June 18, 2024

Pop Century vs. All Star Resorts


Pop Century and the All Star Resorts are the cheapest 4 hotels at Walt Disney World that have similar dining, pools, and rooms–but theme and transportation differences. Vacation planners on tight budgets might wonder which

  • Twitter

Pop Century and the All Star Resorts are the cheapest 4 hotels at Walt Disney World that have similar dining, pools, and rooms–but theme and transportation differences. Vacation planners on tight budgets might wonder which to choose, and whether it’s worth paying a premium for Pop. This head-to-head comparison helps answer common questions.

Trying to choose between the All Stars and Pop Century is common for visitors to Florida trying to do Disney on a Dime. These Value Resorts are among the largest at Walt Disney World, all have a lot of objective selling points as well as similar drawbacks. Being Value Resorts, all of them also cater to similar guest demographics.

Despite this, there are some fairly significant differences. The first is in fan following. Few Walt Disney World resorts have as passionate of a fanbase as Pop Century. It’s right up there with the Polynesian, which is a very different resort. The All Stars are almost the exact opposite. Some of the same people who absolutely adore Pop Century turn their noses up at the All Stars. Honestly, it’s baffling.

Of course, there are differences beyond just the fan response to each. Pop Century is newer, has its own unique premise, a sister resort in Art of Animation, and the Skyliner gondolas transportation system. There are other smaller differences among these resorts, which is where this comparison comes into play.

What this hotel ‘versus’ post will seek to address is whether you should stick with fan and family-favorite Pop Century or opt for the cheaper options at the All Stars. With that in mind, we’ll compare theme, cost, dining, pools, and other amenities to help you determine which is right for you…

Theme: Toss Up – This really comes down to personal preference. As the name (sorta/mostly) suggests, Pop Century is themed to pop culture from the last century.

Originally, it was intended to offer sections dedicated to the “Legendary Years” and the “Classic Years” to divide the property by the first and second halves of the century. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, only the latter was built. Meaning that the buildings of Pop Century feature visuals from the 1950s to 90s.

By contrast, the All Stars are themed to movies, sports, and music—all as seen through the lens of Disney characters and movies. If you or your kids are into any of those concepts, you’ll love the All Star Resort reflective of that.

Pop Century does receive some complaints that it’s “not Disney enough” as compared to the All Stars. There’s definitely less Disney in the design, but I’d say it’s pretty prominent. The oversized icon visual style is used at all three, and I think in the end, this comes down to personal preferences.

My thematic rankings are Pop Century, All Star Sports, Music, and Movies—in that order. But I don’t pretend that this is definitive. You could easily make the case for any of these being first or worst.

Rooms: All Stars (Barely) – All of these Value Resorts have received very similar reimagined rooms, with the All Stars getting completely identical designs. Above is a photo of the new room at All Star Sports; below is a new room at Pop Century. Can you spot the differences? (Aside from the curved lines in one–that’s because I used a fisheye lens.)

It literally just comes down to the Mickey Mouse art on the wall, wood colors, and some of the fabrics used on the curtains and chairs. In terms of substance and function, the rooms at Pop Century and the All Stars are 100% identical. Unless you feel very strongly about styles of Mickey Mouse art, I cannot fathom choosing on the basis of room styles.

As a general matter, we’ve stayed in these new rooms several times, and found all of them to be huge upgrades over their predecessors. They’re not perfect–you can read about the pros & cons in our Photos & Video: Newly Reimagined Rooms at the All Star Resorts post.

The reason why we’ve given the nod to the All Stars here, but barely, is because the reimagined rooms are all newer here. This overhaul started at Pop Century several years ago, and was completed at an absolutely glacial pace (and paused entirely during the closure and subsequent phased reopening).

Consequently, the rooms at Pop Century have seen a few more years of wear and tear than some of the ones at the All Stars. Most of the time, this isn’t really noticeable. In our experience, these rooms are surprisingly durable and aren’t showing much signs of age. But some of them are, and you’re more likely to see that at Pop Century.

