Disney Vacation Club Resort Timeline, Part 3

Now that we’ve covered the earliest days and the growth phase of the Disney Vacation Club, it’s time to bring the story to the present day. That covers the past ten years of changes, improvements, and additions to the DVC catalog. The focus of the final discussion will involve exotic Hawaii and then the prioritization of locality to the world’s most popular theme park. Before we begin that analysis, however, we need to look at Disney’s first attempt to push back the deadline on its artificially constrained time limit for DVC membership. It’s…messy.

Grand Floridian

Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Most timeshares function as permanent real estate ownership interests. As all DVC owners know, Disney handles their business quite differently. They place a restraint on the length of membership, which is the same as length of ownership. Independent of where you own, your agreement with Disney ends as soon as 2042. That’s seven Presidential elections from now, so it’s not like you’re sweating the end of the line with DVC. Still, this knowledge does cause some problems for both consumers and the only true supplier, Disney.

In 2007, the company attempted something novel. They offered an unprecedented DVC extension for current owners at Disney’s Old Key West Resort. Anyone who agreed to pay Disney more money for the privilege enjoyed the real estate equivalent of a contract extension. For $25 per point, members pushed the departure date from the program by 15 years. The original deadline was January 31, 2042, but the buyers who extended now have a DVC exit date of January 31, 2057.

While the details appear innocuous enough, this issue has proven as divisive as any in the history of DVC. One of the most frustrating aspects for potential buyers was that the deal came with a time limit. It was a one-time only extension offer. Disney held a special meeting on September 24, 2007, to announce the historic Disney’s Old Key West Resort arrangement. They pulled the offer from the table on February 29, 2008, a Leap Year’s Day barely five months after the meeting.

As you might recall, 2007 was a brutal year for the global economy. DVC members facing mortgage woes didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars immediately for a problem they wouldn’t face until 2042. The issue of immediacy became a rallying cry for critics of the deal. As you recall from part one of the DVC timeline, Disney pushed 210 points as the magic number for original investors in the program. At $25 a point, they were billing many of their clients $5,250…and at the worst possible time.

Roughly a decade later, many otherwise loyal DVC members are still salty about this arrangement. They feel that if Disney wants to provide DVC contract extensions, those should remain available for the length of the agreement. Other DVC members expressed frustration for different reasons. The only members eligible for the extension were the owners at Old Key West. Everyone else was shut out. It was an odd combination of favoritism and arrogance on the part of Disney.

Financially, the results speak for themselves. Disney earned several million dollars on the project, with estimates as high $20 million. In the process, they effectively sold customers the same thing twice. The second time, the buyers already owned the thing they were purchasing. They simply wanted it for a longer amount of time. Meanwhile, anyone who didn’t buy is left with a less valuable version of ownership at the same resort. Those folks who turned down the extension but filled out the appropriate paperwork did wind up with a lovely lithograph for their troubles, though.

Moving forward, Disney faces certain litigation from the folks who didn’t purchase extensions. They also have positioned their own resort awkwardly moving forward. On February 1st, 2042, a hotel campus more than 50 years old will lose most of its owners. Disney can’t tear down the facility and build anew since a percentage of customers chose to extend, though. The company must continue to handle the upkeep for Old Key West despite having only a fraction of the owners at that point. You don’t even want to think about what the maintenance costs will be in that eventuality. Everyone involved with this situation understands that Disney faces a looming problem, of their own creation, but they also have 25 years to solve it.

Kidani Village

Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom VIllas

The DVC 25-year extension qualifies as the biggest news of 2007, but it wasn’t the only major event. We previously discussed the grand opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas. In three consecutive months in the last summer and fall, Disney also revealed its grand ambitions for the coming decade. The first announcement involved what we now know as the Cars Land expansion at Disneyland. The struggles of Disney‘s California Adventure forced the company to reboot the second gate at the resort (and drop the apostrophe in Disney).

More important, the reboot provided the Disneyland Resort project with more capital, some of which the Parks and Resorts division used to add villas to the already popular Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. By March of 2009, only 18 months after the announcement, DVC villas at Disneyland’s finest hotel went on sale. Due to the paucity of villas and desire of DVC members to enjoy the opportunity to visit Disneyland, the first West Coast DVC property sold out quickly. In October of 2010, Disney announced that Grand Californian was waitlist-only. To this day, it’s arguably the most difficult reservation to acquire at the seven-month window, which speaks volumes about the success of the venture.

Grand Californian

Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

Perhaps the most fascinating expansion Disney planned for the Disney Vacation Club was the one they announced in October of 2007. The Ko Olina project involved a Hawaiian developer named Jeff Stone, and you’ve likely deduced that it evolved into Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. If you read the DVCNews link above, you’ll understand just how much intrigue existed during the early days of the project. It hearkened back to Disney’s failed attempts during the 1990s when they attempted to build resorts in locales lacking Disney theme parks. The Ko Olina construction represents only the third time Disney’s built a DVC property in such an exotic locale. The other two, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, offer less than 320 villas between them.

