Resorts

Why Pop Century is the Only Value Resort For Me

by on March 22, 2016

612px-Disney's_Pop_CenturyWhen planning a Walt Disney World Vacation there are a number of decisions to make ranging from which FastPass+ reservations to book, what ticket option is best for you and your group, and even how to get there. But one of the most important, if you’re staying on property, is which Walt Disney World Resort to choose as your home away from home during your stay! Now as you may have guessed, the size of your budget will play a considerable role in the decision-making process. This is why Disney has conveniently grouped the Disney World Resorts into three different categories based on price with Deluxe Resorts being the most expensive, Value Resorts being the least, and Moderate Resorts falling somewhere in the middle. I’ve already covered my Why Port Orleans Riverside is the Only Moderate Resort for Me and Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe For Me; but for today’s post, I’m focusing on one of Walt Disney World’s budget-friendly resort options in Why Pop Century is the Only Value Resort for Me!

But first, a little more info about the Disney World Value Resorts!

The Disney World Value Resorts have bright and colorful theming and are geared towards families whose vacation budget isn’t quite as flexible. Disney World’s Value Resorts consist of the Pop Century Resort, All-Star Music Resort, All-Star Movies Resort, All-Star Sports Resort, and the Art of Animation Resort.

Now when I want a Disney World fix with the least damage on my bank account, I have to say that Pop Century is the only Value Resort for me.

SS_PopCentury_BigWheelHere’s why…

Generational Appeal

Walt Disney’s motivation for Disneyland was a place where he could have fun with his daughters, and the Pop Century Resort stays true to that original vision in that it offers a theme geared towards both kids and adults. Each section of the Pop Century Resort is themed after a particular decade ranging from the 1950s to the 1990s. Each section, or wing, is decorated with huge, colorful icons and catchphrases from their respective decades, such as giant 8-track tapes, Big Wheels, bowling pins, and foosball. The lobby is also filled with shadowboxes of memorabilia from days gone by. I always stop and check out the boxes from the ‘80s and ‘90s to revisit some favorite old toys and mementos from my childhood, and I love hearing music from the different decades when waiting for the buses. Naturally, all this nostalgia is fun for adults; but for kids, Disney wisely included some larger than life Disney Characters alongside the pop culture icons based on what decade their films debuted. In this way, everyone in the family is familiar with and relates to the fun resort décor!

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: A Look at Recent Stories From Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld

by on March 19, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is undoubtedly a special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. It has been a whirlwind of theme park related news lately. Our long national nightmare is over as purple MagicBands are available for your WDW resort stay, Disney started a new subscription service themed to the Haunted Mansion for the low low price of just $200 (oh, and it has already sold out), the Orlando Eye did its first baby reveal, and a worker at Art of Animation was caught on video using a dirty mop to clean a table. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

So – as usual – we took a page out of our old college playbook, chugged down a case of 5 Hour Energy, and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our tiny brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – That sound you hear? KONG IS COMING.

As Donald Trump would say, it was a yuge week of King Kong news over at the Universal Orlando Resort. As theme park merchandise fanatics, we loved that a whole bunch of new merch arrived for the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. Then, Universal dropped a bombshell with their reveal of the incredible ride vehicles along with a couple other tasty tidbits: This would be Universal’s first trackless ride system, and the vehicles would be “driven” by one of five characters. While Universal hasn’t released an official opening of the attraction yet, we have a sneaking suspicion we may hear something around the time the Syfy show Face Off features an entire episode (the season finale no less) dedicated to creating characters for the attraction. Stay tuned Wednesday, March 30th at 9PM EST on Syfy.

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Universal’s Kong is almost here, but Disney has Avatar and Star Wars in the near future…. (photo by Matt Cleary)

# 5 – SeaWorld Admits to Ordering Employees to Spy on Animal Rights Groups

Readers of the SATURDAY SIX may remember one of  last year’s annual Turkeys of the Year awards went to a SeaWorld employee who was caught spying on the animal rights group PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). At the time, SeaWorld management was shocked, SHOCKED at this behavior and put out the story that the employee had gone rogue. Fast forward to this month and during another disastrous investor’s conference, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that employees did go undercover in animal rights groups and, more importantly, did so per order of the company.

Believe it or not this was the most “wow” SeaWorld story of the week until the atomic bomb the company dropped Thursday morning announcing they were ending the breeding of Killer Whales and will also be ending all the theatrical shows featuring orcas (to be replaced by exhibits).