If this matters to you, it’s probably also worth pointing out that All Star Sports was the final resort to receive these new rooms. Of our three stays here in the last year, all of them have been in new rooms, and these have had noticeably less wear and tear than their counterparts at All Star Movies. Even though we’re lumping the All Stars together for this comparison, that would be the reason why we’d rank Sports higher than Movies.

Dining: Pop Century – None of these resorts have table service restaurants. All have fairly similar food courts. You could probably make the argument that one of these is better than the others, but I think that’s a stretch. It was definitely true 5+ years ago when Everything Pop and Landscape of Flavors (a short walk from Pop Century at Art of Animation) were top tier and had unique dishes. By and large, that’s no longer the case–all of these menus are boring, stereotypical theme park cuisine.

The only reason Pop Century gets the edge is because of Caribbean Beach, which is easily accessible in under 5 minutes via the Skyliner–and through which you’ll have to transit en route to EPCOT or DHS. Caribbean Beach has underrated dining options in Sebastian’s Bistro, Banana Cabana, and Spyglass Grill.

While Spyglass Grill also still has a scaled back menu that isn’t quite as good as before, it’s still better than the Value Resorts. Ditto Centertown Market, for that matter. Then there’s Banana Cabana and Sebastian’s Bistro, the latter of which has a new family-style meal that is the best dinner deal in all of Walt Disney World.

Pools: Pop Century – None of these resorts make our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, With that said, I’m partial to the Hippy Dippy Pool, Pop Century’s 235,000+ gallon feature pool featuring flower-shaped water jets and a lazy 1960’s attitude. I also like the Bowling Pin Pool and Computer Pool.

I also like the Duck Pond Pool (All Star Movies), as well as the Surfboard Bay Pool and Grand Slam Pool (both at All Star Sports). I’m not super keen on the feature pools at Movies or Music, but that’s largely because of how busy they get.

More than any other category, this comes down to personal preference. In terms of ‘cool factor’, I actually think the best entry on this list is the Grand Slam Pool, but I might be biased as a baseball fan.

Transportation: Pop Century – The Skyliner is a huge win for both Pop Century and Art of Animation in terms of transportation. Following a quick flight to Caribbean Beach, you can now get to and from EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in a breeze via one of the two stations at the central hub.

Due to the Skyliner, bus transportation is only necessary for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs if you’re staying at Pop Century. It’s necessary for all parks if you’re staying at the All Stars, meaning you should either be prepared for dealing with that or have a rental car or be prepared to pay extra for Uber or Lyft at the All Stars.

Bus transportation isn’t bad at either. While Pop Century and the All Stars are massive, neither have internal stops–that’s a huge win, especially over the likes of Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans Riverside in the Moderate Resort tier. The buses are also incredibly efficient at both during the morning and evening rushes, so even when the line is long, you should get to your destination quickly thanks to back-to-back buses.

On average, bus transportation is better at Pop Century. We haven’t experienced it sharing buses with other resorts in recent memory, whereas the All Stars can and do–especially during slower seasons or times of day. Another quirk comes at the end of the night, when sometimes the All Stars just pile everyone into a single bus and make stops at all three hotels. This is more efficient than waiting for a bus, but it’s still less pleasant overall in our view.

Finally, Pop Century has better room-door to park-entrance times due to a more centralized location than the All Stars. As we’ve said before, there’s nothing magical about riding a bus (even one that says “Disney” on the outside), and this can get old over the course of a trip–so we’re hyper-focused on minimizing bus time and using novel forms of transportation. That’s precisely why the Skyliner is such a compelling selling point.

Cost: All Stars – On average, nightly room rates are about $40 to $60 higher at Pop Century during almost every rate season of the year for standard rooms at the respective resorts. Prices are a bit less predictable once you factor discounts into the mix, but the All Stars usually have as good or better of special offers. They also tend to have better availability, meaning not unnecessarily paying extra for premium view or location categories that you may not want in the first place.

By and large, Pop Century’s premium pricing can be attributed to the Skyliner. Prior to the gondola opening, the cost differential between Pop Century and the All Stars was around $10 to $20 per night. Since then, there’s been a pretty significant divergence, with Pop Century having one of the largest price increases for a few consecutive years–right up there with Caribbean Beach (another Skyliner resort).

