My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Disney's Contemporary Resortby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
I'm just a few days away from another stay at Walt Disney World. The excitement has been building and given just how hectic life has been these last few months, I could seriously use a dose of Disney magic right about now. We've got some days booked in the parks, but this time around, we're also carving out some time to stay at our Disney resort and just chill. I'm seriously looking forward to waking up, having a leisurely breakfast on our balcony at the Grand Floridian, then lounging by the pool for as long as I want. Maybe a walk around the lagoon. Maybe we'll hop the monorail over to the Polynesian for a Dole Whip, or take a boat ride over to the Wilderness Lodge for some time in that awesome lobby. Or maybe we'll head over to the resort I'm talking about today, Disney's classic Contemporary Resort.
Now, truth be told, I never had any desire to stay at the Contemporary. I knew all of the positives, but it never seemed like my style. I'm not a modern kind of guy. Our home here on Long Island is about to turn 100 years old. When we were house hunting 25 years ago, that's exactly the type of house that we were looking for, something old, something classic, something with character. When I think about the architectural styles represented on Walt Disney World property, I'm instantly drawn to more classic looking places like the Yacht and Beach Club or the New Orleans style buildings of the French Quarter or the grand National Park look of the Wilderness Lodge. Sure, the Contemporary has always been kind of cool looking, but it was always a little too sleek for me. That said, we had the opportunity to stay there recently with my sons, and we couldn't pass it up. What kind of Disney completist would I be if I've never stayed at one of the original Walt Disney World resorts.
The Contemporary Resort opened back in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian. The A-frame style hotel was groundbreaking in that the rooms were built off site, trucked onto property and then "slid" into place. This gave way to the rumor that the Contemporary rooms could be replaced rather easily by removing them and sliding in new ones. Unfortunately, this is completely false. Cool idea, just not true. What is true is that this iconic hotel is an awesome place to stay when visiting Walt Disney World. Let's find out why with my Top 5 things to love about Disney's Contemporary Resort.
5 - Food and Drink Choices
Once you bump up to the Deluxe level of Disney resorts you'll find that your dining options tend to multiply, and the Contemporary follows that trend. There are several great choices and something for everyone. Starting–quite literally–at the top, you'll find one of my favorite restaurants–not only at Walt Disney World, but anywhere–California Grill. We've only eaten there once, but it was an excellent experience. Top notch cuisine, an exceptional wine list and an impeccable staff to guide you through the whole experience only accentuate the incredible views from high atop the resort. Down on the main concourse, you can dine with Mickey and friends at the always popular Chef Mickey's. If you just want counter service there's the crowd pleasing Contempo Cafe.
The entrances to two of the popular eating venues are seen here. On the left is Chef Mickey's, a character buffet, and on the right is the main quick service facility, Contempo Cafe. Photo by Donald Fink.
Down in the lobby you've got Steakhouse 71. All are great choices and I haven't even mentioned the abundant libations at The Outer Rim, The Cove Bar and the Sand Bar. There's even a Joffrey's in the ground floor lobby with great coffee, delicious smoothies and those monster donuts! You won't be hurting for food at the Contemporary, but if you aren't satisfied with those choices, there are two other Deluxe resorts just a quick monorail ride away.
4 - Shopping
Even before I stayed at the Contemporary, I always loved paying a visit to the concourse level to check out the monorail gliding overhead, the views of Bay Lake and one of my favorite shops on Disney property, Bayview Gifts. For some reason, this gift shop tends to get some unusual merchandise. I have literally gotten some of my most favorite and unique collectibles, clothing and pins at BVG.
Right outside the doors of Bayview Gifts is another favorite, the Fantasia gift shop.
This shop has more of an open air feel to it and is mostly full of plush, toys and kid's clothes. But they have an outstanding pin section, especially when compared to other resort gift shops. Top it off with some unusual artwork featuring all sorts of characters from the animated classic Fantasia and you've got a must see stop on any Disney shopping fan's list of place to go.
3 - The Views
If you've ever booked a Disney resort stay, you know that room views are a big deal. Water View. Garden View. Standard View. Theme Park View. Pool View. Sometimes it doesn't really matter. For example, if you're staying at a place like Port Orleans Riverside, paying extra for a water view doesn't really mean all that much when you don't, in fact, have a balcony to enjoy that view. I'd just as soon save a few bucks and pay for the Garden View. That said, I do recommend avoiding the Standard View at most resorts because that can be a view of a parking lot. Balcony or not, I'd rather not walk out my door on vacation and look at parked cars. However, it's really hard to go wrong with the two views in the main tower of the Contemporary. On one side, you have the golden egg, the view of the Magic Kingdom.
From here you can gaze at Cinderella Castle, Big Thunder Mountain, The Astro Orbiter, Beast's Castle, Space Mountain and the most recent addition to the view, Tron Lightcycle Run. Depending on which side of the resort you are on, you might have a significant portion of the convention center right out your balcony, but just look towards the right and the beautiful view of the Magic Kingdom pretty much negates that. Our room was fairly close to the convention center, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker.
On the other side of the A frame you have what may be an arguably better view. The opposite side of the resort looks out over Bay Lake.