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Disguised as famous YouTube personality Tim Tracker, Shamu himself was able to go completely unnoticed within the PeTA ranks. (photo by Michael Sheehy)

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Tips on Tipping at Walt Disney World: Transportation, Restaurants, Hotels, and More

by on March 4, 2016

IMG_9618-1-300x200-300x200A frequent area of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all. Nonetheless, gratuities are a part of life when you travel in the United States.

To answer all your Disney World tipping questions in one place, here’s an overview of all the situations where you have to tip, and where you don’t have to tip, on your Disney vacation.

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Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.

Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.

SITUATIONS WHERE YOU NEED TO LEAVE A TIP

  • Luggage Handling: At the airport, at your hotel, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. Round up, and don’t ask the porter or valet for change. If you’re claiming your bags yourself at the airport carousel and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter. If you’re at a Disney hotel and using their Resort Airline Check-In service, tip the luggage handler their just as you would a porter at the airport. If hotel bellman assists with bringing your bags to/from your room, tip a dollar or two per bag. If a hotel bellman also provides you with a resort tour or other help, tip a bit extra. If you’re looking to economize, you can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream. This is an easy way to save cash.
  • Transportation, Magical Express Drivers: You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule. If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.
  • Transportation, Limo or Town Car Drivers: Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.

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California Grill: A Review of Brunch At The Top

by on February 29, 2016

Recently, California Grill at the Contemporary Resort added “Brunch at the Top” to the restaurant’s signature dining slate, offered every Sunday from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I booked a Dining Reservation for this meal on a whim one recent weekend to see if it was really worth the $80 price ($48 for kids ages 3-11, Tables in Wonderland discount accepted).

“Brunch At The Top” offers stunning daytime views of the restaurant and Walt Disney World Resort.

Right off the bat, there was an upscale note to the experience — when I mentioned my brunch reservation to the security guard at the resort’s gate, he told me that my meal included complimentary valet service (not something I’d normally use, but if you’re going for a fancy meal and it’s included, why not go all the way?). A valet escorted me to the check-in area just outside the main entrance of the resort, where a California Grill Cast Member cheerfully checked me in, took my phone number to notify me when my table was available, and led me to the escalators just inside the main entrance. As soon as I stepped off the escalator, I was greeted by both a text message that my table was ready and another Cast Member from California Grill, who whisked me off to the restaurant’s private elevator.

I was welcomed by name once I stepped inside the restaurant, handed a beautiful cocktail, and immediately shown to my table. As we walked to my table, we passed a live band playing smooth jazz (in what’s usually the restaurant’s lounge area during dinner) and the appetizer buffet (set atop the restaurant’s bar and sushi counter). The entire restaurant glowed with early-afternoon sunlight, bright and welcoming – a different sight than the one you get with a late-night dinner and fireworks viewing here. Start to finish, my arrival experience was probably the smoothest and fastest I’ve encountered at any Walt Disney World restaurant, save maybe Victoria & Albert’s, but it’s certainly close; this definitely impressed me already, even before I’d had a bite of food. 

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, February 25, 2016: Lion Guard Defend!

by on February 25, 2016

2016-02-21 09.16.59As a parent, every time Disney Junior rolls out a new show, I have a sense of dread. Some end up being wonderful shows (Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins) and some grate on my nerves (Goldie and Bear, Kate and Mim Mim). Then there are some that I think I am more excited about than my daughter. One of the latter is the new show The Lion Guard. For those who aren’t familiar, Kion–who is basically Simba’s son–has been tapped to become leader of a special forces group with four of his friends called The Lion Guard. After watching the show and purchasing the soundtrack for morning drives to school, I was pretty certain this show was going to be a hit. Disney also went with a bit of marketing push, and in addition to merchandise popping up in stores across property, Animal Kingdom also is offering The Lion Guard Adventure. Sounds like a great Saturday outing…

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The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Hotel Category

by on February 24, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.

 

One of the most exciting and often nerve wracking parts of planning a vacation is selecting a hotel. Some people view a hotel as simply the place where you sleep and shower, and nothing more. Others, like me, see the hotel as home base and a destination unto itself. I’ve even planned entire vacations around the hotel more so than the local area and attractions (but then again I work in the hotel industry and am a self-proclaimed hotel nerd).

If the weather is bad or if somebody gets sick, this is where you’ll spend much of your vacation time. At the end of a full day touring the parks this is where you can rest, or depending on which location you choose, you can come back in the middle of the day to relax. The amount of options in all of Central Florida can be astounding, after all there are over 400 hotels in the Orlando / Orange County area.

