The Disney World Experience, Part 4 - Accommodations

When we booked our Disney trip, we didn’t consider too many hotel options. Once we made the decision to stay onsite, we looked at the cheapest Value resorts - All-Star Music, All-Star Movies and All-Star Sports. We had all but settled on All-Star Music when I found the Summer Quick Service Meal Offer. At the time we were booking, this deal was available only at Pop Century, a Value resort that is priced slightly higher than others. Even though Pop Century was more expensive that the Value resorts, we deemed it a better deal due to the dining plan.

A few weeks after booking, I called the Disney line to request a few potential rooms. My objective was to have a room somewhat close to the park bus stops but reasonably quiet and not right next to the main pool and dining facility. The site touringplans.com listed optimal rooms and buildings for these requests. Pop Century has a few buildings that are divided into decades - ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Each building/area is themed for that particular decade. The check-in lobby, bus stops, food court and main pool are situated directly in front of the ‘60s buildings; the ’50s and ‘80s buildings have smaller pools but are farther away from the lobby; the ‘70s building is adjacent to the lobby; and the ‘90s building is pretty far away, on the other side of the ‘80s building.

We checked in online a few weeks before we arrived at the hotel. I wasn’t positive I needed to do this so early, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I didn’t anticipate that the Magic Bands (used to enter our room, the parks and Fast Pass on rides) would be shipped to us so early, but the kids were excited to receive at home. I was just glad we remembered to pack them!

When we did arrive, we were given a room in the ‘90s building, which was certainly not where we wanted to be. I was surprised to be assigned this building, so I walked back to the counter to see if we could have something different. I mentioned our objective - close to the bus stop and somewhat quiet. He mentioned that there were rooms available in the ‘50s building, but they weren’t assigning many of them this week due to construction occurring in the area. But he said that all construction was taking place during regular 9-to-5 business hours, so it wasn’t a big deal since we would be at the parks during those times.

Our room was what I had expected - not huge, but serviceable enough for our family. This room was apparently recently renovated, so the cabinets, drawers, beds, etc., all seemed to be relatively new. When we arrived, one of the beds was in the “up” position because it was a Murphy bed - the kids were a little confused because there was only one bed, until we pulled it down. There were sliding doors that separated the main room from the bathroom - and another sliding door that separated the sink/changing area from the toilet/tub. These separations came in handy at night because I could slide the door to the main area and keep the lights on.

Inside the room, things were pretty quiet from the outside. The main exception seemed to be from the sliding doors. Perhaps they could add rubber stoppers to not make a lot of noise when being shut. We rarely heard voices from other rooms - I’m not entirely sure if that was because the walls were somewhat soundproof or if there weren’t a lot of people staying in our area.

While there were some renovations in the Pop Century buildings, most of the construction was due to the new gondola system, called the Disney Skyliner Transportation System, being built at the resort area. The gondolas will connect Pop Century to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and the system is supposed to be completed in 2019. It’s assumed that the busses will still run (although perhaps not as frequently), so it will be interesting to see if the new system allievates the crowds, especially in the mornings and nights.

Since we weren’t visiting a park on our first day, we headed immediately to the pool area. There was a pool party taking place in the largest pool, called the Hippy Dippy pool (each resort has daily activities - most are free, but some have a small fee for things like making tie-dyed t-shirts, etc.). It was packed, so we decided to swim in the Bowling Pin pool instead (there is a third computer-shaped pool on the other side of the resort, but we never made it there). For a secondary pool, it was pretty large - there were plenty of towels and life jackets (and of course lifeguards on duty). The water was blazing hot, as there was little shade in the pool area, so we didn’t stay in too long.

After swimming, we walked to Art of Imagination, which was just a 5-minute walk across a bridge, for dinner. We noticed that this resort had a nice Little Mermaid-themed playground and a slightly bigger main pool (although this one required a Magic Band swipe, while the one at Pop Century did not). We checked out some of the themed areas but didn’t stay long because we were hungry - and fortunately we ate quick enough to head back before it rained.