We didn't have that view, but I think I would have been pretty thrilled looking out over the body of water that–legend has it–attracted Walt Disney to this piece of Central Florida in the first place. Apparently when flying over the area in his search for the perfect place to build The Florida Project, Walt spotted Bay Lake and the island in the center, realized its proximity to the interstate and said something to the extent of, "There. That's where we build." That's the Disney geek's reason to love the view of Bay Lake, but the truth of the matter is that it's just a beautiful view of a tranquil and natural body of water, a rarity on Disney property, that anyone would love to have right off of their resort balcony.
2 - The Monorail
It's been stated that the Walt Disney World monorail is an attraction all unto itself. I'd have to agree with that sentiment. What is it about this ride around the lagoon that has seemingly captured guests' admiration for the past 50 years? Maybe because it's such an uncommon form of transportation? There are about 16 monorail systems operating in the U.S and less than 50 in the whole world, so they definitely have a certain mystique to them. Despite stopping at two other resorts, Epcot and the Ticket & Transportation Center, the Walt Disney World monorail is inextricably linked to the Contemporary. It's hard to think of one without the other. Think about it; the monorail literally goes into Epcot, yet when most people think of Epcot, they don't immediately think monorail do they?
I've stayed at each monorail resort. When you're at the Polynesian, you barely know the monorail is there until you actually go up to the station and board it. the same goes for the Grand Floridian. Sure it's there and you use it if you're there, but even if you're not staying at the Contemporary and are just there to visit or dine at Chef Mickey's, the monorail is omnipresent and that's just fine with me. I thought it was awfully cool to walk out my door into the Contemporary atrium and see the monorail silently gliding through. It's a major part of the Contemporary experience.
1 - The Murals
Now this is a surprising top entry if I do say so myself, and I'm the writer and I'm saying so. For me, my favorite thing about the Contemporary Resort has to be the incredible Mary Blair mural that is the feature of the resort's Grand Concourse. Disney Legend Blair, a master of color and design, worked on such animated classics as Dumbo, Fantasia, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Lady of the Tramp. Most Disney guests experience her special touch whenever they set sail on "it's a small world" in Fantasyland. Her iconic designs on that ride are perhaps her largest legacy. I'm a huge fan of Blair and her distinct style of artwork, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I'm able to see another tremendous piece of that legacy every time I step foot into the Contemporary and head to the 4th floor.
This mural featuring Native American children, goats, and scenes from the American southwest is one of several large murals in the Grand Canyon Concourse of Disney's Contemporary Resort. They were designed by Mary Blair.
I especially loved walking out of my room and being able to see her incredible work from a much different perspective than down below. I rode the elevator up and got off on every floor just to be able to admire her work from multiple levels and angles. It's a very singular thing. There's nothing quite like it in any other Disney resort, and as a Disney fan the best part of staying there wasn't the view, or the proximity to the Magic Kingdom or the sleek and silent monorail. It was having this beautiful piece of art created by someone with such a history in the Walt Disney Company right there in front of me at all times. This seems to be a prominent theme in the resort. If you end up over there, whether you're staying or not, make sure to also check out the incredible concept art and vintage photos on display downstairs in Steakhouse 71. This artwork and Mary Blair's mural are reason enough to pay a visit to the Contemporary.
It would be impossible to write this article about the Contemporary without acknowledging the fact that our trip there was cut short due to my dad's passing back home in New York. It was the second day of the trip when the phone call came from my brother. My mom was actually with us there when we got the news. We arrived late the night before and I immediately spent an extra magic hours night at the Magic Kingdom with my two sons and didn't get back to the resort until after 1 am. A few hours later, the alarm went off at 6:45 in time for me to secure some Genie+ reservations and a Guardians of the Galaxy Lightning Lane. After being in Epcot for only a few hours, I had to return to the Contemporary, speak to my mom and my kids, and start calling home. Suffice it to say that I spent some of the saddest moments in my life right there at this resort. Once we realized that we could not, in fact, get home until the following day, we settled in to the Contemporary. We ate. I explored the resort some more, and then we spent time out on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake in honor of my dad's love of being on the water. And that's when we realized that Walt Disney World was taking care of us. We needed it to and it did just that. It was pretty amazing. The Contemporary cast members took extraordinary care of all of us, especially when they heard what we were going through. I'l never forget the Disney magic that was spun our way during that 24 hour spell between finding out about my Dad and us leaving the next day, and the Contemporary was a huge part of that magic.
I can't say that the Contemporary is my favorite Walt Disney World resort. That honor goes to the Yacht Club for sure. I'm still not a fan of the sleek architecture and modern look. It's just not my style. And despite being a huge fan of The Incredibles, I don't see why they had to shoehorn them into every room. Do I really need curtains with Bob Parr's head printed on them? But I can't really knock The Contemporary either. It's a perfect location for all the reasons I mentioned here and more. It's hard to beat being able to walk into the Magic Kingdom from your resort. Will I stay there again? Now that I have, I don't think I have to. Will I ever visit again? Most definitely. As a matter of fact, we went to visit my sons this past weekend and made sure to spend a hour or two just wandering around the resort and soaking in its classic Disney atmosphere. If that's what you're looking for, look no further than the shores of Bay Lake and one of Walt Disney World's first resort hotels. I also needed to go back and experience a little of that Contemporary magic that got my family and through a rough spell and I'm happy to report that it was still there for me if I needed it.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.