The Best and Worst of DVC in the 2010s

Filed in Aulani, Disney Vacation Club, Disney's Riviera Resort, DVC Price Increase, Grand Floridian, Polynesian

0 Comments
Fireworks over the Polynesian Bora Bora Bungalow

The Disney Vacation Club (DVC) has experienced many highs and lows over the past decade. Founded in 1991, this membership program leveled up from 2010 through 2019. Ownership interests soared in value, while Disney finally got a handle on what its members wanted…mostly. Here are the best and worst things that happened with DVC during the 2010s.

The Best

7. Disney Sells Fixed Weeks

6. Disney Doubles Down on Wilderness Lodge

5. The DVC Member Lounge

4. Moonlight Magic and Other Benefits

3. The Grand Floridian and Polynesian Join DVC

2. Disney’s Riviera Resort Opens….with a New Transportation Option

1. Online Booking Introduced

The Worst

6. The Failed National Harbor Project

5. Disney’s First DVC Sales Restrictions (2011)

4.  Disney’s Second DVC Sales Restrictions (2016)

3. Disney’s Third and Most Questionable DVC Sales Restriction (2019)

2. The Aulani Dues Fiasco

1. Direct Prices Rise Dramatically

The Best in Detail…

7. Disney Sells Fixed Weeks

Many conventional timeshares predicate their entire program on the fixed week. A timeshare owner purchases a contract that the person may exchange for a week’s stay at a designated resort. Often, the member claims some flexibility with the hotel, but the week remains the same no matter what.

From day one, DVC operated differently. Disney cleverly set up a distinctive system wherein members own DVC Points. Guests swap these for resort stays at any point on the annual calendar. Any room type and/or resort is available as long as you own enough points.

While this system works effectively, some members clamored for the general timeshare style, the fixed week. In June of 2010, Disney relented. At Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas, DVC sold Guaranteed Weeks, wherein someone could pick the week for their annual vacation.

Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii

Since then, a few other resorts have added this option as well. It’s an effective solution for people who want a guaranteed room during the holidays, Spring Break, or an annual event like a birthday/anniversary.

6. Disney Doubles Down on Wilderness Lodge

Perhaps the most surprising DVC update during the 2010s occurred at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Disney already operated one property at this rustic hotel, and it proved quite popular. DVC officials stumbled on an excellent solution to meet demand while increasing inventory.

Boulder Ridge mine cart at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Disney built a second set of DVC villas at Wilderness Lodge. Disney highlighted these new facilities with a new room type, the Cabins. These deluxe villas are standalone structures that provide guests with an unmatched level of privacy and seclusion.

Hot tub view at the Wilderness Lodge DVC Villas

The Bungalows at the Polynesian sit side-by-side, but I could accurately describe the Cabins at Copper Creek Villas & Cabins as 1,737-square-foot houses. Well, technically, they’re 1,213 square feet, but that doesn’t include a covered patio and hot tub area.

To a larger point, Disney effectively doubled the inventory at Wilderness Lodge. In the process, DVC has given that many more members the opportunity to stay in the Magic Kingdom area. For that, we’re all grateful.

5. The DVC Member Lounge

Something that Disney’s always done well is plussing. Walt Disney wanted all of the attractions at his park to get better over time, and that concept has spilt over into hotel management, too. Similarly, DVC has followed this tenet as well.

When the calendar reached 2016, DVC leadership wanted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the program. Executives introduced several giveaways, special events, and one other marvelous benefit.

At Epcot’s Imagination! Pavilion, the company introduced the DVC Lounge. It’s an area that’s exclusive to DVC members that has remained in operation since 2016.

Disney Vacation Club Lounge at Epcot’s Imagination! Pavilion

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

At this lounge, guests receive unlimited free drinks and snacks plus access to charging stations. You can recharge your portable electronics while lounging on a couch or chair in a private area. Plus, the view is sublime. From many seats, you have direct-of-line sight to Spaceship Earth!

The one drawback of the DVC Member Lounge is that Disney excluded some program participants. As I’ll discuss in the Worst of DVC, the company shamelessly segmented members into two classes. Anyone without a DVC membership card is out of luck. They can’t access the DVC Member Lounge, which is truly obnoxious of Disney. Yes, even some of the best parts of Disney during the 2010s include substantial negatives.

4. Moonlight Magic and Other Benefits

Something else started in 2016 that has since become an annual tradition. While DVC didn’t have a name for the event yet, the program threw a series of parties for members. In later years, Disney named these exclusive events Moonlight Magic.

By now, you’re likely familiar with Moonlight Magic. Card-carrying DVC members register for these parties. Presuming that they’re one of the lucky ones—virtually all events sell out—owners visit Disney theme parks while they’re closed to the general public. And DVC even supplies the food!

Over the years, Disney has absorbed some criticism for not rewarding members more. Moonlight Magic demonstrates that DVC has taken these complaints to heart.

They’re phenomenal presentations that make members feel special. And the lines for attractions are so short that a person can enjoy the equivalent of a full park day during three hours of Moonlight Magic! Once again, these opportunities are available to card-carrying member only. It’s regrettable that Disney takes this approach.

