As a pretty big Disney fan, I had always dreamed about joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), but never thought it would be a reality. However, on our recent trip to Aulani we had a chance to speak with a DVC Guide and have all of our questions answered (and we had a lot of them). Ultimately, after considering the frequency of our trips to Disney, expected inflation, expected room cost inflation, and the ability to vacation with our friends and family, we decided that it made sense for us to buy in. Keep reading below for an overview of our decision to buy into the Disney Vacation Club.
An overview of DVC
DVC is essentially a timeshare. One major difference between DVC and other timeshare companies (other than the obvious fact that it is for Disney properties) is that it is time-limited. My understanding is that traditional timeshares do not have set expiration dates. DVC does. For instance, if you buy into DVC at the brand new Riviera Resort at Disney World, your contract will be for 50 years. At the end of 50 years, you will no longer own any portion of the property. We elected to purchase at the Grand Floridian (more about that later). Because it is a bit older, our contract is for 40 years- so all of the calculations I describe below were based on that number.
DVC is also advertised as being more flexible than traditional timeshares. Instead of having a fixed or floating week each year, when buying into DVC, you purchase a real estate interest that is represented by a certain number of points. Each year, Disney publishes point charts for each resort. Weekends and certain times of the year cost more points. Each year Disney can make small changes to the points chart (e.g. which dates cost more or less points), but the total number of points on any given point chart cannot change. In other words, if a two-bedroom villa at the Grand Floridian on May 1, 2023 costs five points more for the same room on May 1, 2022, than somewhere else on the annual point chart for that same resort another room type decreased five points in 2023 on a different date.
There is also flexibility in when you can use your points. You can ‘bank’ points to use them the following year or you can ‘borrow’ points from the upcoming year. This works really well for our vacation habits as we will use fewer points on years when we travel as a couple but need more than our allotted amount when traveling with family and friends.
DVC Resorts and Interval Points
The best value for DVC points is to use them at one of the 15 DVC resorts. This includes 12 resorts at Walt Disney World in Orlando as well as The Grand Californian at Disneyland in Anaheim, The Aulani Resort in Oahu, the Vero Beach Resort in Florida, and the Hilton Head Resort in South Carolina. You can also use them (but the point cost per night varies widely) at other Disney resorts including Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and in the near future, Shanghai Disneyland.
You can also use your points for various ‘Disney Experiences,’ but this does not seem to be a good use of points. Most of these we could not ‘afford’ based on our purchase of 200 points. These experiences include the Disney Cruise Line, National Geographic Expeditions, Adventures by Disney, and Starwars: Galactic Cruiser.
There is also the option to exchange your points through the Interval International program. This exchange program features hotels around the world including some Marriott and Hyatt Resorts. I don’t know much about the program, but I have read that like the ‘Disney Experiences’ it isn’t necessarily a good use of DVC points.
The cost of buying into DVC depends on the ‘home resort’ you choose and the number of points you choose. When we bought in earlier this year, the only options to buy in were at the Grand Floridian, Aulani, and the brand new Riviera Resort. (However I recently learned that there is often availability at other DVC resorts as well but you have to ask your DVC guide about them specifically.) There is, of course, a large initial cost to join DVC but this are also annual maintenance fees that you must pay each year. The cost at the time we purchased earlier this year was $207 per point for any of the three advertised resorts, but this can change at any time. There are also closing costs and a document preparation fee, but they often run specials and discounts that cover most or all of these fees.
It is also important to note that there is some variation in other costs depending on the home resort you select. I already mentioned the difference in the length of the contracts above, but there are sometimes also different specials offered at each and the annual dues also vary from one resort to another. For instance, the 2022 annual dues were $1,402 for the Grand Floridian and $1,736 for Aulani. I will discuss more about selecting your home resort below. Another factor to be aware of is financing. Disney offers a payment plan but there is a very high interest rate, so we did not even consider using their financing option for this purchase.
Number of points
When deciding the number of points to purchase, we considered how often we intend to visit, what time of the year we tend to visit, and at which resorts we want to stay. It has always been my dream to stay at the Grand Floridian, so when we take our first trip as DVC members in January, we will stay there. About 75% of the time when we visit a Disney property we do so by ourselves, but every few years we take a trip with our family or friends. We tend to visit a Disney property at least once per year. Taking this information into account, we reviewed the points charts for the resorts we thought we would most often visit.
We ultimately decided to purchase 200 points. As I mentioned above, you can ‘bank’ points to use the following year or ‘borrow’ points from the upcoming year. So we considered the two most likely scenarios under which we would visit a Disney property; by ourselves or with a larger group of friends and family (6 people or more). We determined that a one-week stay in a Lake View Deluxe Studio at the Grand Floridian at any time in January 2023 is 153 points. (We most frequently visit in January and February. (Check out my Disney tips posts for the reasons why.) This potentially leaves us with 47 points that we can ‘bank’ and use the following year.
The second most likely scenario is that we are visiting Disney World with friends or family and would need a two-bedroom villa. We aren’t likely to do this as often, but we absolutely plan to use DVC for this purpose every few years. One of the more ‘inexpensive’ resorts is Saratoga Springs. A one-week stay in a Standard View Two-bedroom Villa at Saratoga Springs December 1-23, 2023 is 253 points. This means that with the banked points from the previous year (and borrowing six additional points from 2024) we can book a much larger room (or more expensive destination) on occasion but still be able to afford to visit annually. The DVC website also has a point calculator that can help you decide how many points to purchase.
