A series of retro-style “highway signs” will put you in a nostalgic mood as you drive up to Disney’s Pop Century Resort. “Air Conditioned Rooms! Color TV! Heated Pool!” they successively announce. At the main entrance, a huge star-burst-backed sign (in a star-burst-shaped flowerbed) exclaims, “POP!” The resort pops with reminders of popular culture from the latter five decades of the twentieth century. This isn’t the kind of nostalgia that makes you thoughtful; here, the past makes you sing, dance, and laugh. Pop (Half) Century celebrates the fads and fun, slang and songs, toys and tech from a past you know from movies and TV, if not from personal experience.
At Pop Century, you can dance your way back to the ’50s at breakfast and to the ’70s at dinner. “The Twist” begins to play at 8:00 a.m. and cast members in the lobby and food court lead guests in the gyrating ’60s dance. At 6:00 p.m., you’ll hear “The Hustle” begin to play, and Classic Hall becomes a mini ’70s disco for a few minutes as cast members and guests enthusiastically rotate their arms to the dance.
In addition to the front desk and food court, Classic Hall is also home to the Fast Forward Arcade and the resort gift shop (which shares the name Everything POP with the food court), offering the typical array of Disney plush, t-shirts, hats, jewelry, pins, autograph books, and picture frames. The walls of Classic Hall are lined with a shadow box gallery featuring five decades’ worth of mementos and artifacts of every description. You’ll see a cookbook and kitchen utensils, license plates, record albums, clothing, toys, books, and maps. A box from the ’70s commemorates the opening of Walt Disney World and includes an original copy of LIFE magazine with Cinderella Castle on the cover.
The Everything POP Food Court is unique among Disney food courts if only for the TVs – this place is a celebration of pop culture, after all. Here you’ll find a grill, pizza and pasta sections, and an ice cream stand alongside a great bakery selection. Signature items include their large waffle with the POP emblem, create-your-own yogurt parfait, and legendary tie-dyed cheesecake. Their Elvis-themed King Cupcake has recently been replaced with a King Whoopie Pie. The food court is open from 6:00 AM to midnight. If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, don’t forget that you can choose a sundae for dessert – and come back for it after you eat your meal. Just tell the cast member at the checkout, and he or she will mark your receipt and let you know how long the return window lasts (60 to 90 minutes).
The resort has close to 3,000 rooms, all equipped with two double beds or one king. The privacy curtain between the sink area and the bedroom makes the space into a convenient dressing room. All rooms have a small refrigerator and a flat screen TV, plus the usual luggage rack, hair dryer, and ironing board with iron.
The buildings are all large and T-shaped, up to three per decade section – ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. It’s not a bad idea to ask the cast member at check-in to show you exactly where in the building you’ll find your room – as this can help you strategize the closest parking place. For example, you may find that the ’90s parking lot provides the shortest walk to your groovy room in the ’70s building. The ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s are home to preferred rooms due to their proximity to Classic Hall (food court, bus stop, etc.). It’s possible to narrow down your room preferences on disneyworld.com.
Each section has its own iconic mega-sculptures which define each respective decade. The massive colorful icons are what really make the resort pop. Disney Imagineers used replicas of the decade icons and worked with some of the original manufacturers of the toys and other objects in order to create accurate enlargements. It’s worth a stroll around the whole resort to visit them all. The location of most icons is marked on the resort map, so you won’t miss your favorites. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head should be wearing their angry eyes, because they were not included on the official map. You can find them near the sparkling Hourglass Lake at the end of the ’80s section. Note that some of the icons look particularly striking by night.)
