We are going to go over the high and the low points of the two major Orlando theme park resorts. We will break down into categories which park was better based on our July 6-13, 2021 visit to Disney World and our February 22 – March 1, 2022 visit to Universal Orlando. In both cases we stayed on property and used that resort’s transportation from the hotel to the parks.
During our July, 2021 trip to Disney World we stayed at Disney’s Pop Century Resort and with our February, 2022 trip to Universal Orlando, we stayed at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside. Both resorts are considered “Value Resorts”.
|Amenities||Pop Century||Endless Summer- Surfside|
|Transportation to the parks||X|
|Proximity to Attractions||X|
As just about everyone knows Disney Pricing right now is ridiculous. That being said, and to be fair, the prices that we paid are in two different seasons. Even with the different seasons, there was still a large gap in the prices that we paid for our 7-day stay at each resort. Pop Century averaged $245/night while Endless Summer – Surfside averaged $135/night.
Although Universal’s Endless Summer is new and it is themed with a heavy beach vibe, it cannot hold a candle to the immense theming at Disney’s Pop Century. Disney has always been the leader in theming and it still stands true.
Without a doubt the checkin process at Endless Summer was much easier and quicker than our check-in at Pop Century. Both resorts, the employees were very friendly and helpful. But we had issues checking into Pop Century and had to return to the front desk and stand in a very long line three time to get them straightened out. At Endless Summer, our room was ready when we got there and we did not have to contact the front desk at all during our entire visit.
TRANSPORTATION TO THE PARKS
This was a difficult category. I would almost put it as a push. Disney has a wide variety of transportation options to get you to their parks where Universal only had a shuttle. From Pop Century, you have the option of taking a bus or using the new Skyliner that will take you to either Hollywood Studios or Epcot directly from the resort.
The biggest determiner of this category was time. Disney does have several options for transportation, but it takes a long time to get on that transportation. Once on Disney Transportation, it can still take up to a half an hour just to reach the park… During busy times, even longer. Universal’s shuttle to the park quickly loads and took only 5-10 minutes to get you to the theme parks.
PROXIMITY TO OTHER ATTRACTIONS
Unlike Transportation, this category was very easy to choose. Disney World Resort was built in the middle of no where on purpose. Disney wanted to keep guests on its property so that they would spend all their money on Disney products. If you are staying on property in a Disney Resort Hotel, it is an average of 20-25 minutes to just drive off of Disney property. With traffic, it can take another 20 minutes or so to drive up Interstate 4 to get to the City of Orlando to be able to visit other attractions.
Universal Orlando is about 5 miles south of Downtown Orlando and is within a 10-15 minute drive to other theme parks such as SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, The Orlando Eye and others. When visiting the parks, time is money
This really surprised me. For this category, we are only talking about food that is served at the Resort. Disney had always had “good” food at the hotel cafeteria. Although, expensive, the food was alway hot, good and you really did not have to wait too long in line. In 2021, you no longer could go in and pick from several choices. Mobile Ordering was mandatory. This mean that you needed to order your food via a mobile device using the “My Disney” app and wait for them to give you a time to return to pick up your food. If you ordered during a busy time, you would have to wait up to an hour, if not more. When we did get our food, it was cold and served in a cardboard box. Portion sizes were small, and to be honest, not that good. Breakfast from Pop Century was so bad that we chose to get in our car and drive to the McDonald’s that is on property for food. That tells you how bad it is when McDonald’s is better than food served at a Disney World Resort.
The Cafeteria in Endless Summer was not fine dining, but it was good, hot and quickly served. There was a little variety of what you could order too. My only complaint was that the menu did not change the entire time that we visited Endless Summer. Our choice in the category was not because Endless Summer’s food was so good, it is more that Pop Century’s food was that bad.
Our rooms at Universal’s Endless Summer – Surfside and Disney’s Pop Century Resort were pretty close to being a push. There are different aspects of each room that we liked and some that we did not like.
Both rooms featured wood flooring and good sized TVs. Each room had two full-sized beds which I think that Endless Summer’s was a little bigger. Below is the breakdown of the rooms and why we thought one was better than the other.
This was a very easy choice. For those that have stayed at a Disney Value Resort know that they have the most uncomfortable beds in any hotel. Disney also only puts sheets on their beds and no longer offers the comforters that they once did. I would have thought that when Disney upgraded the rooms in the Pop Century Resort over the past few years, this would have been addressed. It wasn’t.
