July 4th – Top of the World Lounge party

Disney Vacation Club decided to do something a bit different this July 4th – a special 4th of July party at the Top of the World lounge at Bay Lake Tower. The cost: $99 per person (plus tax and gratuity). The reaction? Well – let’s say there was a mob of angry DVC members in the lobby of the hotel, who were not the least bit amused that they were being denied access to the lounge. You see, in years past, the TotW lounge was reserved specifically for those DVC members staying at Bay Lake Tower on special holidays (like July 4th). This was the first year DVC decided to make it a paid event, and as I said, there were A LOT of angry members.

Before I get to my thoughts on all this (and the event), let me give the facts of what was offered for the $99 charge (not including tax and gratuity).

First, this party was limited to 75 people. So, when I say this wasn’t crowded, I mean – it wasn’t crowded at all. The picture below was taken at the start of the event. Just imagine most of the chairs/tables being occupied, and that’s pretty much as ‘crowded’ as this event ever got. No standing shoulder to shoulder, no feeling of being packed in like sardines.

On offer was a small ‘buffet’ of chef-prepared dishes. A charcuterie board, truffle scented potato salad with smoked bacon, watermelon salad, lobster rolls, pork sliders, crab cakes, mac and cheese with braised short rib, tamarind chicken skewers and a variety of small desserts. Beverages included a special margarita, beer, wine, and champagne as well as soft drinks – all complimentary.

The food ranged from good to excellent. Several people commented about how good the lobster rolls were. It was a nice spread, and I wish I hadn’t had dinner before the event (we ate at Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, and I have to admit – for the second time, it was a VERY good meal). Of course, the highlight of the night was the Magic Kingdom Fourth of July fireworks. I’ve seen them before – many times, and they were – as always- spectacular. If you don’t know, this is a special 180-degree fireworks show, that pretty much consumes the sky between the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom.

Photo by Jim VanOstenbridge

The picture above is the view from the deck of the Top of the World lounge (and a big thanks to Jim VanOstenbridge for permission to use his photo!). This vantage point – which felt like you had a front row center seat for the show – along with the very relaxed atmosphere combined with the fact that there was no pushing or shoving to get a good view, made this THE best view I’ve ever had for a fireworks show.

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. DVC announced they would be doing this party with about a month’s notice, and inside of 24 hours, the event was sold out. People who had made their reservations 11 months in advance to stay at Bay Lake Tower for the express reason of being able to watch the fireworks from the lounge felt understandably blind-sided. While many of us breathlessly follow every development and announcement online, but some do not. Those people found out about this when they arrived in the lobby and saw a sign saying that the lounge was reserved for a private event. This was a massive failure of forethought and communication on DVC’s part, and that can not be denied or its impact underestimated. While the lounge was open to Bay Lake Tower guests the previous night (July 3rd), and the same fireworks show was offered, it’s still not quite the same as celebrating the 4th ON the 4th.

However (and I say this at the risk of pissing off those DVC members who were affected by this) – this event was one of the best Disney events I’ve ever attended. Accusations were made that this was a ‘money-grab’ on DVC’s part. I have to strongly disagree. Between the lounge and the patio area, this venue can hold up to 500 people. Only 75 tickets were sold because they couldn’t guarantee the weather, and they didn’t want 425 people left standing out in the rain. You don’t think about things like that when you’re doing a money-grab. You try and sell as many tickets as you can and you don’t care about the experience. You need to look no further than Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Oversold Overcrowded Halloween Party for a classic example of a Disney money-grab.

The executives I spoke with openly admitted they dropped the ball when it came to communication with members (especially those with reservations) regarding this event. I was told that in the future, emails will be sent to those with reservations at Bay Lake Tower advising them of any special event and giving them the first opportunity to purchase tickets. I was told that one reason for doing this was the numerous complaints they were receiving about how crowded the space was during special events.

The narrative that DVC doesn’t care about its guests is an easy trap to fall into. More than most, I have been a vocal critic of Disney’s constant decline in customer service over the years. I admit I’ve only been a member for a very short time, so my perspective is based solely on my recent experiences, but in all honesty – I do not see that when I look at DVC. I’ve attended three events since joining – Moonlight Magic at Epcot in May, the Mother’s Day Brunch at the Contemporary, and this event. All three had several things in common – they were not ‘oversold’ or overpriced (in the case of Moonlight Magic, there is no charge), the quality of the product/food was outstanding, the service was superb and I walked away from each one feeling very happy I was a DVC member. There was also a feeling that they appreciated the membership. As I said, I’m a new member – but I’m also someone who has been covering and following Disney professionally for 22 years. I’ve done MANY special events in that time, and I’ve experienced MANY up-charged events in that time. None of them – NOT ONE – has stood out when compared with the three DVC events I’ve experienced.

