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Best Disney Vacation Club Resorts in the World

As a member of the Disney Vacation Club, I’ve gotten to visit almost all of the resorts in the DVC lineup. What I’ve discovered over the years is that my passion for several of them has risen or waned, depending largely on recent experiences. My position on the topic has evolved, as politicians are prone to say. Here’s my current list of my seven favorite DVC resorts.

7. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort

Image: DisneyI think the strongest compliment I can give DVC is that I shortlisted 10 different properties for these seven spots. The competition for the final slot was brutal, as I changed my mind several times. In the end, I sided with one of the most important traits. I chose kindness.

I understand that kindness is a strange thing to quantify at a Disney resort. Cast members are famously thoughtful, especially at the Disney parks and their nearby resorts. At Hilton Head, the DVC property isn’t even on the beach. You’ll have to walk or drive roughly a mile to get there, although Disney does own a lovely private beach area once you arrive.

Image: DisneyThe Hilton Head property is gorgeous by any standard. It has to be, as the competition for hotel occupancy in the city is brutal. With so many luxury resorts in the area, Disney officials knew that the one they built at Hilton Head must tower above the competition. It does, as the DVC hotel is currently ranked second among all resorts in the city.

All other things being equal, I would favor a different beach property, the one at Aulani. Things aren’t equal, though. The staff at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is the nicest bunch of people that I’ve ever met in my life. It’s not an anecdotal opinion, either. When you read the 1,000+ reviews on TripAdvisor, you’ll notice that several of them go out of their way to praise the cast members at Hilton Head. It’s the strongest brand of southern hospitality I’ve ever witnessed, and I say that as a lifelong southerner.

6. Disney’s Old Key West Resort

Image: DisneyThe original DVC resort remains one of the best almost 20 years later. When Disney themed this property, they hearkened back to the glory days of Key West. It was a time when Ernest Hemingway typed up his masterpieces while six-toed cats wandered in and out of his room. The hotel somehow recreates that ambience, albeit without the Key West cats.

When you wander this campus, you’ll see old school villas closely identified with the earliest days of the timeshare market. The difference is the Disney touch. While the villas are the largest in the DVC lineup, starting at 390 square feet, it’s the background you’re most likely to embrace.

Despite being so spread out, Old Key West provides a sense of community. The guests most likely to stay here are the ones who have been DVC members for many years now. The resort embraces this demonstration of loyalty. Olivia’s Café, the Table Service restaurant close to the lobby, has a special wall full of pictures of past visits by DVC members. It’s the homiest touch you’ll find at any DVC resort.

5. The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Image: DisneyI never win over anyone when I evaluate the Grand Floridian. It is unmistakably the crown jewel of the current Walt Disney World resort empire. Since the inception of the DVC program, members clamored for the inclusion of this property. Once it finally happened, guests rushed to buy as if Disney were running a Black Friday sale.

While I respect the property for its reputation and lavish décor, especially the tasteful tiles used in the rooms, my favorite part of it is the restaurant situation. Places like 1900 Park Fare, Citricos, Narcoossee’s, and Grand Floridian Café are all divine, while Victoria & Albert’s is one of the best restaurants in the country. To me, the rest of the resort’s appeal is a bit overstated. Blasphemous as the thought is to some, the Grand Floridian is my least favorite of the three monorail resorts. Then again, that still makes it one of the top five properties in the DVC lineup.

4. Disney’s Beach Club Villas

Image: DisneyNow the sledding gets tough. Each of the top four DVC resorts is borderline perfect. At Beach Club, you’ll discover two STRONG selling points. The first is nearly instant access to Epcot. The villas on one side of the hotel are only a few hundred steps away from the back entrance to the park, the International Gateway. When you take this path, you’ll end up close to the France Pavilion at the World Showcase. It’s truly magical.

The other selling point is somehow even stronger. Guests at Beach Club are the only ones who get to use Stormalong Bay. It’s the best pool at Walt Disney World and rivals Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon in terms of value. You don’t have to pay extra to utilize this mini-water park whereas both actual water parks have substantial admission fees. 

Image: DisneyThe only thing that dings Beach Club is its perplexing hotel structure. You’ll get lost the first time you try to find your way into or out of your hotel room. Once you get past that small aggravation, you’ll fall in love with the appropriately beachy atmosphere here. Oh, and the food is phenomenal, too. DVC fans keep Beaches & Cream booked year-round.

3. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas

Image: DisneyIn the course of my being the DVC writer here over the past few years, I’m come into contact with some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. No fewer than three of them have described Animal Kingdom Villas as the best of all DVC properties. I clearly disagree…but only by a fractional amount.

The glory of a stay here is unmistakable. You live amongst the animals while you reside here. While the catchphrase of all DVC resorts is, “Welcome home!”, it’s not quite true at Animal Kingdom Villas. The animals are home. You’re merely visiting.

As you walk among their natural habitats, you’ll receive a rare up-close perspective of the life of an animal in captivity. And thanks to some brilliant Imagineering, you’ll get to see them frolic from your hotel room, presuming that you book the right view. Yes, said view costs more DVC points. It’s a Disney facility, after all, but it’s the happiest that you’ll ever be to spend more of your precious membership points.

2. Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Image: DisneyThese villas are the smallest hotel rooms in the DVC lineup. Also, the actual hotel tower doesn’t have any expected amenities like restaurants or stores. It does have a pool onsite, and it’s a good one, too. Then again, the pool is on the small side. Since it’s only available to guests staying in the tower, Disney felt that intimate was better than massive. None of these statements sounds like a description for the second best DVC resort, does it?

A lot of what I’ve said is a matter of semantics. The wording’s right there in the title. Bay Lake Tower is at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the hotel that has anchored Walt Disney World since October of 1971. It’s the one that has the monorail go right through its center, and there’s a monorail station inside the hotel.

Image: DisneyThat station leads down to the fourth floor of the Contemporary, and the fourth floor is where all the action is. Chef Mickey’s and Contempo Café, respectively among the best Table Service and Quick Service restaurants at Walt Disney World, are on this floor, as is Bayview Gifts, one of the best gift shops on the entire campus.

I mention all of these amenities because Bay Lake Tower’s connecting bridge leads straight to the fourth floor of the Contemporary. When you stay at Bay Lake Tower, you get all of the sublime amenities at the Contemporary as part of the package. Plus, the way the lobbies of the two resorts work, Bay Lake Tower is closer to the entrance of Magic Kingdom. When you stay here, you are as close as you can possibly get to the most popular theme park in the world.

1. Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows

Image: DisneyEvery DVC member has a favorite resort. I’ve never been subtle about mine. I recently reminisced with my sister about a conversation we’d had as children. When we first visited Walt Disney World, we mutually agreed to a dream that only a kid would have. We wanted to live at the Most Magical Place on Earth. Specifically, we wanted Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to be our new home. Fast forward a few years later – I won’t say exactly how many out of respect for my sister’s age – and the idea is no longer ludicrous thanks to the Disney Vacation Club.

Since the illustrious Polynesian became the final monorail resort to join the program, I haven’t made the resort my home. Such a thing still isn’t quite possible. I have, however, made it my home away from home. It’s my go-to vacation spot out of anywhere on the planet. I literally count down the days until I get to visit it again. I’ll even make a confession here. I’m only a few days away from my next trip to Walt Disney World, and I’m frustrated that we couldn’t book the Polynesian this time. To me, ALL other Disney resorts are fighting for second place.

Image: DisneyWhat do I love about the Polynesian? I could go on and on about the food, particularly Capt. Cook’s, breakfast at ‘Ohana, and my favorite spot at Kona Café. I could rave about the Lava Pool, too, although I actually prefer the Quiet Pool that’s close to my favorite building, Tokelau. I could even mention the shops, particularly Boutiki, which features all sorts of Lilo & Stitch merchandise. My family collects it all.

In truth, the best part of the Polynesian is something else, though. It’s the multi-generational nature of the facility. When Disney constructed it, they lured cast members from other parts of the world to make the resort their homes. One of them famously declined the offer; she’d heard that once you leave Hawaii, you never come home. She now jokes that it’s true, because Auntie Kau’i has lived at Walt Disney World since its opening. If you’ve ever gotten a lei at the resort, odds are good that Auntie made and handed it to you. How many resorts have that sort of personal touch, a way to make you feel like a part of someone else’s ‘ohana? The Polynesian best reflects the ideas of the Disney Vacation Club, and that’s why it’s my favorite.