The most subjective debate in the Disney Vacation Club community right now involves a resort that’s not even open yet. Disney’s Riviera Resort embodies the best of Disney Imagineering with its design and theming. Owning a contract here should be a no-brainer.
Frustratingly, DVC management did something regrettable that has damaged the perception of ownership here. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s take an honest, hard look at the situation. Here’s how to decide whether Disney’s Riviera Resort is right for you.
Why the Riviera Is Great
You won’t find a Disney fan with something bad to say about the Riviera Resort. Everyone agrees that it looks like a fitting tribute to Walt Disney and his older brother, Roy. The two men famously visited Europe during the 1930s, a trip that would have a profound impact on their lives.
The hotel’s theming embraces the European sensibilities that bewitched the Disney brothers. The style of the South of France is on display in the architecture, the restaurants, the stores, and especially the hotel rooms.
The hotels on the Mediterranean coast have unmistakably inspired Imagineers in the design of the eateries and bars. Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera, the rooftop restaurant, provides breathtaking views of many landmarks at Walt Disney World.
However, this eatery and lounge is also intended as a gathering place to nurture a beverage in a social setting, just as you’ll find at many Western European cities. Similarly, a coffee shop, Le Petit Café, and Bar Riva are places where Disney encourages guests to spend time at the hotel rather than the parks. For this reason, it’s perfect for laid back DVC members who visit Walt Disney World regularly.
The other selling point of the Riviera is its Disney Skyliner station. When this resort opens, it’ll come with ready access to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You’ll simply board a Skyliner gondola and catch a ride to your preferred destination. Your preferred park is only minutes away. This amenity matters greatly to DVC members, as it allows us to skip buses and boats a lot of the time.
Due to the theming and other hotel features, Disney’s Riviera seems like a great location to buy your first/next DVC contract. But…
The Problem with the Riviera
Disney screwed up with the Riviera. Worried about the soaring popularity of DVC resales, the company did something reckless and short-sighted. DVC introduced new rules for resales purchases at the Riviera.
Those members who choose to buy a resales contract at the Riviera may only stay at the Riviera. Don’t worry. Those of you who owned at DVC before January 17, 2019, are grandfathered in. The change won’t apply to your existing deals. That’s beside the point, though.
The purpose of this discussion is to determine whether buying a Riviera resales contract is a smart move for you. As such, you must understand that when you buy here, your purchase comes with a bit of an asterisk. You’ll only have the ability to use your Riviera DVC points at the Riviera. And that complicates the situation a great deal.
What’s Your Budget?
Is money no object for your family? I’m not looking to pry, but it’s a crucial question in this debate. When you have money to spare, purchasing a contract directly through Disney seems sensible. You don’t face the resales restrictions this way. The catch is that you’re paying a lot more…and I mean A LOT more. If you can afford that, congratulations!
Realistically, for most people, a vacation budget comes with some restraints. You can’t just buy whatever you want, no matter the cost. Instead, you must factor in the added price of direct purchase.
At the time of publication, the Riviera Resort costs $188 per point directly through Disney. The first DVC resales listing at Garden Views Realty has an asking price of $144 per point for 175 points. You’d pay $44 more for each of those 175 points through Disney, which is an added expense of $7,700.
I don’t know many people who would shrug off an extra cost of $7,700 for the same product. To wit, nobody goes into a car dealership and asks, “Can I pay more than sticker price?” The idea is to negotiate down from that number, not up.
Unfortunately, the situation is even more nuanced due to Disney’s unprecedented decision to reduce the value of membership for some Riviera owners. At some point, you may want to sell your DVC contract. Even though the resort suits your needs, it won’t fit everyone’s, and that’ll ding you when it comes to resale value.
Due to these complications, you must debate a few other aspects of buying here to decide whether the purchase is worth the potential downside. For starters…
Where Do You Plan to Stay?
Whenever my friends ask me about DVC – and it happens a lot — I stress the maxim that you should purchase where you plan to stay the most. I regrettably didn’t do this because the hotel that I love the most, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, wasn’t in the DVC program yet. It is now, but I’ve been a member for a long time. So, I have to hope for the best whenever the seven-month window opens, and I try to book the Polynesian. Generally, I’m only able to wait-list most nights and hope for the best.
I say this to demonstrate the real-life problems that come from not owning a contract at the DVC resort where you plan to stay the most. As DVC grows more popular, the situation only gets worse. For this reason, debating a Riviera direct or resales contract comes down to a straightforward question.
