When The Walt Disney Company dramatically debuted the finished product of their Florida Project, one of their most impressive engineering feats wasn’t a theme park attraction. Instead, it was an accompanying hotel adjoining the Magic Kingdom, the East Coast’s answer to Disneyland. This majestic facility bore the thematic name of The Contemporary Resort Hotel, and it embodied Walt Disney’s vision for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. From the conception of the project, he’d intended for a resplendent hotel to host guests from around the world as they visited E.P.C.O.T.
What we now know as Disney’s Contemporary Resort stood apart from other theme park properties and, in fact, any other type of hotel of the era. That’s because the A-Frame backbone of the structure was revolutionary for the early 1970s. Constructors had to build the rooms at a separate location and then transport them to the hotel site. At this point, heavy machinery lifted the completed rooms into their permanent locations. It was an eye-grabbing technological achievement that aptly demonstrated Walt Disney’s grand vision.
Over the past 45 years, it’s become a staple of theme park vacations to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Even guests who have never stayed at the hotel have at least driven through it from time to time. A ride on the monorail requires it. Since the inception of the Disney Vacation Club in 1991, participants dreamt of staying at the storied facility. In 2009, Disney provided them with this capability, more or less. They added a second structure, a DVC-specific property known as Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort. This 295-room facility recently celebrated its seven-year anniversary. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, there’s still a lot to keep in mind. In honor of its seven years of excellence, here are seven things to know about staying at Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort.
Room with a View
Staying at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort will require a few decisions on your part. The most important of them is what type of view you prefer. Every room option except for the Grand Villas will include a choice of Standard View, Lake View, or Theme Park View. Standard is obviously the cheapest in terms of point cost, and it’s basically pot luck. You’ll have a parking lot view during the day in most instances, although some rooms offer lower floor views of parts of Bay Lake and Magic Kingdom. You can use the Roomfinder to decide your preference.
Magic Kingdom view
The Lake View option costs 10-20 percent more in most instances. Theme Park View is the most expensive, adding another 10-25 percent to the points cost. As is the case with all three monorail-based DVC resorts, Bay Lake Tower comes with a hefty points cost. So, you should pay close attention to the points chart to maximize the number of days you can stay in a hotel room that best fits your needs.
Finally, here are a couple of things you should keep in mind when booking. The first is that Bay Lake Tower can get quite loud at night. Due to its proximity to Magic Kingdom, it’s close enough to the fireworks display that some rooms will feel the thunder, so to speak. Similarly, the Electric Water Pageant passes close enough that the sounds can drive you crazy if you’re in your room when it happens.
With regards to the monorail, noise from it isn’t an issue. The station passes directly through Disney’s Contemporary Resort, but it only circles near to Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. So, you get to enjoy the monorail experience without the aggravation.
What’s a Skyway Bridge?
One of the most important facts about the hotel is one of the most difficult to conceptualize until you see it. The new tower isn’t a part of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The buildings are completely separate, something you’ve possibly noticed during a monorail ride. Still, when you stay at Bay Lake Tower, you’ll feel as if you are vacationing at the original hotel property. That’s because of the Skyway Bridge. This connecting walkway links the two buildings in a way that feels organic. Thanks to the Skyway Bridge, the DVC answer to Disney’s Contemporary Resort feels at worst like a fraternal twin, even if it’s not exactly the same thing as its more celebrated neighbor.
Skyway Bridge at sunset
The Skyway Bridge resides on the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the level you likely know as the Grand Canyon Concourse. It’s the floor that hosts noted shops such as Buena Vista Gifts and Fantasia Shop. It also features a couple of restaurants we’ll discuss below. The fourth floor is arguably the most important part of the resort, and the Skyway Bridge provides DVC members with direct access to these key components of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Somewhat confusingly, it does this by offering access via the fifth floor of Bay Lake Tower. What’s the fourth floor in the 1971 construct is the fifth floor for the sister site built in 2009.
Don’t worry about the implications of this. Instead, focus on what’s important. When you stay at the DVC site, aim for the fifth floor if possible. That way, you can walk from your room straight to the Skyway Bridge. Keep in mind that a lot of other guests will have the same plan, though. Alternately, accept a room on a different floor but keep in mind that you’ll likely make the trip up/down to the fifth floor a couple of times a day during your stay at Bay Lake Tower.
One final word of warning: you will need your Magic Band to access the doorways on both sides of the Skyway Bridge. Otherwise, you’re left to rely on the kindness of strangers to let you inside.
Did I Mention the Shopping?
Disney’s Contemporary Resort offers arguably the best shopping options of any Walt Disney World resort. Bay View Gifts is a massive store that features everything from candy to clothing to luggage. Some of the merchandise is basic Disney memorabilia while a portion of it is extremely high end. It is a store at Disney’s second most expensive resort, after all.
Fantasia Shop is wall-less store right beside Bay View Gifts offers some of the coolest mementos you’ll find in Orlando. They sell dolls, figurines, and functional mini-monorail sets. Walking through this area could take less than two minutes and yet I’ve blown hundreds of dollars here. Just beside it is Fantasia Market, which DVC members will frequent a lot to remain stocked on foods and beverages. Pay special attention to the chalkboard here. The staff adds a new batch of Disney trivia questions each day, a lovely touch.
Location, Location, Location
The most magical part of a stay at this property is the most obvious one. The hotel resides closer to a theme park than virtually any other North American Disney property. Bay Lake Tower is actually closer to Magic Kingdom than the Contemporary itself. Since it’s positioned on the side nearer to the park’s front gate, you needn’t bother with the monorail.
Instead, you can simply walk out the front lobby. You’ll find yourself at the main entrance in about five to eight minutes, depending on your walking speed and traffic. The only thing that can slow you down is an intersection with a pedestrian traffic light. My Fitbit indicates it’s only 800 steps from Bay Lake Tower to the Magic Kingdom. I’m a huge fan of the many features of this hotel, but NOTHING beats its proximity to the most popular theme park on the planet.
Pro tip: If you don’t care about Grand Canyon Concourse convenience, try to book a room on the first floor. That way, you can get out of the hotel and into Magic Kingdom in the timeliest manner possible.
Take Your Date to the Top of the World!
Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort offers the most unique DVC resort feature of any participating location. Any member of DVC has the ability to take an elevator up to the Top of the World Lounge on the 16th floor. There, you can watch Disney’s Wishes fireworks spectacular at the Magic Kingdom. The only equivalent view is at The California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, but you’d have to purchase an expensive meal there to receive it. The Top of the World Lounge is free for anyone with a DVC membership card.
Top of the World Lounge
You’ll present said card at the hotel lobby, and the kindly Disney cast member will direct you to the nearby elevator to the top floor. You’ll have to present your card again at the bottom of the elevator. Then, you’ll receive an escort to the 16th floor. The experience will make you feel like you’re one of the special few provided access to what lies beyond the velvet rope, and the fireworks view from the 16th floor is inimitable.
A Foodie’s Dream
Speaking of The California Grill, you can eat like a Top Chef judge when you stay at Bay Lake Tower. Sure, that’s largely true of any visit to Walt Disney World, but you can achieve your foodie dreams without leaving the Contemporary compound.
The most joyous of these options is Chef Mickey’s, a character meal that’s so popular that you’ll need advance dinner reservations to eat there, probably ones made the instant your 180-day window opens. It’s a buffet that features meet and greets with Mickey Mouse and his friends. It’s also a buffet, which means the food isn’t as wonderful as some other options listed here, but everyone will find plenty to eat.
The most celebrated is The California Grill. As referenced earlier, it resides on the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Hotel, thereby offering a breathtaking view of Magic Kingdom and the surrounding waters. You can guess from the name that it features California-style cuisine. The restaurant is upscale in every way, which means that you’ll enjoy haute cuisine at a hefty price. You’ll be hard pressed to spend less than $100 for a two-person meal here, although you can use Table Service credits from the Disney Dining Plan per person if so inclined. Remember that it costs two, though.
Anyone who eats at The California Grill is entitled to return to watch the evening fireworks from the outer balcony. Alternately, time your meal such that they go off while you’re dining. It’s the most magical, romantic meal possible at Walt Disney World. Meat lovers should try the Pork Two Ways. It’s one of the best entrees you’ll ever eat.
The most readily available is The Wave. Located on the first floor of Disney’s Contemporary Hotel, it’s just past the lobby at the main entrance. As such, you’d expect it to maintain constant traffic throughout the day. That’s really not the case, though. In fact, The Wave is one of the easiest reservations to get at Walt Disney World. Should you forget to pick up your ADRs for a trip, it’s also one of the best options for walk-in dining without a huge wait. That’s befuddling because The Wave offers some of the most delicious meals onsite, as well as one of the deepest menus. Your entire family should find something to enjoy here.
Finally, if you prefer Quick Service restaurants, the Contempo Café is positioned right beside Chef Mickey’s, almost teasingly so. You can enjoy all the joyous faces of children getting to hang out with Mickey Mouse while you scarf down a burger. This spot is also one of two options for refilling your Disney mug if you use one during your stay.
You’ll note that all of the restaurants listed here are from Disney’s Contemporary Hotel. That’s because there’s not a true restaurant at Bay Lake Tower. The closest thing is the Cove Pool Bar, which offers a few sandwich wraps and a hot dog plus several snacks. It’s more for a quick bite or potent potable rather than a meal. It’s also the other spot for mug refills. Note that room service is available at the DVC resort, though. That’s a valid option that can work wonders on a rainy day when you don’t feel like going out.
The Pool Situation
The final important piece of information about the hotel is its pool situation. Bay Lake Tower features an exclusive pool that will require a Magic Band to access. If you’re not staying at the timeshare, you can’t get in. It’s a zero-entry pool that is fairly small. That’s one of the reasons it’s DVC-exclusive. It does include several sections such as a hot tub and children’s play area. The slide is also great, as it’s hidden. You won’t know you’re at the bottom until you instant you splash down.
Bay Cove Pool
Guests at the DVC side of the property also gain access to the pool features at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The large pool there is the best onsite, offering a water park-ian slide that is 17-feet tall. The area also includes two hot tubs, cabanas available for rent, and a wonderful beach section complete with volleyball net. The entire pool facility is every bit as luxurious as you’d expect from one of Disney’s linchpin properties.
A stay at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort assures a DVC member of having one of the most relaxing, enjoyable vacations of a lifetime. It offers as many features and amenities as any current DVC property.
Disney Vacation Club member David Mumpower first visited Walt Disney World when he was six years old. The little brat promptly threw a tantrum because he couldn't find a comfortable shirt to wear around the park. Fortunately Disney shirts got a lot less itchy over the years. David current writes for a number of websites including "Theme Park Tourist", "Box Office Prophets" and "How Well Do You Know." To contact him click HERE.