Pop Goes the Resort Stay

Pop Collage

Many months ago when we were planning our just-completed Disney anniversary vacation, we decided that because of the length of the trip (11 nights!) we ought to try to maximize our resort dollars with a first-time stay at a value resort instead of our usual moderate.  Out of the five value resorts on property, Pop Century was regarded as the very best, with a fun vibe to match its kitschy-tacky-cute aesthetic.

Potato Heads

So we booked our vacation, and as our long-awaited trip finally approached, we both became quite excited about our stay at Pop – the rooms had all recently undergone a much-needed refurbishment, and if they looked a bit sterile, well, they also looked bright and fresh and welcoming.  We had also heard great things about the kitchen in the food court at Pop Century – supposedly it was ultra accommodating of vegans and vegetarians like my husband, with special substitutions on offer of popular Disney favourites like over-the-top burgers and Mickey waffles.  And we had heard that it was just a fun place to stay, with a nice mix of small families and couples like us having a great time at the happiest place on earth.

I think you know where this story is going.  And I should have known where this story was going, but I had hope.

Misplaced hope, as it turns out, because we had a most unsatisfactory experience at Pop Century.  The kind of unsatisfactory that finds you begging for a room change at 5:00 in the morning.  The kind of unsatisfactory that maroons you at a packed bus stop in the pouring rain for 50 minutes with 200 other furious, soaking wet guests.  The kind of unsatisfactory that finds you just not eating dinner one night because, after waiting in a half hour lineup at the food court, they misplaced your meal.  The kind of unsatisfactory where there’s long, blonde hairs in the shower, even though one of you is a brunette and the other has no hair at all!  And ultimately the kind of unsatisfactory that leads to you booking a room at another resort at 1:00 in the morning after you’ve grown utterly exhausted with all of the above.

Oh man, what a gong show.  Where to start?  With the gargantuan Roger Rabbit figure stationed outside our building?  In hindsight, this was an omen – I hate Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with the fire of 1,000 burning suns.  I hate it about as much as I hate The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which I also heard twice whilst waiting in line for the bus.  Omens on top of omens!

Roger Rabbit

The rooms themselves were nicely, but inexpensively, appointed.  Can’t say I blame Disney for going low on the quality of the furnishings given that people seem to have used these rooms as their personal playpens – there was not a surface in either of our rooms that wasn’t peppered with nicks, dings and scratches.  And I think the damage may be inevitable given the tiny size of these cramped units – you’re never not on top of yourself, and that’s just with two people in the room.

Pop Century

Transportation to the parks, via Disney’s internal bus system, was usually pretty great, with buses departing from the front doors of Pop Century every 20 minutes.  But travelling between parks and resorts or leaving the parks at night was a nightmare of queuing and standing and grumbling that I came to actively dread.  Most evenings we’d wait for 45 minutes to an hour for a bus back to the resort with 200 other angry guests, miffed that the THIRD bus to Wilderness Lodge had just passed us by while the second Pop Century bus in a row had been scooped by a disabled guest and their 20 accompanying family members.  One night it rained, the kind of weather event that’s more mini hurricane than rainstorm; I’ve never experienced anything so furiously intense.  Umbrellas and rain gear did nothing – we were both soaked straight through to the bone (our bones eventually dried off; our shoes and underwear…not so much!)  With the usual hundreds of guests in line, now cold, sodden and utterly exhausted, it would have been a great time for Pop to allocate a few more buses to usher us all home.  Instead we waited, and then caught sass from our bus driver for not packing ourselves in tightly enough for the stand ‘n’ drip back to the resort.  More than once or twice or five times I overheard fellow guests griping about the lack of timely bus service, questioning what exactly they were getting from their stay at Pop, with one deeply aggravated gentleman saying that were it not for the non-refundable tickets he had bought for an event at the end of the week, he’d pull the plug on his entire Disney vacation, full stop.

