Which Walt Disney World Value Resort hotel is best? This post answers that common question, with our clear-cut #1 Value Resort as well as the best of the rest. The Value Resorts are great hotels for people who won’t be in their rooms much, families with small children who enjoy Disney animated films, and guests doing Disney on a budget. While more expensive than off-site accommodations, they offer good value if you’re only visiting Walt Disney World when you travel to Orlando, as staying on-site allows you to utilize Disney transportation, including Disney’s Magical Express, meaning that you don’t need to rent a car if you stay at a Value Resort (or any Disney hotel, for that matter).
Let’s start by discussing some commonalities of the Value Resorts. All of the Value Resorts are large and spread out, and don’t have internal transportation. This means that if you get stuck in a remote room, you’ll have a bit of a hike to the lobby and bus transportation. Even in the worst case, we don’t consider it that long of a walk (they’re certainly less spread out than most of the Moderate Resorts), but if you are trying to herd around a slew of kids, you might disagree. At every Value Resort except Art of Animation, preferred rooms are available that are located closer to the lobby, but they have an additional cost. You can sort of game the system by using TouringPlans’ Hotel Room Selector to request a room with a better location that isn’t technically a preferred room.
Standard rooms are all fairly similar, too. It cannot be stressed enough that the Value Resorts are very basic accommodations in terms of the rooms. These rooms are small and along the lines of what you’d find at a nicer Best Western or Motel 6. Disney fans may gasp at that comparison, but we feel it’s true to an extent. The big way they deviate from other budget accommodations is that they include Disney decor, which alone is probably enough for the average Disney fan or guest to consider them a great deal superior to those other brands of hotels. The point is, at their core, these are not high-end hotel rooms, and in terms of pure value, you can typically do better by staying off site and use our frugal travel tips to score cheap accommodations.
Design, in general terms, is pretty consistent among the Value Resorts. All are very plain buildings that are dressed up with oversized icons that relate to the hotel name. They’re decorated, not themed. While the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts attempt to transport you to another time and place, the Value Resorts look more cartoonish. They’re style is very divisive, with some Disney fans finding them garish clutter tacked onto low-rate motel buildings and other fans finding them to be fun and whimsical ways to experience a Disney hotel on the cheap. If you are in the former camp, you probably already know Value Resorts are not for you, and there’s little point to this list of rankings for you. Regardless of how you feel about the Value Resorts, the fact is that they have plenty of fans, and many people, especially small children, prefer this larger-than-life style to the more elaborate and nuanced design of the higher-tier hotels.
We’ve stayed at each of the Value Resorts on numerous occasions (when we were still in college they were pretty much all we could afford!), and while their style isn’t our favorite, we can understand why they appeal to kids. We find the criticism to be a bit over the top and cynical, although critics of the Values do make some good points.
The All Star Resorts have more in common, too. They also used shared buses most of the year, which can be a big issue and time drain. While kids who are fans of sports, movies, or music may disagree, we feel that the decor is pretty much the same across the three resorts. Movies and Music seem very similar to one another (most Disney movies are musicals, so this makes sense), with Sports differing more. The All Star Resorts are also older than Pop Century or Art of Animation, and in many places, the age difference really shows.
With that said, let’s take a look at the rankings!
If you’ve read our review, you know we think All Star Movies is the weakest resort at Walt Disney World. It has its fans, and more power to them, but given that All Star Sports is considerably better and has more or less the same theme for the same price, why bother with Movies? All Star Movies falls into last place because it’s so dated–even worse than the other All Stars. While I like a lot of the set pieces, the resort just feels like it hasn’t seen a top to bottom update since the 90s. The Mighty Ducks are still heavily showcased, despite no longer being relevant. Photos in the lobby are faded, as is hotel signage. Overall, it just really needs a refresh, and even if you’re fine with Value accommodations, you can do better elsewhere. All Star Movies is the last bus stop when buses are shared between the All Star Resorts, and it’s often skipped as a result if the bus fills up at Sports or Music.
