We’ve been looking for a good excuse to buy more Disney Vacation Club points for years. When each of the last several new resorts at Walt Disney World have opened, we debated taking the plunge. Pricing has always been a much-needed reality-check, and we’ve realized we haven’t actually needed more DVC points.
Then again, now I wish we would’ve made an ‘impulse buy’ at the Grand Floridian or Polynesian back when those went on sale given how much prices have shot up since. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and Walt Disney World prices as a whole have gone up considerably since then. Not only that, but we were younger and had more pressing priorities at the time. So I guess what I really want is an entirely different scenario where we have both knowledge of the future and unlimited money…but there are probably better uses for that than buying DVC.
In any case, we now find ourselves in such a scenario where we’re older and actually have a need for larger accommodations now that we have baby Megatron. There were times before when we would’ve liked something larger than a studio, but it wasn’t strictly necessary. We’re frugal with points, always choosing more nights over nicer rooms. Going forward, it’ll be a more difficult decision–we’ll want both, somehow.
Enter the Cabins at Fort Wilderness Campground. When first announced, we were intrigued by this option. We’ve stayed at the current cabins on several occasions since 2009, and have become fairly big fans. Our last trip with my parents, we even opted for the Cabins at Fort Wilderness over Shades of Green. The larger accommodations were very much welcome–and that was just the four of us (plus my dad’s service dog).
We foresee Walt Disney World trips like this in the future, with the grandparents also joining so they can experience the parks through Megatron’s eyes. Studios are going to be out of the question for those stays, and even some of the one-bedroom accommodations might be pushing it.
The Cabins at Fort Wilderness offer a “good enough” layout, giving us and the baby one room and grandparents the other. Fort Wilderness is also a great option for multi-generational trips where not everyone is as into the parks. We were concerned about not staying at Shades of Green since my dad’s favorite part of the trip is talking to fellow “old farts” (non-derogatory) while drinking coffee. As it turns out, Fort Wilderness also has “old farts” (also non-derogatory) and trees, two of my dad’s favorite things. I doubt he’d be down with Gran Destino Tower or Art of Animation, by contrast.
Even if it’s just the three of us, we like the layout of the Cabins at Fort Wilderness well enough. At some point, we’d probably let Megatron sleep in the actual bedroom, and we’d take the flex space of the living room. This would give us the ability to have a different bedtime (and wake-up), while also have access to the kitchen, bathroom, and shower. It’s certainly not perfect–and we can see why a lot of DVC members aren’t keen on this setup–but we’re good with it.
Accordingly, our hope and expectation was that the Cabins at Fort Wilderness would have a point chart that effectively made them the first Disney Vacation Club property in the Moderate Resort tier. Last month’s release of the Cabins at Fort Wilderness point charts seemingly confirmed this.
Two of our favorite times to visit Walt Disney World would land in the cheapest point seasons, making our per-night cost of the Cabins at Fort Wilderness 15 to 21 points during the sets of Halloween and Christmas dates we’d be most likely to book. To put that into perspective, we’ve spent more on studios at Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Bay Lake Tower, and Wilderness Lodge. The Cabins cost far fewer points than any other 1-bedroom accommodations for the same season, while also sleeping 6 and having more space and privacy.
Suffice to say, the Cabins at Fort Wilderness seemed to offer superlative value for money. So after seeing the floor plan, concept art, and point charts, we started seriously talking about whether or not we might want to add-on. To be clear, it was still far from a sure thing–but then we were quickly and fully flung from the fence.
In short order after points charts were released, the annual dues for the Cabins at Fort Wilderness came out. Clocking in at ~$12.15 per point, Fort Wilderness as easily the #1 DVC property at Walt Disney World in terms of annual dues and #2 overall behind only Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.
To put this into perspective, there is no other resort at Walt Disney World that currently cracks the $10 barrier for dues. The next closest resort, Old Key West, is $9.87. Other expensive properties are Animal Kingdom Lodge and Riviera Resort, one of which has wildlife to “maintain” (gotta imagine the vet visits for a giraffe aren’t cheap given what we pay for a miniature dachshund and cat–not to mention food and waste cleanup).
I can’t say I was shocked to see Fort Wilderness on the higher end of the dues spectrum. Between the internal transportation and labor costs (mostly housekeeping, but also general upkeep), plus dramatically reduced density by virtue of these being cabins instead of standard hotel rooms, I figured it’d be top 3 at Walt Disney World.
That same standalone quality also means the per-unit maintenance and replacement costs are higher, and I can’t imagine the whole ‘hurricanes’ thing helps, either. Still, I was expecting–or at least hoping for–something in the $9 range. I guess I’m a bit naive. (Now it makes complete sense why Walt Disney World is offloading the cabins into DVC inventory even with several resorts actively selling and more on the horizon!)
That’s a game-changer for us, and it makes the Cabins at Fort Wilderness a total nonstarter. Our current home resort is Saratoga Springs, something we chose strategically when we first joined as the sweet spot for low upfront per point prices (it was super undesirable at the time on the resale market, despite being relatively new), low maintenance fees, and a later expiration year.
Saratoga Springs Resort has annual dues that are $4 per point less than the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. That is an absolutely massive spread, especially when multiplied for all points over the lifetime of the contract. And it’s also worth noting that this gap will most likely grow. Dues increase by around 3-5% per year, with the more cost-intensive properties actually seeing higher percentage increases in recent years.
Even if they don’t, the higher starting point compounded means that the $4 difference is likely the lowest it’ll ever be. Given how much maintenance fees have increased since we’ve been members, I shudder to think about what the annual dues cost will be for the Cabins at Fort Wilderness 15 years from now.
