A lot of people have asked us whether Club Level at the various Walt Disney World hotels is worth the money, or a good way to splurge on vacation. We have speculated that Club Level didn’t appeal to us from a strict value for money perspective, but of course there’s possibly the incalculable x factor of being ‘in da club’ that may matter, too. Having never stayed Club Level before, we haven’t been able to answer this definitely. (Last updated January 10, 2018.)
UPDATE: Starting this Friday (January 12, 2018), Walt Disney World will launch a pilot program with enhanced VIP services for Club Level guests for $50 per person per day, which will include 3 extra FastPass+ entitlements bookable 90 days in advance (with no park restrictions, meaning you could use them for Avatar Flight of Passage, Frozen Ever After, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It will also include VIP viewing for nighttime spectaculars. This will require a minimum three night stay, and must be booked by all guests staying in the room.
There have been rumors of paid FastPass+ for years, and honestly, we expected this a while ago. Certainly, once MaxPass at Disneyland was such a huge success, it was a foregone conclusion that an upcharge FastPass option would come to Walt Disney World. We intend upon analyzing this when it’s rolled out further and seeing what kind of impact it has on FastPass+ availability, and then writing a full post on the topic (for now, this is where the topic fit best). While we think this, in isolation, will have a negligible impact on regular guests, it’s part of a concerning trend that has larger cumulative implications (with more to come). Stay tuned for more on that, but for now, back to our assessment of whether Club Level at Walt Disney World is worth it…
On our last trip to Walt Disney World, we had the chance to step inside the pearly gates of Club Level lounge access in the King Kamehameha Club. Located in the Hawaii Longhouse of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, this is one of the premier tiers at Walt Disney World.
Of course, staying Club Level at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is a costly proposition, with rack rates starting at $700 per night. For reference, we’ve stayed at Polynesian Village Resort several times in the last few years, including standard rooms and the Bora Bora Bungalows. We also really like the new Disney Vacation Club studio rooms, and really like the experience of staying at the Polynesian.
As such, staying in the King Kamehameha Club has been on our radar. The main draw of staying Club Level at any Walt Disney World hotel is the lounge. Here, Disney states it “includes a variety of Asian-inspired offerings.” (Nothing beats the exotic flare of mini corn dogs.) This lounge is open most of the day, with two-story views facing Magic Kingdom, with a perfect view of Cinderella Castle and Happily Ever After!
Throughout the day, the lounge serves the following: Kakahiaka – continental breakfast, 7-10:30 a.m.; Auinala – afternoon refreshments, 12-4 p.m.; Ahiahi – appetizers, wine, and cheese selections, 5-7 p.m.; Aumoe – Desserts & cordials, 8-10 p.m. Even in between these gaps, soda was in the fridge.
In addition to access to the King Kamehameha Club Lounge, guests staying Club Level have access to the Club Concierge Cast Members between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. These Cast Members in the first floor of the Hawaii building can assist with tickets, dining, recreation, transportation, child care, and daily itinerary planning. (The next 3 photos are inside the two stories of the Club Level Lounge.)
In the interest of full disclosure, we did not stay Club Level at the Polynesian ourselves. We were invited up for the afternoon by Josh from easyWDW. From what I understand, Josh used the proceeds from pawning his Canon to fund a lavish night in the King Kamehameha Club. (I assume he got the other $696.50 by hawking bootleg Bojack Horseman hats, but I want to maintain plausible deniability, so I didn’t ask.)
Joking(?) aside, Josh was checking out King Kamehameha Club as part of a stay booked by Dave of YourFirstVisit, as the two prepared updates for The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit. Sarah and I made the literal faustian bargain of having to listen to Josh rant about kobe beef hot dogs for hours in exchange for first-hand Club Level access without having to splurge on it ourselves. I’m still not sure the value proposition of not paying worked in our favor, but you’re welcome for our sacrifice.
Objectively, the cost of staying Club Level at the Polynesian ranges from around +$175/night to +$350/night depending on room tier and season. The difference is greater for theme park view rooms during higher rate seasons. For the simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’ll cost $200/night more to stay Club Level at the Poly, which is a conservative estimate that assumes a lower tier room and perhaps a room-only discount.
Assuming you cram 4 adults in the Club Level room–because nothing says posh hotel stay like 4 adults in one hotel room–you’re looking at $50 per person, per night for Club Level. If you do 3 meals at Captain Cook’s per day that cost around $15 each, you’re already at around $45. Add even a single beer to that, and you’re over $50.
Add a great lounge for viewing Happily Ever After and a few beers to that, and you’re looking at $75. Maybe think of the Club Level experience with its all-you-can-eat lounge as more comparable to ‘Ohana, and you’re looking at $150 per person after drinks. Club Level at the Poly is a no-brainer, must-do at this point, right? RIGHT?!
Once you slow down the tortured math train, the wheels fall off. If I don’t die of laughter first, the next time someone compares Club Level to a Walt Disney World buffet (next time because it has happened before–more than once, in fact), I will calmly explain that the quality of food at King Kamehameha Club is not in the same ballpark, league, or even the same sport as ‘Ohana.
The food in King Kamehameha Club had me longing for the End Zone Food Court at All Star Sports, and it’s a stretch to compare the lounge’s food quality to even Captain Cook’s. Highlights of the dinner spread included partially-frozen corn dogs and bacon-wrapped something, but the true “winner” was the cheese cubes, which were probably Sargento purchased in bulk. (Honestly, I’d just be happy if they were actually made of cheese.)
