Disney Vacation Club

disney-vacation-clubSeveral years ago April and I became Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members and we have not regretted it a single day. If you have read our About Us page, you know that I was not enthralled about going to Disney World at all, but when we got down there something magical happened to me.

Every little stress of life seemed to melt away on our very first park visit. I did not think about work the entire week, which is rare for me. It was then that we really got into all things Disney World and we have not looked back. I would say it’s probably a topic of conversation for us at least a few times per week. We are even in the process of planning three vacations to Disney World in Orlando right now.

What is the Disney Vacation Club?

In simple terms, it’s a timeshare, but it is a very unique one.  No Disney Cast Member will ever refer to it as such, but let’s face it, that’s exactly what it is.

Disney Vacation Club is a points based system, so you can vacation whenever you want. You’re not buying a specific week like you used to with the old timeshare programs.

The amount of points it costs to stay at a resort varies greatly both by resort and by the time of year. Obviously, the more desirable the resort and the busier the time of year, the more points it will cost you. Weeknights are also always less expensive than weekends.

You get your allotment of points for the year in a month that is called your “use year”. For example, our use year for both sets of points we have purchased is in June. So every June we get our full allotment of points.

Your points must be used or banked for the following year within your use year or borrowed from a previous year. In our example, we received our last allotment in June of 2014. We must use those points between June 2014 and June 2015 or bank them for use in the following year. Unused, banked points expire. You cannot bank points for more than one year.

Boardwalk Inn by Silent Wind of Doom at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Boardwalk Inn by Silent Wind of Doom is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

You can also borrow points from next year. Say we have 100 points but we want to take a vacation that will cost us 280 points. We did not go last year and banked all of our points to this year. So we currently have 200 points, 100 from this year and 100 banked from last year. We can then borrow 80 points from next year to use for this year.

You can only borrow points from the following use year. You cannot borrow 2017 use year points in your 2015 use year. You can only borrow from the 2016 use year.

With all of that said, it is still a very flexible system. And if you ever have questions, the Cast Members are extremely helpful.

What resorts are included?

Disney's Grand Floridian by Scdis32 is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Disney’s Grand Floridian by Scdis32 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The quality of the resorts is outstanding. You can stay at any of the Disney Deluxe resorts. The vast majority of them are on the Disney World property in Orlando, FL, but there is also Aulani in Hawaii, Vero Beach in Vero Beach, FL, the Grand Californian on the Disneyland property and the Hilton Head Island resort in Hilton Head, SC. Here is the full list:

You can also use your points to go on a Disney Cruise. I, personally, do not advocate this. I don’t think using points for a cruise is a good value because it costs so many to use them this way. I think the better value is to pay cash for a cruise and bank your points if you cannot also make it to another DVC resort that year.

Disney Wonder at Port Canaveral by Rennett Stow is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Disney Wonder at Port Canaveral by Rennett Stow is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Can I exchange points and vacation somewhere else?

Yes, there is an exchange program through an RCI exchange program. RCI is the leading exchange program and offers over 500 locations to choose from. There is a non-refundable $95 transaction fee associated with an exchange.

This gives you the option to leverage your DVC membership anywhere in the world.

What if I can’t use my points?

If you have banked points and know that you are not going to be able to use them you can rent them out. There are a few folks who provide that service and we have actually taken advantage of it. The absolute best place to rent is from David’s Vacation Club Rentals. That is the only place we use or recommend.

Is it worth it?

You really have to do the math on this for yourself. For us it has worked out extremely well. So well that we bought a second allotment of points and are actually talking about getting a third allotment as well.

The payments on our “mortgage” were easy to make and the interest on the load is a tax write off since you are technically buying a deed. I would not make a purchase for this reason, though. But here is why we think it is worth it. If we had booked our room without using our DVC membership for our first two stays, we would have paid more than we did for our entire membership. It more than paid for itself in two stays.

Are there other benefits?

There are a few other benefits. You can read in-depth about them here. A few of the highlights are discounts on lockers, free parking at the parks, occasional offers for discounted annual passes and exclusive offerings.

How do you become a member of Disney Vacation Club?

There are a couple of different ways to join DVC. One is directly through Disney who is currently selling at the Aulani and Polynesian resorts. When you purchase your points you have to select a home resort. You can still use your points at any of the Disney resorts but you get the added benefit of being able to book a few months earlier than anyone else at your home resort. Our home resort is Animal Kingdom for all of our points but we may buy at a different resort for our next allotment because that is a great benefit.

Right now the points are selling for $165/point for both Aulani and the Polynesian. They have gone up in price nearly every year since we became members.

There are also a few places to by “used” points as well. Because we have not gone down that road yet, I don’t feel qualified to talk about it yet. Like I mentioned earlier, we will likely be purchasing more points soon and we are really considering going the used route.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or feedback I’d love to hear them. Just leave me a comment below.

