The Disney Vacation Club is a wonderful program that rewards its members with “free” hotel rooms each year. For a set fee, you’re deeded a predetermined number of annual points. You exchange these points for stays at your favorite resorts. It’s a terrific deal, but the dirty secret of the industry is that you can save a fortune by purchasing via resales. To entice you to purchase directly, Disney offers something they call Membership Extras to add value to their contracts. Are they really worth the price difference, though? Let’s examine whether Membership Extras are really a big deal.
The Easy No’s
Some of the Membership Extras that Disney offers are comically inept. I’m not saying that to push you toward resales purchase. It’s just the harsh reality of the situation. I’ll pick some of the lowest fruit to prove the point.
One of the primary discounts at time of publication is 10 percent off the price of an Amphicar ride at The BOATHOUSE. Now, I’m not looking to diminish this experience. The restaurant is one of my favorites at Disney Springs, and I’m one of the few vacationers who have taken a spin around the lake here via Amphicar. I highly recommend it.
Still, a ride costs $125. That’s a savings of $12.50. Even a contract of 100 points purchased directly through Disney will cost $12,500 or more most of the time. It could feasibly go over $18,000, but let’s stick with $12,500 for now. Your Amphicar savings is the equivalent of 1/1000th of your purchase price. You’ll need to go on a LOT of Amphicar rides to make up the difference.
Disney offers several variations of this 10 percent discount as Membership Extras. You could get a discount on a Fireworks cruise (total savings: $9.90), early bookings at the 2018 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (total savings: $2), or the Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP Tour (total savings $37.35). If you did all of that, you’d save a whopping $49.25. Adding in the Amphicar discount, that’s a grand total of $61.75. This is a good time to mention that you’ll pay literally thousands of dollars more for a direct DVC contract.
I’m not just cherry picking here. Disney sets its Membership Extras discounts to match the price of the event. Something cheap like the food and wine tastings or Fireworks cruise comes with a modest discount for direct DVC buyers. The more expensive nightly tour includes stronger dollar savings for such members, but it’s an event that costs $249 per person. Even after your direct discount, you’re paying $211.65, which most people would agree is a steep price for that tour.
Tables in Wonderland Impact
Some discounts do have a bit more appeal. For example, many DVC members swear by the Tables in Wonderland program. This card entitles its holder to a 20 percent discount at participating Walt Disney World restaurants. To participate in this program, you need to be a Florida resident, a DVC owner with a membership card, or an annual passholder.
In other words, you’ll have two more ways to join Tables in Wonderland even if you purchase via resales. One of them, the annual pass, is something that a lot of DVC members will have anyway. Even those who can join this program may not want to do so. It costs $150 for DVC and annual pass owners or $175 for Florida residents. You must spend at least a week at Walt Disney World before you’ll come out ahead on this.
I’m someone who has owned a Tables in Wonderland card a couple of times. I don’t swear by it. I’m more of a Disney Dining Plan kind of a guy, and all DVC members have access to it when they book a room. For those who love Tables in Wonderland, it’s a non-issue as long as you get an annual pass, which you should if you’ll be at the parks enough to turn a profit on your meals.
The Other Discounts
A couple of Membership Extras are nice, and I don’t want to undercut them. It would be disingenuous to say that 10-20 percent off of some merchandise and restaurants isn’t great. It certainly is. When you get these discounts, you will come to a greater conclusion, however, and it’s that Disney really pads the pricing on their food and merchandise. $50 off of a $250 purchase sounds great until you realize that you’ve still spent $200 on Disney stuff. Or, as I call it, Thursday.
Seriously, I spend more on Disney vacations than any sane person ever would (or should). What I will say from (too much) experience is that these discounts are quite nice. You’ll enjoy them. However, they’re easily attained elsewhere. For example, Citi offers a Disney credit card that comes with member perks. One of them is 10 percent off of all shopping and dining at Disney establishments around the world, including your local Disney store.
This “Membership Extra” isn’t something you need to spend $12,000 to get. You only need to sign up for a credit card! Sure, you’ll miss out on an additional 10 percent of savings at some places. In my experience, however, the 10 percent discounts wildly outnumber the 20 percent ones. Disney’s giving direct buyers something that they’ll give to anyone with decent credit anyway!
Special Extras – DVC Lounge
Some of the Membership Extras are inimitable. My favorite is the special DVC Member Lounge at Epcot. Located on the second floor of the Imagination! Pavilion, it’s a phenomenal way to escape the heat on a busy day.
Since I have a DVC member card, I can access this lounge, and I must be honest. It’s a Membership Extra that I use each time I visit Epcot. Sometimes, I go twice. It has free beverages and even a couple of light snacks. More importantly, it has air-conditioning and comfortable sofas/chairs.
Placing a monetary value on this place is all but impossible. If it were $20 a day for non-DVC members, would I pay that? The answer is “only on special occasions.” As such, I evaluate the monetary worth of this as akin to the merchandise discounts of 10/20 percent. It’s nice, but I could easily live without it.
Special Extras – Moonlight Magic
Disney recently started holding Moonlight Magic special events for DVC members. The press release describes them as “exciting after-hours celebrations” exclusively available to people who own DVC membership cards. During these events, you’ll get some free food (a meal voucher at certain Quick Service restaurants), a DJ who plays music, and unique character meeting opportunities.
The strongest selling point of Moonlight Magic is that you get exclusive park access. Since the only people at the gate that evening are DVC members, crowds are small. You’ll enjoy rare opportunities to ride favorites such as Frozen Ever After and Slinky Dog Dash, and the lines will be as small as you’ll ever see.
The only caveat is that Moonlight Magic is held at only one park each time. Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom have hosted events this year, as has Typhoon Lagoon. Hollywood Studios will throw a Moonlight Magic in September, while Disney California Adventure has scheduled one for November.
Herein lies the issue. These events are only available on set dates. Most DVC members don’t live close to Disney theme parks. We have to fly or drive. We must schedule our vacations at least seven months in advance if we want to book the resort that we want, too.
Disney doesn’t announce the Moonlight Magic events that far in advice. The only people who have an easy time going are the ones in the area or who are lucky enough to have a hotel room already booked for that. Everyone else participates in a scramble drill to book a room the night of the event.
Not coincidentally, Moonlight Magic events sell out. The DVC site currently has this piece of dialogue posted: “All event dates are sold out, but you can continue to check for new availability due to cancellations.” Yeah, that’s not good. It’s effectively a lottery system where most people get shut out.
What’s the value of a Moonlight Magic event? That’s difficult to quantify. Disney offers similar paid events that require tickets. I’m referencing Disney After Hours, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party as example. Each of these special galas costs in the range of $100-$125.
I’m inclined to give Moonlight Magic the same monetary value. Since you’ll have to reconfigure your entire vacation schedule to attend, however, you may spend that much changing your travel plans. I just don’t see it as a big deal. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone lucky enough to go to Moonlight Magic will have an unforgettable evening. You can have a similar experience with what of the other Disney ticketed events, though. They don’t sell out as far in advance, either. Plus, they have more participating dates. Moonlight Magic is a “take it or leave it” type of deal.
Reading this entire list, you see the problem with Disney’s Membership Extras. They sound lovely until they receive any level of scrutiny. Then, their appeal becomes questionable at best. Given the chasm in price difference between resales contracts and direct purchases, that’s simply not good enough. Get the cheapest contract that you can. Membership Extras are overblown, overrated, and overvalued. They’re the equivalent of paying for undercoating on a new car.