I had read online that some of the Pop Century buildings had decent views of the Epcot fireworks. Since our room was on the top (third) floor, I realized we could just walk to the other side and see them. We positioned ourselves just after 9, but we didn’t see anything. The reason, however, was due to the weather - they started later than usual. We were able to see the fireworks from there several days during our stay, and one night, we could even see the Magic Kingdom fireworks in the distance. The Epcot fireworks viewing from the hotel was pretty decent, although I’m not sure it will stay like that once the skyliner system is intact.

The morning plan was nearly the same every day - quick breakfast, quick change and quick jaunt to the bus stop. From the entire resort, we had one of the closest walks to the bus stop at roughly 6 minutes, most of that coming from walking out our door and down the stairs. The queue lines for each of the four parks had varying levels of visitors, but the busses seemed to accommodate without a lot of waiting. On the first day, we arrived just a minute before the Epcot bus, and since there weren’t many people waiting, we were able to jump on. For our Magic Kingdom days, we had to wait for two busses each time, but they were still quick to appear.

Considering that Pop Century is one of the value resorts, we anticipated that the park drop-off/pickup location probably wouldn’t be the most desirable. We were correct, but even still, it was generally easy to find the stop and/or ask someone to double-check. The longest we waited for a bus was leaving Epcot on the first night. This was because it was the only night that we stayed until close (and we didn’t exit the park until 30 minutes after close). We waited for the fourth bus before leaving, and it took us a little more than an hour from when we exited the park until we arrived at our room. At least our youngest could sleep in the stroller while we waited, and we started a little later than expected the next day.

If you have small children, I wouldn’t recommend staying from open to close - the early mornings seem a little less crowded, so arriving early and leaving a little early seemed successful. During our day at Hollywood Studios, we left a couple of hours early because the kids wanted to swim at the resort pool - since it is a smaller park, we had visited nearly all of the attractions by then anyway.

Another thing that was useful for us was that since the Art of Imagination resort is right next to Pop Century, we could take either bus. We probably should have done this for the Epcot trip, but we did do this for our bus rides near the end of our trip.

Back at our hotel, we didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we did check out the gift shop and arcade while taking a break from the heat. Both seemed quite crowded the times we visited. The gift shop had a nice selection of items, which made it nice for a couple of last-minute pickups. The eating facility was similar to the Art of Imagination’s cafeteria-style setup, but we only filled up our water bottles there. OK, I did grab a couple of packs of honey once for an extra kick on my peanut butter sandwich.

One evening, I took my youngest around to look at some of the large statues in front of various buildings. The toy decorations mimicked the decade of the building, so we saw a transistor radio, yo-yos, a Rubix Cube, Mr. Potato Head and several others. At night, the lighting illuminates many of these decorations to make them worth viewing. 

There is also a small playground at Pop Century, and the girls twice played on that briefly. Once was just after a small rain shower, and one of the girls slid down the slide so quickly that she landed in rocks. They preferred the playground at Art of Imagination, which we visited twice as well.

On our last day, we planned to hit the pool early, but it did not open until 9 am due to cleaning. Since it was a Saturday, there were few people in the pool, so it was nice to have such a large pool to ourselves.

The resort also has a bag check-in, so we were able to pack and check almost everything before heading out to the character breakfast after swimming. We then rode the Magical Express (the Disney shuttle) back to the airport.

While we didn’t require a lot of assistance during our stay, I was greatly impressed with all of the workers with whom we came into contact. I noticed that just about everyone made eye contact and said “hello,” and when we asked questions, they either answered and routed to someone who could. I know that Disney “requires” its employees to put on a good show, but I think sometimes having that attitude can be contagious to the point that you sort of believe it. It’s easy to be skeptical of intentions, but I think this aspect really assisted with the mostly positive vibes throughout the week. Kids and adults can certainly be cranky, but if the employees are trying their best, it will make the overall experience better for everyone.

I would consider staying at Pop Century again, but there’s a catch. The rooms accommodate a maximum of four people, so when we return, our youngest will count as the fifth. Either way, Pop Century worked out well for us, so consider this resort on your visit!

The Disney Experience
Planning | Park Adventures | Food | Accommodations

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