Best Disney World Value Resort Hotel

by josh on May 7, 2015

Updated 5/7/15

Quick Introduction to the Disney World Value Resorts

With dedicated bus transportation and updated furnishings, it was once easy to recommend Pop Century as the clear winner in the Best Value Resort category. With Art of Animation bringing newer rooms, dedicated bus transportation, and flashier theming in September 2012, that distinction became less clear. Add room refurbishments at the All-Stars and higher pricing at Pop Century and Art of Animation and the line begins to blur even more.

On the other hand, Art of Animation’s over-the-top theming, particularly inside the rooms, may not be for everyone. And the All-Stars may still share buses, causing longer, less comfortable bus rides when standing is more common. Luckily, picking the right Value resort for your group should be easy if you consider the following categories.

Best Theme/Landscaping

  1. Art of Animation
  2. All-Star Movies
  3. Pop Century
  4. All-Star Music
  5. All-Star Sports

Art of Animation is the clear winner in the “best theme” category, particularly when the richly detailed Cars and Finding Nemo sections are considered.

Here, you’ll find Lightning McQueen, Mater, Ariel, Ursula, Simba, Pumbaa, Nemo, and other favorites in lands that could just as easily be transplanted into the theme parks.

None of the other resorts come close.

All-Star Movies arrives in second place with its popular Toy Story characters and other Disney properties that are sure to be a hit with kids.

Unfortunately, a couple of the properties, like Herbie and The Mighty Ducks, may be a little too obscure to resonate with the current generation of youngsters and some of the Fantasia elements are a little abstract.

Pop Century is more Disney focused than the remaining All-Stars, with appearances by Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Roger Rabbit, Lady, and the Tramp.

Kids in particular should enjoy the bright, oversized characters and adults may get a kick out of the pop culture references and knick nacks.

The final two resorts are perfectly themed for those that love music or sports, but the icons are unlikely to excite kids with only a passing interest.

Classic Disney characters are few and far in between at each – here Donald and the nephews are enjoying a game of tennis.

A minor appearance by Ariel and friends near Music’s quiet pool.

With prettier courtyards and a more cohesive theme, Music beats out Sports. But don’t discount Sports if the kids are into basketball, tennis, football or the other themes represented – it’s a sure hit with certain demographics.

Best Layout

  1. Pop Century
  2. All-Star Sports/All-Star Movies/All-Star Music
  3. Art of Animation

The full PDF map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/pop_map.pdf

With four-story buildings, a more compact footprint, and better signage, Pop Century wins the best layout category, despite having more rooms than the other Values. This translates to shorter walks to points of interests like the pool and bus stop.

All-Star Movies map:

The full PDF map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/movies_map.pdf

The All-Stars are a little more difficult to traverse with winding walkways and signage that’s less clear.

All-Star Music map:

The full PDF map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/music_map.pdf

Walks to the main building and bus stop tend to be longer from the average room at the All-Stars than Pop.

Sports Map:

The full PDF map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/sports_map.pdf

If you’re trying to decide among the All-Star resorts, layout probably shouldn’t impact your decision. Each offers “preferred rooms” closer to the main building, feature pool, and bus transportation for about $20 more per night. Most people will probably prefer to save the money and walk a few more minutes, but the offer is there if less walking sounds attractive, particularly if you have kids in tow or it’s during the summer when it’s hot and afternoon rain is common.

A look at the three resorts from above:

Some All-Star rooms are actually closer to the main buildings of neighboring resorts rather than their own, which is okay because guests of any of the All-Stars are welcome to use the pool, quick service, and most amenities of the others.

Art of Animation map:

The full PDF map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/aoa_map.pdf

When only Standard rooms are considered, Art of Animation comes in last, thanks to rooms that are a minimum eight to ten minutes away from the main building and feature pool. Remember that Value rooms are only found in the Little Mermaid section and unlike other Value resorts, it isn’t possible to book a Preferred room closer to the main building because none exist. When considering Family Suites, Art of Animation fares better, but Cars suites in particular are still eight to ten minutes away from the main building.

Overall, Pop Century is the most likely to save you some time walking from a Standard room. If you average about three round trips from the room to the main building/pool/bus stop per day, you’d expect it to take about an hour of walking at Art of Animation, compared to 30 minutes at Pop.