We’d contend that the Skyliner is easily worth paying extra per night. What’s debatable is how much that premium is worth. Regardless, that’s why Pop Century has the edge in the transportation category above.

Verdict: Pop Century – We are declaring Pop Century the winner here, which shouldn’t be a huge shock since (spoiler alert) it ranks as the #1 resort on our Rankings of ALL Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World from Worst to Best. By contrast, the All Stars rank #18, #22 and #23 (that’s dead last). So the outcome might seem clear from a quick glance at that.

However, the reality is that this is a much closer call than you might expect. As mentioned elsewhere, the All Stars are one of my go-to resorts for solo research trips when I’m trying to do things as inexpensively as possible. In my view, they’re great for guests on an incredibly tight budget who are debating not between Value Resorts and higher-tier accommodations, but Value Resorts versus staying off-site to save money. Once you factor in the cost of parking, transportation, and value of Early Entry–plus the overall quality–a compelling case can be made for the All Stars.

It’s probably safe to assume that’s the audience reading this comparison. You’re not debating between these two hotels and the Grand Floridian or Beach Club, and probably don’t have the budget for the latter without breaking the bank. For most, the Deluxe Resorts are complete non-starters.

With that in mind, it comes down to whether you should save by staying at the All Stars or splurge on Pop Century. And it’s in that scenario where this becomes a much closer call, and really dependent upon just how big the pricing gap is for your trip, and how much you’d need to splurge to make Pop Century happen.

The Skyliner is a total game-changer for us. Transportation used to be frustrating at both of these resorts for all parks, and now that’s only true at the All Stars. This is the kind of transformational, functional addition that by itself outweighs literally everything else. The Skyliner makes getting from Pop Century to EPCOT or DHS a total breeze, and we often start at one of those parks and hop from there to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom as a result (or just use Uber/Lyft).

We’re huge fans of the Skyliner, and we’d honestly put it above the monorail in terms of the transportation advantage it offers. (Just look how high the monorail pricing premium is for the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary!) That one feature alone makes the rates charged at Pop Century justiable. Everything else is icing on the cake.

With that said, there’s honestly not that much more—the Skyliner is outcome-determinative here. Meaning that if you dislike the gondolas for whatever reason (fear of heights, storm season downtime, etc.), then you should absolutely save the money and book the All Stars instead.

Our view is that Pop Century punches above its weight, delivering strong accommodations, efficient transportation, convenience to Art of Animation via Generation Gap Bridge, and very fair price points in light of what it offers. For those who have an off-site or Value Resort budget and will need to splurge to move up from the All Stars to Pop Century–especially first timers on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, there are few better ways of allocating those funds than this upgrade. We’d do it over most upcharges, hard ticket events, table service meals, etc.

That’s just us, though and your mileage may vary. When you analyze the All Star Resorts ‘checklist style’ they really do have a lot going for them, especially if you’re on an ultra-tight budget. As should be obvious given that I stay there so much, I have absolutely nothing against the All Stars and have zero hesitation in booking. If you’re still concerned about this because you’ve seen other fans turn their noses up at the All Stars, we’d encourage you to read Are Walt Disney World’s Cheapest Hotels Actually Good? The answer to the titular question should be obvious after reading this, but the explanation will put your mind at ease.

Nevertheless, we would also pay the premium prices–without hesitation and even if that meant sacrificing on other aspects of the trip–for Pop Century on a family vacation, especially if we only could visit Walt Disney World once per year…or ever. The Skyliner is a big component of that, but not the only thing. Pop Century just feels nicer, has or offers access to better amenities and dining, and is a sentimental favorite for us. We suspect it could become one for you, too.

If you’re still having trouble choosing between the two, determining which resort or room type is right for you, or if any other aspect of Walt Disney World vacation planning is simply too overwhelming and you need one-on-one help, we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” or travel agent to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such Authorized Disney Vacation Planner that we recommend!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with our verdict in this Pop Century vs. All Star Resorts head-to-head? What about our conclusions in each category? Is there something we missed or got wrong? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

  • Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *