The Contemporary Resort Is Contemporary Again

By Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the September 11, 2007 Issue #416 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

My favorite resort at Walt Disney World is the Contemporary. I stayed there for the first time in 1974 (the price then was around $40 a night) and I have returned many times over the years. But now that I live in Orlando, I don't actually spend the night there anymore. But a couple of days ago an occasion arose that made a night's stay at the Contemporary practical. I'd like to report on the newly refurbished rooms.

As many of you may know, when the Contemporary was built, the rooms were constructed at a different location and then "slid" into the giant A-frame, one by one, via a large crane. Contrary to persistent rumors, the rooms were never designed to be removed for future renovation. Once they were in place, they were permanent. This was simply a new construction method that Disney used at the time.

The basic layout of the room has not changed all that much over the years. You enter through a small hallway. The bathroom is located off of this hallway and the sleeping area is straight ahead. There are two closets in the hallway with frosted glass doors. Both closets have wooden coat hangers that actually come off the rack. And better than that, these hangers actually have hooks rather than those hard-to-use models where you have to negotiate a rod and ball into a device on the rod.

In one closet you'll also find an ironing board and iron, a nice-sized safe, and several drawers. The other closet has more drawers. Both are designed so that you can hang shorter items like shirts and blouses over the drawers and longer items like pants and dresses over an empty space. Both closets have lights in them so if you need a nite-lite you can leave the lights on and close the doors. The frosted glass defuses the light and puts out a soft glow. A vanity with drawers separates the two closets and provides a great place to leave and pick up essentials as you come and go.

The bathroom is big and nice for families. However, I had some problems with it. First, the sinks: There are two, but in trying to decorate in a "contemporary" way, the Imagineers chose large, square, flat sinks that take up almost all of the available counter space. The only area left to put your toiletries is in a small area between the sinks. This space would hardly be adequate for a family of four. In fact, it wasn't adequate for two. Also, the sinks in my room sloped away from the drain hole. Being flat, rather than curved, the water just puddled and sat there rather than going down the drain. Not good.

When you first enter the bathroom there is a stylish towel rack on the wall that holds four fluffy towels. The bathtub/shower is on the other side of the room. There is no way you can reach the towel rack from the tub. So if you're smart enough to remember to pick up a towel before getting into the shower, you must either sling it over the curtain rod or lay it on the edge of the sink. But be careful with this second choice. Chances are the sink will have standing water in it and your towel will end up getting wet.

The curtain rod in the shower is nice. It curves outward at the top and this gives you more room to maneuver in a tight area.

The shower walls are all lined with marble. This looks very nice. Disney has also provided a nice marble ledge to hold your shampoo, conditioner and soap. But once again I found a problem here. This ledge is completely flat with no drain slots or ridges. Because of this, my bar of soap "glued" itself to the shelf during the night. I'm not kidding when I say that I had to pry if off the ledge the next morning.

Also gone are the cute Mickey Mouse toiletries that once adorned all of the bathrooms. Now, a more "elegant" brand of shampoo and soap is being offered. I like to think that Disney was trying to improve the product line in their hotel rooms, but I miss Mickey. One of the reasons I stay at Disney resorts rather than their competitors is for the Disney/Mickey branded items you can't get elsewhere. If they really wanted to offer their guests a better product, couldn't they have packaged it in "Mickey" bottles? Sigh.

The bathrooms do have a separate water closet which is always nice. But there is a lot of extra space in here — actually wasted space. I can't help but wonder if a different room design might have used this space more efficiently, maybe giving us more counter space and towels closer to the shower.

One interesting feature of the bathroom is the "motion sensor" exhaust fan. Whenever you enter this room, the fan turns on automatically. This is a nice touch and the fan is quiet. And I noticed if you sit real still in the water closet, the fan will turn off until you move again. Spooky.

The bathroom also has a real hairdryer. This isn't one of those "attached-to-the-wall" models, but a genuine hairdryer that you must plug in. It can be found on the open shelf under the sinks.

The sleep area is nicely appointed. Dark woods and light earth tones make up the design. The headboards are imaginative and are upholstered in padded material in shades of browns. The carpet is light beige and the curtains feature large horizontal stripes in more earth tones. I know many people feel that the Contemporary Resort is stark and cold, but the Imagineers have tried and succeeded in making these rooms modern, yet warm and inviting.

There are two queen-sized beds and a couch that makes into a single bed so the room can sleep five very comfortably. The beds have five pillows each. This made me very happy, as I like lots of pillows. There is also a dimmer switch for the overhead bed lights on each side of each bed, so no matter what side of the bed you're on, you have easy access to the lights.

The televisions at the Contemporary are now flat and wide-screen (I want one for my own). The TV is built into a nice cabinet that features a wrap-around shelf below the screen. The TV also has a built-in DVD player. Below the wrap-around shelf is a glass mosaic made up of yellow tiles. The mosaic is lit from behind and this also makes a wonderful nite-lite. When I arrived, the TV remote control was sitting in the middle of a modernistic plate on the edge of the bed. It was an unusual, but interesting, touch.

In the corner of the room is a nice-sized desk with a computer and keyboard. Internet access was free so I could check my emails. There was also a smaller desk on wheels that would be perfect for a laptop. Be aware, when you turn on the in-room computer, Mickey will greet you loudly, waking anyone else who might be sleeping in the room.