The 4th of July event at TotW certainly meets that standard. It was relaxed, elegant, and the service was superb. Darlene Cipriano (who is the Proprietor of The Wave restaurant), along with Diane Petit (the Contemporary Resorts General Manager) were on hand serving champagne, and making sure all the guests were enjoying themselves. As a side note, when I left the Contemporary and went to valet to get my car, Diane was there helping out. Let that sink in for a second – the GM of the Contemporary was hands on helping valet. I’d never met Diane before last night and I can only hope her next stop is the Grand Floridian to give that bus wreck a much-needed infusion of leadership.

While I understand the frustration and concerns of DVC members who were blind-sided by this, I think with some adjustments in communication, I’m hoping that we see more events like this, not fewer.

19 thoughts on “July 4th – Top of the World Lounge party

  • This is an excellent and fair review! I look forward to one day being able to attend one of these “not overcrowded” events. Also, knowing in advance what is available and what is not can diffuse the majority of irritation and anger–or, at least all of the anger wouldn’t arise at one time.

  • I read the whole thing, and while I obviously can’t comment on the event itself, it’s 110,000% unacceptable, indecent, and inappropriate to drop this on people 3 weeks ahead of arrival. They well know that people booked 11 months out for the opportunity to see the fireworks from that lounge. Additionally, as mentioned by another poster on the disboards, it’s even way too late to make alternate arrangements, save for a last minute cancellation. Any worthwhile dining reservation for July 4th dinner would be long gone; even the good fastpasses are gone since that’s a major park day.

    I’m sure the event was lovely, but they should have announced it and held off until next year. This is just another example of contempt the current regime in charge has for the loyal customer base. I’m sure it’ll make no difference to their bottom line, as usual, but even the roman empire fell eventually. Someday, they’ll have to get back to a minimal level of ethical acceptability or this will all take a turn.

    My wife and her son are big disney fans and she has grandkids she’s taking now, but for me, January 2042 can’t get here fast enough!

  • Glad you had a great time. I hope I get to do it one day but I think 4th of July week parks are to packed for me.

    • Just read your review and have a few comments to make. First, you are correct it was certainly not a money grab. Assuming there were no Comps or make-goods they took in 7500. When you then factor in cost of staff (presumably paid at a holiday rate) as well as cost of food, they probably broke even or in reality took a loss. But it probably was not designed to generate revenue. It was an attempt to see if it could be done on a small scale. I would guess the guest count for next year will increase. As well as the price point since it sold out some quickly. It was probably also done to see how much push back and negative impact it would have on existing DVC members. And finally, it was done to generate positivitive reviews and word of mouth to sell similiar events in the future.
      While I am indeed glad you enjoyed yourself I don’t think you really fit the profile of a typical DVC member. You are one person, as such you could easily spend $99 for food and drink with a semi-Private view of the fireworks. Now look at a typical family of four with two adults and two children. The type of family Disney typically directs all of their marketing efforts towards. Can that same family who purchased DVC, paid for plane tickets, purchased park tickets now come up with an additional $400 plus plus to watch the fireworks? It’s just another example of Disney upcharging again and again for “special” access. They do it with character breakfasts and all the other hard ticket events. This is just a new opportunity they are exploring to generate revenue.

      • You are correct, I don’t fit the profile of a typical DVC member. I share my thoughts and experiences as honestly as I can. That being said, I appreciate the fact that not everyone can afford it, but I also feel that not everyone can afford a Ferrari – it doesn’t mean it should be equally available at a price everyone can afford. There are many who would love to be DVC members, but can’t afford it. The lounge is available all year to DVC members (including those not staying at BLT) at no charge. I don’t see an issue with select nights being reserved for special events like this.

  • I’m curious what (if anything) did Disney do/offer the DVC members that got the rug swept out from underneath them?

    DVC members (myself included) are VERY loyal to Disney. Over the lifespan of our multiple contracts, we will have dumped in excess of a hundred thousand dollars into Disney. Something like this makes those members who booked at the 11 month window specifically for this event feel that that loyalty is not being reciprocated back to them.

    I agree with Pete, better communication on Disney’s part is needed. That includes not making the decision to make this a paid event a month prior.

  • Couldn’t agree more with Pete. First off, ‘typical’ or not we all paid the price of the DVC membership. Been a member since 1994 when I was ‘typical’…now the kids are grown and out of the house so I guess we aren’t ‘typical’ anymore. When it was a family of 4 traveling, we wanted to do ton of things (backstage tours for instance), however we couldn’t afford it and moved on. To bemoan someone having the ability to afford and attend an event is simply petty.

