also occurring at Coronado Springs. The addition of a 15-story tower is the main thing, meaning part of the resort-hotel is a construction zone. Beyond that, there are ongoing room refurbishments, an over-the-water restaurant is being built, and other enhancements are occurring as part of this expansion.
Beginning Fall 2018, the Dig Site will be closed for refurbishment. This includes the feature pool, volleyball court, playground, Iguana Arcade, and Siestas Cantina. This is currently scheduled from September 4 until December 12, 2018, but we would not be surprised if this large project takes longer, and is not done until Early 2019. The Dig Site refurbishment is not on quite the same scale as the Re-Imagining of Old Port Royale at Caribbean Beach, but a three-month timeframe still seems overzealous.
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 in 2018, it might be better to err on the side of caution. This is especially true if you’re traveling between September 2018 and February 2019, and would like to use the Dig Site amenities. 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 – Summer 2018.
Pop Century – While we stayed in a new room at Pop Century a few months ago (see our photo & video), the overall room renovation project is only about half-done. As of June 2018, all buildings in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s sections are finished with the refurbishment. Work is also underway in the 50s section, with buildings #1 and #3 currently being refurbished.
The project was originally slated to be finished by now, but it appears like August 2018 is a more reasonable completion timeframe. You can receive a refurbished room by making a request for one, but chances are, you’ll receive one by default, as most rooms are now finished at Pop Century.
There’s also the Disney Skyliner construction between Pop Century and Art of Animation. Nevertheless, we’d absolutely recommend staying at Pop Century in 2018. Prices do not (yet) reflect the upgraded rooms, and construction is fairly un-intrusive. If you request a room in the 80s or 90s sections (which are now totally done), you shouldn’t even notice the construction.
Old Key West – A hard goods top-to-bottom refurbishment is taking place, with the scheduled end date originally being June 2018. However, as of this summer, only Buildings 30-35, 45-47, and 53-56 are done. Realistically, it’s going to take until 2019 before this project is done. The last extensive refurbishment at OKW finished in 2011, and its results were…not good. Disney is going to take its time and do a more thorough job this time.
This Old Key West refurbishment will see new the addition of flat–panel TVs, granite countertops, new bedding, and pillows, drapes, rugs, chairs, carpeting, lamps, and furniture (including a sleeper chair in 1-2 BR units) to modernize the resort. The renovations will take place building by building and work will be confined to individual units. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay here due to construction (although we will be delaying our stay in order to get a new room).
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 last week. Convention Center work will remain ongoing through until the end of 2018, but non-convention guests shouldn’t even notice that.
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.
Wilderness Lodge – All of the work for the major Disney Vacation Club expansion is now finished. We stayed at the Cascade Cabins in the fall, and were generally pleased with the additions, although we noted that this definitely changes some of the character of the resort–at least in the short term.
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 French Quarter and BoardWalk, with minor projects at the Contemporary.
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 (Caribbean Beach aside), stay there.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Where at Walt Disney World are you staying in 2018? 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!