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.
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.
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. Their 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. 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. Different strokes for different folks, and all that.
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!
5. All Star Movies
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. Finally, it’s often excluded during the popular Free Disney Dining Plan promotion, and if that’s not reason-enough to put it dead last, we don’t know what is. 😉
4. All Star Sports
If you want to save as much money as possible but still stay on site, All Star Sports is the best option…potentially. Its price is consistent with the other All Star Resorts, which are all cheaper than Pop Century and Art of Animation.
We give All Star Sports the nod over All Star Movies for two reasons: bus service and food court. When the All Star Resorts are sharing buses, 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.
The downside to All Star Sports, and the one that ultimately puts All Star Music ahead of it, is that it’s frequently the home base for groups attending ESPN Wide World of Sports events. This used to be primarily during Pop Warner in early December, but now there are scattered events throughout the year. If you consult the ESPN Wide World of Sports Calendar and you’re completely sure there are no groups, you might decide to opt for it. Otherwise, speaking from experience in having stayed at All Star Sports during these events (THREE TIMES!), we just don’t think it’s worth it to stay here during an event.
3. All Star Music
Basically, All Star Music takes the #3 slot by default. It’s the safe, reliable bet. All Star Music is less expensive than Pop Century and Art of Animation, it has a refurbished food court, it’s rarely (if ever) overrun with pre-teen athletic groups, the decor is good and not too dated (by All Star standards), and it’s the middle bus stop. All Star Music gets the job done in pretty much every regard, without excelling at anything.
It’s not really better by a wide margin, so if your kids are more interested in movies or sports than music, you might consider opting for one of those instead, especially if decor is a big deal, or you know you’re not traveling during ‘event’ dates for All Star Sports. We also prefer the guitar-shaped Calypso Pool to Movies’ pool, but again, it’s not by any wide margin.
While the next two picks are no-brainers as compared to the All-Stars, there’s certainly something to be said for the cheaper price points and better discounts that are frequently available for the All Stars. In this regard, you could say All Star Music is a sleeper pick, even if we don’t have a bunch of glowing praise for it…
2. Pop Century
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, Pop Century is still a solid second choice. Actually, as of 2018 we’re very tempted to move Pop Century up to the #1 slot because it’s remodeled rooms (still a work in progress, so be sure to request one at check-in) are significantly nicer than the Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation. If you’re looking at these hotels primarily for the rooms, there’s a very strong case to be made for Pop Century.
It also doesn’t hurt that it costs less per night than Art of Animation (still more than the All Stars, though), either. 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 biggest downside, we think, is that the cartoony, oversized icon style simply works better in the context of Disney animation. This style appeals primarily to kids, and Disney characters will resonate with them more than pop culture references.
Personally, I think in terms of overall ‘value’ (not simply what’s cheapest), Pop Century excels. It is worth the slight premium for superior dedicated bus service, better dining options, and far superior rooms. If you’re a couple without kids simply looking for the cheapest way to stay on-property at Walt Disney World, Pop Century should be your top pick.
1. Art of Animation
For the sake of this comparison, we’re only looking at the common areas and 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. When it comes to rooms, the Little Mermaid rooms fall short of the newly-redesigned rooms at Pop Century.
However, the common areas make Art of Animation winners among families. This is especially true of the Cars wing, which is the best area at any of the Value Resorts. The Nemo, Lion King, and Little Mermaid grounds have fun decor and some interesting design touches, but they don’t have the depth of the Cars wing, which feels like a low-budget Radiator Springs.
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, and has a Cozy Cone Motel vibe to it.
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. 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.”
However, you might not have a choice but to book one of the other Value Resorts (which is why this is a 2,000+ word article instead of one sentence saying, “book Art of Animation and don’t worry about the rest”). Sometimes, Art of Animation is sold out. An even bigger issue is that it’s often excluded from promotions, including the ever-popular Free Disney Dining Plan deal. If you are able to book Free Dining, you’re going to have to choose a different Value Resort. (You might not even be able to get Pop Century, depending upon when you book Free Dining.)
In those cases, it’s important to know what other Value Resorts offer. In other words, you didn’t just waste your time reading this long article. 😉
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. If you want to splurge or money doesn’t matter, check out our Deluxe Resort Rankings post. Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Check out our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page, which offers quick-hit capsule reviews of every Walt Disney World hotel, plus links to our reviews and photo pages for every hotel we have reviewed. Looking for comprehensive Walt Disney World vacation tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
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!