Pop Bus

The food court, far from being the accommodating foodie mecca I had envisioned, was an exercise in chaos studies so extreme, Dr. Ian Malcolm would have thrown up his hands and stalked out in frustration (little non-Disney, Jurassic Park humour for you there.)  Forget personalized vegetarian substitutions – the one and only time my husband ordered a vegetarian burger, it still magically showed up layered with drippy back bacon.  One evening I waited in line for 35 minutes for a basic meal of chicken nuggets and waffle fries, only to arrive at the front of the line just in time to be completely and utterly ignored.  I am apparently invisible.  Well, after that, I certainly made us disappear – disappear right off property and straight over to Coronado Springs.  But more on that necessary resort change in a moment.

Coronado Collage

Cleanliness was an issue.  Our first room was cleaned once in five days.  Disney does this thing where they offer you $10 a day if you forego “Mousekeeping.”  We’ve done this before on shorter trips, but this time we weren’t even presented with the offer.  Which we absolutely would have taken had we known that our room wasn’t ever going to get cleaned in the first place.  There were also long, blonde hairs in the shower that clearly didn’t belong to either Mr. Finger Candy or I.

There seemed to be absolutely no soundproofing between the units, particularly those with an adjoining door, like our first room.  One morning we were woken at 2:30 am by the 24-hour party people next door stumbling back to their room after what was presumably a long evening at Disney Springs.  I actually don’t think they were being particularly loud, but normal speaking voices – in addition to every creak, thud and toilet flush – registered as though they were happening right in our unit with us.  Another morning we were woken at 4:45 am by the screaming of a baby the next room over; it continued for the next three hours, while we took time out of our holiday to negotiate a room change.

To their credit, Pop Century quickly accommodated our request for a room without an adjoining door.  Of course, luggage services failed to move our luggage to our new room, necessitating a long walk back to the lobby for my husband in the middle of the night to fetch our possessions, but at least we could now enjoy a bit of peace and quiet, right?  Well, sure, so long as you could ignore the thuds coming from all around you as people lowered their already-creaky Murphy beds, threw the bolts on their doors, flushed their toilets.  In the very still of the night, if you weren’t fortunate enough to have jet engine-rated ear plugs screwed into your noggin, you could hear every ding of the elevator and every snick of the bathroom pocket doors sliding shut.  And speaking of the bathroom, you could also hear your neighbours tending to their nature needs, clear as a bell.

On the subject of the neighbours, I encountered precious few of the small families or fun-lovin’ Disney couples I had anticipated.  Instead Pop was inundated with gigantic school groups, frazzled runners in attendance for the Run Disney marathon, and large, nasty families who could seemingly only communicate in lobbed insults (in fairness, I’d be twitchy, too, if I had two adults and three kids in one of those tiny little rooms.  Oh no, wait, I DID have that one morning, thanks to the shoddy construction materials in use at this resort.)  Far from the goofy, easy-going vibe I had been expecting, the entire resort seemed steeped in a frantic, stressed-out mania that made every interaction feel like a competition for precious few resources.

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Perhaps most galling of all was that this harried, Lord of the Flies-esque vibe extended to the cast members at Pop Century, particularly those in the perpetually-slammed food court, who always let you know, if you needed assistance or, you know, food, that they had other, better things to do.  At 1 am the morning we finally decided to jump ship, my request to general Disney Services that we be moved to a new resort was punted down to Pop Century’s front desk.  I’ve no idea why the resort from which we were trying to flee would help us find new accommodations, and indeed, they couldn’t; supposedly there were no more rooms at the Disney inn.  But less than a minute later, after a quick online search, I had secured a room at Coronado Springs for the final four days of our trip.  Care to offer me a job, Pop Century?  Because supposedly I can work bookings MAGIC over here (actually, no, I do not want to work at Pop Century; I’m not very good at providing front line cover for back-of-the-house incompetence.)

