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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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

It’s a Fiesta at Coronado Springs!

Coronado Collage

We just returned home from an awesome long weekend trip to Disney World, during which we stayed on property at the Coronado Springs Resort – quite fitting, given that it was hotter in Orlando, Florida last weekend than I think it ever was in the actual Mayan Riviera!  Floridian friends, I know you have acclimated to a lifetime of heat, sun and humidity in the same way that I have acclimated to a lifetime of cold, snow and freezing rain, but I DO NOT know how you do it.  Mr. Finger Candy and I just wilted like a couple of pansies – and by that I really do mean the flowers; a near constant intake of water is all that kept us upright!

Coronado Springs’ reputation has – unfairly, I’d say – been somewhat tarnished on account of the great deal of construction being undertaken on the property at the moment.  There’s a large, multi-unit tower being built on the west side of the property, as well as a vast amount of landscaping work.  Given that razed flower beds and 15 stories’ worth of exposed rebar are the very first sights that greet you upon arriving at the resort, I can understand some of the dissatisfaction with the state of the place.

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But with the construction mostly confined to the front-most edge of the property, and only during reasonable daylight hours (during which we were never there), I didn’t find the ongoing renovations to the resort to be that obtrusive.  Besides, you don’t stay in the lobby of a hotel, a fun little accommodations fallacy Disney has disproved time and time again – it’s the rare hotelier that has rooms just as nicely appointed as its lobby.  Though if you were looking to bunk down in a public lobby, you could do worse than Coronado Springs’.  Please note the not-so hidden Mickey projected on the back wall of the reception area. 🙂

Lobby Collage

The property itself was gorgeous, laid out very much like another favourite moderate resort, the Port Orleans Riverside, and also like the Riverside, it was very, very quiet.  On our walk to the main Dig Site pool one evening, we had a mile-long stretch of meandering, lantern-lit path all to ourselves, with not another soul in sight.

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Coronado Springs 13

Of course, that’s because everybody else was at the Dig Site, an incredible resort pool (one of the best ones across the entirety of the Walt Disney World Resort) that we visited one evening.  The big Mayan pyramid is the Dig Site’s main showpiece, but there’s also a sweet little waterslide off to one side, a spa, a playground, lots of lounge chairs, Siesta’s, one of three on-property pool bars, and, present company excluded, many, many hard bodies.  I guess if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right?

Pool Collage

Not one of those hard bodies. 😉  Or sorry, did you say HOT bodies?  Because he definitely was one of those!  Did you know the tops of your kneecaps can sweat?  Well, now you do!  However, in Florida’s defence, Mr. Finger Candy is sitting by the pool in a long-sleeved sun shirt, cotton work shirt, full pants and leather high top sneakers, and I spent three days bombing around in all black, so really, who are the dummies now?!

Coronado Springs 28

Of our actual room, I completely spaced and took virtually no photos – a true shame, as we were given one of the newly refurbished rooms, and it was lovely – spic and span, up to date and very, very comfy, a wonderful place to call home for three nights.  Show of hands if you also like sprawling out in front of Resort TV at the end of a long park day!

Room Collage

I did, however, take the time to film a quick room tour for our YouTube channel when we first arrived, and you can find that video below.

For all the talk of the disruption the construction has caused, I found it to be just that – all talk.  I suppose if your Disney experience is hanging out at your resort all day long, you would find Coronado Springs justifiably lacking – not sure how happy I’d be having my relaxing pool day scored by a symphony of jittering jackhammers and reversing backhoes.  But if you’re park-bound for most, if not all, of the day, then Coronado Springs – particularly with its slightly discounted, “Pardon our pixie dust” prices – is just the resort you’re looking for.  And not for nothing, but all of the usuals are present and accounted for here – a great restaurant in the Maya Grill, a fulsome food court, a cute gift shop in Panchito’s, and a great breakfast joint in Rix, the sports bar-turned-restaurant where we enjoyed an amazing end-of-vacation feast of Huevos Divorciados (that’s Spanish for heaps of Mexican breakfast yumminess on a bed of cheese quesadillas.)

Restaurants Collage

Coronado Springs is also home to a rather splishy convention center.  We whiled away an hour or so there as we waited for the Magic Express to not-so-magically return us to the Orlando International Airport and 10 solid hours of travel.  Holy cats, what a gorgeous facility!  The carpet was utterly mesmerizing, as was the fact that that salon I’m dancing in?  Is Salon L.  Which suggests there are Salons A through K, which are presumably just as large and grand as L.  And there are more salons beyond L!  The place goes on FOREVER.  I couldn’t stop contemplating the incredible (and incredibly large) wedding you could throw in one of those ballrooms.  And then I danced around a bit more. 😉

Convention Collage

The only nit I have to pick about our stay at Coronado Springs – indeed, it was THE nit to pick with regards to virtually all of our Disney interactions – was that during check-in we were really held at the mercy of some seriously misbehaving tech.  It’s no fun feeling like you’re missing out on the fun because you’ve been stuck in a line-up merely trying to reach the fun for 40 straight minutes.  Regrettably, this bad tech juju followed us straight to the parks, where our annual passes were failing to register (did I mention we became annual passholders?!), as were our PhotoPass privileges.  To paraphrase my new friend Peter Pan, I’m not that good at math, but even I know there’s nothing that screams vacation fun quite like account management and administration. 😉

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All in all, though, we loved staying at Coronado Springs, and I think we’d go back regardless of whether the construction had ceased or not – given how we vacation, it barely impacted our stay at all, and our experience was a great one overall.  Happiness is an awesome stay at a Disney resort.  Looking forward to our next one.

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Be Our Guest!

Be Our Guest Collage

Oh, we WILL, and in just a little under a week’s time, too!  Guesting at the Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, that is, one of our favourite spots to dine on Disney property.  We love it so much (actually, Mr. Finger Candy is, somehow, the real Beauty and the Beast nut in this household) I made this little video all about our experiences there for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  So as Lumiere might say, I invite you to relax and pull up a chair as the diningroom and I proudly present…your dinner!  And also your breakfast, as many times as we possibly can.  Happy watching, and bon appetit!

A Multitude of Mermaids

Closing out the long weekend for us Canadians and kicking off the work week for the rest of you fine folks with this little video I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, of one of my favourite rides at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid!  As my husband has pointed out, my affection for this new-ish attraction is fairly unsurprising given that it’s essentially the Haunted Mansion, themed to the Little Mermaid (they share a similar ride profile, right down to the Doom Buggies/Clam Shells that usher you through the ride (don’t forget to pull down your sand bar, wah-waaaahhhhh) and the bats/stingrays printed on the moving walkway at the end of the ride.)

And while I was dinglehopper-deep in fond memories of Journey of the Little Mermaid, I thought it would be fun to round up the many, many mermaid manis I have done over the years, including a number of ever-evolving Little Mermaid manicures honouring our girl, Ariel.  Gosh, some of my earlier stuff was dod-gy!  That’s one of the very nice things about dabbling about in a visual medium – when your talents evolve (and they absolutely will, with enough practice) you’ll really be able to see how very much you’ve improved.  It’s great (mermaid) motivation. 🙂

Remembering the Riverside

Resort Collage Exterior

And just when you thought I had stopped yammering about this place!  But the Port Orleans Riverside at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is our favourite place to stay on property, and I apparently have lots more to say on the subject.  So much more, actually, I made up this neat little video for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, extolling this great resort’s many awesome qualities.  Please do check it out and at least have a good chuckle at the weirdness of my voice, if you’d be so kind. 🙂  And who knows, maybe you’ll see something you like well enough to get you down to the Riverside as well for your next Disney vacation.