The Disney Vacation Club (DVC) has satisfied millions of customers since its inception in December of 1991. Over the years, the club has experienced countless highs and lows, which is true of any business. It does lead to a logical question, though. Which were the most significant DVC events? I originally collated a list with more than 25 options before settling on my final selections. Here are my choices for the seven most important moments in DVC history.
1991 – Disney’s Old Key West Opens
I’m posting my choices chronologically rather than in order of importance. Otherwise, this event would stand apart as the most significant moment ever. Without the success of Disney’s Old Key West (OKW), none of what happened next was even possible.
In 1991, The Walt Disney Company finally asserted dominance in the timeshare industry, a business worth $400 million to Central Florida during the 1980s. They created the Disney Vacation Club to bring back much of the hotel revenue that other Orlando timeshares had gained in Disney’s absence.
Without turning into a semantics discussion about whether DVC is a true timeshare, the concept of the extended stay hotel is intrinsic to both. The arrival of OKW signaled that Disney wouldn’t look the other way any longer as competitors lured Walt Disney World vacationers to non-Disney resorts. Originally called The Disney Vacation Club Resort, OKW had the look and feel of a classic Florida timeshare, only with superior Disney theming and close proximity to Walt Disney World’s three theme parks (Disney’s Animal Kingdom wouldn’t debut until 1998).
1996 – Disney Doubles Down on DVC
At the start of 1996, the DVC program had precisely two participants: The Disney Vacation Club Resort (which would change its name to Old Key West two weeks later on January 15th) and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. The first six months of 1996 would alter the course of DVC, as Imagineers introduced two new properties.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort opened on March 1, 1996. In the process, it doubled the number of beach resorts in the DVC lineup. During the earliest days of the program, Disney followed standard timeshare principles by prioritizing premiere vacation getaway destinations.
While Hilton Head is a wonderful property, the other resort helped to alter Disney’s plans for the future of DVC. Disney’s BoardWalk Villas debuted as part of the BoardWalk complex close to the International Gateway at Epcot. Its proximity to the second most popular gate at Walt Disney World enticed guests to buy points here.
By doing so, these vacationers had easy access to the World Showcase, something that DVC members have appreciated more with each passing year. The success of this resort informed Disney’s decision about DVC. Corporate executives realized that beaches and other tourist areas are lovely, but DVC members prefer spending their vacation time (and points!) at Disney theme parks. During 1996, Disney doubled their properties while discovering the best path forward for the DVC program.
1997 – The Phantom DVC Resort at Newport Beach
Even a corporation with the impressive track record of Disney can’t win them all. Back in the early 1990s, DVC executives meticulously planned their second participating property. At the time, Disney focused on new builds rather than adding villas to existing resorts, the concept to which they’ve gravitated in recent years.
The thinking at the time was what I just mentioned above. Most timeshares of the era were at tourist destinations, primarily ones with beaches. Since Disneyland was only 20 miles away from Newport Beach, corporate strategists embraced the idea of a new facility close to the Happiest Place on Earth. They didn’t have a strong option for building at Disneyland due to the lack of land, and so a beachfront resort seemed like the ideal fallback option.
Disney announced plans for a 35-acre construction on the Newport coast. You can read the original Los Angeles Times article about it here. Disney paid $24 million for this expensive piece of Southern California real estate before they realized the truth about their membership program. As this article notes, sales at Vero Beach and Hilton Head weren’t as strong as Disney had hoped/projected. Building a third DVC property without convenient theme park access wasn’t the smart move at the time. Disney canceled the project, thereby making Newport Beach the greatest DVC resort that never was.
2000 – DVC Reaches the Magic Kingdom
For all the amazing benefits of DVC during its first decade in existence, it lacked one critical element. None of the properties was close to Magic Kingdom, the most popular theme park on the planet. DVC members lamented the lack of convenient access to their favorite Walt Disney World gate, an understandable frustration.
For its part, Disney felt ambivalent about the next step in the DVC program. Yes, park planners wanted a DVC presence close to Magic Kingdom, but they also understood that the monorail resorts shared a certain luster. Adding villas at one of these properties might lessen their appeal to the elite clientele who stay there.