Will you stay at the Riviera most of the time? Well, if you plan to purchase via resales, the question is actually, “Are you okay with staying at the Riviera all the time?”
I can’t answer either question for you and couldn’t even hazard a guess. Everyone vacations differently. What I’ll say is that I would go crazy if I were locked out of the monorail resorts and Beach Club. They’re my go-to DVC hotels. The Riviera is a place where I’ll stay sometimes, but it’s certainly never going to be a primary destination.
Even if you feel differently, I’ll suggest a couple of other ideas here. You may find that the safer play is to buy elsewhere. On those occasions when you want to stay at the Riviera, you can always rent your DVC points out, either on your own or through a third-party broker. Then, you can turn around and use that money to rent someone else’s points at the Riviera. I prefer this option because it provides much more flexibility.
How Much Do You Care about Expiration Dates?
One of the strongest selling points of the Riviera is its expiration date. DVC members who buy a contract today will own it until 2070. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to live that long. But there’s excellent news on this front! DVC contracts are deed-able; you can deed them to someone you love when you’re ready to go to The Good Place.
Obviously, an expiration date in 2070, Walt Disney World’s 99th year, represents a strong selling point. It’s legitimately one of the most tempting parts of the Riviera for me.
Of course, those of you who like that idea but don’t want to pay the $7,700 have other options. The Polynesian and the Copper Creek part of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge offer similar expiration dates. The former ends in 2066 while the latter ends in 2068. Those of you who want to do Disney from now until the 2060s won’t notice much difference. If you do, come back and yell at me in 2069. If I’m alive and still have my hearing, I promise to apologize.
Are You Intrigued by the Tower Studios?
Have you ever tried to book a Club Level or Value room type at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas at the seven-month window? It was never easy to do this, but it’s become increasingly difficult in recent years. Hospitality House at Disney’s Old Key West behaves similarly.
Some DVC room types attain a special status amongst members. Booking these accommodations is more challenging. Should you have a preferred room type that falls into this category, you should purchase a contract at the applicable resort. It’s the extreme example of buying at the property where you intend to stay the most.
In the case of the Riviera, the resort features an entirely new room type, the Tower Studio. This room only accommodates two guests, and it’s the smallest DVC room ever at 255 square feet. However, it costs substantially less in terms of points than other hotel rooms.
A Tower Studio requires a modest 81 points for a week’s stay during Adventure Season. The standard studio costs 109 points, while one with a preferred view is 134 points. You can appreciate why Tower Studios will have demand. If these romantic but tiny rooms suit your vacation needs, you probably should get a Riviera contract to guarantee that you can book them.
Have You Considered Annual Dues?
Some people refer to maintenance fees as the hidden cost of DVC ownership. I’ve never subscribed to that philosophy, as the fees are right there in the contract. Disney’s never ran away from the fact that maintaining the villas costs a lot of money. They’re justified to bill guests for the upkeep expenses, and they’re much fairer than timeshare operators.
Still, you should always factor maintenance fees into your DVC contract calculations. And the news is grim at the Riviera. This resort’s fees start at $8.31 per point, which is already the highest of any Walt Disney World property. Previously, the most expensive maintenance fees were at Animal Kingdom Villas, which costs $7.44.
In other words, Riviera isn’t just the highest in terms of maintenance fees. It’s the most expensive by a lot. We’re talking 12 percent. Over the course of a Riviera contract, you’ll pay a lot more for these fees.
Does the Riviera Offer Anything Special?
The answer to this question is absolutely yes. A DVC resort with a Disney Skyliner station is invaluable, especially now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open. Until Disney adds a DVC component at the Star Wars hotel, Galactic Starcruiser, which not happen until 2069, the Skyliner is the next best thing. You can hop on a gondola and head straight to Hollywood Studios. That sounds fantastic, right?
Please don’t get carried away. Remember that Disney has built a Skyliner station at the International Gateway. Rather than getting locked into a single-resort DVC contract, you could just as easily buy into Disney’s BoardWalk Villas or Disney’s Beach Club Villas.
Both of them are only a few hundred steps away from that Skyliner station. Better yet, contracts at these resorts will allow you to stay at all 14 of the original DVC properties. To my mind, that’s a smarter play.
Again, that’s just one person’s opinion, though. I absolutely understand why some members will fall in love with the Riviera. It’s beautiful to look at, and it comes with several pragmatic amenities. The goal here is to guide you toward asking the right questions before you buy your first/next contract. I hope this discussion has helped!