Do you love hanging with Mickey, flying high in the air aboard Dumbo, and piloting the Millennium Falcon on the edge of the Star Wars galaxy? We mean really love it? If you just can’t get enough of the Disney magic and think you’ll be planning regular visits to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you might want to consider joining the Disney Vacation Club. Membership would give you and your gang a tiny slice of the Mouse House, access to all kinds of benefits, and a reason to regularly return to the resorts.
But it’ll cost you. And, all apologies to Dumbo, but joining the Disney Vacation Club will cost you considerably more than peanuts. Is it worth it? That depends. Let’s break it down.
The Basics of Disney Vacation Club
Simply put, the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is a timeshare program in which members purchase an ownership interest in a DVC property such as Disney’s Riviera Resort at Walt Disney World. The resort would become their home base for future visits.
In practice, however, members are not actually tied to any single property and are free to book vacations at both DVC and non-DVC resorts. Nor are they obliged to book a certain type of accommodations, plan their trips at a particular time of year, or commit to a certain number of days each year.
Instead, the program is based on a points system. Members purchase a minimum of 100 points, which are good for 50 years. Then they have the flexibility to access their bank of points and plan getaways.
Disney Vacation Club Resort Locations
With 12 locations, Walt Disney World in Florida is DVC central. Most of the properties are adjacent to standard hotels such as The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Some, such as the Old Key West Resort, are exclusive DVC properties. Disneyland in California offers The Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel.
Disney operates other DVC properties, including villas at its lovely Hawaii resort, Aulani, Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina, and Disney's Vero Beach Resort in Florida. In addition, DVC members can use their points to book stays at non-DVC properties, including all of the hotels at Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney parks around the world. They can also use points to sail aboard the Disney Cruise Line or join a guided tour offered by Adventures by Disney.
The club has a partnership arrangement with RCI, a timeshare exchange network, which allows members to use their points at non-Disney hotels around the world. DVC also offers a “Concierge Collection” of additional non-Disney resorts that members can access.
How Disney Vacation Club Works
To join the club, members pay a one-time fee to purchase points. In 2019, the price per point was $188, so a minimum 100-point purchase would cost $18,800. Buying 250 points, which might be a more typical number, would cost $47,000. Members also pay one-time closing costs, which are based on the home resort and the number of points purchased. In 2019, closing costs started at $556.
Members can make a down payment for the purchase price and closing costs and then finance the rest through Disney. On top of that, they pay annual dues, which also vary according to how many points and the location of the home resort. In 2019, the dues started at $66 per month.
Based on how many points they have, DVC members could take annual trips and return to the same location each year or they could bank their points for two years or more and save them for a major vacation to a more extravagant location that might include additional guests. The program is flexible and can accommodate a wide variety of scenarios.
The Pros of Disney Vacation Club Membership
- Members lock in their DVC points price for 50 years at current rates. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it is a virtual certainty that costs will continue to go up. Folks who bought their points when they were in the $35 to $40 range must be feeling pretty good right around now. While the 2019 price of $188 per point might cause some sticker shock, maybe that will seem like chump change a few years down the road.
- Members get all kinds of bonuses and benefits, such as discounts on tickets to Disney’s Broadway shows, exclusive gifts and merchandise offers, special meet and greets with characters, complimentary behind-the-scenes tours at the parks, and a huge array of deals on park tickets, dining at Disney restaurants, Disney Cruise Line packages, and more.
- The DVC resort rooms are quite nice. They are designed less for luxury and more for home-away-from-home comfort. Members are greeted with a cheery "Welcome home!" from the resort‘s cast members, for instance. Accommodations include studios that sleep up to four people, one-bedroom villas that sleep up to five, two-bedroom villas that sleep up to nine, and three-bedroom "Grand Villas” that sleep up to 12. With the exception of the studio units, the villas include full kitchens, dining areas, a washer and dryer, and other amenities.
The Cons of Disney Vacation Club Membership
- Members need to plan in advance—way in advance. Because popular DVC resorts often sell out early, members generally need to book their vacations at least six months ahead of time. If you’re the kind of person who likes to make spontaneous travel plans, the DVC may not be for you.
- You’re locked in for 50 years. While it is beneficial to pay today’s price for points as a hedge against future increases, you'd have to be able to use the points over the 50-year period to realize the benefit. If your needs are different or your situation changes, you're stuck with the points. You could sell them on the secondary market, but it's likely you would take a loss. You could also rent your points out for cash.
- The annual fees will almost certainly rise. While it's true that the price of the points are determined upfront, the annual dues, which are tied to things such as real estate taxes and the resorts’ operating costs, generally keep going up. The monthly cost you would pay at the outset of your membership would not be the same down the line.
- Your theme park vacations would still cost you extra money. Sure, DVC members get accommodations—and the amortized costs of those accommodations could be attractive decades later. And yes, members do get offers for discounted park tickets, dining, and other items. But DVC membership doesn’t cover everything. Consider what you’d spend on travel expenses such as airfare, food, merchandise, and other items for all of the trips you’d be taking. Again, if you would be taking vacations anyways, particularly if you are committed to taking Disney vacations on a regular basis, joining the DVC could make sense. Conversely, you might want to be sure that 50 years of Disney trips are, in fact, in your future.
The Bottom Line
Carefully weigh the benefits and mull over the reasons why you might or might not want to join the Disney Vacation Club. Make sure that you could afford the purchase price and the annual dues. If you regularly go to the Disney parks and typically stay at the resort’s pricier hotels, membership could be an attractive option.
As an alternative, you could consider setting aside the amount of money that it would cost to purchase points along with the estimated annual dues and use the money to plan your own Disney vacations. (Heck, you could even mix it up and visit other parks, such as Universal Orlando, every now and then.) You could even use your set-aside funds to book stays at DVC villas.
That's right—the DVC resorts are not for the exclusive use of DVC members. Based on availability, anybody could book villas at Jambo House at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, or any of the other DVC properties. Of course, the room rates for those resorts are probably only going to go up. In which case years from now, the cost to join the DVC may seem like it would have been a sweet deal.