2020 left many of the travel hungry, quite frankly, starving for travel. For those of us who thrive on adventures, 2020 drove us most of the way crazy. It should come as no surprise to you if you have read any of my posts, that I was just itching to go, somewhere, anywhere… Enter the sister-in-law with a milestone birthday who never has an opinion or preference. Her birthday was less than a month away. Sis, what do you want to do for your birthday? I threw out all kinds of ideas, skydiving, tattoos, Disney, etc. As soon as she said “could we really go to Disney?”, I starting looking at park and hotel reservations.
I became a Disney researcher. Having only been to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot once before, years ago, I knew I had work to do. I read all of the WDW pages and blogs, my Google feed was full of Disney related news, I scoured the app, knew all the new rules and regulations, stalked dining reservations, watched for changes in park hours and transportation (there were 3 in 45 days) and of course I watched weekend wait times like the vultures on Splash Mountain to try to predict any trends.
Our plan was set. Birthday girl, youngest sibling, my husband and I were headed to the Magic Kingdom towards the end of October. We would drive down, go to the park on the next day, sleep off the park and head home. I was in countdown to Disney mode. Expectation is a heck of a drug.
We finally made our way to Florida one beautiful Saturday morning! Traffic was a breeze and we made the 8 hour drive with no trouble at all.
We decided to stay at a WDW property. We trusted their commitment to clean (after all, Disney wouldn’t want to bring germs from their hotels to their parks). Plus I appreciated the benefits of staying at a WDW resort- transportation (trams were discontinued so if you went to the Magic Kingdom and parked, you have to walk all the way from the parking lot, past the Seven Seas Lagoon and into the park), free magic bands hadn’t been discontinued yet, getting dropped right by the admission gates, being part of the magic even after leaving the park, totally worth it in our opinions.
Accommodation choices were very limited in September. The most budget friendly for a 2 night stay was the Pop Century Resort.
From the parking area and on the outside, Pop Century looks like a dated motel with a cheesy paint scheme. Once you venture in, however, the nostalgia and Pop Culture lover has a hay day. The movie references in each decade were pretty great too, especially for classic Disney film lovers.
Our building was the 50’s, the theme was bowling, sock hops, great music and everything poodle skirt colored. The nod to movies was in the form of a giant Lady and her Tramp. Complete with an oversized doghouse that actually houses pool pumps and other maintenance (but you had to look closely to notice more than just the Disney magic of a giant doghouse).
Our room was well equipped. The organizational touches were creative and helped you feel like you had the space to settle in, the murphy bed was comfortable and a family of 4 would have enough room to just maybe not drive each other crazy if they could keep everything neat and tidy and put away. The only thing missing was a microwave. But who plans to spend that much time in their room anyway?
The best part about or our room was that it overlooked the bowling pin shaped pool. We could scope how crowded it was just by peeking out the window. There were only a few families, well spread out. It was actually the most pleasant public pool experience in my lifetime. Everyone kept to themselves and no one stole your pool chairs or did a cannonball in your face.
We ended our afternoon in the pool and we settled in for a packed dinner (hello saving money). After dinner and showers, we decided to explore the resort a little. We ventured by the 60’s and the Hippy Dippy Pool. It was a lot more crowded. We guesses because it was central to everything and where the movies under the stars were being held. Plus they had a kiddie pool. It was slightly overwhelming compared to our much quieter 50’s.
We were content with the quiet, less crowded 50’s, so once we made it to the “mall” area, we didn’t go any further and didn’t even see the other decades. The shopping area and food court were themed in the height of the late 80’s. They were limiting capacity. We appreciated the reduced numbers and the instructions from cast members at the doors. We picked up a Disney face mask to commemorate our “covid trip” and a few other things to make our time a little more magical. Having magic bands for contactless payment was a huge plus.
We skipped the crowd and movies under the stars in favor of our Disney+ account streamed through the smart TV and organized ourselves for a new day.
I reflected on the differences from this trip vs our trip in 2017 so far. Previously when we checked in to a WDW property, we greeted in true Disney Fashion. We received celebration pins at check in and pamphlets with all the goings on at our resort with movie schedules, character experiences and more. We watched Snow White in front of a camp fire, did the hokey pokey with Chip and Dale and I even got a kiss from one of them (don’t ask me which). I was fully 5 years old, maybe 6, my entire trip.
A trip during COVID meant check in directly to your room. No pins, no characters, no kisses. There was definitely more anxiety as well. “Where’s my mask?” “Oh no, did I touch the hand rail?” “Am I 6ft away?” “How long will it take to catch the bus to the park?”
We were happy to be in Disney World, for sure, but some of the magic was missing.