 

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Yesterday I wrote a review of our most recent stay at Disney’s Beach Club Villas. Today I want to share with you another review of probably our favorite Disney World resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge!

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This place makes me very happy. For full disclosure, I must admit that this review may be a bit biased. We are DVC members (Disney Vacation Club) and Animal Kingdom Lodge is our home resort. This is also the very first resort we ever stayed at on Disney World property.

Savanna

Probably the biggest attraction to Animal Kingdom Lodge is the savanna. You can even get rooms that overlook it. The animals are quite active in the mornings and again in the evening. It is really neat being able to sip coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening with your own private view of Anikole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant’s Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson’s Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, and White-Bearded Wildebeest.

Animal Kingdom Lodge by Dave & Margie Hill is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge by Dave & Margie Hill is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Unfortunately there are no lions. They would eat the gazelle and you would probably have a crying child.

If you are not fortunate enough to get a savanna view room there are plenty of places for you to view the savanna from within the resort.

There are actually four savannas at the resort. Pembe which is along the Northern tip of Kidani Village (more on Kidani Village vs Jambo House later), Sunset which is sandwiched between Kidani Village and Jambo House, Arusha which is in the “horseshoe” of Jambo House and Uzima which is in the south east portion of Jambo House.

All four of the savannas will have animal activity. They all also have savanna overlooks (viewing areas) and there are frequently qualified cast members talking about what animals are in the savanna. It’s great for kids of all ages.

Rooms

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is enormous. It is actually split into two building. The first is Jambo House. Jambo House actually started as a Deluxe Disney World hotel. Some years later it was transformed into villas. What this means is that the Jambo House rooms are slightly larger than the Kidani rooms but will be shorter one bathroom for both one and two bedroom villas.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Room by DebMomOf3 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge Room by DebMomOf3 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The image above is a picture of a studio. The possible configurations are as follows.

  • Studio – Two Queens (or a queen and a pullout sofa) – Sleeps 4
  • One Bedroom – One King, One Queen Sleeper Sofa, One Pullout Chair – Sleeps 5
  • Two Bedroom – One King, Two Queens, One Queen Sleeper Sofa, One Pullout Chair – Sleeps 9

There is also a 3 bedroom bungalow that is two floors, sleeps up to 12 and has 4 bathrooms. You should also note that the two bedroom is a lockout meaning it is a one bedroom and a studio with an interior door between them.

When deciding to book between the two buildings I usually think Kidani is better for a couple of reasons. The first is, as I mentioned before, the one and two bedrooms get an additional bath as compared to Jambo House. That is important when you have a few teens traveling with you.

Kidani is also a little bit quieter than Jambo House is. Jambo House’s lobby is incredibly impressive. If you are there from November – January you should stop by to see the Christmas decorations. The tree is very impressive.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Wide Angle by MBL Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Animal Kingdom Lodge Wide Angle by MBL Photography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

As you can see in the picture above, the tree stretches three stories high. There are other nice touches as well during the Christmas period.

Dining

The dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is excellent. I know I say that about nearly every resort but Disney does take its dining seriously. There are three table service restaurants on the grounds; Boma, Sana and Jiko.

Boma – Flavors of Africa is a buffet located on the lower level of Jambo House. It has a carving station with a few different meats. They are roasted in a traditional American style, but then there are about five African sauces to kick them up if you want. They are both good by themselves and with the sauces.

One of our favorite things on the buffet is the lamb curry, but it is not always there. Even when it is not there you are sure to always be able to find something that you like, even if African food is not your cup of rooibos (African tea).

Deserts at Boma Restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World by Mark is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Deserts at Boma by Mark is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Two of our favorite deserts can be found at Boma: Zebra Domes and Kenyan Coffee Tarts. Be forewarned that the coffee tarts do pack a punch. One of our daughters ate a dozen of them once and was bouncing off the walls for several hours.

One other warning on Boma: be prepared to eat. On one occasion, I ate so much that I could barely walk back to our room. I almost laid down in the bushes to wait for the pain to stop.

Boma is open for breakfast and dinner. I cannot speak to the breakfast menu as we have never eaten it there. Also, Boma is very similar to Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom theme park.

Sana is a more traditional Indian restaurant located in the lower level of Kidani Village. Its seating allows for a view of the Sunset savanna which makes for a thrilling dining experience. My favorite dish there is probably the butter chicken, but don’t pass on the naan bread (Indian-style Bread Service). You get your choice of three different types of naan and they are all delicious.

Finally, there is Jiko – The Cooking Place which is located across the hall from Boma. Jiko is a Disney signature (fine dining) restaurant. That means that it is very good but you will fork out a few extra dollars for it. April and I ate there for an anniversary dinner a number of years ago and we were not disappointed.

