The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Value hotel

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

In a previous Back to Basics post we discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World hotel category. Now it’s time to dig in and select the right hotel in each category. We’ll start off with the Value resorts. It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best.

For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

Essentially the Value resorts exist as two campuses: Disney’s All Star Resort and Disney’s Pop Century / Art of Animation. At Disney’s All Star Resort there are three individual hotels: Sports, Movies, and Music. At Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation each are two individual hotels but are situated across from each other.  The set-up and features of these two campus are very similar. I’ll break down each individual hotel’s features and include any information that pertains to the campus as a whole.

Movies3
Photo by Brian McNichols

Disney’s All Star Resorts: Movies, Music, and Sports.

  • Room features

The room features for all three of the All Star resorts are essentially the same. However, at Music there are also about 190 family suites available. I’ll get into the features of that room type momentarily. Guest rooms at the All Stars are small at 260 square feet. Almost all rooms sleep four, plus one child in a crib. Themed touches of musicians and music styles at Music, athletes and sports equipment at Sports, and a selection of Disney films at Movies, adorn themed linens, wall décor, and fixtures. Light-finish wood furniture and dark, patterned carpet provide an upscale touch, however, you’ll most likely find that these rooms don’t beckon you to linger. My personal recommendation is if you are traveling with small children then the rooms will be just fine. However, if you have pre-teens, teenagers, or other adults then you’ll most likely find the standard rooms at any Value resort to be a tad uncomfortable.

2015-05-22 16.54.26

The family suites at Music combine two hotels rooms that have been converted into a suite. They sleep up to six adults, though again, I think it would be a tight fit. The bedding situation is quite unique, with one queen bed, one twin-size sleeper chair and one double-size sleeper sofa and one twin-size sleeper ottoman. The suite is composed of two rooms, plus two bathrooms. The kitchenette helps with the limited dining options available at Music, with a microwave and small refrigerator. This is a good choice for anyone wanting more space, without an extravagant price tag.

AsMu_Family_3-2014-9

AsMu_Family_3-2014-7

  • Resort layout

Think of the All Star Resorts as being shaped like an open hand. At the wrist you have the front drive and main building which houses the front desk, concierge, merchandise shop, and food court. The bus stop is here as well.  At the palm you have an open courtyard and pool area. Finally, at the fingers you have individual buildings containing hotel rooms in each.

The walkways to the buildings are uncovered, and since all Disney resorts are built wide, rather than tall, some buildings can be a fairly decent walk. There are a few larger than life figures and decorations along the walkways adding a fun atmosphere and great photo opportunities. I personally prefer the pathways at Music, especially the Jazz buildings which actually remind me a teeny tiny bit of Port Orleans French Quarter.

Photo by Brian McNichols
Photo by Brian McNichols
Movies - Grounds 2
All Star Movies – photo by Brian McNichols
  • Food and beverage

The one source of sustenance at each All Star Resort is a food court (one at each hotel). They are open from early morning (6:00 AM) until late at night (12:00 AM), the menu transitions from breakfast to lunch with sandwiches, salads, and soups to dinner with full entrees complete with sides. Almost the entire back wall of the food court is lined by coolers stocked with bottled beverages and grand-and-go items. The refillable mug station is ever popular here. With the All Star properties being so family and youth group friendly you can expect the food courts to be busy and often a bit chaotic. There is also the convenient, though a bit pricey option of pizza delivery to your room.

All Star Sports food court - photo by Brian McNichols
All Star Sports food court – photo by Brian McNichols

There is a pool bar located at the back of the food court’s building at each All Star hotel, but outside facing the pool. At Music there is The Singing Spirits Pool Bar, at Sports there’s Grandstand Spirits Pool Bar  and at Movies you can grab a drink at Silver Screen Spirits Pool Bar. These are certainly not destination bars, but they offer a good selection of spirits and beer, and a few wine options. The bar is open 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM. All of the pool bars at the Walt Disney World resort hotels offer the same beverage menu, with a few variations here and there.

  • Transportation

The All Star Resorts are located on the far Western side of Disney property. The closest theme park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the farthest is Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation is the only option for the All Stars and you’ll often share a bus with the other two All Star resorts.

Thankfully there is one stop per All Star hotel, each in front of the main building. These buses can often become full with standing room only, and not able to accommodate everyone that is waiting, during busy periods such as during park opening. When departing the parks, especially right at park closing, you can run into the same situation. The good news is since the All Stars usually have one of the highest occupancies of all the WDW hotels, they often have frequent bus service, so if a bus becomes full and you’re not able to get on there usually isn’t too long of a wait for another bus.

  • Pool

For any Orlando area hotel, the pool is an important feature. You can bet that pools at the Value resorts get lots of use as many families and friends gather outside to stretch their limbs, escaping the close quarters of the guest rooms. These pools do not have water slide of other extravagant features, however there are fountains and other splashy features, and usually some sort of recreational activities held during the afternoons. At the All Star resorts there is also one “quiet” pool located further away from the main building. This is a nice option when the main pool gets chaotic.

