Disney's Contemporary Resort was built at the very beginning of Walt Disney World's history. It was one of the two original resort hotels (the Polynesian Resort being the other) that were open when the massive complex first opened in 1971. At that time, the ultra-modern, gleaming glass and exposed concrete palace was the state of the art. Now, the resort has a little bit of a dated, antiseptic look to it at times. Nevertheless, this is a premium Disney resort...let there be no mistake about it. The shops, restaurants, rooms and other amenities are top-notch.
Approach to the Contemporary Resort
There's a neat historical tidbit that I just have to share about this resort. The rooms of the tower building (and at the Polynesian, too), shown in the top-most photograph were actually built off-site at a United States Steel "factory", then were trucked in and placed in their proper locations with cranes. Originally, the idea was to refurbish the rooms by simply sliding the older rooms out, and replacing them with refreshed ones. Unfortunately, the physics of settled concrete permanently locked those modules into place where they remain today. According to Christopher Finch in "The Art of Walt Disney," (pages 440-441 if you doubt my sources), the room modules were 14 1/2 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and 39 feet long. They came to the site fully wired and plumbed (including fire sprinklers) and with built-in furniture and carpeting. The US Steel plant built about a dozen of these rooms a day until over 1,500 units were fabricated.
It is clear from the moment you walk inside that Mickey is the Big Cheese at this resort. One example is this statue of Leopold Stokowski and Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse, greeting each other during the original Fantasia which was released in 1940. This statue is located just inside the entry doors and across from the check-in desk. Mickey is also prominently displayed in the shops here, as well as at Chef Mickey's, the main character venue/restaurant at this resort.
Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse and conductor Leopold Stokowski
Even so, the Contemporary works hard to look sleek, modern, and unlike what you normally would associate with anything Disney. The main lobby area is filled with contemporary style furniture (not all that comfortable, but Jane Jetson would be proud to have Rosie the Robot vacuum around it in her living room).
As a premium resort, the Contemporary does a good job of providing quick, responsive service to it's guests. Another good reason for this is that the Contemporary has a large conference center and business guests are used to having things done just so. I didn't take any pictures of the conference center. Suffice to say that this resort boasts the best meeting facilities at Walt Disney World (and that many of Disney's own special events are based here throughout the year).
In this view, taken from Bay Lake, shows how close this resort is to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. In the far right of the picture you can see Space Mountain. In the foreground, in front of Space Mountain, you can see the North Garden Wing of the resort. The garden wings (you can see the South Garden Wing in the foreground to the far left) are low-slung three-story buildings that complement the main Tower Building by enclosing the courtyard that contains the pool, playground, and marina.
Resort viewed from Bay Lake
Resort viewed from Bay Lake
Tower Building viewed from Bay Lake
Back on land, this view of the resort's enclosed courtyard looks from the Tower Building toward the North Garden Wing and Bay Lake beyond.
Garden Wing Corridor
I snapped this photograph when I was walking back from the North Garden Wing toward the Tower Building.
Garden Wing Corridor
The escalators to the Grand Canyon Concourse are located at the far East end of the lobby, just across from the Food 'n' Fun Center. Actually, you need to go up two flights of escalators to get to the concourse (there's a level of meeting rooms in between the concourse and the lobby at ground level below).
Here's a little artsy photo for ya... The concourse escalator.
The view from the top (4th floor) of the escalator.
Stretching from the top of the escalator are several shops (which you can see on another page of this photo tour in more detail). Straight across the way, in the picture above, you can see a monorail in the resort station because one fact about the Contemporary, and very unique at the time it was built, is the fact that the Magic Kingdom resort monorail runs right through the A-frame structure of this hotel.
The monorail loading platform from concourse level.
I remember as a kid arguing with the boy that lived next door about what was better -- Disneyland in California (which I'd been to several times at that point of my life) or Walt Disney World, which Kevin had just visited with his family. My argument was that Disneyland was the original park and besides, it had the Matterhorn! But Kevin's response was that WDW was so big (something I just didn't comprehend until I visited myself for the first time several years later) and that the monorail ran right through the main hotel. It's hard to compete with something that's that cool.
In the picture above, you can see the resort monorail loading platform, perched just above the Fantasia Shop. If you look closely, you can see a monorail train is actually parked there when this picture was taken. From this angle, it's hard to see (you can barely make it out through the stiles of the guardrail) but it's there.