There are also a few counter service dining options as well as a few lounges. This is one place I would like to see them improve, though.

Pools

There are two great featured pools at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Samawati Springs at Kidani Village and Uzima at Jambo House.

I have mentioned this briefly in other posts, but one great thing about DVC (Disney Vacation Club) membership is that you can pool hop. That means you can enjoy the pools at any resort with a few exceptions (like Storm Along Bay at Beach Club Villas).

One really nice thing about Animal Kingdom Lodge is that you get two featured pools and you can use either of them, even if you are a “regular” guest as long as you are staying there. At Uzima they usually show movies at night so you can take a dip and enjoy a movie on a large projector screen.

Both pools have a bar that also serves sandwiches and snacks (Maji at Samawati Springs and Uzima Springs at Uzima). The Mara is also not far from Uzima.

Uzima Pool at Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Uzima Pool at Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I do tend to prefer Samawati Springs. One reason is we usually stay at Kidani. The other is it is a bit quieter, which is important to me. Either are great options though. Both pools have slides and kiddie play areas.

Proximity

I do hear a lot of people complain about the location of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is on the edge of Disney’s property, but very close to Animal Kingdom itself. Also, because there are two buildings, the transportation can get a bit chaotic, particularly at Jambo House.

The way the buses run, the parks pick up first at Kidani Village then swing down to Jambo House. That means that if there are long lines at both buildings it may take a while for you to catch a ride.

animal-kingdom-lodge-bus-stop
Waiting for the bus at Kidani Village

We have seen a few times when the bus filled up at Kidani Village so there was no room left for guests to board at Jambo House. This is typically not the norm in low season but it can be a real problem when Disney World is busier.

The bus ride is probably in the neighborhood of 20 minutes or so to Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios and 5 – 10 minutes to Animal Kingdom.

One quick note on transportation between the buildings: as I mentioned before, all of the theme park buses stop at Kidani first then go on to Jambo. Downtown Disney Disney Springs stops at Jambo first then goes on to Kidani. So if you want to hop a bus between the two buildings, jump on a Disney Springs bus if you are at Jambo or any park bus if you are at Kidani. We usually walk but it can be quite a hike depending on where in the building you are.

Pros

  • Savanna views
  • Close to Animal Kingdom
  • Good dining options
  • Large resort with lots of rooms
  • Two featured resort pools to choose from

Cons

  • Longer travel distances to Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios
  • Large resort means busy transportation
  • Only Disney transportation is by bus
  • Due to the size of the resort you may have a long walk to the pool, especially at Kidani Village
  • Limited counter service dining, especially at Kidani Village

Would we stay here again? Absolutely. In fact we have a trip booked for December, 2015 that we are really looking forward to. I actually do not view the cons of this review of this resort to be that big of a deal. But I have heard other people complain about them so I felt they are definitely worth mentioning. I can see the size being an issue if you have difficulty walking for long periods of time.

Have you stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge before? Leave us a comment with your experience.

 

Disney’s Beach Club Villas

 

Today I want to give you our perspective of Disney’s Beach Club Villas. We stayed there for a few nights in September of 2014. Our opinion of the resort is a bit of a mixed bag. We would definitely stay there again, but you have to understand what you are getting yourself into.

Playing Catchup Part III by
Playing Catchup Part III by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The grounds are breathtaking as you can see in the few images I’ve included here. As usual with Disney, the attention to detail is great. When we arrived, our checkin was expedient and we were in our one bedroom villa within about 30 minutes.

The rooms at Disney’s Beach Club Villas are smaller than what we were used to at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, but they were comfortable and large enough that we did not feel crowded. The decor was something like what you would expect from a beach cottage. The colors were a mixture of pastel and warm hue.

The kitchen was fully furnished. There was enough flatware and plates that our entire family of five could eat in the room. It was also equipped with a dishwasher and other necessities (such as wine glasses!!!).

There were several reasons we were excited to stay here and here are just a few of them.

Cape May Cafe

For starters, one our favorite restaurants for dinner is at the Beach Club Villas resort, Cape May Cafe. This restaurant is a buffet that is supposed to resemble a New England clam bake. Now, I’m from New England, and they missed the mark by a long shot on that, but the food is good.

The buffet consists of snow crab legs, steamed clams, steamed muscles, peal and eat shrimp and a carving station with beef sirloin (the only cut you call “sir”) and pork loin. There is also a full salad bar and some other more ethnic seafood staples such as paella which I would not consider an authentic Spanish paella but is tasty, non the less.

On the salad bar they always have either New England clam chowder or a fish chowder. I prefer the fish chowder but they are both very good. I do not recall ever seeing a Manhattan clam chowder there, but it is supposed to be a New England clam bake so one would not expect a Manhattan chowder. Then again I would not expect a carving station or peal and eat shrimp either. But I digress.