Pop Lobby

Following the no-dinner debacle, I groused all the way back to our room – oh, how I wished we could move resorts!  “So why don’t we?” asked my imminently wise husband, reminding me in a flash that we were adults with the desire and – probably most importantly – the means to improve our vacation experience.  Was being forced out of our resort and into a more expensive upgrade how we wanted to spend our hard-earned money?  Of course not.  But any savings that we were realizing as a result of the value-priced room rate were completely undone by Pop’s many and varied negatives.  Ultimately, the situation at Pop Century had grown completely unlivable; the resort’s chaotic vibe was beginning to catch, if my griping and general dissatisfaction were any indication, and I didn’t want those bad feelings to infect the rest of our trip.  So we moved on, and enjoyed four great, Roger Rabbit-free days at Coronado Springs.  The only time I looked back was from the shelter of the half-filled bus to Coronado as I peeked at the 200-strong lineup of poor saps queuing up for another sleepless, dinnerless night at Pop Century and thought, “Thank goodness that’s not us.”

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You Can’t Stay in Neverland Forever

Couples Collage

Though we certainly gave it our very best shot with our just-just concluded 11-day vacation at the most expensivest place on earth!  I’m sorry, I mean the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  It also may be the hottest place on earth; save for maybe just 12 approaching-cool hours, every day topped 90 degrees with full, bright sun and sticky humidity.  As always, we had a wonderful time, and we’ve arrived home with bookings for our next trip already in place, so clearly we’re those nuts that embrace the insanity that is wildly overpaying for a vacation in the devil’s sweaty armpit.  No sense denying that!  But this vacation also came with some first-time challenges on the accommodations side of things that made coming home that much sweeter – shelter from the Disney storm.  I’ve been glad to return to non-Disney life, as tempting as it is to just blow off adulthood altogether and live forever in the Haunted Mansion.

The objective of this trip, because we are Type A Disney nerds who do things like plan out mini challenges within an already packed vacation schedule, was to bridge the Halloween and Christmas holidays with two special event parties, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on Halloween, and then Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party one week later on the final night of our trip.  In between we’d enjoy a lot of great meals at favourite restaurants, celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary, attend our first fireworks dessert party, don our first ever couples costumes, lay waste to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, meet lots of fun characters, take a pile of goofy (and sometimes Goofy) photos, ride the Mansion half a dozen times, complete Mr. Finger Candy’s first and second decks of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards, and hopefully enjoy a fun and relaxing stay at another great Disney resort.

And, you know, with the exception of but one of those things (our underwhelming, ultimately truncated stay at Pop Century is a blog post for another day) we tackled everything on that list, and have arrived home victorious!  Also utterly exhausted, and in possession of about 3,000 photos and videos that need to be organized into posts to share with our friends and family, and of course anyone else who might like to join in on our Disney vacation fun.  Come on over to the dark side, we have Poison Apple Cupcakes!

Poison Apple Cupcake

Over the coming days I’ll be sure to drive you bonkers with the recounted details of our trip in a slightly more organized fashion (brace yourselves for the all-food post, because we truly ate ALL the food!) but for now I’d like to leave you with a video I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, of our evening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios enjoying the Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam holiday dessert party and fireworks show!  Spoiler alert: We get Girl Drink Drunk (that’s a Kids in the Hall joke about the potency of ultra stainy, rum-based cocktails, of which we both now have a great deal of experience!)

Happy Hallowversary to Us!

Well, here’s something I’ve never done before – blogged whilst on the road. Said road, of course, being in Disney World, where Mr. Finger Candy and I are celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary! Yeah, we’re the people who got married on Halloween, and now we’re the people heading off for another round of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! I hope to have some cool couples costume pics for you tomorrow, but for now, here’s a wee peek at just a bit of the sunny anniversary fun we’re having down Disney way.

They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara

Cemetery Gates 1

Call this updated Night of the Living Dead-esque manicure the inevitable sequel to a design I always thought I could do a little bit better.  I’m sure George A. Romero thought likewise when he attempted Dawn of the Dead.  Ooh, sick zombie burn!

