There are lots of things Disney Vacation Club users expect to find no matter what DVC resort he or she chooses. While DVC studios are similar to a Disney hotel room (with the added helpfulness of a kitchenette), the villas are a home-away-from-home with a fully-equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, private bedroom(s), dining table, and some living space.
There is no bad DVC choice, but, depending on what kind of vacation you’re planning, whether it’s a non-stop-park-hopping or a relax-and-recharge resort visit, it’s good to know the advantages of each location. This is an overview of some pros and cons of Walt Disney World’s DVC properties.
Disney’s Old Key West Resort (1991)
The original Disney Vacation Club Resort, Old Key West Resort, has the largest units and great Florida theming. If your first Disney visit is also your first visit to Florida, Old Key West is a “twofer” in that respect. Old Key West is the perfect place for long stays because it takes fewer points to book here and the units are spacious. You’re clearly in a condo, not a hotel. The way the campus is set up, guests have the ability to park right in front of his or her unit (Saratoga Springs has this advantage, too). Since the rebirth of Disney Springs, Old Key West is most appealing when I want to focus my vacation on Disney Springs (it has its own boat transportation to and from the area) or when I’m not just visiting Disney but have also planned day trips to places like Kennedy Space Center, the beach, Universal, or Orlando.
(Old Key West’s Con: You need to depend on Disney transportation to leave the resort, or you need a car. You can’t safely walk to any of the parks, other resorts or Disney Springs, not even Typhoon Lagoon, which is just across the street.)
Disney’s BoardWalk Villas (1996)
If you want a Disney vacation with nightlife right outside your door, this is a location to choose. My favorite part about staying at the BoardWalk is the walkability to Epcot AND Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I don’t have to rely on Disney transportation to get me to rope drop in the morning or back to my bed at night. If I’m craving something great to eat between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., all I have to do is use the International Gateway to Epcot and I’m in the World Showcase. Plus, there is all the fun of the actual boardwalk area (evening entertainment, great ice cream, Abracadabar, Il Mulino, Mandara Spa, Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf, and lots more). The BoardWalk Inn also houses my favorite writers’ hangout, the Belle Vue Lounge.
(BoardWalk Con: The creepy clown slide at the pool.)
As part of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Boulder Ridge’s privacy and northwest feel really add a different element to a Disney vacation. Even though the Villas are situated next to the lodge, don’t bypass walking into the main lobby on your first visit. It’s a first impression not to be missed. It’s also my favorite place to visit during the holidays. This resort (as well as the newer Copper Creek Villas) lets guests have two different vacations in the same stay. You can spend one day getting a theme park fix and the next day at the campground and ranch enjoying archery or horseback riding. Situated on Bay Lake, you can relax and read near the water during the day and watch the Electric Water Pageant at night. Boat transportation will bring you directly to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, or Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The resort also has a marina. One of the best invites our family ever received was to join our cousins on a pontoon ride from Wilderness Lodge to the Seven Seas Lagoon to see the 4thof July fireworks.
(Boulder Ridge Con: Staying there makes me miss the River Country Water Park that closed in 2001.)
Disney’s Beach Club Villas (2002)
The Beach Club is located right next to the BoardWalk Villas and has all the same location perks, so I won’t go into that. However, what puts Beach Club a notch above BoardWalk (in my opinion) is Stormalong Bay—the resort’s 3-acre pool. I love this pool, and anyone who wants pool time to be a big part of their vacation, won’t be disappointed with this DVC. Stormalong Bay is a sand-bottom pool with tons of lounging space. The west side of the pool has a zero-depth entry and a sand bar—great for kids. The pool features a giant pirate ship slide, a deep whirlpool, hot tub, and a pool bar that serves pretty good grub. I believe this is the best resort pool on all of Disney property.
Beach Club also sports “a beach”. Since swimming in Florida lakes is not advised (it’s very dangerous), the “beach” is relatively quiet and a great place to relax and read.
(Beach Club Con: You have to book early. Units go quickly.)
DVC points stretch further at Saratoga Springs, and it’s the easiest resort to reserve at the last minute. The campus is very large, so if you love to start your day with a morning walk, you’ll have plenty of space to roam. It also has a golf course on site, nice pools, and a spa. This is a great location for a golf retreat, spa getaway, or shopping weekend (there’s a walking path from the resort to the Disney Springs Marketplace).
(Saratoga Springs Con: The large campus is not as “homey” as smaller DVC resorts.)
In 2009, Saratoga Springs added 60 Treehouse Villas to its DVC offerings. Treehouse Villas are those hexagon-shaped structures on 10-foot pedestals located in the forested area along the Sassagoula River. If you’re into “glamping,” then a Treehouse Villa might fit your style. They are incredibly private. The 60 units share one pool and large hot tub (which is probably the cleanest in all of Walt Disney World due to how few people access it).
But what I really, really like about the Treehouses is the third private bedroom. Usually, for a group of 8-9 guests, DVC members need to book a 2-bedroom villa for the master bedroom with one bed, second bedroom with two beds, and pullouts in the living room. Treehouses also sleep 9 but offer a master bedroom with one bed, a second bedroom with one bed, a third bedroom with a bunk bed, and pullouts in the living room.
