As you may recall, I spent approximately 18 months planning and saving for my family’s first trip to Disney World. We stayed Nov. 15-21, 2015, and I have to say every bit of research and budgeting paid off – big time. And, I can’t wait to share everything I learned.
But before I dive into any tips or tricks, I want to set the stage with the “stage” of our vacation: our resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is so incredible, it’s hard to describe. From the sights (animals grazing on the savanna), to the sounds (genuine African drummers), to the tastes (Indian and African dishes) and the smells (OMG I asked if they sold incense so we could take the scent home!!), every detail added to an immersive, amazing experience.
Now, you may be wondering how we decided to stay here. I wish I could say we chose it after a lengthy comparison of features and costs … but really, we just got one hell of a deal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good discount or clearance sale. And I found that through DVC rental.
Quick explanation: DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club, which is Disney’s timeshare program. Members can “rent out” their allotted points, allowing non-members to stay in deluxe accommodations for a deep discount. (If you want more details, check out WDW Prepschool’s post.) After doing some research (of course!), I ended up making a request through David’s Vacation Club Rentals … I say request because there’s no guarantee that points/rooms will be available for your specific trip dates/resort. In order to have the best chances, I made our request just before the 11-month mark (the earliest DVC members can make reservations at the home resorts) … and I got it!
The team at David’s made everything easy. Their process is straightforward and simple, and they responded to all my emails the very same day. How many businesses can say that? Once the reservation was set up, I linked it to MyDisneyExperience (where you manage all reservations and tickets) and we were set. The price they quoted was the price we paid – no hidden fees or extra taxes. I paid the bill in full, and I never had to think about it again. BOOM.
As I said, we stayed in a Value Studio Villa for six nights, seven days, and loved every single minute. Animal Kingdom Lodge is a FANTASTIC resort, and we got to stay there for a fraction of the normal cost. To be completely transparent, here’s a price comparison (total cost for six nights, seven days – remember, prices change depending on your travel dates):
- Animal Kingdom Lodge Value Studio Villa - $895 (with Dave’s DVC)
- Pop Century Resort Standard Room - $785 (This was our original plan)
Just for reference, I’d like to point out without DVC rental, the price to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge was WAY out of our range:
- Standard View Room- $2,223
- Savanna View Room - $3,236
So for the extra $110 (compared to staying at Pop Century), what did we get?
- Deluxe amenities, including an amazing pool with waterslide, more dining options (one cafeteria and three table service restaurants – one of which is a buffet), a fitness center (which we surprisingly never used) and, of course, views of amazing savanna around nearly every corner
- A deluxe room – Kyle and I shared a queen bed rather than a double (Kenlee got the pullout couch); we had a coffee maker, microwave and mini fridge (Pop Century only offers the mini fridge – if you want coffee, you have to walk down to the food court); and a private balcony (with the option of a savanna view … more on that later)
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? For many people, it is. But before I booked, there were several things to consider:
- We weren’t able to participate in any Disney package discounts, such as the popular free dining promo. We had already been leaning toward NOT using the dining plan because of the out-of-pocket costs, restrictions on what you could order, and overwhelming amount of food. (And I totally stand by this decision, but that’s probably a post for another day.) The free dining discount sounded amazing, but I calculated that by the time we paid for gratuities and extra meals not covered by dining credits, we’d ONLY save about $250 on our trip. PLUS, by going with the DVC rental, I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking free dining, which was a cluster this year, according to many Disney news sites.
- Because the room we wanted is extremely popular (READ: It’s the cheapest DVC room available), we had to book it 11 months in advance … and there’s absolutely no refunds. You have the option to purchase travel insurance if this makes you nervous. But, Kyle and I decided we were going to Disney World come hell or high water, so we passed on the coverage. However, we did make sure to check the dates with our employers before we booked … gotta have your bases covered!
- We didn’t get daily housekeeping. Since DVC rooms are “home away from home” for members, we only got trash and towel service on day four of our trip. That’s it. To some people, this is a drawback … for us, it was totally fine. We just hung up our towels and picked up after ourselves. Not a big deal, but something to consider depending on how your family likes to travel.
Oh, and about our view. Thanks to the TouringPlans room finder, I learned that Value Studio Villas can have either a savanna view or standard view. With other rooms, you have to specifically pay extra for the savanna view. Because I subscribe to Touring Plans, I used the awesome fax request tool, which automatically sent my room view request a few days ahead of the visit. Just after we landed in Orlando, I got a text saying our room was ready – 5124, a savanna view! Nailed it.
|The view from room 5124 - absolutely worth all the effort!|
|I sure do miss watching the giraffes while I eat breakfast and/or sip some wine ...|
So, in summary: we got to stay at one of the BEST resorts on Disney property with one of the BEST views and some of the most AMAZING amenities for a FRACTION of the normal cost. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Honestly, I hesitate to share my story for fear that everyone and their brother will want to do the same. ;)
Seriously, if you’ve ever looked at going to Disney World and thought, “I could NEVER afford to stay deluxe,” or “I want to treat my family without breaking the bank,” look in to DVC rental. But fair warning: You’ll fall in love with your new “home” and immediately start planning your next trip back ...