All Star Sports main pool - photo by Brian McNichols
All Star Music main pool – photo by Brian McNichols
All Star Sports main pool - photo by Brian McNichols
All Star Sports main pool – photo by Brian McNichols
  • Recreation / Activities

All Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer a fair amount recreational activities, including the All Star resorts. The activities all pretty much center around the pool. You can enjoy poolside trivia, dance parties, and games. On select nights poolside movies are also offered. There’s also a video game arcade at each All Star hotel too.

  • Additional information

The All Star Movies, Music, and Sports are all basically the same. The Music does have family suites available, which I do think are a good choice for anyone wanting a little more elbow room. The theming at each is fun and energetic. Sports is the best fit for anyone who has either a sports fan or athletic type in their travel party. Movies has the most Disney feel to it thanks to the collection of Disney character decorations throughout the resort, though many of the movies featured here might not be recognized by some of today’s kids. Music has a good balance of Disney theming with slightly more relaxed, atmospheric touches when compared to the other too. In fact, it is my pick out of the three All Stars.

Sports is the first of the three hotels as you drive down Buena Vista Drive, followed by Music, and finally Movies. These three hotels are often lower priced than Pop Century and Art of Animation, making them the most budget friendly hotels on Disney property.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Opening in 2003, Pop Century celebrates the best in pop culture from 1950s to the 1990s. Many families love Pop Century for its nostalgic vibe and the opportunity to embarrass their children with their many trips down memory lane. Overall many guests who have visited both the All Star resorts and this resort, give Pop Century an edge.

  • Room features

Pop Century has one room type (though with a few different view types). All room sleep four guests, and just like the All Star rooms are 260 square feet. The rooms are essentially the same as All Stars, with cherry woods, and decor teeming pop culture details. Each building is themed after a different decade. Each room basically looks the same, save for one piece of wall art, a collage of items from the decade the room represents.

  • Resort layout

Pop Century and Art of Animation are shaped similar to the All Stars, but a little more spread out. Out front is the main building, housing the front desk, concierge, merchandise shop, and food court. The merchandise shop and food court share the same space, a concept that was introduced with Pop Century and carried over to Art of Animation. At the time of opening, Pop Century had one of the longest front desks of any hotel in the country.

Bridge between Pop Century and Art of Animation
Generation Gap Bridge between Pop Century and Art of Animation

The walkways to the buildings are uncovered, and since all Disney resorts are built wide, rather than tall, some buildings can be a fairly decent walk. There are a few larger than life figures and decorations along the walkways adding a fun atmosphere and great photo opportunities.

  • Food and beverage

The one source of sustenance at both Pop Century and Art of Animation is a food court (one at each hotel). They are open from early morning (6:00 AM) until late at night (12:00 AM), the menu transitions from breakfast to lunch with sandwiches, salads, and soups to dinner with full entrees complete with sides. The food court here has earned a reputation for offering some of the most creative food items at any Value hotel, including tie-dye cheesecake, the infamous Pop Tart sandwich, and home cooked TV-dinner style entrees.

Almost the entire back wall of the food court is lined by coolers stocked with bottled beverages and grand-and-go items. The refillable mug station is ever popular here just like at All Stars. There is also pizza delivery to your room available. A convenient options when you’ve had a long day in the parks.

Unlike the pool bars at the All Stars, the pool bar at Pop Century is located closer to the pool and is free standing. Petals Pool Bar is a little more inviting though still  not a destination bar. A good selection of spirits and beer, and a few wine options can be enjoyed here. The bar is open 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM. All of the pool bars at the Walt Disney World resort hotels offer the same beverage menu, with a few variations here and there.

Photo by Brian McNichols
Photo by Brian McNichols
  • Transportation

Disney’s Pop Century as well as Art of Animation are both seemingly centrally located within Disney property. Bus transportation is the only option once again, though it is generally pretty efficient at these resorts. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the closest park, just about five minutes down the road. Disney Springs, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are just about 10 minutes away (once you make it onto the bus that is). Magic Kingdom is the farthest, clocking in at about 15 minutes away.

  • Pool

You can bet that pools at the Value resorts get lots of use as many families and friends gather outside to stretch their limbs, escaping the close quarters of the guest rooms. These pools do not have water slide of other extravagant features, however there are fountains and other splashy features, and usually some sort of recreational activities held during the afternoons. Here at Pop Century there are two “quiet pools” that are less busy and do not have recreational activities hosted at them.

Pop - Pool 1-2

  • Recreation / Activities

All Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer a fair amount recreational activities, including the All Star resorts. The activities all pretty much center around the pool. You can enjoy poolside trivia, dance parties, and games. On select nights poolside movies are also offered. There’s also a video game arcade here, many consider to be one of the best on Disney property.