Standing here in the shopping concourse, the Tower building guest rooms are stacked above us on either side. Of course -- the wonderful glass walls let in a flood of natural light making this a very pleasant area. Looking at this same concourse from above gives a completely different perspective!
The shopping concourse and monorail station viewed from the 8th floor...
...and from the 11th floor.
On this same level, on the opposite end of the concourse from the shops and monorail station, you'll find a couple of restaurants and a lounge. The Outer Rim Lounge gets pretty busy in the evenings, especially when many folks are waiting to be seated at Chef Mickey's and at the Concourse Steakhouse.
Since I showed you what the shopping end of Grand Canyon Concourse looks like from above, I figured I'd show the same perspective on the restaurant end...
Chef Mickey's viewed from the 8th floor...
...and the whole restaurant end of the concourse from the 11th floor.
Just a note on geography from the photo above: Chef Mickey's is located toward the far end of the Concourse. The suspended glass disk with the un-readable (in this photo), blue-lit "Chef Mickey's" letters marks the entrance to that restaurant. The Concourse Steakhouse seating area is in the area from Chef Mickey's and going forward (you can see several round tables scattered about, and the square structure in the right foreground is filled with booths for larger parties. The Outer Rim Lounge is to the left.
Before we leave the concourse I'd like to show you a couple of murals that are on the high walls. The mural shown in the picture to the left is directly adjacent to the Concourse Steakhouse. The shops are to the right.
The West-facing Mary Blair mural.
The other mural, and the larger of the two, is located over on the shop side of the concourse. If you look at that picture, above, of the monorail station and the Fantasia Shop facade, the main mural is on the wall to the left, just outside of the picture.
The shopping concourse mural.
Obviously, this is one of the grand-daddies of all murals. Designed by Imagineer Mary Blair, one of the eight stories tall splashes of color in an otherwise plainly decorated building. The murals (one on the shop side and one on the restaurant side of the concourse) are on the faces of a huge wall that forms a bridge across the tower building. The wall also serves to hide the resorts elevators that services the guest floors and the California Grill and Lounge up on the 15th floor.
As an aside, a MousePlanet reader, Karl, sent me the following note:
Brian, I read today's photo safari on the Contemporary. Two tidbits on the murals.
On the west-facing mural, facing the monorail platform, there's a goat with five legs, up near the top.
On the south-facing mural, visible from the Steakhouse, there's a boo-boo - one of the tiles is rotated 90 degrees out of place, and it's fairly easy to find. (Editor's Note: This mural isn't shown on this page.)
These might be fun for folks to look for.
Contemporary Grounds is an upscale coffee bar much like you'd see on any Seattle street corner. It's located just off the main lobby area, and it's pretty hard to find unless you know what you're looking for.
At the far end of the lobby area, is both Walt Disney Worlds largest game room and arcade, and a snack shop all rolled into one. The Food 'n' Fun Center is a family oriented place. The food isn't top-notch gourmet faire, but the prices are right for a quick bite or just a snack.
Food & Fun Center
In the picture above, you can see the TV / sitting area that mark the entrance to the Food & Fun Center. Just beyond that orange-colored wall with the square openings is the food service area. The arcade is in the far back left-hand corner, though the circle-shaped archway. This whole area is a pretty noisy place. Don't plan on coming here for a quiet get away from the room. On the other hand, it is a nice feature for those guests that have kids and need an alternative to the upscale restaurants upstairs. One other quick note -- there are very, very, precious few tables for counter service customers here, so don't be surprised for the Food & Fun Center to be standing room only during peak meal times.
The Food & Fun Center's counter service area
Upstairs, in the Grand Canyon Concourse on the fourth floor, you'll find a couple of restaurants and a lounge. The Outer Rim Lounge gets pretty busy in the evenings, especially when many folks are waiting to be seated at Chef Mickey's and at the Concourse Steakhouse.
The Outer Rim Lounge
The Outer Rim bar
Just an aside here... but in between the Outer Rim Bar and Chef Mickey's (which takes up the space at the far end of the concourse) is a small sitting area. It's really a nice place to hang out with the kids while you're waiting for your table at Chef Mickey's. It has a TV, several benches and chairs, and is just a nice little nook away from the louder, open concourse itself.
