Yes, it’s true, there have been times where it feels like I’ve spent more time in Disney’s Pop Century Resort than in my own home. As a father with two children, it’s difficult to take trips to Walt Disney World and splurge on hotels, because most of our time is spent in the parks, and hotels are used for sleeping. With two younger kids who are still willing to share a bed most of the time, the value of a Disney Value Resort is too much to pass up. So, on most of our trips, I find myself choosing which building at Pop Century to stay at, rather than which resort I’ll be picking.
But why Pop Century, you might ask? Aren’t the All-Star Resorts also Value Resorts? It’s true, they are. But as far as amenities and ease of access to the parks goes, Pop Century has them beat. Small touches, like the food court, shelves above the sinks, little indentions in the sink to put your soap – they all add up to make Pop a shade better than the All-Stars. For just $5-10 more per night, I’m able to enjoy myself at Pop Century and really immerse myself in the vacation. It fits like an old shoe now. Here’s what I really enjoy about Pop:
Location – Situated right between Downtown Disney and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with easy access to the BoardWalk, Pop Century is exactly where I need it to be for where I go the most. My kids love the Studios, they enjoy evenings in World Showcase, and they like the stores at Downtown Disney. Sure, visiting the Magic Kingdom takes a little longer by bus or car, but other than staying at one of the monorail resorts or Fort Wilderness, that will be the case anywhere on property. Since we often drive, I enjoy using Pop Century as home base, and expanding out from there.
The Pool – An essential part of any vacation is the pool. The Hippy Dippy Pool is the main pool at Pop, and it’s fabulous. Surrounded by great statues of Baloo the Bear attached to one building, with giant flowers spraying you in the middle, it’s sort of lives up to the name “hippy dippy.” Add to that the wonderful pool bar, Petals, and you have a little slice of heaven in the midst of the large concrete jungle that is Pop Century. Sure, it lacks the theme or interactive elements of the nicer pools at the Polynesian or Animal Kingdom Lodge, but for the money, it is pretty swell. I would like Pop Century to add a hot tub, though.
The Food Court – Yes, it’s typical food court fare, nothing special. But if I want an ice cream sundae at 11 p.m., hey, I’m on vacation, I should be able to get one. In Everything Pop, I can do that. Same if I wanted a cheeseburger, a pizza, or anything else. The food court gets insane at busy meal times. I’m aware of that and tend to plan around it, but just having it available makes a huge difference in my stay. When I stayed at Port Orleans Riverside last year, for example, I found that my late night cravings were much harder to satisfy. There are certainly some drawbacks, as I’d love to have some real coffee instead of Nescafe, but you get what you pay for in this case.
The Check-In/Check-Out – I’ve stayed at many of Disney’s hotels, which means I’ve checked in at many of them. The Polynesian had shorter lines. The Caribbean Beach had better bellhops. But Pop Century, despite the long lines at most times of the day, moves quicker than any of them. I’m sure many of you out there will argue with me on that point, but I have always had good luck with the Online Check-In service and most other things I’ve needed at the front desk.
Notice that in my list of pros, I haven’t listed the rooms. As mentioned above, that’s not my primary motivation for staying at Pop Century. Price is the key driver here, but to be a fair reviewer, here are some of the negatives of my favorite Value resort.
The Rooms – They’re small. They’re not exactly comfortable for more than 3 people. The beds are not pillow top mattresses, the comforters are not down, and there’s no telling what the thermostat will do. I stay in nice hotel rooms quite a bit for travel in my job, and Pop Century can’t compare. But opposed to the $200-400 a night that you’ll pay for those extra touches in the room, Pop regularly checks in at $89-119 a night. Since most of the time I’m coming back to the room exhausted, I don’t notice these things. But hotel guests who like to spend more time relaxing in their room will not enjoy Pop Century.
The Layout – Without a smidgen of embarrassment I will admit that I have frequently gotten lost wandering around the grounds of Pop Century looking for my room. The buildings closest to the main hall are usually an extra cost, and as we’ve established that I’m staying there to save money, I seldom am in those buildings. That means that I’m in the outposts of the 80s or 90s, generally speaking, and have a fair ways to wander. Those late night sundae cravings mean I’m usually wandering back with a melting bowl of ice cream, not made for the Florida heat or long walks. Trying to navigate this mess is what generally gives me the most headache at Pop Century. It’s very spread out, and it can be hard to find a direct route to and from your room.
The Noise – Kids love the place. My kids love it, and judging by most of my visits, so do everyone else’s kids in the Western Hemisphere. And they are not afraid to tell everyone about their love for the place at all hours of the night. Since all the rooms have exposed doorways, motel style, they do not do a great job of soundproofing. Herds of wild elephants have stormed past my door late at night. At least that’s what I assume they are, because that’s what the sound seemed like. It might have been a group of kids. The point is that if you’re a light sleeper, you don’t want to be here, just in case the elephants come back.
Hopefully, that gives you a fair and balanced look at Pop Century, from someone who is a frequent visitor. The bottom line is that what makes it attractive is the price. You cannot stay on Disney property for much less. The amenities are no better than what you’ll find on 192 or I-Drive, so you have to understand that. Pop Century is best seen as a Disney version of the cheap motels that surround the parks outside Disney property. You pay an extra $25-30 a night over those motels, but for that price, you get to remain in the Disney bubble, use the bus service, get Extra Magic Hours, and grab those late night ice cream snacks.