We are fortunate that the drive from our home in Raleigh, North Carolina to Walt Disney World is easily doable in one day and the route itself is quite uneventful. The entire drive is 625 miles and a generous 10 hours including a few stops for gas and restroom breaks, which we always combine (everyone must get out of the car whenever we stop!), and stopping to eat our packed lunch.
We leave all of our bags just inside the front door of the house the night before, so Jeff and I just need to quickly throw everything in the trunk and eat breakfast before leaving the house in the morning. The boys get dressed and eat breakfast in the car to save time (and parental anguish over slow eaters!). We depart at 7:00 AM so our arrival time coincides with eating dinner at the resort.
The first half of the drive out of Raleigh on I-40 and then south on I-95 to southern Georgia is rather … boring. And that is a very good thing when the priority is being safe and making good time on a long driving day! Until driving over the St. Marys River into Florida, the route doesn’t pass through any cities, traveling mainly through woodlands, farmland, and swampland for six hours. Compared to the same distance driving north on I-95 from Raleigh which goes straight through crowded and stressful downtown areas of Richmond, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, the drive south is downright relaxing!
Within two hours, we are out of our home state. I often complain that the three hours we spend next driving through rural South Carolina is the worst part of the day as the scenery isn’t very pretty and the highway is mostly four-laned (I’m a huge fan of the center lane driving on interstates) so the roads are typically more crowded, but I’d still drive through boring South Carolina any day over Philadelphia!
The Georgia welcome sign is always a gorgeous sight. This is my favorite part of the drive. It’s over in less than two hours and we begin seeing marked changes to the scenery. I love the marshland in this area and the flat terrain that produces “big sky.” Best of all is that I-95 in Georgia is entirely six-laned! Woo hoo! Love that center lane!
We had planned on stopping at the Georgia Welcome Center to eat our packed lunch at picnic tables, but (spoiler alert) the entire I-95 southbound Georgia Welcome Center exit is currently closed for renovation. Without another clear picnicking option in sight, we stopped in a Cracker Barrel parking lot to eat our lunch. We are really SO classy!
We usually stop at the Florida welcome center and drink some awful free processed orange juice (for those new to Florida, that’s really not how fresh Florida orange juice tastes!), but skipped it on this trip as no one needed a break at the time. We avoid Jacksonville congestion and inevitable ongoing construction by detouring around the city on I-295 East and the drive down I-95 to I-4 is, again, unspectacular. The only city we drive through on this entire route is Orlando itself, which is unavoidable without detouring far off course. On this day, we were driving through downtown Orlando at 5:00 PM on a Saturday so traffic was extremely light and easy, Orlando-wise.
I received the text message notifying us that our room was ready so we were able to drive straight to our room when we arrived at Pop Century at 5:30. The room was top floor in the 50’s section just as I had requested. The entire resort check-in process was delightfully opposite of my recent Four Parks One Day trip with my mom at All-Star Music where the texting system didn’t work and we didn’t get a room on our requested floor OR in our requested section. Already, Pop Century was becoming my favorite value Disney resort! Despite our five-night stay at this resort, we never actually saw the Pop Century check-in and concierge area at any time during our stay!
After the requisite, tidy “before” pictures of the room, we dropped our bags and walked past the empty bowling pin pool (temperatures were downright chilly even for “northerners” like us!) to the Everything Pop food court for dinner. Jeff and I both ordered the salmon with citrus glaze which was quite delicious, far better than Columbia Harbor House plain salmon but not quite as tasty as the bruchetta-topped grilled salmon from EPCOT’s Sunshine Seasons.
Everything Pop is known for its Tie Dye Cheesecake, a colorful cheesecake on top of a red velvet cake. It seemed rather bland and unspectacular so we likely won’t be repeat customers, but we happily checked unique dessert offering off our Disney food to-eat list.
After our meal, we moseyed over to the gift shop where I was on the hunt for a yellow teacup mug. I’d already purchased the green, ivory, and purple mugs off the Shop Disney Parks app but yellow is only available on site so I was thrilled to complete my collection on our first day.
We strolled back to our room in the 50’s for a good night’s sleep, ready to begin our first full day of Disney fun.
The 50s section where we stayed is my favorite section of Pop Century. I loved the lavender buildings, Lady, and the Tramp. The pool supply building disguised as a dog house is adorable! The bowling pin staircase was nearly another attraction on our trip as we walked down from the fourth floor at the beginning of each day and back up to the top floor when we returned “home” each evening!
Up next are the bright yellow buildings of the 60s with flower child motif and Play-doh.
The next stop on Memory Lane (yes, that’s actually the name of the jogging path around Pop Century!) is the 70s with its groovy green buildings and eight track stairwells.
Ah, my heart belongs to the 80s! We might have to request a room in this pink section next time!
The Pop Century tour ends with the blue buildings of the 90s and the Computer Pool.