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!)

Sweet Tracking Tech

MagicBand Collage 1

WordPress was kind enough to just remind me that today is this blog’s 5th anniversary!  And here I am, shamefully red-faced and bearing no gift to, uh, myself, because whoops, I completely forgot/had not even remembered in the first place.  I believe this qualifies me for any and all bad blogger awards, does it not?  All the same, happy blogiversary, Finger Candy, you’re a wee trifle of a thing, but you make me so very happy. 🙂

Also making me happy is this bit of Disney wrist candy, a gift from myself to myself during our last trip, which I could certainly repurpose as a blogging gift from myself to myself right now, no?  This is a MagicBand, one of those RFID-enabled doojiggies that you’re tagged with the second you step on Disney property.  Once upon a time, in a Magic Kingdom not so terribly far away, the technology was used primarily to allow guests admittance to the rides.  Today your MagicBand is the next best thing to an actual key to the Kingdom – you can use them to pay for your purchases, bypass the front desk at your resort, open up your hotel room door, and access your dining reservations and FastPass selections.  They also have a range of over 40 feet, and occasionally do crazy things like allow you and your husband to completely sweep the goodbye boards on It’s a Small World despite never tapping your MagicBand at the front of the ride.  If you’re a believer in the Deep Disney Surveillance State, a MagicBand is probably your greatest nightmare.

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If you stay on Walt Disney World property at one of their resorts, as we do, you will automatically be given new, basic model MagicBands at the start of your trip; you can even customize them with a bit of engraving on the back.  Or, if you have a specially purchased MagicBand, like, say, this adorable Disney treats one I picked up at Hollywood Studios when we were there at the end of August, you can use that – the (Disney) World is your trackable oyster!

MagicBand 1

And because this is me, and because it’s only fitting on my blog’s quinquennial anniversary, here’s some inspired-by, matching nail art.  And here’s to tracking five more perfectly sweet blogging years. 🙂

MagicBand Collage 2

Passholder Pride!

Passholder 1

So here’s that thing I was so very proud of that I wanted to show you, but first needed a something to show, but the something got caught up in transit, and so I had nothing to show.  Thing thing thing, show show show!

*Ahem* So the thing I was so very proud of – the physical proof of which was indeed caught in a sort of transit – is that thanks to our year-long diligence in cutting back, watching our spending and enjoying that which we already have, we were able to become Disney World annual passholders!  That’s kind of big deal, right, it’s not just my imagination? 🙂  But for what we have planned for the next 365 days, it made the most financial sense, and that’s on a cost-of-tickets basis alone; the extra little perks like money off dining, merchandise, entertainment and accommodations and special, passholder-exclusive offers are just that – extra little perks (and already well-used, thanks to our Labour Day long weekend trip!)

Passholder 3

Anyhow, it’s been a donkey’s age since I’ve done any nail art, and so I thought I’d do a manicure celebrating this awesome – and awesomely fun – financial milestone.  I am so, so proud of us for making this happen, as silly as it may seem.  Which I bet to many of you is very silly.  And I’m cool with that; the Peter Pan approach to life is not for everyone.  But consider that Mr. Finger Candy and I have decided to just get out there and fully immerse ourselves in the Deep Disney State – anything we can do to save money while we’re out being dorky dreamers is going to be a help.

Passholder 4

TL;DR: While year-long passes to four of the world’s most popular theme parks may seem like a gigantic financial leap, it’s a chasm we easily crossed thanks to our very best efforts in reining in our spending and dedicating everything extra to this one financial goal.  I love that we worked toward a goal and met it.  Gotta say, it feels pretty darn great!  Just like these nails – I’ve missed doing nail art, must really aspire to feature more of it here on this, uh, nail art blog. 😉

Passholder 2

Chillin’ Like a Villain: My, What a Guy!

Gaston Ears Collage 1

Psst!  Hey, you guys wanna hear something?  Supposedly, every last inch of this Gaston dude is covered with hair.  I know, right?!  Ever heard of manscaping, bro?  What am I saying?  Of course he hasn’t heard of manscaping!  Gaston is totally that guy who runs around with his furry man-cleave hanging out of his tunic, crispy shedded chest hairs building up in tiny drifts around his bootaloons.  To do anything more would be to show respect and consideration for others, and that totally ain’t Gaston’s bag.

