The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Bay Lake Towerby Tom Richards, contributing writer
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.
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.
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.
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.