But real talk?  Wonkus hand position aside, I actually prefer the original design; it’s clearer than this muddled black-and-white cemetery, and the tiny details are more delicately rendered.  Here, take a peek!

Not entirely unfortunate, right?  Like I said, slightly sideways hand position aside (it took a long, long time to nail down a position that both felt and looked good) I think this 2013 manicure is far superior to the one I did today.  What’s old is new again!  Or maybe I’m just regressing?  Hard to tend to my nail artabilities when I’m running off to Disney every 20 seconds (slight exaggeration, but only slight – we’re leaving for our anniversary trip in two days!  So 172,800 seconds.)  Anyhow, perhaps I’ll have to update the update of the original, just to put these black-and-white zombie things six feet under where they properly belong once and for all. 😉

Fall Fun Fridays: The Finale

Decorations

Goodest of mornings, friends, and welcome to the final prompt of the Fall Fun Fridays series I have been embarking on with my blogging buddies Jay and Julie.  Today we’re discussing the great autumn out-of-doors.

Well, they probably are.  Julie takes some of the most beautiful photographs of nature I’ve ever seen and Jay just loves getting out and exploring the world, so I’m sure they both have lots of cool adventures to share in the great wide somewhere.  Please do check out their blogs to follow along in the fun.

Jay at The Scented Library

Julie at The Redolent Mermaid

As for me?  Well, you know it all pretty well begins and ends with Disney.  I commented earlier during this series that the last two years, I’ve had a hard time mustering up an appropriate level of enthusiasm for the Fall.  As in I’ve had hardly any – very unusual, as I just adore the autumn.  Is there a better season for gloomily beautiful weather, scrumptious food, delightful decorations and just cozying up with someone you love?  I certainly don’t think so.

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But the last two years there’s been a weird block in place where it has literally taken leaving my gorgeously be-leaf’d province for Disney World in Orlando, Florida to jump start my Fall fever.  I suppose that’s because like most things Disney embarks upon, they do the autumn – and especially Halloween – very, very well.  And being the Halloween nuts we kind of are, there’s nothing that gets our happiness meters revving like our favourite time of year at the most magicalest place on earth.

And so we’re heading back again in just a couple days’ time to immerse ourselves in the season – one last Halloween hurrah for these two old marrieds celebrating their 14th Halloween wedding anniversary.  And when we return, I’ll no doubt have tons of photos to share of our end-of-autumn adventures, but that doesn’t do any of us any good right now, does it?  And so I’m sharing this little video I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, of the Fall fun we had at Disney World just this past Labour Day long weekend.  It was our first time attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, a spooktacular after-hours event at the Magic Kingdom, but our second time hitting up the World for the autumn season, and I think we really did it up right.  I hope you enjoy it, and thank you again for following along with this little blogging series – it’s been so nice to have you by every Friday. 🙂

There Can Be Only One

There Can Be 1

Jack-o-Lantern face, that is!  Growing up, my pumpkin dictator mother decreed that there could only be one expression carved into the side of a ripe Halloween pumpkin – triangle eyes, half-moon mouth, the end!  It’s a classic for a reason, to be sure.  All the same, she was (jokingly) aghast the year I came along and added two pointy fangs to the half-moon mouth; what the hey was this kid doing messing with tradition anyways?!  I attempt to be a glass-half-full kind of person, so I’m going to say I was just respecting tradition.  In fact, I respect it so much – well, just take a peek at last year’s tiny Jack-o-Lantern.

Weegie 1

Weegie is a non-conformist, and she thinks my later work has grown repetitive.  How rude!  Also, says the cat in the lobster costume!  And yes, that is a 16-year-old torbi dressed as a crustacean, sitting beside a lit Jack-o-Lantern on my diningroom table; what of it? 😉

These happy Jack-o-Lantern nails are for my mom, both the classic, proscribed expression and avec fangs, just to mix things up and drive my mom a teeny bit bonkers.  Happy Halloween!

There Can Be 2