Pop Century Review

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Walt Disney World



Published on October 30, 2012 at 5:05 am with 25 Comments

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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About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He is a founding member of MiceAge and has written numerous books about Disney parks (see http://bit.ly/kevinyee).

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  • funtobfree

    I realize values will differ between families but I want to know how a family of four gets round trip airport transportation for $5/room night? It would take around 20 nights to pay for Mears shuttle at that rate.

  • Bubba B

    I’ve stayed at Pop Century in February and off site in April when most kids and families were in school. I found that being in the Disney “bubble” was worth the cost of staying on-site. Exploring all the different areas and resorts of the “world” is something else you probably don’t do if you drive in from off-site. The next time I visit, I plan on staying on site again, possibly at a moderate resort.

  • Neon Cactus

    I say yes and no to the value. The past two times we’ve been, we’ve exchanged our timeshare, and had great accommodations. But in two weeks we go back and we’re staying at Port Orleans, and I’m more excited to be there. I prefer renting a car over Disney transportation, because of mobility to the other resorts and restaurants, but the pool, the service, the atmosphere is so much better at the Disney resorts.

    That said, we had originally booked the Polynesian and changed to Port Orleans and saved over $2,000. I love the Polynesian and we’re going to Ohana, but since I’m rarely at the hotel room, the extra cost of that over a moderate resort wasn’t worth it. I feel a little differently about the Beach Club because of the pool and because I can walk to EPCOT and DHS, but I’d still be questioning how much it’s worth to me.

  • Epcyclopedia

    Kevin – don’t forget the $15 “resort fee” almost every hotel in the area charges and then $10 per day for parking that many charge as well.

    Just adding those two in.. and you didn’t discount for Annual Passholder discounts from the price… It almost immediately becomes a wash for Values compared to staying off property for a passholder.

    Also, gas. I spent $30 in gas driving around property over Epcot’s 30th, largely because I couldn’t get a Value resort days added to my stay last minute so it was split on/off property.

  • waymire01

    I would pay double or triple what you allotted for most of the perks you mentioned. Also I think if you did your calculations by actual replacement value.. the transportation alone if you fly in, rent a car, pay for gas and parking, etc. would be much higher than your allotments. Once you have had a kid get sick in the middle of the day.. or some other personal emergency.. or a teen who wants to ride the Rockin Rollar Coaster 50 times in a row.. and have the luxury of knowing everyone in your party has a way of getting wherever they need/want to go whenever they choose to do so.. the Disney transportation does not look so bad… and I guarantee if you have a problem or request the hospitality at a Disney resort is going to take care of you a lot better than any independent hotel.. and good luck getting any attention/assistance at all at Motel 6. On our last trip we stayed at All Stars.. so a value resort.. and I had personal assistance to obtain electric scooter and stroller rentals (delivered to our room at our convenience)… items packed, labelled, and shipped home by staff- all I had to do was fill out a form… personal hands on assistance to change/obtain dining reservations… the ability to charge every single purchase in the parks and resorts to our room via only our key to the world, itemized in detail, and paid in one transaction… our bags picked up from the airport and delivered to our room… and much more.

  • waymire01

    Oh.. and Pop Century is probably the worst resort on property for the “Disney experience”. Try another and you will get a much better experience of what it is like to stay on property.

  • PineappleFrenzy

    I travel with my 72 year old uncle as my Disney World partner, and find the value resorts are perfect for us. We go when free dining is offered, so that saves us some money, but what’s most important to me is that my uncle can go back to the hotel and nap every day with little disruption to our day, and we go back for the night-time festivities because it’s so easy to get back (I think if we had to deal with freeways, etc we’d sometimes choose to stay at the hotel instead.) Plus, my uncle loves the Pop food court (we are early risers and generally don’t see huge crowds), and we both love the refillable mug we get with the free QS dining.

  • SamBuddy

    Your comparison to a Motel 6 forgot a few items, how do you value not having these things?

    - drug needles in the parking lot
    - police sirens at 2 am
    - ants in the shower
    - used condoms in the lawn
    - people in the room next to you with handguns

  • SpectroMan

    Welcome to the world of tourist accomodations. A lot different, isn’t it? Buses and ridiculous masses of humanity in food courts are truly disheartening..but the rest is great.

    Same goes over here in CA…you grow up with DL as your local park but if you spend just one night in an on-property hotel, it becomes a completely different vacation.