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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”