3. The Grand Floridian and Polynesian Join DVC

When Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort opened in 2009, DVC finally claimed a presence on the monorail line. Since the program started, fans clamored for a monorail resort to join the lineup, but they had to wait nearly 20 years to get their wish.

The moment that DVC announced Bay Lake Tower, guests wondered what would come next. In 2013, everyone celebrated when The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opened.

The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian

The most luxurious of all DVC properties didn’t introduce a great deal of inventory. Still, Disney took the project seriously, creating a unique DVC lobby highlighted by a magnificent Mary Poppins-based penguin fountain. The DVC section of the resort exemplifies the elegance of the Grand Floridian while adding a touch of modernity.

Less than two years later, Disney rewarded its loyal program participants again. Disney transitioned some of the longhouses at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort into DVC rooms. In a matter of six years, DVC went from zero monorail resort presence to inventory at all three of Disney’s most desirable hotels.

DVC bungalow at DIsney's Polynesian Resort

2. Disney’s Riviera Resort Opens…with a New Transportation Option

The most recent addition to the DVC library also qualifies as the most exciting in ages. Disney’s Riviera Resort debuted as the third full DVC property, joining Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

The facility is undeniably breathtaking, a fitting tribute to Walt, Lillian, and Roy O. Disney, all of whom loved Western European vacations. Walt would travel with his wife or brother to the Riviera and savor the downtime while mentally taking notes for future films. And some of these trips are the reason why we have monorails at Disney theme parks.

At the Riviera, DVC members can relax at an upscale resort that comes with a new amenity. Disney constructed the property in tandem with the Disney Skyliner, giving people staying at the hotel unprecedented transportation options.

Disney's Skyliner gondola pictured in front of Riviera Resort

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

Anyone staying at the Riviera can take a short walk from the hotel lobby to the gondola system. From there, they can ride the Skyliner to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and several other resorts. It’s the most convenient transportation mode at any Disney campus on the planet.

Guests rarely wait more than a couple of minutes to ride the Skyliner, and the above-ground path eliminates the aggravation of traffic. When you stay at the Riviera, you get to half the Walt Disney World parks in 15 minutes or less. Even the monorail resorts can’t claim that.

1.     Online Booking Introduced

Okay, this one’s difficult for newer members to comprehend. Before 2012, DVC members lacked the ability to book reservations online. For the first 21 years of the program, all DVC bookings went through the Member Services department.

Owners would call Member Services and request the desired booking. Then, we’d wait with baited breath to learn whether our villa had availability on that day. There was no way to know until the Disney cast member told us either way. It was the Dark Ages, man.

In 2012, DVC finally introduced online booking. Even then, the services were rudimentary at first. However, the ability to compare availability online became a genuine game-changer for DVC members. Disney spent the next six years or so trying to perfect the system to make it user-friendly and robust. The current software has finally achieved that goal, but it was a long, slow battle.

The Worst in Detail…

6. The Failed National Harbor Project

Disney originally intended to host DVC properties at many popular tourist locations. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, as 80 percent of the current lineup features theme park-based resorts. The only three exceptions are Aulani, Vero Beach, and Hilton Head.

DVC officials have definitely tried, though. Going back to the early 1990s, Disney bought land near Newport Beach and Laguna Beach in California, but that project failed. The same situation almost unfolded at Hilton Head before management discovered a workaround.

Later, history repeated itself in 2011. Back in 2009, Disney purchased land in National Harbor, Maryland, south of Washington, D.C. It’s only 40 miles away from the spot where Disney bought property for its failed Disney’s America theme park during the 1990s.

Disney’s plan called for a 500-room resort by the water in this highly desirable area. The proposed spot was actually quite close to FedEx Field, where the Washington Redskins play home games.

However, the project stalled soon after Disney spent $11 million on 11 acres.  DVC members never got their waterfront resort, while Disney paid $1 million per acre on a project that they eventually canceled. So, during a 17-year-span, the company bought millions of dollars’ worth of land in this area TWICE with nothing to show for it.

5. Disney’s First DVC Sales Restrictions

In 2011, Disney took the unusual tactic of declaring war on future DVC members. Twenty years after the program’s inception, DVC introduced restrictions on resales buyers. As you’ll learn, it wouldn’t be the final attempt, either.

Over the years, savvy consumers have determined that a DVC resales contract provides better value than a direct purchase through Disney. The company’s first inept attempt to discourage this practice occurred early in January of 2011.

DVC announced that members who bought resales contracts couldn’t exchange points for certain features. From that point forward, DVC locked some members out of DVC Points exchanges for Disney cruises, Adventures by Disney vacations, or hotel stays at international resorts.

Fireworks over a Disney Cruise Line ship

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

I must stress the oddity of this decision. After 20 years, DVC members had long since deduced that the worst uses of points were…Disney cruises, Adventures by Disney vacations, or hotel stays at international resorts.