My other big concern about the Cabins at Fort Wilderness flows from the annual dues. Historically, Hilton Head and Vero Beach have been, by far, the cheapest DVC resorts on the resale market. There are doubtlessly multiple reasons for this, but those pricey annual dues is an outsized factor.
Anecdotes aren’t data, but we’ve heard from a few people who have bought–and sold–those properties after being lured in by the low upfront costs only to ‘discover’ they were paying a significantly more over time. That once people realize their total outlay is more and they have a less desirable home resort, they’ll resell.
This is my fear with Fort Wilderness. It’s not just the higher dues that members will, over time, discover bridges the gap between owning at the “cheaper” Fort Wilderness and actual Deluxe (Villa) Resorts, but it’s the other things that makes Fort Wilderness the most taste-specific resort at Walt Disney World.
I’ve mentioned all of this before, but I’m concerned that there will be a far more active resale market for Fort Wilderness–and that it’ll be more of a buyer’s market like Hilton Head or Vero Beach (at least this resort is actually at Walt Disney World, so there’s that!).
Obviously, membership is not monolithic, but Fort Wilderness is a dramatic departure from other recent Disney Vacation Club additions. What many ‘mainstream’ DVC members seem to favor–convenience, consolidated layout, and ease of access–are not the strong suits of Fort Wilderness.
Because of this, this could mean that the Cabins at Fort Wilderness will start hitting the resale market in greater volume in a few years after the honeymoon is over. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where existing DVC members who have never stepped foot in Fort Wilderness buy solely based on the member-friendly points chart.
Those same members could be in for a rude awakening the first time they actually stay at Fort Wilderness, make the long trek across the resort every day during a weeklong trip, and come to the realization that this is no Riviera Resort! That was my fear before–now this is exacerbated by that plus resale restrictions plus annual dues giving that extra nudge to unload.
There are undoubtedly other Disney Vacation Club members reading this and thinking, “who cares, don’t buy for value–own where you want to stay.” And, well, that’s certainly one opinion, I suppose. To each their own, but we only think about Disney Vacation Club in economic terms–not emotional ones. Although the marketing sells it both ways, the whole point of the program is saving money. Maybe that’s not the case for others, but it absolutely is for us.
I wouldn’t be as concerned about what will potentially happen on the resale market if there were no possibility that we’ll ever want to sell. I seldom look at Saratoga Springs resale prices anymore, because the chances we’ll ever unload that are near zero. Although it’s far from our favorite resort, Saratoga Springs is a known quantity and is “future-proofed,” so to speak. Our preferences and priorities may evolve, but Saratoga Springs will always offer something that works for us.
By contrast, I only know that the Cabins at Fort Wilderness offer something that works for us right now. One year ago, we never imagined we’d ever be parents. It would be a serious failure of imagination to not consider the possibility that the cabins won’t be a good fit for us a few years or decades from today–especially after hearing exactly that from a lot of other families. And that’s the only room category Fort Wilderness offers! So it’s important to us to be able to buy something now and have a pretty good idea we won’t take a bath on it down the road if our circumstances change.
A final consideration is the per point cost of $225. This is mentioned last because it’s the least surprising part of the equation to us. We previously predicted that the starting point would be $199 or higher, but lower than the cost of the Villas at Disneyland Hotel ($239). This being right in between isn’t a huge surprise given that.
Or at least, it wouldn’t have been if the annual dues were in ‘reasonable’ territory. Part of why we predicted a price point higher than $199 was because Disney Vacation Club wouldn’t want a “bargain” entry level at which savvy DVC Members will purchase, and then use their points elsewhere. The annual dues alone foreclose that–saving a small bit on upfront costs only to pay much more in maintenance fees is the equivalent of stepping over dollars to pick up pennies.
The incentives for current members are also nothing special–the lowest per-point savings of what’s currently being offered. And we’d be at the lower end of that spectrum, anyway, as the whole point of adding on at Fort Wilderness would be to squeeze as much mileage as possible out of the lowest rate seasons.
Ultimately, that’s where we’re at with the Cabins at Fort Wilderness and why we won’t be buying. Figured that might be worth sharing for others who are on the fence about joining Disney Vacation Club due to the bargain-rate points chart or adding on at these new “cheap” accommodations. The salient point is that it’s imperative to not just look at the points chart or per point cost, but also account for those astronomical maintenance fees. After doing the math on everything, almost all of the savings you’d see evaporate–it ends up being a not-so-Moderate Resort.
This isn’t to say that the Cabins at Fort Wilderness is a bad home resort or that no one should purchase there. Perhaps you really love the location, it’s your favorite resort, the layout is perfect, or the privacy of the cabins is far more desirable than a tower-style hotel. There are any number of reasons this property could be (subjectively) perfect for you or an otherwise good fit. Objectively speaking, value for money most likely is not one of those reasons, unfortunately.
Setting all of that aside, we’re still really looking forward to staying at the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. For now, the accommodations check a lot of boxes for us and we love the vibe of the campground. We’re very eager to take advantage of that favorable point chart while paying SSR dues. Maybe down the road in a few years–if resale prices are low, the accommodations style still works for us, and the gap has somehow closed on dues–we’ll consider buying via the secondary market. Never say never!
Will you be buying Disney Vacation Club at Fort Wilderness? Why or why not? Thoughts on the points chart, pricing, or annual dues? Excited to stay here, even if you won’t own here? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the DVC Cabins at Fort Wilderness Campground? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!