Yesterday I discussed the restaurants and shopping options at the Contemporary Resort. Today I’ll discuss some of the recreational activities, history, and room layout and amenities.
No description of the Contemporary would be complete without mentioning the 90 foot high tile mural that towers from the fourth floor to the roof. This mosaic astonishes first time visitors and welcomes returning guests.
The original concept for the Contemporary’s vast atrium was that of the Grand Canyon – thus the name, Grand Canyon Concourse. When the hotel first opened, restaurants and bars sported names like Terrace CafÃ©, Pueblo Room, Coconino Cove, and the Outer Rim (which still exists today). All of these monikers helped set the mood of the Southwest U.S. Some of you might even remember that for a few years, each balcony was painted a different shade of earth tone.
When designing the Contemporary, the Imagineers knew that the elevator shafts that ran through the middle of the hotel needed to be “hidden” with something eye catching. They called upon Mary Blair for ideas. Mary had already proven her worth as a major contributor to “it’s a small world” and for her mural designs at Disneyland’s recently redesigned Tomorrowland.
Mary used a number of sources for her inspiration for the Contemporary mural. These included prehistoric petroglyphs, pueblo murals, Navaho ceremonial art, and sand paintings. The colors used are keyed to the earth and sky tones of the Grand Canyon as well as Native American art. When completed, over 18,000 individually hand-painted, fire-glazed ceramic tiles were created. The glazes used on the ceramics are both mineral and chemically based — the color pink is made from gold. It took more than a year and a half to design, produce, and install the final mural.
The Contemporary offers two pools, one for the entire “raucous” family and one for quieter moments. Let’s start with the livelier of the two. This pool sports an interesting shape that meanders in and out. A fountain positioned on the pool’s edge and a geyser in the middle of the water splash nearby swimmers. A waterslide adds to the excitement.
The quiet pool, or Bay Pool, juts out into Bay Lake – or at least it used to. Take a look at this first picture I took in January 1972. As you can see, this original Contemporary pool is surrounded on all sides by water with a bridge connecting it to the shore. It looked like it was floating on the lake. Today, a sandy beach surrounds two sides of the pool deck. I have no idea why this change was made, but I prefer the “floating” pool. Although children are welcome to use the Bay Pool, the intent is they will be accompanied by their parents and their screams of joy be kept to a minimum.
Speaking of “screams of joy,” check out the Water Play Area. Here, motion detectors sense movement and water jet spring to life when your young ones run by. Waterproof speakers are imbedded in the various sculptures and add the dimension of sound to their play.
In the early years, the decking surrounding the pools at the Contemporary was constructed of concrete, concrete, and more concrete. This made sense. All you had to do was look at Tomorrowland of the 1970’s to see what the Imagineers thought the future would look like. Today, the pool decking is covered with pavers of multiple colors. This simple change gives the area a softened and welcoming feel.
Deck chairs and lounges are numerous and there even are a few situated on the sandy beach looking out onto Bay Lake. Private cabanas can be rented by the half day or full day. They include personalized service from a cast member, a 32″ flat-screen TV with DVD player, digital music docking station, a locking drawer for personal items, a mini refrigerator, a fruit platter, and bottled water and soft drinks. For pricing and availability call (407) WDW-PLAY.
Located near the pool is the Contemporary Marina. Here you can rent Sea Raycers, Boston Whaler Montauks, and SunTracker Pontoon boats. On more than one occasion, I’ve purchased sandwiches and chips at the Sand Bar then toured Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon in a pontoon boat and enjoyed a leisurely and relaxing lunch. For a more exciting afternoon, you can arrange to waterski or parasail with Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre. Note, swimming is not allowed in any of the Disney lakes and streams.
A great picture spot is located near the marina. Mouse ears and Mickey make a wonderful photo op. There is even a platform for you to set your camera (and synchronize the timer) so everyone in your group can get into the shot. Here is a picture of me taken in 1983. Clear plastic panels have been added to the backside of the ears in recent years as a safety measure, preventing anyone from falling backwards.
A sharp eye might also notice that this metal Mickey is very similar to one seen sitting on a rooftop as you approach the Contemporary while riding the express monorail.
There are several nighttime activities available near the marina. “Movies Under the Stars” shows a different Disney movie each evening and is presented on the lawn between the marina and Bay Lake Tower. A sandwich-board marquee in this area lists the times and movies.
You can also charter a private boat and skipper for a trip to Seven Seas Lagoon for a ringside view of the Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks spectacular. Call (407) WDW-PLAY or see the concierge for more information.
A perennial favorite, The Electrical Water Pageant, stops by the marina at approximately 10:10 each evening.
To see a video of the entire resort, click the picture below. This video is 14 minutes in length. Sorry it’s so long, but there is a lot to cover here.
The Contemporary was an opening day resort (October 1, 1971). As you may know, the Contemporary and Polynesian were built using modular construction. The rooms were constructed by the U.S. Steel Company at a manufacturing plant three miles away. An assembly line, much like those utilized for automobiles, was used and rooms were completed at the rate of approximately 15 units per day. When complete, the 9-ton rooms were trucked to the hotel site and lifted into place by a crane. The rooms measure nine feet high, fifteen feet wide, and 32 feet 7 inches long. It took approximately 1Â½ years to build the Contemporary Resort with construction beginning around December 1969-January 1970. The A-frame stands 184 feet high, is 220 feet wide at the base, and 468 feet in length and was designed to withstand hurricane force winds of up to 100 mph. Contrary to a popular rumor, the rooms were never designed to be removed once they were set in place. This construction method was used for economic reasons and to test new building techniques, not so the units could be swapped out for remodeling.
