Best Disney World Value Resort Hotel

by josh on January 6, 2013

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 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 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-Star may still share buses, causing longer, uncomfortable bus rides.  Luckily, picking the right Value resort for your group should be easy if you consider the following categories.

Click the highlighted links to each resort for a thorough overview, including pictures around the resort and inside the rooms.  For Art of Animation and All-Star Music, only Standard rooms are considered in the “Best Rooms” category, since Suites cost more than two times as much as Standard rooms.

When considering Family Suites, consider price, theme, and how many people are in the room.  Art of Animation Suites are $50/night more expensive than All-Star Music Family Suites, but they’re also newer, larger, and sleep a fifth or sixth person more comfortably.  The Art of Animation review linked below discusses the options and the differences between the two.

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

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.  The All-Stars are a little more difficult to traverse with winding walkways and signage that’s less clear.  Walks to the main building and bus stop tend to be longer from the average room,  to the point where some All-Star rooms are actually closer to the main buildings of neighboring resorts.  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 to be closer to the main building.  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.

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.  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 palettes.  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.  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.  With very similar menus and seating arrangements, there isn’t much to differentiate the All-Star properties.  All are perfectly adequate, particularly at off-peak hours when lines are short.  Chances are you’ll be perfectly satisfied no matter which resort you end up choosing.  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.  That’s particularly true at Animal Kingdom.  Occasionally, especially during off-peak times, 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. A wash.

Rooms at the Pop Century and All-Stars are all 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.  Art of Animation rooms are slightly larger, at 277 square feet, but also cost more and the over-the-top theming may turn some guests off.  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.

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 free 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.  Pop Century narrowly beats out the All Star Resorts with the addition of a third pool.  While Pop Century 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.  It’s important to note that none of the Values have hot tubs or slides.  However, the theming of the pools at Art of Animation is top notch.

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 anything close to magical, but they won’t get in the way of enjoying your immediate surroundings, like Ariel and Sebastian might at the Art of Animation.  Pop Century also has 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 is very good.  Bus transportation is dedicated with above average service.  Theming at the resort is better than any of the others.  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 layout is 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.  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.

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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt March 26, 2011 at 8:09 am

First of all, I really love your reviews. My family and I have stayed at disney several times at both moderate and value resorts and I think your reviews are pretty much dead accurate.

I do disagree slightly on your advice for best All-star resort. Although Pop Century is better than the All-star resorts (no disagreement there), All-star Sports has far better transportation than either Music or Movies (as your review points out). The other differences between the All-star resorts are quite minor — and I don’t think many people would want to spend the day at these resorts, as they might at a deluxe — so transportation should really be the key issue.

We stayed at All-star Sports and never had an issue with transportation — mainly because the bus would fill up at our resort, stranding unfortunate guests at the other All-star resorts. It was also great to be dropped off first after a long day at the parks.

I’ve also had a similar issue with Port Orleans Riverside vs. French Quarter. We stayed at Riverside, but were disappointed with the bus service which served French Quarter first (which is why you rated the French Quarter as the best moderate over other resorts that offered more amenities).

Anyway — that’s my input for what its worth. All the best!

Kirby May 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Need to update the moderates to include the refurb @ FQ. The queen beds will move it up the scorecard as well as everything being new again.

Katherine October 11, 2011 at 7:37 am

I just wanted to add that we stayed at POP a few weeks ago and they had both scheduled pool activities throughout the day and a movie at night. We were a bit disappointed because the movie was “near” the pool but you couldn’t see the screen from the pool. They were showing Toy Story 3 the night we checked it out, and they offered a different movie each night. There was a list of pool activities and movies in the room.

Bob November 4, 2011 at 7:22 am

I’m wondering if the refurb of ASMo would push it up the list? I’ve heard they added pool activities as well, though I haven’t seen them myself.

Sabrina July 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Will you be updating to include AoA once it’s fully open?

Joy August 24, 2012 at 11:50 am

Great review! We’ve never been and are planning a trip now. I was also wondering how Art of Animation stacks up to Pop Century, especially in layout and transportation. Thanks!

Julie September 27, 2012 at 6:57 am

Just wondering how you would rank the moderates on rooms now that Port Orleans Riverside is done being renovated.

Sherri October 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm

We stayed at Pop in May of this year. Since you have written this review a few things have changed. They now offer cast member led activities at the pool every day for a 3 hour period I think from 1-4 and they did movies under the stars 5 out of the 8 days were were there, so long as it’s not raining. Loved Pop Century and would stay there again!

Michelle January 7, 2013 at 7:34 am

Thank you! This update came just in time for us – we are looking to book for September 2013 and decided to go from the mods to the value . The extra money to stay at a mod wasn’t worth it since we are mostly on the go and on our last stay at a mod we never even saw the pool or the food court. I was trying to decide between Pop and AoA and this made it a little easier. Thanks again!

Jimmy (formerly James) N January 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

We stayed at POP in December and enjoyed it. It’s easily our favorite Value Resort. Everything you have pointed out is right on point. The only downside is actually the size and how it effects bus service. Sometimes you have to wait for multiple buses (even though it has it’s own) because there are so many people waiting for them, both at the resort and at the parks.

The first morning we went to the Magic Kingdom bus stop and were in shock as to how many people were waiting. We started to doubt Josh for a bit on his “Most Recommended” status. Once we got to the park though it was fairly empty and our faith in him was restored. There were just SO many people at POP getting on the bus that it seemed way busier than it did during out last trip at POFQ.

Micah January 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Excellent write-ups on all of the Value Resorts! Thanks.

Ashley (wgwtgb) January 7, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Wow Josh! You have done an outstanding job with this. It is sometimes difficult to explain to people who may ask why I choose one resort over another (usually Pop, but I would have chosen AoA this trip if it had been included in the deal). I will simply point them to this post next time this question comes up. Thanks!!! As always, you rock!!

Anonymous January 8, 2013 at 7:04 am

Hmmm…. your All Stars link takes me to Pop.

Michelle January 11, 2013 at 7:12 am

Just wanted to add another positive for a value resort vs moderate or delux. The queue area for the buses are great. Due to our family having 5 with discount codes it is often cheaper to stay at Port Orleans rather then our prefered Pop Century. At Port Orleans even if you are at the bus stop 1st you may not get on the first bus because everyone rushes the bus when it arrives vs the organized first come first served queues at the value resorts. (We’ve encountered the same at the unorganized chaos at the Poly).

Peter January 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I love your site. Based on your value resorts review, I booked my vacation at the pop century resort. I’ve also built my itinerary for each day based on your crowd calendar. I’m thinking that all this planning is going to make for a fantastic WDW vacation!

Alana October 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Thank you, very helpful review

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