Disney’s Art of Animation

The latest Value hotel happens to be the greatest, at least that seems to be the popular opinion. Any fan of Disney’s animated movies is sure to have a ball here and enjoy being surrounded by some of the best moments in Disney movie history. Once open a time this resort was to be the continuation of Pop Century, covering the early decades of the 1910s to the 1940s. I suppose the Imagineers saw the light that such decades didn’t necessarily have the fondest memories to offer and thus did not have much appeal, so Disney played to their strengths.

  • Room features

The theming in these rooms is over the top and a dream come true for kids and kids at heart alike. The emphasis at this resort is on family suites, though regular rooms are available. Unlike the other Value hotels you can actually book which themed section you’d like to stay in, though you can always use the incredible Touring Plans Room Finder for help getting a great room at any resort.

The family suites sleep six, and clock in at 560 square feet of space. Compared to All Star Music’s family suites, many people prefer the theming, features, and design of Art of Animation’s suites. There are two rooms, one with a queen bed, and a living room with a sofa that converts to a double bed, and a dining table that pulls down into a double size bed (you may want to ask messy eaters to just eat over the sink instead of the table). Family Suites are available in the Finding Nemo, Lion King, and Cars sections.

The standard rooms are only available at The Little Mermaid section of the resort. Side note: The Little Mermaid was my absolute favorite movie growing up, that poor little VHS tape I had of that movie didn’t stand a chance. These rooms sleep four adults and an infant, there are some rooms that have king beds. The decor is bright, tropical, as close to feeling under the sea as can be in a 260 square foot hotel room. Compared to the standard rooms of the All Stars and Pop Century, the decor is much more themed, but overall the features are about the same. These rooms do have the advantage of being newer, however if budget is a big factor and you’ll definitely be booking a standard room (vs. a family suite) then it might make more sense to book a standard room at the All Stars since the rate will most likely be lower.

Standard room at The Little Mermaid
Standard room at The Little Mermaid – Photo by Brian McNichols (note this is the old bedding and has been replaced by white bedding with a themed runner)
Cars Family Suite bedroom (with new bedding) - photo by Derek Burgan,,,, or maybe it was Brandon Glover
Cars Family Suite bedroom (with new bedding) – photo by Derek Burgan….or maybe it was Brandon Glover
  • Food and beverage

Just like at the other Value hotels, your food and beverage options are the food court, pool bar, and pizza delivery. However, the Landscape of Flavors food court offers the most diverse selection of flavors of all the Value hotels. You’ll also find a slightly better selection of health conscious choices. The Drop Off Pool Bar is named after Finding Nemo, since that is the theme of the main pool, but the name works on multiple levels, right?

AoA- Food 1
Photo by Brian McNichols
  • Transportation

The transportation at Art of Animation is pretty much the exact same as Pop Century. The location is just as central as Pop Century, and the buses run pretty frequently. During certain times of the year you may share a bus with your neighbors at Pop, but overall the transportation is still pretty efficient.

  • Pool

One way Art of Animation nearly blows the other Value hotels away is the pools. The main pool is Finding Nemo themed with water fountain features and underwater speakers so you can hear music under the water! Most of the quiet pools throughout many Disney resorts aren’t much to write home about, but the Cozy Cone Motel themed quiet pool is surrounded by large cone shaped cabana style places to sit and relax, plus a round island in the middle of pool with an inviting group of lounge chairs.

NemoPool3
Photo by Brian McNichols
NemoPool2
Photo by Brian McNichols
  • Recreation / Activities

As is tradition with the other Value resorts, you can enjoy a variety of recreational activities here including trivia, games, dance parties and poolside movies. There is also an arcade in the main building if you or your kids haven’t had enough audio and visual stimulation.

In Summary, the Value resorts are a great choice when budget is your greatest concern or when you have plans to spend the vast majority of your time in the parks, without spending much time at the resort. You get to enjoy the perks of being on Disney property including Extra Magic Hours, the ability to book FastPass+ reservations before off property guests (as well as with Advance Dining Reservations), the use of the MagicBand as your room key and tickets, Disney’s Magical Express, and Disney transportation. Yet, the cost is relatively very low and often on-par with staying off property.

A word of caution, these resorts can be busy and noisy. But the resorts are designed to create a fun and friendly experience.Additionally since All Star Resort is one big campus and Pop Century plus Art of Animation is another campus, you can walk over to the other hotels in your campus for a little variety and slight change of scenery. My personal pick out of all the Value resorts is the Art of Animation. It is the newest (which doesn’t always mean the best) and has just a few enhancements to set it above the other hotels in the same category.

To learn more check out the reader reviews, info pages, and the room finder feature. Stay tuned for most posts in our The Basics series.

Additional Back to Basics Posts

 

Dani

Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani has always had a passion for tourism and hospitality. She is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. With work experience in six of Orlando's theme parks, she now works in the world of hotels. Follow her adventures on Twitter @thisfloridalife