|By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 23, 2012--Walt Disney World said Thursday that it will complete construction of its newest hotel ahead of schedule, ensuring more of the rooms will be available for rent during the busy summer months.
The first phase of the nearly 2,000-room Disney's Art of Animation Resort is still expected to open May 31, as originally scheduled.
But Disney now says the hotel's second and third phases will open June 18 and Aug. 10, respectively, each about a month and a half ahead of schedule.
And the hotel's fourth and final phase is now expected to open Sept. 15 instead of at the end of the year.
Disney officials attributed the quicker construction to a combination of efficiencies at Walt Disney Imagineering, the company's attractions-design unit, and favorable weather through the fall and winter.
"It's a lot of people coming together -- and so far, so good," said Gary Hoffman, a senior project manager with Disney Imagineering.
Though Disney World already has about 26,000 hotels and time-share suites across its vast property, the resort is banking on Art of Animation to fill a gap in that inventory. More than half of the hotel --1,120 of 1,984 rooms -- will be so-called "family suites" that will have space for up to six people but will sell for cheaper nightly rates than traditional, high-end hotel suites.
The resort currently has only 215 such suites, all at its All-Star Music hotel.
The first three phases of the new hotel -- themed to the animated movies "Finding Nemo," "Cars" and "The Lion King," respectively -- will be entirely suites. The last phase, themed to "The Little Mermaid," will be conventional "value" rooms, Disney's lowest-priced category.
Kevin Myers, Disney World's vice president in charge of resort operations, said Disney is just beginning to release for rent the additional summer capacity created by the accelerated construction schedule. Disney has said in recent months that its customers are on average booking their trips about 13 weeks before their dates of travel.
Myers would not discuss the overall pace of bookings in Art of Animation, which has been accepting advance reservations for nearly a year.
"But this is certainly a market that we feel is there," Myers said.
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