  • I am being told I am naïve and should read the small print, but I am a BLT member. I was sold that Animal Kingdom has the animals and that BLT would have the top of the world lounge as their special thing. Originally it was only available to BLT members staying on points. They opened up to other DVC members which is fine. But, it still was said that if you were staying there on points on you would still have access to the lounge first come, first serve with out an extra charge. We have done this a couple of times for New Years. As you stated it is the best -when it comes to special fireworks over the water in addition to the parks. Always planned on trying this for 4th. I am very disappointed in Disney as a BLT owner.

  • I was glad to read your review, it sounds like it was a wonderful evening. I would have gladly paid for this event had we been there. I don’t buy into the idea that everything should be affordable to all or the typical family of 4, for all the reasons that you stated in your reply above, Pete. I am a DVC member and it’s just my husband and I. I appreciate offerings that appeal to us and are not geared to the typical family of 4. I’m sure Walt would be very happy that we are spending our money at WDW. An event like this one might tempt me to actually be at WDW during the heat of summer and the crush of holiday crowds.

    • Pete, I am glad you had a great time! It sounded great to be one of the the 75 who attended. We have been Members going on 21 years I am sorry that you didn’t get to see DVC at its greatest during the 90’s! I am afraid it has been sliding over the past 20 years. DVC/Disney continues to put their needs ahead of their Members, for instance, stripping blue card member cards from resales. They did this to make the resale market less desirable. Customer service has declined along with Disney. Lately, it appears that Disney uses DVC as a test lab. I believe that is what occurred on the 4th party. Somewhere, someone wanted a test party and wanted to see if people would pay a premium for a 4th of July. Test projects will always make something new great and then little by little things would be stripped away.

      While the party was $75 per person, I am afraid it cost DVC a lot more in Goodwill last night with each family that did not attend the party and were denied access last night. There is no excuse for what happened. They should have announced this last year prior to the booking windows. Last year, we came down for 6 nights and stayed at GFV to go to the MK. In the heat of September, Disney had 5 of 6 nights filled with Halloween parties. Here we were staying at one of the best hotels, we are AP Members and we couldn’t enjoy more than the first night we arrived at the MK. The heat of the summer is still happening, we couldn’t enjoy the coolness of the night at MK because Disney wants to collect two gates in one day. There is an old saying on the farm…..Pigs get fat hogs get slaughtered. Disney has become a hog. We recommended several families to DVC. We don’t anymore!

      I am curious of one thing………Did you spend the night on property using points for the 4th of July?

  • I disagree. There were no wide scale complaints, people were happy with what was happening before – BLT guests on those dates.
    Whilst it may be fine if you are single, a couple, or loaded, think about the families of which DVC makes up the majority. With tax and tip for me, my wife and two kids (over 10) that’s $500- a fortune- to watch a firework show.
    We certainly don’t need more events like this if you are a normal hardworking family. Too expensive. Make it half the price if it’s really about the members or at least charge half price for under 21s.

    • I understand the argument from people who were blindsided by this because of the change in policy and the lack of notification. But this argument that “I can’t afford it so they shouldn’t do it” is ludicrous. There are plenty of other options. The lounge was open on July 3rd to watch the same fireworks show free of charge. Again, they were WRONG for not giving notice about this and just dumping it on members. I’m also fed up with this idea that because I don’t have kids, I don’t understand. I paid for 4 tickets for that party and I work hard for my money as well.

      • Agree with you Pete. I also find hypocritical the arguments that Disney is pricing out the middle class and proclaiming that “Walt would be turning over in his grave.” Not once have I EVER read a comment about concern toward the poor’s inability to come to Disney. It’s always people talking their own book in complete self-interest.

        The reality is, not everything is affordable to everyone. That’s hardly limited to Disney. Welcome to the world.

      • I thought you said it perfectly in your live chat. Their communication was nonexistent and that was wrong of them. Hopefully DVC has learned their lesson and as you said the next time they will give first Debs on those with reservations.

        On the flip-side, this had also a lesson for DVC members to not book family vacations solely based on a perk that can be taken away at any time.

  • I enjoyed this review very much, thank you for taking the time to write it up. I did however get a chuckle out of one comment. ‘Beverages included a special margarita, beer, wine, and champagne as well as soft drinks – all complimentary.’ No, it was most defiantly not complimentary. You paid $99 plus tip and gratuity for your food and beverage. They were included but not complimentary.
    But again, your review was great, thanks for posting.