(Treehouses Villas Con: Because there are only 60 units, Treehouses are incredibly hard to book.)
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas (Jambo House 2007 and Kidani Village 2009)
If you are an early riser, there is nothing better than drinking a cup of coffee on the balcony of your Animal Kingdom Villa as you watch the savannah come to life. It is breathtaking and different every morning. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is the most unique resort of all the Florida properties. If you choose to stay here, give yourself at least a half day to explore and enjoy this resort. Both its architecture and art are worth learning about. The resort consists of two houses—Jambo House and Kidani Village. Each has its own savannah, restaurants, pool, and bus transportation. A walking path connects the two. If you love Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, this is the location that is closest to the park. Unfortunately, there is no walking path, but it’s an extremely short bus trip to the front gate.
This is my favorite resort for food. All of its restaurants—Sanaa, Jiko, Boma, and The Mara—are excellent. Don’t let the term African Cuisine scare you away. If you are a steak lover, mac and cheese lover, bread lover, or stew lover, you will find a dish to please your palate. If I’m at the Animal Kingdom theme park and ready to leave around dinner time, I’d much rather venture over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to eat than eat at the park.
(Animal Kingdom Cons: Bus transportation to the Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs feels like an eternity. At Kidani, if you receive the last room at the end of the wing, your walk from the lobby is over 10 minutes long.)
Bay Lake Tower (2009)
Bay Lake Tower is the best place to stay for easy access to the Magic Kingdom. If you want to feel like you are practically living in the Magic Kingdom, this is the choice. Bay Lake Tower has a great view of the park and a rooftop lounge with a viewing deck to see the fireworks. Even if you are not staying at Bay Lake, DVC members can access the roof as long as it’s not too crowded. I love this location because you have two fantastic options for getting to the Magic Kingdom—the monorail or a short walk across the street. If you have young kids with you and someone needs a nap, it’s easy to get back to this resort quickly. And, best of all, at the end of the day, when the fireworks are over and you’re extremely tired, Bay Lake guests don’t have to wait for a bus or a ferry or even a monorail. All you have to do is cross the street.
It’s also lovely to be on the “monorail loop.” With very little effort, you are able to travel from your resort to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the Magic Kingdom, or the Transportation and Ticket Center for transfer to Epcot. It’s a great location.
(Bay Lake Tower Con: It takes a lot of DVC points to book.)
The Grand Floridian is the most luxurious Disney resort, so if you want a regal vacation or a romantic honeymoon, this is where your dream comes true. Here you will find Victorian décor, an orchestra or grand piano entertaining in the lobby, tea parties, Cinderella and her prince popping into the lobby most afternoons, and some lavish restaurants (Victoria & Albert’s has a dress code and doesn’t allow children). My favorite stroll is from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian at night as the fireworks go off in the Magic Kingdom.
The Grand Floridian enjoys the benefits of being on the monorail loop. It also is home to a spectacular spa and is right across the street from two championship golf courses and a third walking course (for those of us with less skill on the fairway). The Beach Pool is a plus too.
(Grand Floridian Cons: It takes a lot of points to book here and the separate DVC villas building feels disconnected from the main resort.)
The Polynesian Village is my favorite resort of all the DVCs. I love it for the view of the castle across the Seven Seas Lagoon. I love it for the coffee and the Tonga Toast. I love it for the quiet Oasis pool. I love it for the drinks that come in a pineapple. I love it for the ukulele playing at ‘Ohana. I love it for the walking path to the Transportation and Ticket Center so I can hop on a monorail to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. I love it because it was there on my first visit to Walt Disney World in 1977, and it’s still there today.
(Polynesian Con: The Poly doesn’t offer 1- and 2-bedroom villas.)
On the outside, Copper Creek has the same pros and cons as Boulder Ridge. They basically share everything. Geyser Point Bar & Grill is an excellent place to eat, and now that Snow White, the Evil Queen and some dwarfs have moved into Artist Point, there’s a fun character meal to enjoy at this location as well.
Inside, however, Copper Creek blows Boulder Ridge away. The villas are beautifully constructed and full of so much storage space. The kitchen has a large pantry cupboard, the cubbies and hooks in the hall are perfect for storing backpacks, MagicBands, sunscreen, and all the other small stuff you need each day. There’s plenty of drawer space for ALL guests and great under-the-bed storage for luggage. I didn’t feel like I was on vacation at Copper Creek, I felt like I moved in.
Disney’s Riviera Resort is going to offer members stuff they’ve never had before in a DVC—rooftop views of Epcot and Hollywood Studios and Disney Skyliner transportation. I can’t wait to see the European décor and the new Topolino’s Terrace restaurant. With only 300 units, this one may be tough to book anytime soon. But I’m certainly going to try.
As you can see, being a DVC member doesn’t mean you are locked into the same vacation year after year. Every resort gives you a different way to enjoy Walt Disney World. Once you know what kind of vacation you’d like to have, which DVC to pick becomes clear.