As a combination of hotel and DVC entity, Aulani offers 359 rooms and 460 villas. The campus resides across 21 acres, which means that this resort alone is a quarter of the size of the entirety of Disneyland. Sales at the Hawaiian DVC property are difficult to track for reasons explained in the initial sales figures post, but the reality is that it’s not the most in-demand resort available. DVCNews analyst Wil Lovato performed some calculations last year, five years after the opening of the resort, which indicate it might not sell out until 2024. Still, it’s the one place that every DVC member who hasn’t visited yet wistfully dreams about staying one day.


Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa

I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention that Aulani suffered the worst snafu in the history of DVC. The planning team on the project miscalculated the dues for DVC members. The maintenance fees they’d listed were so low that Disney officials worried that the park “would eventually face an operating loss or would have to jack up its dues in later years, potentially alienating customers.” Three major DVC executives including Jim Lewis, the President of Disney Vacation Club (!), lost their jobs over the snafu. If you’ve ever wondered about the subsidized dues listings for the resort, that’s the explanation.

The latest phase of the Disney Vacation Club involves the vaunted monorail system at Walt Disney World. When Magic Kingdom opened its doors for the first time in 1971, one of the features that quickly became a media sensation was the monorail system. Two luxurious resorts opened at the same time as Magic Kingdom, and they were accessible by a quick jaunt around the monorail tracks. To this day, the innovation remains one of the coolest aspects of a visit to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

The original hotels that garnered headlines were Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The former featured the jaw-dropping sight of a monorail whooshing right through the belly of the hotel. The latter attracted so many legendary celebrities right from the start that John Lennon actually signed the paperwork to break up the Beatles while vacationing there.

Seventeen years later, the two resorts were arguably eclipsed by the arrival of what’s now considered the signature resort at Walt Disney World if not all theme park-adjacent hotels in the world. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is where Princess Diana stayed when she brought her princely children to Walt Disney World. It’s that sort of place.

All of these events happened long before the Disney Vacation Club even existed. That’s why DVC members fantasized for years about spending their points to stay at the most luxurious hotels at Walt Disney World. This desire existed on top of the frustration owners felt about the placement of DVC properties relative to Magic Kingdom. Only one, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, resided in close proximity to the most popular theme park on the planet, and its primary methods of transportation, buses and boats, weren’t ideal.

Prior to 2009, everyone involved realized that Disney would eventually add DVC villas to the monorail system. What came next was a bit of a surprise, though. Rather than add villas to one of the existing monorail resorts, Disney constructed an entirely new facility from scratch. You know it as Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and it’s THE closest hotel to the front gate of Magic Kingdom. In fact, my Fitbit indicates it’s about 800 steps from the resort lobby to Magic Kingdom’s security check. Disney finally listened to their most loyal customers by adding a brand spanking new facility as close as physically possible to Magic Kingdom.

Bay Lake Tower

Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort

While the addition of a new facility adjoining Disney’s Contemporary Resort pleased countless DVC members, they still wanted a crack at the other two storied monorail resorts. In 2011, DVCNews posted pictures that confirmed the Grand Floridian was undergoing renovations. The primary reason for these updates was the introduction of DVC villas as a new part of the hotel’s inventory. This moment stands as one of the seminal ones in the history of the program. Two decades after its debut, Disney was ready to join its loyal fans with its highest paying customers. Sales for these villas began in 2013. By April of 2015, they were already effectively sold out, reinforcing the notion that members had waited for years if not decades to buy there.

And that brings us to the final phase of the Disney Vacation Club monorail expansion. Right as sales were winding down for the Grand Floridian, the company announced that Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort would also join DVC. They even had a special trick up their sleeve, adding something new to the mix. The final monorail resort would feature super swanky bungalows akin to the ones you’d find while vacationing in the South Pacific. All it costs is somewhere between 115 and 227 points per night! These bungalows also sell for more than $2,000 per night if people who are not in the club want to stay there, which makes them THE bucket list item for every DVC member.

Polynesian Villas

Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows

All three monorail resorts have enjoyed brisk sales since their introductions. Two of the three are already sold out while the newest entry, Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, continues to enjoy strong monthly sales. Disney guests (including myself) love to stay at some of the premiere resorts in the history of Walt Disney World, an option that might prove unaffordable if not for DVC membership.

So, that’s the 25-year history of DVC told in three parts. The question now is what the future holds. We’re already hearing rumors about Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort amidst a vast array of options. Who knows? Maybe an international Disney resort or two is in the offing. No matter what happens over the next decade, we know that the years leading up to 2042 are the ones that hold the most intrigue.

Disney Vacation Club member David Mumpower first visited Walt Disney World when he was six years old. The little brat promptly threw a tantrum because he couldn't find a comfortable shirt to wear around the park. Fortunately Disney shirts got a lot less itchy over the years.  David current writes for a number of websites including "Theme Park Tourist", "Box Office Prophets" and "How Well Do You Know."  To contact him click HERE.