Best Dining

  1. Pop Century
  2. Art of Animation
  3. All-Star Movies/Music/Sports

With Art of Animation’s emphasis on healthy food and unique offerings, it’s tough to place it behind Pop Century’s tried and true food court.

Tandoori Boneless Chicken Thigh – with Naan Bread and choice of two sides – $9.99 from Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation

Unfortunately, having a vision and achieving a goal are two very different things, and Art of Animation’s food is often less than stellar and may not appeal to some palates. Add the noisy dining area, long waits for food to be prepared, and higher average pricing, and you have a food court that simply doesn’t measure up. The biggest problem is the difference in preparation times among the various stations.

The pasta dishes, like the $12.49 Saffron Seafood Pasta – Saffron Broth with Clams, Mussels, Shrimp, and Fish over your choice of Pasta takes about ten minutes to make, while the tandoori and sandwich stations take about two minutes to plate. It might not sound like the end of the world, but the difference in timing means one person is going to be standing around while their food gets cold waiting or will need to purchase their meal separately and eat while others are waiting for their meals to be prepared. Consider asking how long a dish takes to prepare or plan to order sandwiches, tandoori, and individual pizzas well after orders are put in for custom-made burgers and pasta.

Pop Century offers a wide variety of fresh favorites, most of which include larger portions at lower prices than the theme parks and other quick service locations. The seating area is vast and often less busy than the All-Stars.

Art of Animation visitors may be saddened to learn that Mickey waffles aren’t available at Art of Animation.

On the other hand, AoA offers items like this Breakfast Sandwich – Naan Bread with Scrambled Egg, Slab Bacon, and Cheese Sauce with three thick slices of bacon and freshly scrambled eggs inside of the crispy naan bread.

And there’s always Simba waffles.

With very similar menus and seating arrangements, there isn’t much to differentiate the All-Star food courts. Although Sports and Music recently received major face lifts, the substance is still very similar with expansive menus and typically high quality food that’s much safer than Art of Animation.

Chances are you’ll be perfectly satisfied no matter which resort you end up choosing. Because the Values feed more guests on a daily basis and don’t offer other sit-down dining options, food quality and options tend to be better than the Moderates and Deluxes. And at the All-Stars, all food courts are theoretically within walking distance of each other. At Pop Century or Art of Animation, the other food court is only a ten-or-so minute walk away.

Best Transportation

  1. Art of Animation
  2. Pop Century
  3. All-Star Sports
  4. All-Star Music
  5. All-Star Movies

Both Pop Century and Art of Animation have dedicated bus service, which means neither resort shares buses with any other resort. That means that you won’t have to wait on the bus while it travels to other resorts to pick up additional guests and the bus won’t be full from previous pickups. Art of Animation narrowly wins the category because the queues at the resort are mostly covered and its bus stops at the theme parks are usually closest to the entrance.

Occasionally, especially during off-peak times to Parks other than Magic Kingdom, the three All-Star resorts will share buses. All-Star Sports is the first stop both on the way to the theme park and on the way back from the theme park. This usually guarantees that people staying at Sports will have an opportunity to sit, even when buses are shared. Sports’ guests won’t have to wait the five to ten minutes it takes to unload guests from the other resorts on the way back either. Thus, Sports is your best bet for transportation at the All-Stars. Music is the second stop and Movies is the third stop, which puts them in fourth and fifth place respectively. If buses are shared, Movies’ guests are usually required to stand and will have to wait for guests from Sports and Music to unload before returning to their resort.

Best Rooms

  1. Art of Animation, if you like or can tolerate the bright color scheme
  2. A tie among the rest

Art of Animation narrowly wins this category with the newest furnishings and, at 277 square feet, slightly larger rooms.

Rooms at Pop Century and the All-Stars are 260 square feet and include the same or very similar furnishings, including the same double beds, 32″ HDTVs, small refrigerators, and bathrooms. It would be difficult to point out where any of the rooms or the furnishings within them are superior based on overall quality.

At Art of Animation, the over-the-top theming is either enchanting or a little too much.

