Thursday, April 21, 2016

runDisney Racecation: Staying at Pop Century Resort

During the Star Wars Half -The Dark Side race weekend, we decided to stay at the Pop Century Resort, in the ESPN Wide World of Sports area of Walt Disney World. There are three major reasons we decided to stay here:
1) Price: This is one of the budget Disney resorts, and it was probably cheaper than many of the nicer off-site hotels. We knew it wouldn't be super luxe or spacious, but if you're on a budget, this is a great option.
2) Location: Being in the ESPN WWS area, the bus from the race finish line to the resort was all of about five minutes. It's also very close to Hollywood Studios (one time our bus driver made the trip in 7 minutes) and Epcot, the two parks we spent the most time in. It is a bit of a hike to Magic Kingdom, though.
3) Transportation: I think one of the biggest perks of staying on site at Disney is definitely the Disney Magical Express from and to the airport. It easily saves $100+ on taxi fares, if you had to taxi, or more, if you need a rental car.

Things to know about Pop Century (and Disney resorts in general):

  • Luggage and the Disney Magical Express
Once we got to the airport in Orlando, it was a breeze getting on the Disney Magical Express and heading to the resort. You just have to follow all of the many signs straight to DME checkin, tap your MagicBand, and get your bus assignment. My sister arrived around 11am and stood in line for about thirty minutes before scanning in, but when we arrived at 1, it was pretty much empty and we actually had to wait about 15 minutes for our bus to fill up before we were off.

When you schedule the DME and provide your flight information, you also get the option of adding yellow tags to your checked luggage. For any tagged bags, the ground crew diverts them straight to DME and they are delivered to your room later in the day, which can save a lot of hassle! We decided to tag our bigger bag and not tag my smaller checked bag; this means I had to run over to pick it up before getting on the DME bus. Our second bag was delivered to our room sometimes after 5pm. If you can pack everything you need in a carryon, you won't need to worry about this, but if you have a lot of stuff to carry (like, if you're traveling with a baby) I would recommend checking a bag with all the essentials for the first day, like extra clothes, food, diapers, etc, and tagging/checking any bulky bags you won't need until later in the day.

  • Preferred Room/Pool View
Because the resort is SO HUGE, we didn't think twice about paying a few extra dollars for a preferred room, which guarantees a room in one of the buildings closest to Classic Hall and the park shuttles. We also requested a first floor room, since we would have a stroller, but there wasn't one available when we checked in, so we had the extra hassle of using the elevator a lot.

We also got a pool view room, just because it was the most available. I think for some families this might be fun, especailly on the first floor, to be able to walk right out of your room and be at the pool, or see the float up movies at night. However, if you have a baby or want to nap in the afternoon, pool view is not for you. It's definitely the louder side of the buildings, even if they are closer to the main entrance.

The room itself was definitely on the smaller size. It included a small table, two double beds, a TV stand/dresser with a few drawers and a mini fridge, and a curtained-off bathroom area with a sink, hanging rack, and the tiny bathroom. It was definitely a little tight, since the only space for the pack n play for the baby was right next to the bathroom area; we couldn't keep any of the main lights on, and there was only a thin curain between the baby and where we were trying to get ready for bed or get dressed in the morning. I think the rooms in the moderate resorts are a few feet wider, and have a double sink, which makes a huge difference.
  • Classic Hall and Pools
The Classic Hall has everything you need outside of your room: check in, concierge, a huge arcade, a children's play room, gift shop, and food hall. There's also the main pool and splash deck right outside, plus Petals pool bar. 

Since this is a budget resort without villas or DVC suites, the gift shop doesn't quite have as many long-stay essentials, as some of the other shops might have. This means they didn't have gallons of bottled water (which I was looking for, for formula) or "normal" food like peanut butter or bread. If you're out and about, though, it's a short ride to Hollywood Studios and a quick boat ride to the Boardwalk, where there is a gift shop with more things if you want to make snacks in your room (OK, not that quick and easy, but I don't know the alternative). 

The food hall had lots of options, though, and smelled like waffles in the morning (Pop Century waffles, not mickey waffles)! They also had some grab and go options starting at 3am on race day, in case you need an early breakfast. We got the Disney Dining Plan, so we also got refillable resort mugs which we could refill with pop, coffee, or hot chocolate in any resort food hall. 

I think there are several pools throughout the property, and all have very watchful life guards. I did take Lilly out to the splash deck for a few minutes one afternoon, and she loved playing in the shallow water, as well as watching some of the older toddlers play. There are lots of deck chairs around the pool, but I can see it getting pretty crowded.
  • Race transportation
Pop Century did share a race bus with Art of Animation, which is right next door, and was super easy! For the expo, shuttles came about every 15 minutes, and it was about a five minute drive straight to ESPN. On race morning, there was a little bit of a line at 3:30, and about a 15 minute drive to Epcot. My sister took the shuttle later straight to the finish area, and she barely waited for a shuttle; the driver also helped her out with the stroller. I can imagine any race that ends at Epcot might have a longer drive back to the resort, but the short ride back was great!
  • Park transportation
As with all resorts, there are bus shuttles to each of the parks, as well as Downtown Disney Disney Springs. As I've said, Epcot and Hollywood Studios were a short 10 minute drive away, and 15 minutes or more to Magic Kingdom. The buses aren't particularly regular, so plan on waiting up to 20 minutes for a shuttle, and probably seeing at least one bus for every other park you don't want to go to while you wait. 
Also, if you have a reservation at another resort, you're going to have to take a shuttle to another park, then get from there to your final destination. We had reservations at the Beach Club, which is outside of Epcot, but it was faster for us to take the bus to HS, then the water taxi from there straight to the Beach Club. If you're going to the Magic Kingdom hotels, you can take the monorail. 

Overall, I think Pop Century is a great option for families on a budget - picking a cheaper hotel is definitely one way to keep expenses down. If you don't mind being a little bit on top of each other, Pop Century is really close to the "adult" parks and a great option for race weekends.

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