The Making of a Disney Vacation Club Member Cruise

I recently sailed on my third Disney Vacation Club Member Cruise aboard the beautiful Disney Dream. While this is the first Member Cruise to sail in Europe, it still had the hallmarks of a classic member cruise. We attended seminars about the history and heritage of Disney, enjoyed previews of what the future holds, and saw Disney Legends at every turn. Among the highlights were preview screenings of Young Woman and the Sea and Not Just a Goof, historical presentations on Disney in Europe and Walt Disney Imagineering, and conversations with Disney Legend Elect Martha Blanding and Disney Legend Tony Baxter.

The Member Cruises have become well known in the Disney community for their special programming and bountiful gifts — but the Creative Director of the Member Cruise, Ryan March, tells the story of how it all began. The Member Cruise concept started as a basic ship charter where DVC members had the opportunity to sail about the Disney Cruise Line. One year, Disney Legend Art Linkletter wanted to experience a cruise, but it happened to be during a DVC charter. The team asked DVC if he could join and that he would be happy to do a presentation on board. Of course, the engaging Linkletter ended up being a hit and it inspired DVC to think about how they could continue to add to the Member Cruise experience.

This was about two weeks prior to March joining the Disney Vacation Club team, so in a meeting they told him, “You know Roy Disney. See if he will do it.” According to March, saying he knew Roy Disney was grossly overstating things, but he had interviewed him a few times for Eyes & Ears, the Walt Disney World Cast Member newsletter. But nonetheless, March reached out  to Roy’s administrative assistant who reminded him who Ryan was, leading to Roy agreeing to do it. DVC leadership then told March to fly out to California to create a presentation. He pushed back stating he was a print guy, but his leaders had faith in him, so they created a show while also featuring a concert with Jodi Benson and Jennifer Hudson. Those two shows grew to the over 15 original shows and experiences that happened on this year’s cruise.

But just because Disney Vacation Club is adding extra experiences, they still want you to be able to enjoy what Disney Cruise Line has to offer including the Ports of Call. As March shared, “We came up with our guiding principles at the very beginning, and on the top of the slide that I would present to our executives was, do not compete with the Mediterranean. It is the reason that people are booking this trip. So I did not have the audacity to expect you to skip Rome to come see me talk about a children's book. So we lean heavily into the sea day. And then we sprinkled Late Night programming for those who are still awake when they get back from their port adventures. So for us, this itinerary is pretty ideal to bookend the ports with those busy sea days, and then offer those like this the first time we've ever had this amount of late night programming.”

As March said, they are already thinking about the next Member Cruise, which also happens to be on the Disney Dream. “It's baked into our culture,” he said, “We've all heard the Walt Disney quote, we keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious, that is who we are. My wife will actually yell at me sometimes to tell me to be more present. Because while we're in the middle of a member cruise, I'm thinking about how we can improve it for next year. And she'll always tell us to take a few minutes, and soak up the success of this one. But that's who we are. It's not just member crews. It's who we are on the resource side of the business. We'd like to celebrate our successes, but not get too hung up on looking through the rearview mirror. Because with the success of every member cruise, and with the rising profile of Disney Vacation Club comes rising expectations. So next year, next year's member cruise can't just be as good as this year's. I have to reinvent it, it has to exceed very high expectations.”

The Member Cruise is part of the Membership Extras suite of offerings that include private lounges at the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World, Moonlit Magic events, and much more. These offerings show that unlike other timeshare companies, Disney Vacation Club builds lifelong relationships with its members. AJ Spencer, Director of Disney Vacation Club Sales had a great story to illustrate that point: “It was a family from the UK and so we met them at the beginning of their vacation in Walt Disney World. And they might have seen me if it wasn't two or three times a day for two hours at a time for 14 days until they made the decision.  No need to say they joined on their last day, and every time they came back to the US after that they pick up the phone and say we want to meet. And so at first it was just me meeting with them. And it became my whole family meeting with them. And our close friends to the point where the next time I go back to the UK, we're staying with them.”

As March, who in addition to being the creative director for the Member Cruise is DVC’s Senior Creative Content Manager, said, “What makes Disney Vacation Club unique in the industry is that there is a shared love of something. Disney Vacation Club members are united by this deep love of Disney. Our member community represents every walk of life, every background, every political persuasion, but their common ground is Disney. And that's what brings them together not only within the club, but specifically on this event. And I've found that to be very heartwarming, when you see a lot of people who probably in any other setting wouldn't interact, agree. And they come together here. And to me, that's what the community is all about.”

The next Disney Vacation Club Member Cruise is a 5-night Western Caribbean voyage on the Disney Dream out of Disney’s new homeport in Fort Lauderdale with stops at Cozumel and Castaway Cay. If you plan on going, just a word of advice, make sure you bring an empty suitcase so you have room for all the magic Disney Vacation Club will be leaving in your stateroom.