The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Bay Lake Tower

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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The Contemporary Resort was as much a symbol of early Walt Disney World as Cinderella Castle. It portrayed the entire "vacation kingdom" concept that differentiated Walt Disney World from Disneyland. Images of the monorail gliding in and out of this signature resort were featured on everything from postcards to souvenir books, from felt pennants to the opening of television's "Wonderful World of Disney." It's no wonder that my parents chose this resort for our very first visit to the Vacation Kingdom of the World. To this day, the rush of emotion when disembarking the Walt Disney World Monorail and entering the Grand Canyon Concourse of the Contemporary Resort is as real and as potent as it was all those years ago during our first visit.

We chose the Contemporary Resort as our home during our family celebration of my parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary. To be exact, we chose Bay Lake Tower so that the entire family could stay together in one of Disney's home-away-from-home accommodations. Bay Lake offered the best of both worlds for us: the nostalgic factor of staying at the Contemporary and the thrill of staying somewhere new.

Bay Lake Tower opened in 2009 as Disney Vacation Club's seventh resort. Built on land previously occupied by the Contemporary Resort's North Garden Wing, Bay Lake Tower was not without its detractors. I, for one, was unimpressed by its rather generic modern hotel look and objected to its intrusion on a much-loved view across Bay Lake from the Polynesian Village Resort. When generous family members offered to share their vacation club points with us, however, I decided to push aside my doubts and approach Bay Lake Tower with an open mind.

And I am very glad I did.

While the general "contemporary" theme is a difficult one for Disney to keep up with, designers hit the right tone this time by embracing a mid-century approach. It's very difficult to explain. The main entrance was originally designed as a simple lobby, but now it hosts its own small check-in desk and bell services. It feels a little cramped, but it's very inviting and very convenient. From the artwork inside the automated doors to the openness of the atrium inside, this is a welcoming place. The lighting, the huge windows, and the odd mix of natural textures with bold modern colors works. The vanilla-spice smell embraces visitors and says "welcome home" in a unique way. Just outside the lobby is a courtyard that reflects Bay Lake Tower's mix of color and texture. It is lined with huge bamboo plants that are accented by bold colored tiles, harsh geometric patterns, and all sorts of angles and lines. Don't ask me how, but somehow this, too, works from a design point of view.

The elevators are sleek and modern as well; the doors feature hidden Mickeys and the floors are made of inlaid marble in pleasing designs. We stayed in the North Tower, so the foyers and hallways overlooked Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. The all-glass foyers outside the elevators offer breath-taking views. Even the hallways are inviting, bright and open, painted in calming tones with multi-finish paint. The lighting is subtle, the carpet colorful, and the artwork—Andy Warhol-inspired takes on Walt Disney Imagineering designs, classic Disney characters, and iconic Magic Kingdom images—adds just the right amount of whimsy.

Guest Rooms

Our two-bedroom villa, in North Tower on the fourteenth floor, was amazing. Decorated with an odd mix of color and texture, it captured the feel of the Contemporary Resort in every way. The carpet was a pale light green, woven in a basket-weave pattern. The doors and the cabinets were made of a very dark wood with accents of chrome, glass, black wood, and white trim. Some chairs were made of chrome; the sofa, a tan cotton; the kitchen booths, blue vinyl; the tables, dark laminate; the living room chair, brown leather; and the headboard in the master suite was a black and white striped vinyl. The lighting was soft, the accent pillows were loud, and the artwork was bold. It was a mid-century, contemporary, retro-modern mess, and it worked splendidly.

Designed so that every square inch of space is useful, there is an incredible amount of storage space in these rooms. Drawers for clothing are built into the entertainment centers in all of the rooms; there's a hidden cabinet in the kitchen, perfect for cereal and other needs. There's also a large empty closet for storing suitcases and strollers. The shapes here are very cool; from the triangular plates to the ultra-cool sliding doors in the bathroom to the immense windows that follow the curves of the building, Bay Lake Tower offers a truly unique experience.


The Grand Villa at Bay Lake Tower features an impressive view. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Speaking of windows, the views here are incredible. We overlooked the pool and could see across Bay Lake towards Fort Wilderness, the Wilderness Lodge, and could even spy Epcot's iconic Spaceship Earth in the distance.

As expected, the pool was perfect for families, with a large splash area for kids, a large zero-entry pool, and several fun slides; we spent many hours here enjoying the sun and the views across Bay Lake. There's even a little white sand beach with a few chairs.

Lounges and Dining

Located on the sixteenth floor, the Top of the World lounge offers a wonderful setting to relax and unwind. The artwork here consists of classic inspirational drawings from Walt Disney Imagineering through the years, focusing on Tomorrowland and the Walt Disney Monorail. There's also a great Observation Deck offering spectacular views, especially popular during the Magic Kingdom fireworks.


The Top of the World lounge features this modern chandelier. Photo by Stephanie Wien.

Next door, the Contemporary Resort offers several dining options: the California Grill, the Wave, and the ever-popular Chef Mickey's. There's also the Contempo Café, a counter service location with a surprising variety and decent prices.

Bay Lake Tower is located in the very heart of the Vacation Kingdom of the World, surrounded by Bay Lake and a short walk from the Magic Kingdom. Best of all, the Contemporary Resort is connected to Bay Lake Tower by an open-air bridge. The classic monorail connects the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom and to Epcot, via the Ticket and Transportation Center. While it may not offer the away-from-it-all experience provided by resorts such as the Wilderness Lodge and the Polynesian Village, the Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower are highly recommended for their unique place in the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

 

Comments

  1. By yellowrosedtxn

    I stayed there for the first time this past February. I absolutely loved it! Not only that, but I got an upgrade to a 2 bedroom deluxe suite with a theme park view. I had a 1 bedroom deluxe theme park view to begin with, so I was floored when they asked if I minded being upgraded. I just have to say it is one of the most beautiful rooms I stayed at! I loved being able to walk from Magic Kingdom to the tower instead of having to take any other kind of transportation.

  2. By davidgra

    Bay Lake Tower is our absolute favorite of the DVC properties in Florida. There are so many great things about it, but the #1 factor is simply the fact that you can walk to the Magic Kingdom from it. On our most recent stays there, we've fallen into the habit of walking over to the Magic Kingdom in the evenings to close out our days, no matter where we've spent the rest of the day. Even if we've spent the day in the Magic Kingdom, we'll head back to the hotel after dinner for a little rest, then walk back to the park later on.

    There are other huge advantages to staying there, too. The size and functionality of the villas is simply unparalleled. While Old Key West might have more square footage, the layout of the one- and two-bedroom units at BLT is far more functional. The extra bathroom is a HUGE plus (two full bathrooms if you're in a one bedroom, and three full bathrooms if you're in a two bedroom). The only other resort in Florida that offers this feature is Kidani Village.

    Then there's the view. What could possibly be better than sitting on your own balcony and watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks each night? There's the pool area -- very nice. Several excellent restaurants in the main tower of the Contemporary. Quick monorail trip to the TTC and on to Epcot. Relatively uncrowded buses (compared to the resorts that aren't connected by monorail to two parks). Extremely convenient parking.

    We try to rotate around through all the different DVC properties as much as possible, but we usually stay at the Bay Lake Tower about every third trip or so. The Beach Club and the Boardwalk both provide that "walking distance" proximity to a theme park, but without the views or the great rooms. Really, the one DVC property that gives the BLT a run for its money is the Grand Californian, and that's mainly because that resort is practically IN a theme park.

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