Disney Vacation Club during the Early Years

Boulder Ridge Disney Vacation Club Sign

We previously discussed the origin story of the Disney Vacation Club. Notably, many of Disney’s early plans for the program didn’t come to fruition. The company couldn’t build its planned DVC resort and had to readjust on the fly on its Hilton Head plans. 

Throughout the 1990s, Disney overcame such challenges in laying the groundwork for the program you know and love today. Here’s how DVC developed during those early years. 

Disney Prioritizes the Parks

As I detailed last time, Disney officials projected DVC as a non-theme park experience for the most part. While Disney’s Old Key West Resort opened as the first property, the next three developments weren’t at the parks.

The Newport Coast project collapsed, while Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort opened in 1996, albeit after staunch resistance from wealthy residents in the area. Disney’s Vero Beach Resort also debuted in 1995. 

So, three of the first four planned DVC projects would have opened at places other than Anaheim/Orlando. As it is, two of the first three DVC locales are in Hilton Head and Vero Beach. Since 1996, only one non-theme park property has opened, Aulani in Hawaii. Obviously, the strategy has evolved.

After Disney met that harsh pushback in Hilton Head and Newport Beach, DVC strategists relied on Occam’s Razor. Disney fans want to vacation at Disney theme parks. Much of what we’ll discuss for the rest of the series stems from that epiphany. 

Disney also slowed the progress of its development projects. From December 1991 through July 1996, DVC opened four properties. It was a span of just over five years, and Disney had actually tried to do more. Also, Hilton Head’s residents slowed down the progress.

In its earliest days, DVC expanded aggressively. Afterward, progress slowed due to the early setbacks. From August 1996 through the start of 2004, only two other properties opened. So, let’s talk about them and the second DVC resort that opened in 1996, the one that followed Hilton Head

DVC Opens Disney’s BoardWalk Villas in July 1996

DVC’s next three properties all followed this same theme. Each one emphasized theme park proximity to heighten demand. And this strategy started at Disney’s BoardWalk

Disney themed this marvelous retro entertainment district as an escape for EPCOT guests. They could exit the park and explore different kinds of entertainment just past the International Gateway.

Both the BoardWalk itself and the accompanying DVC resort opened on July 1st, 1996. Since then, members have relished the brief walk to the World Showcase. You cross a bridge, walk a few hundred steps, and you’re ready to tap your MagicBand!

Plus, the BoardWalk added new amenities such as live entertainment, restaurants, bars, and even a nightclub. The resplendent illuminated glow of the BoardWalk skyline provides comfort on a warm Florida night. 

Disney vacation club dvc boardwalk view of walkway and buildings.

The BoardWalk Villas came with a theme of the “village across the water” from EPCOT. That’s a profound concept brought to life, as it almost accidentally introduced the idea of Resort Hopping. 

This property encouraged guests to take a day away from the parks and enjoy the BoardWalk instead. That strategy has proven effective for Disney and arguably redefined the entire DVC program. 

DVC Opens The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in November 2000

We call this place Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge today. At the time, the idea of two properties at a single DVC resort would have sounded ridiculous. With the benefit of hindsight, we appreciate the choice, though.

Disney built a majestic, rustic hotel campus while respecting the forest and lakes in the area. As a DVC member, you’ll never feel more at one with nature than while visiting Wilderness Lodge. 

The late Pete Dominick left an indelible footprint on the entire DVC program. As an architect, Dominick designed the layout for Wilderness Lodge and performed so impressively that Disney later rehired him for two other properties. 

So, this resort, in combination with the Grand Californian and Animal Kingdom Villas, work as Dominick’s greatest hits. The artist had an eye for scale, building a grandiose 82-foot-tall fireplace as the show-stopping structure at Wilderness Lodge. 

DVC also followed its new playbook here. A boat ride carries guests to and from Magic Kingdom. The ride takes only a few minutes and provides a view of the spectacle of the lakes surrounding Magic Kingdom. 

Finally, the Boulder Ridge project reflected a new direction for the DVC program. For the first time, Disney took a relatively new resort, one that opened in 1994, and added a DVC element just six years later. 

The initial set of four DVC properties were all new resorts. Disney modified Wilderness Lodge to squeeze it into the program. The plan worked so well that DVC added the Copper Creek side many years later. 

DVC Opens Disney’s Beach Club Villas in July 2002

Now, we enter the 2000s. By this point, the DVC program had already lasted for a decade and proven financially successful. In fact, Disney had eliminated its best giveaways by this point.

During the early days of the program, a DVC purchase came with admission tickets. While DVC continued to offer incentives for several years afterward, the best ones came during the 1990s. At the turn of the century, Disney focused on high-quality amenities instead.

Enter Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Disney opened this hotel in 1990 and knew it would fit perfectly in the DVC library. The resort claimed the most important feature to DVC executives at the time: logistics. It was somehow even closer to EPCOT’s International Gateway than BoardWalk

Disney's Beach Club

Plus, DVC members could benefit from the hotel’s greatest amenity and one of the best overall in the entire program. Yes, I’m talking about Stormalong Bay, an entire water park somehow disguised as a hotel pool. 

The only people who can visit Stormalong Bay are the lucky Beach Club hotel guests. Not coincidentally, this resort books quickly. It has justified Beach Club’s popularity for more than 20 years now, and that won’t change anytime soon. 

In the next discussion of DVC history, we’ll talk about DVC’s failed project of 2001, the Disney Institute reboot, and the other property with an amenity that rivals Stormalong Bay. 

Access all DVC resale listings and learn more about buying and selling with DVC Resale Market.


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