VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
As the breeze caressed my cheek, I rocked back and forth, back and forth. The giraffe, along with a few other animals, came into view. While I lifted my camera to zoom in on the beautiful creature as it chomped on leaves, its breakfast, I heard the bang, crash, boom. My then 3-year-old son had just walked into the glass door with his head. He was hysterical and all shades of red. At the time, he still wasn’t talking, so I don’t know what was going through his head, other than what I imagined to be sharp pangs. Just like that, the magic of the previous moment was but a memory.
But wait, this is Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where magic is a must. We were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village. A cast member came running over with stickers and a smile. She slapped a Mickey Mouse badge on my son’s shirt, while I wiped away his tears. Someone else handed me ice for his head, extra precaution. Just like that, the magic was back. My son began to giggle and point to the mouse that was now stuck to him. Of course, that is the reason families continue to make the pilgrimage to Disney despite the ever growing costs. Magic comes at a cost, right?
Well, that might be true. But just before I booked this trip, I was starting to get a little sick of the sticker price whenever I tried to book a Disney vacation. And I didn’t want to stay at another value resort, which are known for their cramped quarters and loud teenage guests (practicing cheering chants and songs late into the night). All true, by the way. I’ve been there.
Desiring a step up and having always dreamed of staying at a hotel with zebras and giraffes in its backyard, I decided to do a little digging. I began researching the possibility of renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. I was planning a trip for a large group that included four families, including my own. My brother, sister-in-law, and sister were among the travelers and were either working for Disney or former employees. They all warned against renting points because of horror stories they encountered, in which people thought they were renting points, paid a third party, and arrived at Disney to discover they had no reservations. Many would end up stranded, and Disney could do nothing to help them.
Still, I had read positive accounts on numerous Web sites, so I didn’t give up. I just quit talking to them about it. Besides, my sister and friends of ours live in the area, so I figured if we decided to do this and we had no hotel reservations, we would still have places to crash. The Disney Tourist Blog, which has a great reputation and provides lots of helpful advice, finally convinced me to go for it.
The first step is understanding how DVC works. Essentially, it’s like a timeshare. DVC owners buy a piece of Disney’s property. Unlike a timeshare, it’s not like they are necessarily staying in the same room (or even the same hotel) every year. They have a home hotel, say Animal Kingdom Lodge, but they can stash their points and use them to visit other sites as well. It’s a bit more complicated than this, but you don’t have to get so caught up in the details. If an owner can’t make his or her trip for whatever reason, and the points are going to be lost, they might try to rent the points for one-time use to others.
As I was researching this, I learned that you could rent points with minimal risk if you were smart about it. For starters, you need to either personally know the DVC owner and work directly with him or her or you need to go through a rental points business. Of course, you could also search forums for those who are renting out their points and work one-on-one with the owner. I’ve heard of lots of people who have had success with this, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, especially after the warnings from my Disney family.
So, I turned to the two most popular rental points businesses – DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Club Rentals. I ended up opting for DVC Rental Store because the agents quickly responded to my questions, and it did not require a deposit to check availability for me. I appreciated the safeguards in place, including paying in installments to insure that the owner of the DVC points would be making my reservation and any changes to it.
One thing you need to know is that you don’t have full control over your reservation. The DVC points owner must make the reservation for you and handle any changes. They are the ones to add dining plans, for example. You pay the DVC Rental Store, and one of its agents communicates whatever you need to the owner. You can even check on your reservation. Once you have begun the payment process, you will be alerted by DVC Rental Store to hop onto a Disney site to input your reservation number, and you can link it to your My Disney Experience account.
Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. The No. 1 reason I convinced myself and the others in my group, including those who had warned against it at first, to go with point rental was the price. You should know the rental points businesses usually charge more than those freelance DVC owners on the forums. But you get some added security. DVC Rental Store even offers a point protection plan in case you have to cancel your trip for any reason. If you have to cancel without such a plan, you will lose all your money.
What you’re more interested in knowing (as I was when I was conducting research) is how much is this actually going to cost and how does it compare to the prices you’d pay by booking directly with Disney. Using the DVC Rental Store calculator, I see that a stay from Dec. 7 to 13, 2016 at Bay Lake Tower, which are the DVC villas next to the Contemporary, in one of the standard deluxe studio rooms would cost about $1,408 total. (The points cost more or less depending on the day, time of year, and how far in advance you book.) When I plug in the same information for the exact same dates and room type on the Disney booking site, I learn that it would cost a whopping $3,472.02. That’s more than double. A garden-view room at Port Orleans-Riverside, one of Disney’s moderate resorts, for those same dates would cost $1,300, only about $100 less than renting points at a deluxe resort villa. A stay at Bay Lake Tower means an ability to use the monorail to reach Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and all the other Magic Kingdom resorts, not to mention a walking path to MK. That kind of convenience is definitely worth a mere $100 more than a moderate resort. Hellllloooo!
Certainly, there are no guarantees here. You offer up your first four choices in hotel when booking through the DVC Rental Store, and you don’t always get what you want. I did this twice now. The first time we wanted AKL for the animals, and it was available with no problem at all. The second time, my husband and I were going alone with our son, and we only sought the more convenient monorail hotels. These are super popular and we were going in February, which is when many schools around the country offer weeklong winter breaks. We managed to get a spot at the Polynesian, but every other resort was booked. You can book as long as 11 months ahead of your trip, but I never do that. I just don’t know if we can go until closer to the date, so we’re usually planning six months out. This affects the price, too. We usually can pay $1 or $2 less per point, but we have less of a chance of getting our first choice hotel.
My husband and I always have rented deluxe studios, which are pretty standard. Each has a kitchenette, which is nice for washing out cups and mugs and heating up stuff in the microwave. But my parents rented a two-bedroom with my brother and his wife and children at AKL, and it had a full kitchen, including a table, and a washer and dryer, which is a great luxury when traveling with lots of little ones.
As I understand it, the DVC Rental Store agents are knowledgeable about Disney and can help answer questions about how to navigate the parks, dining plans, etc. I have never really had to get help with anything of this nature, but I have had any questions about transactions or confirmations of reservations (including those for accommodations and dining plans) answered promptly. The process went smoothly and gave me no reason for alarm. I turned my loved ones, who were weary about renting DVC points, into believers, too. In other words, I recommend this service. It’s the only way I could ever afford (or justify for that matter) a stay at one of the more convenient and luxurious Disney resorts. You get that Disney magic for a magical price to boot.