There are sides such as mashed potatoes, green beans, steamed new (red) potatoes, steamed corn and a great selection of bread. The steamed potatoes and corn are a nod to a traditional clam bake. I cannot give you a very good review of most of the side items because I rarely waste precious stomach real estate when there are crabs and clams on the table.

There is also a kid’s section with pizza, chicken nuggets and other kid’s staples as well as a desert section that has a great variety of deserts. Most of the deserts are what I would call “bites”. They are small but that just gives you opportunity to try more.

The quality of the food is usually really good, but keep in mind this is a buffet. Keep an eye out for when they are putting fresh crab legs out. The muscles and clams don’t seem to matter much but it is very easy to overcook crab legs and they will continue to cook under the warming lights and get soggy or harder to shuck and eat.

While I do love crab legs, I love clams and muscles more. They are both very good at this restaurant.

We really love Cape May Cafe. Our entire family loves seafood so we always eat here when we are at Disney World. One drawback that I would illustrate is that it is a very popular restaurant. We have never had a problem getting in but we have had to stay flexible with our time on a few occasions. One time we took one of the last seating’s and towards the end of the meal we felt like the staff was ready for us to leave. Grant it, when I go to a buffet like this I plan on at least an hour or more of eating so maybe their snide looks were somewhat justified, but they still were not appreciated.

Disney's Beach Club Villas by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Disney’s Beach Club Villas by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Other Dining Options

In addition to Cape May Cafe there are a ton of other great places to eat. The options in the resort in addition to Cape May are Yachtsman’s Steakhouse, Beaches and Cream, Captain’s Grill and Hurricane Hanna’s. Hurricane Hanna’s is a counter service by the pool. There are also sandwiches and other food items available from the Beach Club Market Place and there are three cocktail lounges where you can usually get hors d’oeuvresand and/or finger foods.

In addition to the dining on the resort, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort is a very short (and pretty) walk around Crescent Lake. There are a few table and counter service restaurants there, one of which is Big River Grill and Brewing Works that has a very good steak, is moderately priced and has a decent selection of beer.

Also you are another very short walk to Epcot, which, in my humble opinion, has the best dining options in all of Walt Disney World. More on that below.

The Pool

All of The LightsAll of The Lights by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

One of the best features of Disney’s Beach Club Villas is the pool. This thing rivals small water parks. It has its own lazy river and parts of the pool have a sandy bottom. There is even a place on “shore” to build a sand castle. There is also music piped into the pool that you can hear under water.

The resort provides tubes for use at the lazy river. We have heard that they can run out of tubes and I’ve read several reviews that state that they found it impossible to get one. That was not our experience. While it was busy, we did not have an issue getting one at all.

There is a slide that my youngest daughter, Iris, loved going down. It starts from the mast of a ship wreck on Crescent Lake (the body of water the resort is on).

 

Beach Club Pool Water Slide by Chuck Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Beach Club Pool Water Slide by Chuck Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The pool at this resort is exempt from DVC’s pool hopping policy. That means that only guests staying at Disney’s Beach Club Resort or Disney’s Yacht Club Resort are eligible to use this pool. I believe this is the only resort pool that has cast members manning the gate to enforce this policy.

Please note that you cannot pool hop at all if you are not a DVC member. Pool hopping is only eligible for DVC members.

Proximity

Probably the best thing about Disney’s Beach Club Villas is the proximity. You are a short walk from the back entrance to Epcot which is located between France and England pavilions on the World Showcase. April and I plan on staying here again for the Food and Wine Festival in the near future because of the fact that it is so close to the Epcot entrance.

epcot-spaceship-earth

It’s a bit longer of a walk but you can also walk to Hollywood Studios. Most people recommend taking the boat there but if you stay for Fantasmic (my favorite Disney World night time spectacle) having the option to walk is nice versus waiting in line for transportation.

One Major Detractor

If there is a detractor for Disney’s Beach Club Resort, it would be that it is incredibly busy. Even staying here in off season the lobby and pool are going to be very crowded. This was a bit of a contrast for us.

We usually go to Disney World in the lower seasons. On our stay at the Beach Club we arrived in mid-September which is usually pretty light on the crowd scale. Other resorts such as Animal Kingdom Lodge and Old Key West are much quieter this time of year.

We requested a specific room towards the back of the resort which is closer to Epcot. We had a slight view of the Eiffel Tower in the France pavilion. As a result we could hear the bands play at Epcot from inside the room. This is not the case for all rooms, but you may want to take that into consideration if this is something that would bother you.

I would still highly recommend this resort.

Pros

  • Great exclusive pool (no pool hopping allowed)
  • Great dining options
  • Spacious enough room for a family of five with two teens
  • Well appointed kitchen
  • Location – walking distance to two parks and two resorts

Cons

  • Busy lobby
  • Busy pool
  • Can be a bit on the loud side