The ‘home resort’ you select is important for several reasons. There are differences mentioned above including the point costs, annual dues, and length of contract. But another very important consideration when deciding your home resort is that you can book a stay at your home resort five months earlier than you can book a stay at any other Disney property. So we can book a stay at the Grand Floridian 11 months in advance of our trip so we should have no problems getting the room type and dates we want if staying at the Grand Floridian. We can only book at another Disney property seven months in advance of your trip and some resorts and dates are more difficult to book.
This is the primary reason that we did not choose Aulani as our home resort. As nice as it was when we visited earlier this year (you can read my review here), it is unlikely we will visit regularly given that we are based on the east coast. But you might be wondering why we didn’t decide to purchase the Riviera as our home resort given that the contract was 10 years longer for essentially the same price. Well, for one, I have always wanted to stay at the Grand Floridian. And I love the idea of being at a monorail resort. The other factor was that because it is brand new, the Riviera has some restrictions regarding reselling your contract (not that we plan to do this, but it makes it much more difficult if we would ever decide to sell our contract).
Cost comparison calculation
So the ultimate question for us became whether or not DVC is actually a cost savings or not. Although we typically visit a Disney property annually, we often stay off site. We have a Hilton rewards credit card and can usually stay for free off site. Otherwise, we will typically elect to stay at a lower cost resort. However, as of late we have been spending more and more on accommodations on our vacations (as we get older and student loans are paid off and the like). And did I mention that I have always dreamed of staying in the Grand Floridian? We also really like the idea that we can share Disney World with our family and friends while being able to cover a significant portion of the cost of a Disney vacation (e.g. the accommodations). And the Hilton points can be used (and often are used) for other trips.
So, we ran the numbers. Based on the hypothetical situation that we stayed at the Grand Floridian for one week every year for the next 40 years (and assuming 5% interest and 5% room cost increase), DVC pays for itself in ten years. In other words, if we paid out of pocket for the same room we would spend the same amount in ten years that we have spent to pay for 40 years of accommodations as part of the DVC. The savings is significant even if you look at an equivalent luxury resort off property. For instance, compared to an annual one-week stay paid out of pocket at the Waldorf Astoria, DVC would pay for itself in 14 years.
Obviously, if you typically stay at a lower cost or value resort for one week each year, buying into DVC would not be a savings. This is largely because the cost of those resorts is so much lower than the deluxe resorts that they are equivalent to the annual dues paid. DVC is truly an investment in a more luxury vacation experience.
Please understand that our calculations were based on the currently available room costs for a random week in January (when we typically visit) and are based on our typical vacation habits. These calculations will likely vary significantly from one person to the next and one situation to the next so please be sure to review your own calculations before making any final decisions (e.g. differences in party size, the time of year you tend to visit, the frequency of your visits, and your typical length of stay).
Obviously, cost was our number one consideration when we were deciding whether or not to buy into DVC. But there are absolutely other factors to consider. First, the DVC rooms have additional amenities that regular hotel rooms do not. We were most interested in the kitchens or kitchenettes. We like to rope drop the parks (e.g. arrive before the official opening time to take advantage of the smallest crowds). So, being able to prepare and eat breakfast in the room is very appealing to us. The larger units also include amenities such as washers and dryers and private bedrooms (which will be nice when we are traveling with larger groups of friends and family).
There are some other pretty great perks of being a DVC member as well (note that any of these could change at any time). There is a DVC discount at many Disney shops and restaurants (usually about 10%). Parking is also free at your resort and at the theme parks. (And considering we just spent $37 per day to park when we were at Aulani- this can really add up.)
And there are other really fun DVC perks. For instance, there is a DVC members-only lounge in Epcot. So if you are exhausted and just want to sit down in the air conditioning, you can do that. There is also a members-only villain-themed lounge at the top of the Contemporary resort where you can sip drinks while watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Similarly, there is a members-only fireworks cruise. You also have access to other members-only events. The biggest perk seems to be access to Midnight Madness events- a complimentary evening in the parks with extra entertainment, special treats, and smaller crowds.
Value and resale options
Buying into DVC is a commitment. However it is possible to rent your points or sell your contract if you ever find yourself in a position where you would need to do so. We found this reassuring when deciding whether or not to buy in. Although I believe it can be a bit of work, if you are unable to use your points for the year before they expire, you can work with a third party company to ‘rent’ those points out. In other words, someone purchases those points from you just for a single use. Alternatively, if you find that you are unable to travel or use your DVC at all, you can also sell your contract using a third party reseller. Again, I believe this is a bit of work and there is some cost involved, but it is an option if you find yourself in a tough spot.
Obviously, we decided that buying into DVC was the right decision for our family. After considering the frequency of our Disney vacations, the level of accommodation that we wanted to have moving forward, and the cost comparison between DVC and paying cash for the same room year after year, it made sense for us. We also, as mentioned above, want to plan Disney trips with family and friends well into the future. I also think it would be amazing to visit every Disney park and DVC resort. Joining DVC makes this much more likely to happen.
I can’t wait to experience the Grand Floridian and to have tons of Disney adventures with family and friends in the future. I look forward to our first DVC stay in January 2023 and will be sure to write about our experience. If you are planning a trip to Disney World, be sure to review my other Disney posts including my top tips for making the most of your visit and an overview of the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane options.
Have you ever thought about buying into DVC? If you are already a member of DVC, what other factors would you suggest considering before purchasing? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And if you are considering becoming a part of the Disney Vacation Club, send me an email and I will share my referral link with you along with the name of our guide (who was really great to work with).
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