If you love The Little Mermaid, or have kids that do, then the loud paint and bright furnishings may be tolerable or even enjoyable. But most adults will appreciate the subdued theming at the All-Stars or Pop Century. That’s important to keep in mind when you’re making your decision, but as far as room quality and furnishings, they are all very similar.

Pop Century rooms, pictured above, offer the same amenities in a more neutrally colored environment.

Rooms at the All-Stars are all very similar, with minor stylistic touches here and there. Above is a king-bed room at Sports, for example.

The vast majority of rooms come with two double beds and the furnishings are so similar that Disney uses the same exact room photos for all three resorts.

Best Price Per Square Foot

  1. All-Stars
  2. Pop Century
  3. Art of Animation

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/allstarrates.jpg or as a PDF: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/allstarrates.pdf

During a Regular Season Friday, the All-Stars would run you $138/night over 260 square feet, or 53 cents per square foot.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/poprates.jpg or as a PDF: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/poprates.pdf

Pop Century, at $148 for the same square footage, would run you 56.9 cents per square foot.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/aoarates.jpg or as a PDF: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/aoarates.pdf

At 277 square feet, Art of Animation rooms are slightly larger, but still come out as the most expensive when you consider the $166/night rate on a Friday during Regular Season. That comes out to 59.9 cents per square foot.

While the price per square foot is similar, Art of Animation rooms are $28/night more expensive, or $168 more over six nights, which is enough of a difference that you could actually book an extra night with the savings.

Best Pools

  1. Art of Animation
  2. Pop Century
  3. All Stars

Art of Animation features the colossal Big Blue Pool complete with underwater music and character interaction – not to mention the beautifully themed water feature and playground. It’s also zero-entry on one side, so kids can walk in as far as they’re comfortable. The pool bar serves food and offers a self-serve refillable mug station.

The Cars pool is the best themed quiet pool on property, complete with complimentary cozy cone cabanas and a fun motel facade.

The Little Mermaid pool isn’t much to write home about, but it serves as the quieter, less busy option.

Art of Animation also receives points for a variety of splash and playground areas.

Pop Century narrowly beats out the All Star Resorts with the addition of a third pool.

While the resort has almost a thousand more rooms, the quiet pools tend to be less busy, particularly at the Computer Pool.

The All-Stars offer basically the same pool configurations in the same locations. Above is the Music feature pool.

The quiet pool at All-Star Movies.

It’s important to note that none of the Value pools have hot tubs or slides. Art of Animation wins out with its unique theming, playground areas, and the immense size of its pools, but each resort offers a similar overall experience.

Best Disney World Value Resort Overall

  1. Pop Century
  2. Art of Animation
  3. All-Star Movies
  4. All-Star Music
  5. All-Star Sports

Even with serious competition from Art of Animation, Pop Century maintains its Best Value Resort award. There are a few key distinctions. At Art of Animation, you’re guaranteed to be eight to ten minutes away from the bus stop and feature pool if you’re booking a Standard room. At Pop Century, you’re more likely to be close to the main building or you can pony up the extra money for a Preferred room – something that isn’t possible at the resort across the lake. Inside, Pop Century rooms are far less gaudy. While some kids may appreciate Art of Animation’s ridiculously bright interiors, they are far from universally adored. Pop Century’s furnishings aren’t particularly magical, but they won’t get in the way of enjoying your immediate surroundings, like Ariel and Sebastian might at AoA. Pop Century also enjoys dedicated bus transportation, which means shorter bus rides and an equal opportunity at seats. And the food court is among the best on property and features food that most guests shouldn’t have an aversion to enjoying.

Art of Animation also has several things going for it, which propels it ahead of any of the All-Stars. The pools are undeniably the best. The food court can be very good. Bus transportation is dedicated with above average service. Theming at the resort is better than the others, particularly if you enjoy the oversized icons. But it’s hard to look past the bright rooms, long walks to the main building, and the possibility that some members of the group won’t like the food choices or noisy atmosphere. Art of Animation may be perfect for groups with kids that love the theme and parents that can tolerate it as well as those who will enjoy the more exotic offerings in the food court.