Old Key West Resort room

Old Key West Resort room

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that you’ve decided you really want to stay on Walt Disney World property. You still have to sort through over 20 hotels in order to select your hotel. The main focus of this guide is to help you decide between Walt Disney World resort hotel categories. I will include some of the pros and cons of each category, as well as a general overview of the features of each category. This includes location, transportation, food and beverage, and amenities. In follow up posts, we will dig into the specifics of these features for each resort in particular.

Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Swan and Dolphin, and Bonnet Creek

If you’re looking for close proximity at lower cost, then the hotels near Disney Springs on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, as well as the hotels of Bonnet Creek, offer easy transportation. If you want the extra perks such as Disney transportation and Extra Magic Hours, however, you’ll need either a Disney-owned hotel or the Starwood Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which offer these benefits with slightly lower room rates. The MagicBand (as a room key and ticket) and Disney’s Magical Express are exclusive features for Disney owned and operated. For some folks this is a major plus, while for others it is not worth the extra money that a Disney owned property can cost.

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The Walt Disney World Swan: Very close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but technically a Starwood hotel.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

by on February 13, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. With 26 on-site resorts at Walt Disney World, there is a wide variety of choices for families coming down. We’ve covered many here on the SATURDAY SIX including Value Resorts (Art of Animation and Pop Century), Moderates (Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside), and Deluxe (ContemporaryAnimal Kingdom Lodge, and BoardWalk Inn & Villas). We also can’t forget the Disney Vacation Club resorts such as Old Key West. Today we are going to take a look at WDW’s largest resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach.

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Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.

Like with Old Key West, the sprawling size of Caribbean Beach does come with some downsides. There are many rooms quite far away from the check-in area (The Custom House) and several of the resort’s amenities located at Old Port Royale. Everything is walkable, and there is both an internal bus system and water transportation for those who don’t want to hoof it. The TouringPlans Hotel Room Request can also help make getting a room closer to Old Port Royale easier, which is something to consider. The Custom House is the only check-in area at WDW that is completely separated from anything else at the resort, so you may want to consider on-line check in (although they do have free swords and star wands for kids at the front desk).

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Map of Disney’s Caribbean Beach.

All that said, the size of Caribbean Beach is also a positive, as it is a wonderful place at WDW to spend time at outside of the parks because there is so many amenities and is an absolutely gorgeous place to relax in. So sit back, rest your sea legs ye scurvy bilge rat, and let’s begin counting down our top six reasons we love Caribbean Beach starting with…

# 6 – Fuentes del Morro Pool

If you are anything like our family, a resort’s main pool can have a major impact on where you stay. Right now pools with a slide are the biggest determining factor on where we stay, and the Caribbean Beach pool has a great slide and then some. Based around the 400 year old El Morro Fort in San Juan, Carribean Beach’s Fuentes del Morro pool looks incredible. The theme of a Spanish fort is complete with cannons, two water slides (one over 100 feet long), and has a zero depth entry. This area includes two hot tubs around the main pool, a fantastic kid’s play area that is a giant pirate ship, and the Banana Cabana bar for adults to get their fill of rum.

There are also six leisure pools located across property (near each of the main guest buildings).

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Fuentes del Morror pool.

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Shiver me timbers! Thar be water cannons in this pool.

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The main water slide at the Fuentes del Morro pool.

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Testing Budget Hotels Near Walt Disney World

by on February 5, 2016

We’re often asked to recommend an inexpensive hotel room for one night near Walt Disney World. If your family is staying at at Disney resort for most of your visit, for example, and you need a place to crash on your arrival night before their vacation begins, you may not want to spent hundreds of dollars on a Disney hotel for just a few hours of sleep. Or if you’ve just finished your Disney vacation and need a bed for the night before your early-morning flight, you could save a lot of money by moving to a budget hotel.

Finding cheap, clean, safe hotel rooms is part of the basic research we do for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. There’s even a section titled “Top 30 Hotel Deals” that takes price, amenities, and location into account. It’s one of my favorite research projects, and I’ve stayed at more than 100 Disney-area hotels over the years. Only once did I wake up covered in bugs.

My “Holy Grail” of hotels is one that’s $50 or less per night (with tax), clean, safe, and where everything in the room works. From what I’ve seen over the past week, though, that room might not exist. Here’s a summary of the 6 hotels I checked over the past 5 nights, along with their pros and cons.