  • I do agree with just about every opinion written above. I can see everyone’s perspective and how it’s important to them in the way this would affect them. Here is my opinion, not right or wrong, just an opinion…

    My concern isn’t so much the fact that there is a price tag attached for a party because I think Disney throws some of the best parties (and has some of the best party ideas) around. My issue as a Bay Lake owner is that one of my biggest benefits of being a DVC owner (and a big consideration for purchase at Bay Lake) was taken away from me on a special evening (as you said Pete, celebrating on the 4th is not the same as celebrating on the 3rd). If Disney wants to make this a paid event then it should have been done by dividing up the area. Left side for party viewing and appetizers and the right side for everyone else perhaps. Disney could have possibly found some way to include those who’ve already paid for the privilege of viewing fireworks from TOTW by paying for membership . If it closes for capacity at that point (because there would be less room up there with a party) then that is a different story (and a little more palatable from my perspective) than being told we can’t go up at all. I really wouldn’t have a problem paying for this party because it does look like it was done nicely, but the fact that I feel I’ve already paid for the fireworks view when I purchased my not so inexpensive membership makes it feel like I’m paying twice.
    This to me, feels a lot like the way Disney blocked AP use in Disneyland. I didn’t think it seemed right for someone who paid for an annual pass that is not subject to blockout dates to then suddenly have them after purchasing . Again, many people (I was not one of them, just an observation) could have bought them thinking of the Star Wars opening and then couldn’t even use them. And not just a day, but for many weeks. To me, this is starting to feel like the new trend at Disney, offer perks and take them away after purchase.

  • I stayed at BLT both the 3rd and the 4th with a theme park view one bedroom villa. I did see the email about the party but felt the $99 price per person was more than I wanted to spend so we enjoyed the fireworks from our room. Last year DVC held the same party at the Contemporary resort and had the area in front of the convention center roped off for exclusive viewing of the fireworks, with no limit, that I can remember, on attendees. We did do that one, and it was fun. Everything Pete stated was very true and I agree with it. Like him, we are locals but have been DVC members for 19 years and feel the value is well worth it even though we now live here. I will say we don’t feel DVC treats local DVC members as equals to those members staying at a resort property. We have been locked out of some of the special events because resort staying guests get priority in booking After Hours DVC events and some of those have booked up before they are opened to non resort (read locals) guests. Generally Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom events. But that is off topic. BTW, did anyone else notice the Disney Security vehicle parked in the BLT parking lot and did its’ safety lights bother you during the fireworks?

  • Good read Pete. Nothing against the event, but I have to say for the 75 very satisfied DVC members, there were hundreds of extremely pissed off DVC members to take there place. Owners buy at BLT for a number of reasons but some specifically to be able to use TOTW on 4th of July and New Year’s. It’s quite possible it may not have been a money grab, but it was extremely unfair to the owners there who are supposed to have exclusive access. I would’ve personally been livid if this happened to me. The right thing for them to have done was offer it to BLT members with the night booked. Yes that would’ve shut you out, but those people deserved first dibs for owning there AND booking all those months in advance.

  • My family’s original plans where to be at TOTW on the 3rd and 4th this year. DVC owners (mostly) know that DVC can change perks and understand that they do, but no one alerted us of the change. When I found out about the change, I called member services and was told “Ow Well”. Then received an email that had a generic letter stating they changed things and would we like to book. (it was already sold out)

    We booked 11 months out and at that time the web site stated those staying at BLT would be allowed up. Now with only 3 weeks till the 4th we had to try and change our plans. We could not get different dinner reservations, a fireworks viewing package (even this one was sold out by then) or change resorts as nothing was available.

    We tried to go up to TOTW on the 3rd around 8pm and the lounge was full (weather made only the lounge available). We went back around 8:30pm to find an insane line and where told we would most likely not make it up by the time the fireworks start. (from what others told me it reached capacity anyway). Parking lot viewing anyone.

    Hearing Pete’s statements about a Ferrari and not being able to afford it or that people don’t see the value is just insulting and not needed in this conversation. Private events are held all the time that don’t impact other park go’ers. They could have easily put this event in an area that did not impact so many unsuspecting people. (same place as the contemporary event the night before)

    The couple of dollars extra they (maybe) made or good will that was given to a few was lost on me. I was going to add points at riviera, not now. 200 + points @ $188 each… how much did this event cost them in cash and good will, I wonder.

    The issues here is WHEN they made the change and not informing those staying at BLT. (ok I also don’t like the change either), with so little time to adjust plans most people including my family could not make other plans.

    Pete you may have been treated well but me and many others got an “Ow Well” and a form letter.

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