Eventually, Disney settled on a fine compromise option. They added villas to one of their newest resorts. You may not even realize this, but Disney’s Wilderness Lodge pre-dates its DVC participation. The hotel opened in 1994 and wouldn’t add DVC rooms for more than six years.
Once Disney’s Wilderness Lodge introduced villas; however, DVC members savored their newfound proximity to Magic Kingdom. It’s only a boat ride away from the property. I’m talking about a serene seven-minute trip that even offers a great view of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at one point. While some DVC members felt disappointment that they still couldn’t buy at a monorail resort, the beauty of Wilderness Lodge’s lobby and grounds quickly won over virtually everyone.
2007 – DVC Members Get to Stay at a Zoo
All DVC resorts are breathtaking in scope and style. No business in the world can match Disney in the skill of theming. Still, one DVC resort is special, even by Disney standards. It’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas, one of Disney’s most important expansions of the 21st century.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge opened to the public in April of 2001. Its inimitable theme is African Wildlife Preserve, a pointed way of saying that this property hosts a functional zoo. Here, Disney caretakers protect several species that live in a (somewhat) natural habitat built by Imagineers. It’s a stunning achievement in hotel structure, as humans and animals inhabit virtually the same space.
When Jambo Village opened to club participants in 2007, it provided an unprecedented view. Guests staying in the Savannah View rooms could look out their window and see several animal species frolicking. There’s nothing like this experience anywhere else in the world. It’s only available at Walt Disney World, and DVC members can enjoy it from now until 2057!
2009 – Monorail! Monorail!
But the addition of Wilderness Lodge in 2000 only distracted DVC members away from their true desire for a while. After a few years, Disney felt pressured to add a true monorail resort as a participant in the program. After all, three of the most famous Disney resorts ever constructed are also monorail stops. Oddly, Disney’s first choice for a DVC presence on the monorail wasn’t a hotel property inasmuch as a wing. Specifically, it was the North Wing of Disney’s Contemporary Resort that Imagineers demolished in order to make room for a new property.
That DVC resort is Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the closest hotel to Magic Kingdom. When it opened in 2009 (a month prior to the next selection), it became arguably the best positioned DVC property. The hotel lobby of this resort is only 800 steps away from the entrance to the most trafficked theme park in the world. Yes, I’ve counted.
Disney gradually expanded their DVC presence to the other monorail resorts. While Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort both have their admirers, the seminal moment for DVC members was the arrival of a monorail property in 2009. All owners had to do was walk across the fifth floor bridge to reach the legendary fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the place with great shops and restaurants and, most importantly, the monorail!
2009 – DVC Reaches Disneyland
After the aborted Newport Beach attempt, Disney still lacked a DVC presence at the world’s first theme park. These followers of Walt Disney understood that Disneyland needed a DVC resort. Adding one wasn’t easy, though. The Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel were the only two Disney-owned properties at the Disneyland Resort, and Disney hadn’t built either one of them. Instead, they’d acquired both resorts from others. Neither property offered great expansion options.
In 2001, a third option arrived. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa debuted at (almost) the same time as Disney California Adventure (DCA). Park planners didn’t want to build DVC villas at the same time as the rest of hotel, presumably to make it more exclusive. Disney also famously miscalculated the anticipated appeal of DCA, which struggled during its first several years of existence. With the benefit of hindsight, they could have used the DVC option as a selling point to increase park attendance and hotel occupancy rates.
Alas, DVC members would have to wait until 2009 for villas to arrive at the Grand Californian. When they did, their popularity was immeasurable. Even nine years later, the Grand Californian remains one of the most difficult reservations to book for DVC members. The beauty of the facility hearkens back to the majesty of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, only with California Redwoods and other Golden State trees on display. To this day, it’s the only DVC option at Disneyland. Rumors persist of another location opening in the area but like Newport Beach before them, they’ll qualify as vaporware until Disney (finally) breaks ground.