Laurel says: I’ll be adding my own asides in this article. You should read them in your head in the voice of your significant other. For perspective, I was perfectly happy with a room I stayed in in New York City once where the sink was IN the shower. 

Hotel #1: Motel 6 at 5909 American Way, just off International Drive

Pros: Very clean. Great layout. Best night’s sleep I had the entire trip. $49.49 with taxes. Feels safe.

Cons: Sink and toilet didn’t drain properly. Wi-fi didn’t work. Low water pressure in shower.

I’ve wanted to stay at this Motel 6 for a long time (“Dream big, Len”, I know). It was one of the first to introduce a new room design across Motel 6’s properties, with triangular bathrooms, hardwood floors, and vertical storage cubbies. Plus it’s really close to Universal Orlando.  I was ready to like this hotel.

Then I saw this sign at the check-in desk:hotels-motel6-1

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! January 2016 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on January 31, 2016

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. The new year has started off exactly where the old one left us: with Walt Disney World closing attractions. It has been a pretty cool month though, including a cool Star Wars runDisney race out in California (and Star Wars fans owe it to themselves to watch a great parody of Undercover Boss featuring Kylo Ren). Erin Foster took us inside Vanellope’s on the Disney Dream, and for those who don’t know, this is a complete Wreck-It-Ralph themed sweet shop (pinch us, we’re dreaming). And Guy Selga introduced us to Four Glorious New Ways to Kill Time at Disneyland, including the am I dreaming this, or is this real Jungle Cruise Skipper School. 2016 is shaping up to be an incredible year.

Now while all of you were off taking your kids to see Donald Trump, Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo and I were hard at work to bring you the quality Outlet coverage you expect deserve!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

The first item this month made my heart grow three sizes (after double checking, that enlargement of the heart was actually due to eating the Pop-Tart Sandwich at Pop Century). Behold the Luigi’s Flying Tires hat! Anyone who has visited the Disney Dump has seen the remnants of this attraction, which opened with the debut of Cars Land in the summer of 2012 and was already closed by the ending of February 2015. Believe it or not, despite only being open for only 976 days, Luigi’s doesn’t even rank in the Top Five of Short Lived Disney Attractions. Originally $24.95, this baby could be sitting on your head for just $6.99. VIVA LA DISNEY OUTLETS!

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After seeing this, I know how Indiana Jones felt seeing the Fertility Idol.  (photo by Julia Mascardo)

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Tsum Tsums returned this month! However it was mostly the ones we have seen in the past (including all seven of the dwarfs), but one that was new was this crying duck. I had literally no idea who this was, but found out it was the Ugly Duckling from a quick scene in Lilo & Stitch. That’s what we call a deep dive, and I love it. I actually dropped Loot Crate this month and started up the Disney Tsum Tsum Monthly Subscription Program, so starting in February I too will annoy you with unboxing videos (although my last one didn’t go so well).

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Ugly Duckling Tsum.

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Ugly Duckling sequence from Lilo & Stitch.

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Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe Resort For Me

by on January 25, 2016

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Behold the glory that is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort!

When planning a Disney World Vacation there are a number of decisions to make ranging from which FastPass+ reservations to book, what ticket option is best for you and your group, and even how to get there. But one of the most important, if you’re staying on property, is which Walt Disney World Resort to choose as your home away from home during your stay!

Now as you may have guessed, the size of your budget will help with the decision-making process. This is why Disney has conveniently grouped the Disney Resorts into three different categories based on price with Deluxe Resorts being the most expensive, Value Resorts being the least, and Moderate Resorts falling somewhere in the middle. I’ve covered my Why Port Orleans Riverside is the Only Moderate Resort for Me in the past for when I have to keep to a budget; but for today’s post, I’m totally tossing the budget out the window and splurging with Why Wilderness Lodge is the Only Deluxe Resort for Me!

But first, a little more info about the Disney World Deluxes!

The Disney World Deluxe Resorts offer the most benefits and the best theming and consist of Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk Inn, the Contemporary Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the Polynesian Village, and Wilderness Lodge. All of the Deluxe Resorts now offer Disney Vacation Club Villas, where non-Disney Vacation Club guests can also stay if there’s availability. Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort are Deluxe Villa Resorts only; but again, non-members can book stays here too.

So with all of these resort options, how could I possibly choose? Believe me, it was difficult and my choice can vary depending on when and why I’m visiting; but if I had to just one Deluxe Resort, it would have to be Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort!

Here’s why…

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