Anywhere else, these cubes would’ve only been the winner in the “participant medal” sense of the term. If you’re looking at Club Level from a value perspective, you would come out so far ahead to just do grocery delivery and have snacks at your leisure in your Walt Disney World hotel room. You could do better quality for significantly less money.
On the drink front, things were significantly better. There were a variety of wines and beers–and not just BMC piss water. There were also a variety of non-alcoholic options including Coke, coffee, and–most importantly–POG juice. So, it wasn’t all bad.
We didn’t stick around for the fireworks this time, but we watched from the Club Lounge a couple of years ago, and I the desserts then were pretty good, too. So it isn’t all mediocre.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you enjoy the Club Lounge food and are willing to assign it the same value as a meal at Captain Cook’s or some other counter service restaurant. Are you really willing to be at the hotel for 3 meals per day? Unless you are doing a split stay with only a night or two staying Club Level on non-park days (the best way to do it, in my opinion), you’re probably also doing the Walt Disney World parks while staying Club Level.
Continental (read: cold items only) breakfast here is the easy one to hit, since you can grab that before heading to the parks. It’s really convenient, and arguably the best perk of staying Club Level. Lunch and dinner, however, are both in the middle of the day, with the light dinner spread ending at 7 p.m. before the evening desserts start. Realistically, unless you’re lounging around the hotel all day, you’re most likely looking at doing breakfast and desserts at the hotel most days. Even if you are lounging around the hotel all day, dining at Captain Cook’s is a far tastier proposition.
After spending a few hours grazing the afternoon and dinner spreads at King Kamehameha Club, I can say–without question–that there is no scenario that doesn’t require incredibly tortured logic for Club Level to be a “good value.” Short of hosting a beer pong tournament in your room and only being willing to use Kona Longboard Lager sourced from the hotel, or some other special circumstances, the math simply does not compute.
I fixate on the numbers above because I see these come up a lot when people are trying to justify Club Level–that they can “make it work” by doing meals in the Club. However, guests contemplating Club Level might not be resorting to “making it work” to justify the experience of Club Level…
Instead, they may be considering the concierge service and pampering that–presumably–come with staying Club Level. I’d assume a decent chunk of Club Level guests are first-timers doing a one-and-done Walt Disney World vacation. Probably affluent, perhaps with status at a major chain, and used to staying Concierge Level and having access to those lounges and amenities.
If that more or less describes you, or you’re considering Club Level at Walt Disney World because you assume it’s on par with concierge experiences at other hotels, let me assure you: it’s not even remotely comparable. We have stayed at Grand Club level at several Hyatt hotels, among other chains, and the difference at luxury hotels is that the service there is actually commensurate with the cost (although we have never paid anywhere close to +$200 for it) and the lounge refreshments are incredibly high caliber.
Real world concierges can pull strings and make coveted bookings, quickly have tickets delivered to a hotel, etc. Walt Disney World concierges can make the same bookings available in the My Disney Experience app in lieu of you doing it. This can be a nice convenience, but it’s nothing you couldn’t do–or have an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner do for you (for free).
In general, this is a fundamental difference that really must be stressed for Walt Disney World first-timers weighing hotel options. Disney does a lot of things incredibly well, but luxury hotel service is typically not among them. From the shared buses (really?!) to not shifting the best-performing Cast Members to the Deluxes, this is demonstrated in a variety of ways. We’ve stayed at every Walt Disney World hotel, and while service can be good at any of them, we have never noted a marked difference between Value Resorts and Deluxe Resorts on that front.
At Walt Disney World, you are paying for location and theming when it comes to hotels, and you should not expect a top-to-bottom experience on par with what you would receive for the same “real world” price points. If you pampered service is your paramount concern, you are better off booking the Waldorf Astoria Orlando or Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
With all of that said, absent an exceptional discount or other special situation, there is really only one tenable justification for staying Club Level at Walt Disney World: because you just want to do it.
Because you want to watch Happily Ever After from the King Kamehameha Club and take an intermission for an impromptu Kona Longboard Lager. Because you want the convenience of breezing through the Club Lounge in your building at 7 a.m. for breakfast while getting ready, rather than fighting crowds in Captain Cook’s or having to deal with groceries in your room. Because you want to strut around in your lei like a rockstar–a modern day Jon Bon Jovi–as you splurge on a bit of luxury. Because it’s just something you flat out want to do.
Everyone makes purchases that would not pass muster if scrutinized from a value for money perspective. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason to feel bad about wanting what you think will be a cool or convenient experience for the sake of that experience. Anyone who claims they aren’t influenced by a desire for some luxury or feelings of emotion is lying. If you want to stay Club Level at Walt Disney World for one of these reasons–or some other intrinsic sense of happiness–more power to you. (Honestly, even after this experience, I still want to stay a night at Club Level sometime.) Only you know what will make your vacation special to you, so don’t listen to how others might feel.
Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Let a professional help you for free. Click here to get a quote from a recommended, no-fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They get their commission from Disney, so there is no charge to you for them to book your trip and help you plan! For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
If you’ve stayed Club Level at a Walt Disney World hotel, do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Do you think it is worth the money? Have you considered staying Club Level? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!