The chair for the desk was comfortable, but it had a peculiarity about it. Whenever you sat down in it, it sounded like Mickey had gas. A high-pitched, squeaky, air-escaping sound would emerge. I'm sure children would find this amusing. I'm not so sure I did.

The couch/bed is comfortable enough to sit on and if you look closely at the fabric, you can see little Mickey heads integrated into the design.

The rooms at the Contemporary Resort are some of the largest at Walt Disney World. There is plenty of room to move about without bumping into your travel companions. Lamps were also abundant so there were no dark corners.

Large sliding glass doors make up the back wall of the room. Here you'll find sheers and black-out curtains that actually overlap, ensuring that you can close out the sunlight. The sliding door has TWO locks, one down low, and another one that only an adult could reach.

When I stay at the Contemporary, I always stay in the tower and I always request a Magic Kingdom view. Tower rooms have always cost more than the south and the now defunct north wings, but until just recently, all tower rooms were the same price. Now, rooms facing the Magic Kingdom cost more than those facing Bay Lake. I wasn't happy about this pricing change, but it makes perfect sense.

The balconies at the Contemporary are decent sized. Not large, but big enough that you can maneuver without having to fight with the two chairs and end table that occupy this space. If you have a room facing Bay Lake, having coffee in the morning while watching the sunrise is wonderful. And in the evening, it's a great place to sit and relax as the sun is behind you and you're in the shade of the building.

But like I said earlier, I always request (and now pay for) a room facing the Magic Kingdom. Once again, mornings are wonderful out on the balcony as you watch the "World" come alive. To be honest, afternoons aren't so great on this side of the Contemporary. The setting sun, especially in the summer, can be brutal. But once the sun goes down, it's magic out there. The Grand Floridian across Seven Seas Lagoon is magnificent to look at. I've stayed at the GF and it's wonderful. But I'd rather be at the Contemporary looking at the GF than at the GF looking at the Contemporary.

You can also watch the monorails and ferry boats as they circle and cross the Seven Seas Lagoon. And as the lights begin to come on and twinkle at the Grand Floridian, on the ferry boats, the Magic Kingdom bus parking, and especially IN the Magic Kingdom, you'll be happy you spent the extra money to stay here. Even the rooms on floor six, the lowest on the Magic Kingdom side, have good views.

But of course, the real reason anyone chooses a room facing the Magic Kingdom is for the fireworks. Nothing can beat sitting on your own private balcony and watching the nightly display. You can't hear the music, but that's OK, you have your own special vantage point to enjoy the magic. And you can watch it night after night with no hassle if you happen to be in your room at the right time.

I started this review by saying that the Contemporary is my favorite resort at Walt Disney World. And I have many reasons beyond just a room facing the Magic Kingdom to feel this way. To be honest, I stayed here on my first visit so I'm sure that sentimentality might play a part in my feelings. But I have lodged at almost every other resort at Disney World, and although they all have many wonderful things to offer, I keep returning to Contemporary.

First, I love the monorails. Boats are nice and buses are… well, they're buses. But monorails are just plain cool. The Magic Kingdom and Epcot can both be reached by monorail. I think that's great. And unlike the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts, if you stay in a Contemporary tower room, you don't even have to go outside, into the elements, to catch the monorail. It's just a short elevator ride away. In addition, if you want to eat at the Polynesian or listen to live music in the Grand Floridian lobby, it's just a monorail ride away. In other words, you get the best of three resorts all in one.

The Contemporary also offers boat service to Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge. So, if you have reservations to see the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, it's just a pleasant ride across Bay Lake. No transfers necessary. If you stay most anywhere else at Walt Disney World, you must take a bus to the campground entrance and then transfer to another bus to reach Pioneer Hall.

In addition, the three monorail hotels (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian), have more shopping options. All of the other resorts at Walt Disney World only have one shop. But these three resorts have multiple shops to help part you with your money. I guess this is a good thing…

If you've read some of my recent blogs you might be aware that multiple changes are currently taking place at the Contemporary. First, facilities on the first and fourth floors are being switched. To begin with, the video arcade has been moved from the first floor to the fourth. Also, the quick service restaurant, currently on the 1st floor, will move to a temporary location on the fourth. Once this move has been completed, Disney will start construction in this vacated area on a new, full-service restaurant that will eventually replace the Concourse Steakhouse, which is currently located on the fourth floor. When this new restaurant is completed, the Concourse Steakhouse will close and this area will be used for the permanent location for a new counter service restaurant and an expanded Chef Mickey's. Whew.

On the other side of the fourth floor construction has already begun on a new shop. The artist renderings look whimsical yet modern.

Then of course, one of the biggest changes is the demolition of the north wing. Construction is well under way on a yet-to-be-announced project. Rumor has it that this will be a new Disney Vacation Club resort.

In closing, I'd like to say that I'm not thrilled with the new bathrooms at the Contemporary. I feel that Disney sacrificed functionality for design. But the rest of the room is very nice and inviting. A family of four would be more than happy here.

I know that the Contemporary is one of the most expensive resorts at Walt Disney World and is certainly not in everyone's budget. But if you're thinking about staying at one of Disney's deluxe resorts, you might want to give serious consideration to this property. I know that the exterior of this building is somewhat, OK, a lot, dated. But it really has a lot to offer and Disney is working hard at keeping it "contemporary."



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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.