In the baseball vernacular, this move was akin to a purpose pitch. It did nothing of note but instead served as a scare tactic. Disney wanted potential buyers to fear additional steps. When the discouragement failed, the company tried again…

4. Disney’s Second DVC Sales Restrictions

A second, similarly inept slap at resales buyers transpired in 2016. Virtually in the same breath, DVC announced a series of 25th-anniversary benefits for its members. Then, the program revealed further restrictions against resales owners.

These changes were once again minor in nature but offensive in their premise. The 2016 restrictions centered on Membership Extras, features that benefit card-carrying DVC members. They’re amenities like 10 percent discounts at some (but not all) Disney stores and restaurants. Sometimes, a theme park tour will come with a discount, too.

In such instances, DVC members are theoretically entitled to the savings. Alas, the updated restrictions changed the rules. Disney required guests to get DVC Membership Cards to prove that they owned a contract. And the company limited the distribution of these cards to direct owners. Well, that was the goal.

Nuanced real estate goals play a factor in all DVC program rules. Disney had to grandfather in current members with each set of restrictions. So, they did nothing in the short term, as they didn’t impact anyone already in the program.

3. Disney’s Third and Most Questionable DVC Sales Restriction

In 2019, DVC’s prior attempts to punish DVC members had clearly failed. Smart buyers understood the worthless nature of the benefits the company had eliminated. So, DVC made yet another short-sighted move to ward off a growing problem.

A year later, this one still makes no sense to anybody. DVC altered the rules to create a second class of members. Guests who buy resales contracts at Disney’s Riviera Resort may only exchange those points for hotel stays at this property. Yes, this rule damages direct buyers at the Riviera, too. They’ve bought regular priced contracts that have less appeal via resales.

Foggy Evening in front of Disney's Riviera Resort

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

Under the draconian restrictions, DVC members who purchase resales contracts after January 18, 2019, may “only” use their points at the original 14 properties. That aspect isn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar, as it only removes the Riviera from the lineup. So, the people punished the most by the rule are the ones who buy directly from Disney.

The first two policy changes worked like shots off the bow. We’re still evaluating the long-term repercussions of DVC overcompensating with such an aggressive move. So far, it’s totally backfired on the company. Will Reflections—A Disney Lakeside Lodge change anything in 2022? Stay tuned.

2. The Aulani Dues Fiasco

Despite some of my comments here, I think the world of DVC and Disney management as a whole. When DVC’s not suffering through unforced errors, it generally runs efficiently and smoothly. However, the program has experienced a couple of infamous issues over the years.

The most recent one occurred in 2011. And it’s an incident that reduces confidence in DVC management. Please remember that it happened more than eight years ago and was a one-off incident, though.

During the run-up to the opening of Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas, DVC officials miscalculated maintenance fees. Yes, Disney made a math error. And it had profound repercussions for the resort.

Pool view at Disney's Aulani Resort

Maintenance fees offset the operating expenses for the DVC portions of the resort. Disney underestimated the amount of member dues needed at Aulani. The error proved so significant that DVC temporarily stopped selling contracts at the resort!

From July 9th through September 22nd, Disney made Aulani unavailable to potential buyers. Eventually, DVC officials had to negotiate with Hawaii’s state regulators to increase maintenance fees by 33 percent! If you’re ever noticed two sets of maintenance fees listed at the resort, this mistake explains why.

Disney was extremely fair to all those members who had already purchased prior to this error being discovered, subsidizing their dues for the life of the contract.

Obviously, heads had to roll after such a massive mistake. Disney fired three DVC officials. The Chief Financial Officer, a Director of Finance, and the President of DVC all lost their jobs over Aulani annual dues. This error changed the course of history at DVC.

1.     Direct Prices Rise Dramatically

In October of 2009, Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort joined the DVC lineup. At the time, the property cost $120 per point (selling for $112 per point pre-construction). Today, the same contract costs $225 per point…with a minimum purchase of 100 points for new members.

Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort

Yes, buying a contract at this resort costs 87.5 percent more than it did at the start of the decade. And you must invest $22,500 for something priced at $12,000 ten years ago.

Now, in some ways, an increase in prices is beneficial to you as a member. Your ownership interest has increased over time. That’s the beauty of DVC compared to standard timeshares. Many people grow so frustrated with the value of their timeshares that they sell them on eBay. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, hundreds were available for $1!

With DVC, membership value has increased steadily over time. The original contracts at Disney’s Old Key West charged only $48 per point! You could have bought 468 points in 1991 for what 100 points costs at Bay Lake Tower today!

From this perspective, DVC ownership has proven itself as a terrific purchase. However, in recent years, Disney has ramped up the cost for direct purchase. Continuing with the Bay Lake Tower example, the same contract was $180 per point in 2016. That’s a 25 percent increase in less than four years!

Thankfully, resales contracts have remained an inexpensive option despite the attempts chronicled here. And even the dramatic surge in direct pricing, the worst lowlight of the 2010s, has come with a positive. Your contract has appreciated in value over the past 10 years!

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

 

 

Comments

Post a Reply