I am, of course, intimately familiar with Gaston’s particular brand of whiffing it, on account of the fact that over four visits to his tavern in the last year alone (his tavern being in freaking Orlando, by the way) he has yet to show his chiseled jaw even once.  A kind friend suggested that he may be intimidated – after all, the last brainy beauty who bested his beastliness badly bruised his bravado, did she not?  Harumph, I thought he was made of tougher stuff than that.  Wussy.  But you didn’t hear it from me. 😉

I’m hoping, though, that when I wear these Gaston ears I nabbed from Etsy vendor Mouseket Ears Bowtique, he’ll show himself, if only to marvel at my amazing taste in hair accessories.  I’m so in love with the chest hair ear, it is stupendous!  And I very much appreciate the glittery stag rack mounted in the centre of the bow.  You know Gaston would love it, on account of the whole antlers in all of his DE-CO-RA-TING business.

Gaston Ears Collage 2

And as always, a bit of nail art.  Because if I’m rocking chest hair on my ears, I may as well sport it on my nails, too (better my nails than my knuckles, which I’m also assuming is Gaston’s thing.)

Gaston Ears 1

Splashdown!

Splash Mountain

Brer Rabbit’s twitchy little bunny ears take centre stage in this manicure inspired by a beloved Disney ride, Splash Mountain.  Come on, who doesn’t love getting soaked straight through to the bone while animatronic stereotypes bellow Dixie at you from the prow of a riverboat?  Nobody I want to know. 🙂

But do you know who I would like to know?  The guy in the back row of this on-ride photo, taken during our Christmastime 2017 soaking.  I know it’s bad form to post a stranger’s photo on your personal blog, but the look of delight on this guy’s face never fails to put a smile on my face – dude is living his very best day, and glee like that is infectious.

Splash Mountain Collage

However.  Owing to perhaps the weight distribution in our boat (we still big folks) or maybe even a bit of reburb tinkering on the part of Disney, we got SOAKED.  There have always been these adorable “You may get wet!” signs posted all throughout the line, which over probably a dozen lifetime rides has proven to be more or less accurate – you may get wet.  This time it seemed to be a foregone conclusion from the moment we sat down into about an inch and a half of water left over from the previous occupants of what was naturally the very front row.  The 52-foot drop into a thorny tangle of briers also didn’t help.  Our boat basically entered the water like a shovel, and we got hosed.  And we paid money for this!  And it was THE MOST fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉

Team Turkey Leg!

Turkey Leg

I have a real love/hate relationship with Disney’s iconic smoked turkey legs.  On the one hand, turkey legs, much like hams, are just a hilariously-shaped food; they lend themselves quite well to interpretations via graphic design.  But then on the other hand, I think they’re utterly, utterly disgusting – a friend who’s had one described it as being “quite tendon-y.”  Ack!  And they’re so expensive!  $12.95 at the Animal Kingdom (please don’t even get me started on the moral incongruity of an animal-centered theme park offering animal on-the-bone as a smoked snack – I might have a lot to say on the subject.)

But mostly I just can’t hack the very common sight of a family of four sharing one massive turkey leg, dad holding on to what used to be, I dunno, the poor turkey’s femur while the kids dart forward to nab meat off the bone like little velociraptors.  It’s off-putting enough as a description – just imagine what it looks like in real life!

But turkey legs in theory?  Hilarious!  That’s just good comedy right there, something Disney is leaning into with its collection of turkey leg gear, like this fly tee I nabbed at Epcot.  I’ve hyped this awesome turkey leg t-shirt before – it’s my favourite thing to wear when I’m working out (shown here alongside some frozen treat socks, featuring that other bafflingly popular Disney snack, Dole Whip.)

Snack Merch Collage

I actually wore it during my workout this morning, along with this turkey leg mani – plump turkey legs as set against the colours of the four parks (or at least what I think are the colours associated with the parks, silver for Epcot, green for Animal Kingdom, coral for Hollywood Studios and baby blue for the Magic Kingdom.)  Because of course you can find turkey legs at all four parks (and probably a lot of other places I’m unaware of; I think turkey legs at Disney may be a bit like spiders – supposedly we’re all only feet away from one at all times!)