The ’50s building is lakeside, so some of the rooms come with a view. Lady and the Tramp are bookends, across the ’50s courtyard at buildings 1 and 3. The stairwells are enclosed in 65-foot-tall bowling pins, which makes climbing stairs a lot more fun. (There is an elevator in each building, though reaching it may make your walk a lot longer than using the stairs, depending on the location of your room.) A giant jukebox stands at building 2, and the grandparents might want to stop to see how many of the title cards they recognize. However, these are all Imagineered hits that were never on the radio – some of the entertaining titles include “My Malt Shop Man is a Soda Jerk” and “He’s No Square with Ducktailed Hair.” Notice that, just like an actual retro jukebox, this giant version has no letter I, as song-choosers would too easily confuse it with the 1. You’ll find the Bowling Pin Pool in the ’50s section of the resort. Is that a bowling shoe rental with giant-sized footwear? No – it’s just the guest laundry in disguise. There are nine giant bowling pin towers – the pool itself represents the tenth pin!
Mowgli & Baloo, at building 5, are the stars of the ’60s section. A towering can of Play-Doh (along with huge Play-Doh animals – can you spot the fingerprints of the giant child who made them?) stands opposite, at building 4. Guests ascend to their rooms in the giant red, blue, or green Duncan Imperial yo-yos which hold the staircases (the yo-yo strings are a foot wide!). The Hippy Dippy Pool is a psychedelic-colored celebration of the ’60s with flower-power water jets. Rooms in the ’60s building facing the Hippy Dippy Pool can be a bit noisy late at night when the revelry just seems to swim on and on. But they have the fun quotient and are very close to the Classic Hall. Hula hoops may be included in the poolside recreation, while a Disney movie is shown by the pool every evening (weather permitting). The pool itself is flower-shaped — which is best appreciated from a fourth floor balcony in a surrounding building. (All the POP pools have themeing that is best seen from above.) Petals Pool Bar serves drinks and snacks. A kiddie pool area with zero entry is located beyond the Hippy Dippy with a pop-jet water fountain. There’s a second pop-jet water play area between Classic Hall and the ’90s building – which you won’t want to miss if you have any Goofy fans in your group. A large sculpture of Dude Goofy stands here with his surfboard – a great photo op.
The ’70s section is far out! A four-story Mickey Mouse telephone presides at building 6 while a massive Big Wheel parks at building 10 (the recommended child weight sticker below the handlebars says 877 lbs!). Cast members may bring out child-sized Big Wheels for the kids to try (check the recreation guide when you arrive.) You can also play Twister on an outdoor board or wander into a bigger-than-life-size table top soccer/foosball game. The staircases are housed in giant eight track tapes.
The most eye-catching icons at the ’80s buildings are the forty-two-foot-tall Rubik’s cube staircases. Each cube represents a different stage in the Rubik’s solution process – ending with a completed puzzle. Building 9 has a giant Sony Walkman with headphones while Roger Rabbit stands out at building 7.
A four-story laptop is the monument to the ’90s. Its screen displays abc.com which reports that the Animal Kingdom Park has opened today (today being April 22, 1998). Both ends of building 8 are flanked by old-school cellular phones (the stairwells!). The Computer Pool is in the ’80s/’90s courtyard. (The ’90s section has only one building.) The pool itself is shaped like a computer monitor while a giant springy keyboard stands below it. The guest laundry here is themed to resemble a hard drive with a massive stack of floppy disks nearby (one of them is labeled GAMES). Don’t forget to take your towels along when you head to the pool. You can call housekeeping when you head out so that there will be fresh towels waiting when you return to hit the showers.
One central bus stop, in front of Classic Hall, efficiently serves the whole resort with non-stop service to Disney theme parks, water parks, and the Disney Springs restaurant and shopping district. On the Pop Century bus, you can hum along to songs like “Sweet Caroline” or “Locomotion” and nostalgic TV theme songs such as Johnny Carson and the Banana Splits Show. A walking/jogging path called Memory Lane loops around Hourglass Lake, providing nearly a mile and a half workout. Along the trail you’ll see signs with trivia from the decades. (Unfortunately, this route is also punctuated with smoking areas – if you are sensitive to smoke, be warned.)
Mouseketip: Get into position by the giant Jukebox near the lake or on the Generation Gap Bridge for a decent (though slightly obstructed) view of Epcot’s IllumiNations. Guests staying in ’50s buildings 2 and 3 as well as ’60s building 4 will be able to view the higher fireworks bursts from their room. (As though there weren’t already enough things popping at this resort!)