The "hidden" waiting area.
The Concourse Steakhouse is located directly across from the Outer Rim. The seating area is wide open, and it does tend to get loud. Although the food is good, the ambience is far from the usual gourmet restaurant. It's also not a very romantic restaurant, so keep that in mind if you're planning a special meal for a special occasion.
Concourse Steakhouse's seating area
Chef Mickey's is at the far end of the concourse beyond the Steakhouse on the right and the Outer Rim on the left. It remains one of the very best character meal restaurants in all of Walt Disney World, and the dinner buffet is among the best, too.
Minnie makes the rounds...
...as does Dale and the Big Cheese himself.
Way upstairs, on the 15th floor, is one of Walt Disney World's best and most popular restaurants.
California Grill entry way, right off the elevators
California Grill's lounge seating area
California Grill's bar
California Grill's seating
California Grill's show kitchen
California Grill's sushi bar
The view from the lounge and the restaurant's seating is spectacular at night. You can see Seven Seas Lagoon with the Polynesian and Grand Floridian Resorts across the water with the Magic Kingdom just to the side.
The Polynesian viewed from the California Grill
The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa viewed from the California Grill
During the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks shows, the music is piped in up here, the lights are dimmed, and everyone in attendance is given a fantastic view of the show.
The Magic Kingdom viewed from the California Grill
At the far end of the lobby area, is both Walt Disney Worlds largest game room and arcade, and a snack shop all rolled into one. The Food 'n' Fun Center is a family oriented place. A small TV showing Disney tapes is available, too, just in case your kids don't see enough of those at home.
The entryway to the Food & Fun Center
In the picture above, you can see the TV / sitting area. The arcade is in the far back left-hand corner, though the circle-shaped archway.
The arcade (photo by Sue Holland)
Walking back downstairs to the lobby, then outside to the back of the resort complex, you'll find an expansive brick-paved plaza. With trees, shrubs, and lawns all bordering on Bay Lake, this part of the resort has a unique modern, but natural feel to it.
The central plaza, in the shadow of the Resort's Tower Building.
The resort's marina, where you can rent water craft of all kinds (including the incredibly fun water mice) or participate in water skiing and parasailing (both by appointment only), is located right off the central plaza...
The Bay Lake Beachfront (the marina is across the way).
Another view of the marina.
...as is the playground that lies next to the North Garden Wing...
A closer view of the playground.
...and the rather plainly themed pool which is next to the South Garden Wing. There are some fountains that squirt water in the pool here, which lends a bit of fun to any aquatic time spent here, and a slide was recently added to the pool. However, it's pretty clear that there is no attempt to add any festive themeing. The clean, crisp lines of the Contemporary's Garden Wings and Tower Building provide the only backdrop for swimmers.
The pool viewed from the central plaza.
Another (better) view of the pool (photo by Sue Holland)
Stretching from the top of the escalator are several shops. Straight across the way, you can see a monorail in the resort station. Tower building guest rooms are stacked above us and across the concourse, and of course -- the wonderful glass walls let in a flood of natural light making this a very pleasant area.
The shops on the South end of the Grand Canyon Concourse
At the very top of those escalators is Bay View Gifts (BVG), which has books, CDs, Disney souvenirs, much of it very upscale. this is also where you'll find many collectibles and other such items. At the far end of the shop you'll find a small selection of logo clothing and other resort wear.
Bay View Gifts
Another view of Bay View Gifts
And yet another view of the shop (photo by Sue Holland)
Fine chocolates for sale at BVG
The view across the concourse from BVG to Fantasia
Across the concourse from BVG is Fantasia. If you didn't find it at BVG, it's probably available here. Again, you'll see the "Mickey is the boss theme" in this area, with the main Mouse showing up around here. Not a surprise, given Mickey's staring roll in the Film.
One strange thing is that the main entrance for Concourse Sundries and Spirits Store is located INSIDE Fantasia. I suppose this arrangement is a labor-saving one, but it's a bit weird to find a shop inside another shop. (The separate entrance from the concourse is very understated compared to the entrance from Fantasia.)
Concourse Sundries and Spirits
The view across the concourse from Fantasia to BVG (photo by Sue Holland)