Universal Endless Summer Surfside beds were supportive and comfortable to sleep in. Warm blankets and comfortable sheets are on the beds that allow for a good night’s sleep after a long day in the parks.
Endless Summer – Surfside bathrooms are typical hotel bathrooms. A standard shower, commode and a double sink with a large mirror. Just like you would see in just about any hotel throughout the area.
Disney’s Pop Century went above and beyond when they remodeled their bathrooms. Pop Century’s bathrooms have a double sink, with a large mirror and excellent lighting. You are able to close a door to have privacy from the room itself while you are changing. To the right there is a door that leads to the commode and then another door that leads to the shower. Pop Century’s showers are amazing. They have two shower heads with various massage settings to help those tired muscles after a long day in the parks. The bathrooms are well lit with plenty of room to change without having to be in the main room.
As for the size of the rooms, this can be misleading. Disney’s Pop Century rooms contain two Murphy beds that fold up into the wall making the room appear larger. Endless Summer rooms may be few extra square feet larger, but the innovative way that Pop Century designed the Murphy beds, makes their sizes very comparable.
Maid Service at both resorts was not spectacular. Trash was emptied and floors were swept. Disney, which in the past had spectacular Maid Service, was quite disappointing. Beds were not made and bed clothing was not changed. We also had to call daily to have clean towels brought to our room. Endless Summer Maid Service, again, was not spectacular, but our beds were made daily (they did not change sheets at all though) and we always had plenty of clean towels.
Parking at both resorts are comparable. One thing that is annoying at both resorts is that you have to pay for parking. It is $15 a day to park at Pop Century and $17 to park at Endless Summer Surfside. Pop Century features a ground level standard parking lot while Endless Summer has a multi-level parking garage. If you are someone who returns late at night to the resort, Pop Century can be quite frustrating to find a spot near the section of the resort you are staying in. Endless Summer can also be quite frustrating in the same manner only that you will have to park higher in the garage, which means a longer ride in the elevator or walking down the stairs.
As mentioned, both resort’s parking situation are quite similar and the reason why Pop Century gets the nod in this category is that if you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, you do not have to pay for parking at the theme parks, it is included with the cost of the resort. If you are staying at a Universal Resort, you not only have to pay to park at the resort, you also have to pay for parking at the theme park which is $27.
This category isn’t so much what the resorts have for perks, as much as, what one no longer has for perks. In the past, Disney offered a wide variety of perks for staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel. They offered free rides from Orlando International Airport directly to your resort. Magic Bands were sent to your home 180 days before your trip. You were even able to pick the color of your band. You were able to select three FastPasses for each day you visited a park up to 60 days before your arrival. If you were staying off property, you could choose them up to 30 days before your arrival. Disney World also offered “Extra Magic Hours” for those guests staying at Disney World Resort Hotels. “Extra Magic Hours” were either and hour or two before parks opened or up to four hours after the parks closed for only those staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel. Disney also offer a “Magic Your Way” ticket package that included free plays at the resort’s in-house arcade and a free round of mini golf at one of two Disney World mini golf courses. At one point, all of these perks for staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel were included with the cost of your room… This is no longer true. At this point, there are only two “perks” alotted to anyone staying at Pop Century, free parking at any of the four theme parks, free transportation to and from the parks and you are allowed to enter certain parks a half hour earlier than the general public.
Now Universal’s Endless Summer – Surfside does not offer many perks at all. Currently they offer free transportation to and from the theme park and on most days, hotel guests are given one hour early admission to one of the two theme parks (usually Islands of Adventure). The reason why I am not giving a push to this category is that Universal offers a full hour early admission where Disney is only a 1/2 hour. My decision is more to the fact that Disney has taken away more “free perks” and is actually charging more for their rooms and tickets to the parks.
When all is said and done, I would say that Universal’s Endless Summer – Surfside is a better all around value than Disney’s Pop Century. Price alone, Endless Summer is roughly half the price of Pop Century.
Again, this post is very subjective and many may have a much different opinion on the categories that I listed above. If you do have a different opinion, let us know.
Understand, my family has been visiting Disney for the last fifteen years. Endless Summer was only the second time that we have stayed somewhere other than a Disney Resort Hotel and the first time we did not visit a Disney theme park.
In our next post we compare the food offerings between Disney and Universal. Check back and let us know your opinion.
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