Rating the All-Stars is sort of like splitting hairs. The rooms are basically the same. The layouts are basically the same. Theming is the same idea. Basically, you’ll have a similar experience no matter which one you choose. Movies gets the slight edge. Its only weakness is the fact that buses pick up and drop off guests last, but the All-Stars seem to share buses less and less frequently these days, particularly to Magic Kingdom. And if you’re driving, it’s a non-issue entirely. Movies’ theme is undeniably the most popular with kids, particularly those lucky enough to stay in the Toy Story section. Movies is also the most recently refurbished of the All-Stars, so your room is less likely to be worn down. Music comes in second among the All-Stars with its pretty theming. While the Family Suites weren’t really considered in this comparison, the fact that they’re available is a positive because there tends to be fewer people per room at Music than the other All-Stars. This makes pools and the quick service slightly less busy. Sports comes in last, though it’s in no way far behind the other All-Stars. Its rooms were refurbished before the others, which means you’re more likely to run into worn carpet, beds, and other furnishings. Landscaping is also less interesting than the other All-Stars along with a theme that’s the least “Disney” of the Values.

The last point to consider is price. The All-Stars are the cheapest Value rooms because there’s more inventory and less hype. Pop Century will run you about $12/night more than the All-Stars and Art of Animation rooms cost about $15/night more than Pop Century, or about $28/night more than the All-Stars. Over a six night stay during Regular Season, the All-Stars will cost $804, compared to $876 at Pop Century and $1006 at Art of Animation. $200 is a considerable difference and you’ll need to decide if the added cost is worth the extra benefits.

Overall, your experience will be comparable regardless of which Value you choose, but there are some distinct differences among the choices. Most guests will want to consider Pop Century and Art of Animation first before looking over what the All-Stars have to offer. It’s also less likely that large groups, like the Pop Warner kids and cheerleaders, will be booked at Pop or Art of Animation. But don’t be too disappointed if they’re unavailable – the All-Stars are very similar. And with potentially higher discounts, one of the All-Stars may end up being the best overall value.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn May 7, 2015 at 10:10 am

We have the same issue as a family of 5. Stayed at All Star Music family suites last time and it was fine. Going again in the fall and staying there again – would love to stay at AofA but with $600 difference in cost, I could not justify the additional expense.

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Mike Goldsmith May 7, 2015 at 10:49 am

My experience last year with the bus system at Pop was abysmal. While it is true that it doesn’t share buses with other resorts- the lines for the Pop buses were always so massive, it was going to be a nightmare anyway. The Art of Animation bus line in comparison was always much lighter- not sure why that would be.

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Kris May 7, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Whenever I’ve stayed at Pop and encountered a long bus line to get back to the resort, or we just missed getting the Pop bus, we’ve hopped on the bus to AoA and walked across the bridge. It’s not a long walk at all, and the scenery is lovely. If you’re not staying in a room at Pop that’s close to the front entrance, it’s prob not much further to walk from AoA instead.

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Deanne May 7, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Funny, we stayed at AoA in January and did the opposite a couple of times. If you’ve just missed the bus, it’s probably quicker to take the other resort’s bus and walk across. I was surprised at how pleasant the grounds were in both resorts.

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Rachelle May 9, 2015 at 9:14 am

We take which ever bus has a shorter line. We were once waiting for an Art bus when a Pop bus pulled up with zero people waiting so we jumped on it and then stayed and had lunch at Pop before walking back. It was very nice.

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Rachelle May 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

And the reason AoA lines are shorter is that while the resorts are the same size, most of the rooms are suites that take up the same space as two rooms at Pop. So there’s actualy less rooms and therefore less people.

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Tricia May 7, 2015 at 11:30 am

Great info, Josh. Thanks for continuing to update and review WDW for us :)

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IndyND May 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Nice overview!

I don’t see myself ever staying at Sports or Music, but Movies looks like a great photo op place. We almost did AoA a couple nights this year, but I switched to SSR. I’d probably stay at AoA in a Mermaid room and walk over to take pictures of POP.

As my daughter gets older, I find myself only looking at moderates and above, so that will be a good read once you get around to it.

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Michelle May 8, 2015 at 8:05 am

We love Movies! We have long since decided to rent points for various reasons, but Music is our go-to for an extra night here and there.

