I’ve admitted previously online that my visits to official Disney hotels have been international in character until now. I’ve spent nights in Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland hotels, but none at Walt Disney World (I did sleep on a Disneyland Hotel floor once before a half marathon, but that hardly counts). That changed recently, when I finally got the chance to stay at Disney World hotel. Since I’ve been somewhat discouraging about Disney World hotels in the past, I thought it only fair to revisit the question now that I’ve had a firsthand, paying experience. Read on and you’ll discover that while I’m still not fully convinced, it’s a lot closer to “parity” than I once thought. An awful lot. Maybe more than I’d care to admit.

First, the specifics. The occasion was my wife’s birthday. We figured we would start small and inexpensive, knowing we could always try for better hotels in future years. That meant either All Stars or Pop Century; we went with Pop Century.

We got very lucky. My favorite courtyard happened to be our view!

It’s a Value resort, and in the past, I’ve always compared such a room (which I’ve certainly seen by visiting rooms rented by my friends) with an off-site motel such as Motel 6. People have e-mailed me constantly that the comparison isn’t fair.

After staying in Pop Century for a weekend, I agree that the comparison isn’t fair. There really is more to the Disney value resort than Motel 6 has to offer. But we CAN compare apples to apples here. Everything has a price. And that’s when it struck me. The right way to compare these products is to evaluate them on services delivered.

My first time on “POP”erty! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Let’s compare Motel 6 (on the nearby US-192) to Pop Century, for a weekend evening. I take the Motel 6 example as the “base” and then will contrast the Pop Century experience to it, and assign dollar values to the individual perks, benefits, and advantages to staying at the Disney hotel.

The room decor is “Disneyfied” in only very minor ways.

A weekend night in October costs $30 for Motel 6, and $115 for Pop Century. When I lived out of town, that was the end of the comparison right there. $85 extra is a lot of cash that could be put to use buying turkey legs, churros, and keychains. Why pay more?

There are some “big characters” at Pop, but Art of Animation has only Disney decorations. What’s Disney about a yo-yo?

What I discovered by staying on property, after almost a decade of living locally (with no need of a hotel) and many years before that of staying off-property will not be a shock to many of you: Yes, there are advantages, and they do add up.

My second child used the Pop sign as one of his very first words ever “read”

My “fatal flaw”, if you will, all these years has been to search for a killer app, the ONE THING that will convince me that spending an extra $85 was worthwhile. $85 was a lot of money. That’s almost three additional nights at Motel 6. Surely there’s no one thing that will make it worthwhile.

The food courts during breakfast hours are a BEEHIVE of activity. I had no idea the seething mass of humanity that teemed in here. This shot doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve realized that if you put a dollar value to all the things a Disney hotel gets you, you essentially “earn back” all of those $85. What I did was ask myself how much a given perk was worth to me. How much cash would I fork over to get something (knowing that this figure was likely different from what it actually costs to purchase or otherwise provide). Often, I tried to double-check myself by asking: how much would I demand to get me to do it the “other” way?

In this fashion, I think the following values for all the perks are accurate for ME and my family (the numbers will almost certainly be different for you and your family). Note that the dollar values are “per room” rather than per person:

  • Disney-quality bed and pillows: $0 (I detected no difference)
  • Better shampoo and soap, room upkeep / lack of shabbiness: $3
  • No car needed to MK and Epcot (and being able to get drunk at Epcot w/o driving): $5
  • Theming/Decor all around the hotel grounds: $5
  • Waking up “in” Disney World—feeling relaxed, whereas the vacation has breaks when you sleep off-property: $10
  • Convenient food court with no driving, with prices mostly in check ($6 breakfast burrito, Tables in Wonderland card honored): $2
  • Avoiding traffic on busy US-192 or SR-535: $2
  • Skipping the TTC and moving straight to the MK gates without need of waiting for a monorail or walking in from my car: $3
  • The fanfare on the bus as you arrive at the MK: $1
  • Extra Magic Hours: $20/room (or roughly $5 each for a family of four)
  • Amortized savings of not renting a car, since you are not leaving Disney property: $20
  • Amortized savings of not paying for an airport shuttle, due to free Disney’s Magical Express: $5
  • Daily savings on Disney parking: $14 (unless you have an annual pass, in which case it’s less than a dollar). Note: parking is free even with your own car if you have a dashboard printout proving that you’re renting a Disney room.
  • Included wi-fi in the rooms and food court: $4. I know this usually costs $10, but my criteria here is not what something costs, but what it’s worth. What I’d be willing to pay for it.
  • Thicker walls than Motel 6: $5
  • Pool: $1 (way better than Motel 6)
  • Package pickup from the parks brought to your hotel gift shop: $1

    One gripe though:

  • Hassle of crowded busses at night, with 40-60 minutes going by before you arrive at your hotel common at night: negative $5. In other words, I would have paid $5 to have my own car present in the parking lot so I could skip this bus at night.
The busses are, um, crowded.

Adding all of those together, I get $96 worth of benefit from staying at Pop Century versus Motel 6. In other words, the equivalent perks if purchased at Motel 6 would make that room on US-192 cost $126, or $11 more than the Disney room I *did* purchase.

This got me. I come from a school of thought that prefers to spend fewer dollars on an absolute basis, never mind the RELATIVE value. So putting absolute dollars onto paper like this made it real for me in a way that would hardly have been possible otherwise.

As groovy as it is, it has limits.

I’m still cheap, and the concept of “absolute dollars” has not left my vocabulary completely. But the entire experience has given me an enhanced understanding of why folks would pay such a premium price for Disney hotels. I’m sure the calculations would look different for Moderate hotels, and then different yet again for the Deluxe resorts. I look forward to running such calculations in the future. One birthday at a time, you see. First my wife has to get a year older so we have another excuse to stay!

What are your thoughts on this? Would you value things differently? Anything I may have missed or overstated? Scroll down to leave your comments below…

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