Thursday, June 19, 2014

Disney Vacation Club Series - What is it and How Does it Work?

Have you seen the kiosks, or the in-room commercials Disney shows in its resort rooms, and wondered if "Disney's Best Kept Secret" might be something for your family? If you travel to Disney at least every other year, and like a more home-like feel to your accommodations, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) might be something that would work for you. Especially if you have a larger family that won't comfortably fit into a standard hotel room, the long term cost of owning DVC may be a better deal than paying rack rate for deluxe or multiple room accommodations year after year.

Our First Trip "Home" in fall 2009 as a Family of Five to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village
Our family decided to join Disney Vacation Club in 2009, and we have been very happy with our purchase. For us, this decision was fueled by a desire to vacation with our children more often, and to be able to stay in accommodations that would be comfortable for our (then) family of 5. Really, it seems the entire world revolves around the family of 4 concept. If you have more than 2 adults and 2 kids, suddenly you cannot fit in a standard hotel room. I had discovered that staying in a hotel room with my little ones was a bit tricky, especially at bedtime. My hubby and I once found ourselves sitting on the hotel bathroom floor sharing a 7-Up while waiting for the tucked in little guys to actually fall asleep. Looking ahead to the future, I knew that having 3 sons meant that someday I would be stepping over said sons to go change in the bathroom, and then I would have to hang out on the balcony while the boys took their turn getting changed.

Disney Vacation Club gave us the opportunity to lock in future resort stays in deluxe accommodations for a more affordable price, and allow us to stay in a much larger room, with a separate sleeping area for the kids, and some amazing amenities such as a kitchen, and a washer and dryer. Also in every room is a high chair and port-a-crib. For a mom of four, not having to worry about those things makes my vacation even more enjoyable. I love the fact that we can book a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom or even a grand villa for our stays.  For our family, it was a great choice. Will it work for you? Maybe!

Studio Portion of a Villa at Animal Kingdom's Kidani Village

Basically DVC is a timeshare, but it is very different than timeshares you may have heard of, and Disney prefers to call it a "Vacation Ownership Program". Like other vacation ownership programs, you make a one time large purchase, then lower yearly maintenance fees on that purchase to cover upkeep and property taxes. Unlike many other programs however, the Disney system is very flexible in terms of when and where you can vacation, how long you can stay, when you check-in, etc...

Many people are familiar with traditional timeshares, whereby you buy a one week stay in a specific size room to use for a specific week every year. Check-in is usually restricted to certain days, usually Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and usually you use the entire week during one stay.

Unlike those types of programs, Disney uses a flexible points system. Instead of buying a week, you buy points. Just like a kid with tickets at Chuck-E-Cheese trades them in for prizes, you use your points to reserve your room. A more deluxe or popular prize will require more tickets/points. In DVC terms, smaller studio rooms will use less points than a 2 bedroom suite. Weekends generally cost more than weeknights, and a room during the quieter seasons will require fewer points than the same room during the holidays or spring break.

This is where the flexibility comes in. Lets say your kids have a long weekend from school, and you'd like to check in on Thursday, and check out on Monday. No problem! Each night has its own points cost, and you can check in and out whenever you wish as long as there is availability and you have the points. You can reserve a 1 bedroom this year for 8 nights in September, and a 2 bedroom next year for 5 nights in April. You are not locked into using the same accommodations every year.

Sleeper Sofa at Kidani Village
When you choose to purchase Disney Vacation Club, you purchase points at one of the DVC resorts. Currently at Walt Disney World there are 8 DVC resorts: Old Key West, Beach Club, Boardwalk, Wilderness Lodge, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Bay Lake Tower, and the Grand Floridian. New DVC villas are currently under construction at The Polynesian. Additionally, Disney has Vacation Club Resorts at Disneyland in California at The Grand Californian, on Vero Beach in Florida, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and on Oahu, Hawaii is the beautiful Aulani resort. Additionally, points can be used to trade to other non-Disney timeshares around the world with RCI, and depending on how you purchase, possibly for Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney vacations...but more about that later.

Enjoying the spaciousness of a Grand Villa at Old Key West with our friends
Each year you have an allotment of points to use to book your accommodations. Depending on when you vacation and what size room you will require will help you determine how many points you should purchase. We opted to purchase 270 points. Each year we have those 270 points to use to book our vacation. This allows us to book a 2 bedroom villa for a week in a slower season, or a 1 bedroom in a busier season. We could even book a studio for a few weeks!

Points are able to be banked and borrowed for up to one year. If you took a shorter vacation this year and didn't use all your points, you can bank them into the following year. Or if you want to take extended family on your trip with you this year and need more points, you can borrow from next year. For a better idea of how many points are needed, a look at Disney's points charts will help.

Here is an example to give you an idea of how many points are needed, the 2013 Points Chart for Animal Kingdom Villas. The points for 2014 are the same. There is no need to worry that after you purchase Disney will suddenly make your room that was 100 points cost 200.  While they can make small changes here and there on the charts, the total number of points on the chart cannot change. So, if they decide to require 2 more points per night during the month of April, then they need to decrease the point requirement by 2 points somewhere else on the chart.

Using our 270 points, lets look at the above chart and see how we could use those points to vacation at Disney. If my hubby and I wanted to take a quick weekend to celebrate my birthday in early June and check out Star Wars Weekends, we could book a studio with a savanna view for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for a total of 53 points.  Then we could take the entire family to see the Christmas decorations and attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in early December for a week in a 2 bedroom villa with a standard view at a cost of 220 points.  This uses a total of 273 points! If I wanted to save a few points for next year, we could book 6 nights rather than the full 7 and still have a lengthy vacation, but only use 190 points for the week.This year I happen to have 3 extra points in my account, leftover from last year, but I could also borrow 3 points for next year.  Another option is to purchase "One Time Use Points" from DVC when I make my reservation. These points can be purchased at a cost of $15 each, and a maximum of 25 points can be purchased this way. It adds a little bit of additional flexibility in your planning if you are a few points short.

Eleven months before your check-in date, you can book whichever resort you own. This is called "Home Booking Priority".  Seven months before check-in, you can book any of the other DVC resorts that still have availability for your dates. We have had good success booking non-home resorts at the seventh month mark for slower times of year. 

We own at Animal Kingdom, and so far it truly is our favorite resort. If we were unable to book a different resort at seven months, we would not be disappointed staying at our home resort.

Since our original purchase in 2009, our family has grown from 5 members to 6, and our DVC membership is flexible enough that it has been able to change with us. At some point we are planning on expanding our membership by adding points, but for now, we still feel like we are getting a great value for our purchase!

Our now larger family at our home resort Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village Feb. 2014

In upcoming installments I'll go into more details about Disney Vacation Club including information about picking the best DVC resort for your family, different methods of purchasing a DVC contract, is it a good option for your family, the benefits and drawbacks of owning DVC, how to try it out before making a large purchase, and how to make the most of your membership!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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