The Disney Vacation Club is a Disney fan's dream come true. Not all properties are created equal, though. Here are the ones we like the least.
The Disney Vacation Club has become much more than curiosity since its inception in 1991. Ostensibly a timeshare, the differences between this particular vacation residence purchase and the more standard mortgaged properties is simple. A person does not own a piece of property from now until the deed is sold.
Instead, these are housing purchases that expire after a few decades. Currently, contracts run through at least 2047 and as far as 2064. Unless you eat well, drive safely and are under the age of 30, odds are strong that by the time your DVC membership expires, you will be long past your amusement park days.
The premise of the Disney Vacation Club is effectively a lifetime contract for visitation at Disney theme parks in exchange for a negligible vacation fee each year. In exchange, customers purchase points that are leveraged into extended hotel stays at the finest Disney properties. To be clear, I am not talking about the All Star Resorts. No, I mean the company’s highest end properties including the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at Disneyland and The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World. These are properties that have rack rates north of $500 a night.
A DVC member can buy enough points that they can stay for a week (or more) without any additional financial outlay beyond the initial expense and the annual maintenance fees. Unlike every other timeshare in existence, DVC ownership has increased in value over the years. Even better, members receive additional incentives such as discounts on annual passes, restaurant and store purchases and even rounds of bowling (!). For years, my older brother begged me to join and I finally succumbed to peer pressure. Suffice to say that I am not only a DVC member but also a zealot.
I would be exaggerating if I were to say that picking one’s favorite Disney Vacation Club resort is akin to picking your child. After all, when is the last time your child brought you a room service meal? To a larger point, no company as revered as Disney would risk their corporate brand on an inferior property. Similarly, they would not charge $350+ a night for a room unless they felt that the accommodations justified the expenditure. Ergo, all of the locations I list in the “Bottom Six” are still the envy of the hotel industry. Anybody staying at a Holiday Inn tonight would betray their closest ally in order to stay at any of these locations. It says a lot about the Disney Vacation Club that these are “worst” of the bunch.
Note: We picked out our favorite DVC resorts in this recent article.
6. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
In counting down the "worst" properties, I begin with a location that I just praised above. In doing so, I reinforce the notion that the worst DVC option is still exemplary. The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is a signature Disneyland location that has been owned and operated by Disney since its inception. It was also the first park to include direct park access from the facility, an idea that has since been implemented with multiple properties at Walt Disney World. The hotel has earned continued recognition over the years for its design, features, spa treatments and (especially) restaurants.
Given the above, its placement in the bottom half of the list must be confusing. The explanation is simple. I am a fan of Walt Disney World much more than Disneyland. So while the Grand Floridian is the flagship property of Disneyland, it falls short due to its location on the wrong American coast (for me at least...of course, your opinion may differ!).
5. The Villas at Wilderness Lodge
This location claims the best lobby of any DVC property. I would add that it probably has one of the best 25 lobbies in the entire world. The entire foundation is built with wood, and the logs create a picturesque, homey setting. The entire experience is majestic while simultaneously humbling. I am 6’4” yet I feel like an ant when I gaze up at the rustic architectural achievement that is Wilderness Lodge. The property also claims one of the best pools of any Disney hotel. And it has the foot traffic to prove its popularity. In my experience, only Beach Club Villas has a more crowded pool.
The Wilderness Villas resort was a big fish in a small pond for an extended period of time. Prior to 2009, it was the only DVC property located close to Magic Kingdom. Now that Bay Lake Tower and Grand Floridian are available with Disney’s Polynesian Resort adding DVC villas next year, Wilderness Lodge has lost its primary competitive advantage. Its demand has waned a bit in recent years for this reason.
The property’s negative, the reason it is on this list, is simple. Travel from Wilderness Lodge to other primary locations at Walt Disney World is problematic. There are boats and buses to various theme parks. The travel time is longer because Wilderness Lodge is off the beaten path, and the arrival of buses is inconsistent at best. We once sat on a dock for a full hour, anxiously awaiting transportation to Magic Kingdom – and it’s ostensibly the closest park. Anyone who wants the ambience and isolation but doesn’t mind travel concerns will love this property. Personally, we think it’s a wonderful location, especially after the recent room refresh, but it doesn’t suit our tastes. Your mileage may vary as we live in the mountains near a tourist area swarming with similarly styled rustic resorts.
4. Animal Kingdom Villas
This ranking hurts me because I admire the Animal Kingdom Villas for their audacity. Someone at Disney once stood up during a business meeting and said, “Let’s build a hotel where we let animals roam freely on the property.” And they argued their belief so passionately that any would-be opponents eventually succumbed to their philosophy. The result is a singularly unique vacation experience.
Anyone who stays at Kidani Village or Jambo House is rewarded with an unforgettable view. Giraffes and zebras are standing outside in plain sight. A person can (and should) sit on the deck of their hotel room and enjoy the view while drinking his/her morning coffee. It is thematically perfect with the overall concept for Animal Kingdom itself. Pus, Disney stacked the deck a bit by recreating a variation of the Wilderness Lodge lobby in their new hotels, a thematically correct decision. People who stay at this hotel will have memories that will last a lifetime, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that.
The chief negative for Animal Kingdom Villas, the reason for its placement in the bottom six, is its location. Anyone who has visited Walt Disney World since the inception of Animal Kingdom knows its fatal flaw. It is in the worst location of the existing four Disney theme parks. Anyone who stays at these two hotels will feel isolated from the big two theme parks, EPCOT and Magic Kingdom. And if a person is going to be staying close to a particular theme park at Walt Disney World, Animal Kingdom is the worst of the bunch.