All Star Music feels less dated than All Star Movies, and we think it just looks better, in general. It’s not really better by a wide margin, so if your kids are more interested in movies than music, opt for All Star Movies instead. We also prefer the guitar-shaped Calypso Pool to Movies’ pool, but again, it’s not by any wide margin. Music is the second bus stop when buses are shared, and it gets skipped on occasion as a result. Especially during the prime morning hours, this could be an issue. Bus stop order is another big reason why the All Star Resorts are ranked as they are.
If you want to save as much money as possible but still stay on site, All Star Sports is the absolute best option. Its price is consistent with the other Value Resorts, which are all cheaper than Pop Century and Art of Animation. We give All Star Sports the nod over the other All Stars for two reasons: bus service and food court. When the All Star Resorts are sharing buses (which is often), All Star Sports is the first stop the buses make. During busy hours, the bus will often fill up completely at All Star Sports, skipping All Star Music and Movies completely. For this reason, the bus service at All Star Sports is the best of the three. As for food courts, All Star Sports’ End Zone Food Court was completely overhauled in 2013, and now is nicer and has a significantly improved menu. Other recent improvements and refurbishments at All Star Sports make it the “freshest” of the All Star Resorts, although its still a fairly bare-bones hotel.
The long-time top pick for Value Resorts among Disney fans, Pop Century was dethroned when Art of Animation opened. While Art of Animation is now the consensus #1, I think Pop Century arguably is still #1. (Sarah strong disagrees–she far prefers Art of Animation.) It costs less per night than Art of Animation (still more than the All Stars, though), and some rooms are within walking distance of the Art of Animation food court, eliminating what would otherwise be a key advantage for Art of Animation. Pop Century’s stumble, we think, is that the cartoony, oversized icon style simply works better in the context of Disney animation. This style will most appeal to kids, and Disney characters will resonate with them more than pop culture references. In a way, it could be argued that this puts Pop Century in no man’s land: those going to the Value Resorts because they actually like the style will prefer Art of Animation, and those looking to save money are going to be better suited by All Star Sports. Personally, I think in terms of overall ‘value’ (not simply what’s cheapest), Pop Century excels and is worth the slight premium for superior dedicated bus service, better dining options, and better design.
For the sake of this comparison, we’re only looking at the standard rooms in Art of Animation, all of which are in The Little Mermaid section of the hotel. While nice, the family suites (which are the majority of the hotel) arguably don’t even belong in the Value Resort category, since their nightly rate is considerably higher, approaching Deluxe Resort territory in some cases. Still, the areas outside these buildings are public areas enjoyed by all, and their design will likely make them winners among families. This is especially true of the Cars wing, which is the best area at any of the Value Resorts. Art of Animation also scores points for the Finding Nemo pool, which is the best pool at any Value Resort, and one of the better pools at Walt Disney World (if you don’t mind the noise). For a quieter option, the Cars pool is also exceptional. Landscape of Flavors, the food court at Art of Animation, is one of the better counter service restaurants on property (although it’s nearly as easy to dine at Landscape of Flavors if you’re staying at Pop Century), which is another strong selling point. While Art of Animation has a lot of strengths, ultimately it’s the design that we think wins it the top spot here. The big negative of Art of Animation is that it costs more per night than Pop Century and the All Stars. This per night difference can become significant when hotel discounts are offered, as The Little Mermaid rooms in Art of Animation are often blocked out from these discounts. (If this is true during your visit, strongly consider Pop Century instead.) While the style of the Value Resorts isn’t for everyone, those who do like this style will most likely prefer Art of Animation. The other Value Resorts really aren’t even close in terms of their decor, which we feel more than justifies the price difference–unless you are viewing the hotel as “just a place to sleep and shower.”
So there’s our take. Whether a Value Resort is right for you in the first place is something you should also consider. If money is no object and you don’t have kids, we will say with almost complete certainty that you’re likely better off in a Moderate or Deluxe Resort. If money is an issue or you think your kids will prefer the Values, give them serious thought. If you’re somewhere in between these two extremes, we’d advise you to give serious thought to the Moderate Resorts (check out our rankings here), but cost more but offer more immersive theming and quality while still not breaking the bank.
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Is it worth it to you to stay at a Value Resort, or would you rather just splurge and stay at a Moderate or Deluxe Resort? Which Value Resort is your favorite? Share where you normally choose to stay (and why!) in the comments!