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Michelle May 8, 2015 at 8:05 am

EDIT: MOVIES is our go-to. What is wrong with me today? lol

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Claytonia May 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm

I’ve stayed at Pop twice and will happily stay there again. We very much enjoyed the pools, retro theming, and food court. Our last stay was in a non-preferred room in building 9 – not far from the main building/bus stop and relatively quiet.

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Vi May 7, 2015 at 12:50 pm

We love pop and that is our preferred value resort to stay at. Also love being able to cross over to AoA to eat at the food court and explore if needed.

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Trey May 7, 2015 at 1:40 pm

I’m pretty sure Huey Dewy and Louie are playing Baseball, not tennis. ;)

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Jill Mac May 8, 2015 at 10:19 am

Yes they are, which is confusing since they are in the tennis section, not the baseball section of the resort!

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hotmess May 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm

We have stayed at Coronado, POFQ and All Star Sports. We love All Star Sports, and we will be there again this summer. My boys play a lot of different sports, though, so they are into the “sports” theming. If you’re considering ASSp, have sports-lovers in your family and are looking for a value-priced trip, this is a great resort! I can’t wait to see their renovated food court too! We request the Touchdown section for a Standard-priced room that is close to the food court.

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Brian Langston May 7, 2015 at 10:38 pm

The link to the All-Star Sports PDF map is broken

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Kevin May 8, 2015 at 9:12 am

Everyone always ranks Pop’s bus service higher than the All-stars due to the dedicated busses, but we’ve had far better bus service at All Star Sports and even CBR than Pop Century. At busy times (after illuminations, Fantasmic, etc.) the All Star resorts have dedicated busses, and 50% more rooms at Pop means 50% more people in the bus line.

Last winter we stayed at Sports and we frequently would see packed pens for the Pop busses when all the rest of the resorts had nearly empty lines.

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Rachelle May 8, 2015 at 9:16 am

We had the absolute best bus service of all our Disney trips at AoA. We were beyond impressed, especially after disastrous experiences at POR.

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Jen B May 8, 2015 at 9:21 am

Stayed at Pop last year and loved it. The food court was great – we ate at least one of our meals there every day and never got tired of it, plenty of variety. I did order a steamed mussels dish and had to wait 10 min for it but by the time my kids milled around and chose their snacks it all worked out that we got through the register at the same time, and it did not affect anything at all with enjoying our meal. To be able to get food like that at a QS was totally worth any preparation wait. My kids liked the pool so much I am actually afraid to “spoil them” on this feature with a nicer pool at a Mod next time.

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dusty cheatham May 9, 2015 at 4:34 am

recently stayed @ allstar movies & was very inpressed. . room was clean & QUIET 9000 area . bed was great. plus saved $ 600.00 . that is how much $$$$$ saved by not staying @ my beloved ” port “

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Mark May 10, 2015 at 6:19 am

POP has always been our go-to resort, our home-away-from-home. Perfect blend of value, good transportation, amenities, and food. We’ve stayed there for the last 5 of our week long Disney trips, and have yet to encounter anything negative.

The bonus for us has been the attention to the special diet that my son and I require. POP’s chefs are always attentive and pleasant to deal with and custom-make our meals quickly with a smile, even during peak meal times. With the confidence, service, and good food that they make for us, we prefer to eat there before and after our park-of-the-day.

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Prudence Marsupial May 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

I’d like to know what experiences anyone staying at Pop has had with encountering large tour groups staying there. It was SO aggravating to pay extra $$ to upgrade to a moderate on a trip to POR only to be swamped by hordes of ill behaved, screeching teens who NEVER seemed to have chaperones.

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Anna May 10, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Have stayed in all the value resorts multiple times……Bus service was AWESOME at AoA last month! Of course, at night, on way back to resort there was always standing room only, but buses were pretty quick to arrive each night. We were very pleased! Our little ones LOVED their experiences on the buses.

I think Pop is where we have had the poorest service….so many more people……..

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Amanda G. May 10, 2015 at 1:42 pm

We have stayed at Pop and at AoA (Little Mermaid). We loved Pop but my entire family despised AoA. The horrible layout, long walk, and insane food court were all misses for us. We’ve never stayed in the All-Stars, but I think if we stay in a Value resort again, it will be Pop.

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