The Contemporary has 655 rooms divided between the Tower and Garden Wing. It also boasts some of the largest standard rooms at Walt Disney World at 436 square feet. Standard rooms have either two queen beds or one king. In addition, standard rooms have a daybed. The rooms can accommodate up to five guests plus a child under three who uses a crib. Suites in various configurations are also available.
The basic layout of the room has not changed all that much over the years. You enter through a small hallway. The bathroom and closets are 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 find an ironing board, iron, a nice sized safe, and several drawers. The other closet has a luggage rack and clothes rods. Both closets have lights in them so if you need a nightlight you can leave the lights on and the doors closed. 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. A coffee machine is also located on this vanity.
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 were so level that all of the water did not flow down the drain. There was always standing water in the basin. Not good after you’ve brushed your teeth.
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 brown and white 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.
The bathroom has a separate water closet which is always nice. In addition, the bathroom and water closet have motion sensors that activate the exhaust fans. Whenever you enter these rooms, the fans turn on automatically. This is a nice touch and the fans are quiet.
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 sleeping 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.
There are two queen-sized beds and a couch that makes into a single bed so the room can sleep five very comfortably. The two queen sized beds have five pillows each. This made me very happy as I like lots of pillows. There is also a dimmer switch for the over-head bed lights on each side of each bed. So no matter what side you sleep on, you have easy access to the lights.
The TV’s at the Contemporary are now flat, widescreen, and they’re built into a nice cabinet that features a wrap-around shelf below the screen. 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 night light. When I arrived, the TV remote control was sitting in the middle of a modernistic tray on the edge of the bed. It was an unusual, but interesting touch.
In the corner of the room is a nice sized desk. Electrical plugs and the high speed internet access cord are conveniently located. There was also a smaller desk on wheels that would be perfect for a laptop. To one side of the desk is additional drawer space.
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.
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. There is no way a child could open the door and wander out onto the balcony without an adult first unlocking this upper latch.
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. Four people can comfortably stand out here. The balconies are also reasonably shielded from the surrounding rooms.
If you have a room facing Bay Lake, a cup of coffee in the morning while watching the sunrise is a great way to start the day. And in the evening, it’s a wonderful place to sit and relax as the building blocks out the afternoon sun. Of course, views of Seven Seas Lagoon offer vistas of the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the ferry boats, the Magic Kingdom, and especially, the nightly fireworks. Note, if you have a Magic Kingdom view room the afternoon sun, especially in the summer, can be brutal as its rays beat down on the building. You’ll definitely need to pull the sheers until the sun sets.
To see a video of a Standard Room, click on the picture below.
The rooms in the Garden Wing are identical to the Tower rooms, with one exception, the balconies – there are none. The rooms on the first floor of the Garden Wing have an open patio with a table and two chairs. There is little to no privacy between patios. The rooms on the second and third floors have railing. It is impossible to step outside here.
The Garden Wing also houses three unusual rooms. These are known as Garden Wing Deluxe Rooms and are located at the “elbow” of one of the buildings. Because of the unusual shape this bend creates, the rooms on the first, second, and third floor here are larger in size and measure 629 square feet (compared with 436). The bathroom has a tub shower and a stall shower. Although they are not considered suites, they are spacious and have a sitting room. These rooms feature a king bed and a queen sofa/sleeper. Since they are larger than a standard room, they do command a premium price, but aren’t nearly as expensive as a suite. As there are only three of these rooms, they can be difficult to reserve.
To see a video of this room, click the picture below.
That’s my review of the Contemporary. I realize that this hotel is not for everyone, but it works just fine for me. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it’s my favorite Walt Disney World resort and I consider it home.
24 Replies to “Contemporary Resort — Part Two”
Love the reviews of the resort, the Contemporary is a great location for those that are looking a more modern hotel stay than the other two on the monorail. I am curious though about the deluxe room. I stayed there in September of 2011 and was booked for a regular garden view garden wing room. Instead we were given a room on the end of the wing. This room had a King size bed with a 2-sink bathroom,shower/tub, water closet, a TV, refrigerator, safe, and closets. Also in this room was a door that led out to a “living area” that included a dining table. Also in this room were 2 queen size pull out couches, another TV, another full bathroom, more closets, and another fridge. The views from this room showed the pool, beach, and lake. The room # was 6224, it appeared the third floor was probably the same layout. Ever seen this deluxe room?
PS I have a few pictures if you want.
Thanks so much for a consistently wonderful blog. This is possibly my favorite entry of your entire blog. We’re DVC members at Bay Lake Tower, driven mostly by our love for the Contemporary. I also always look forward to your videos.
My question…what is the music for the Yourtube video you created? It seems so appropriate for the Contemporary, and my dad loves it as well.
The music is from Tokyo DisneySea. It’s called Aquasphere (daytime music). I purchased the CD at DisneySea. I looked for it on Amazon, but I don’t see it listed. I guess you’ll have to plan a trip to Japan so you can buy it.
Thank you so much for the article. We never knew how great the deluxe garden wings were until you mentioned them – after reading the article and seeing the floor plan we booked it for December 2012. I do have a question – is the second shower in the water closet?
Jack’s Answer: Yes. There is a second shower in the water closet.
I looked for info on the deluxe room and found a little but never a floor plan! We were booked there for 6/30/11 – 7/3/11 but I didn’t get to see it because we were upgraded to the 12th floor Atrium Club Level! (That was awesome but that room still looks interesting and I will try for it again!)
Always love your stuff!
Hello, Jack. Welcome, welcome back! I am so enjoying your blogs again. I especially loved the little treat (for me, at least) at the end of your video of the Contemporary. And don’t ever apologize for the length of your videos…they always leave me wanting more! Take care.
Allow me to offer a lesser opinion of the Contemporary.
I love your comprehensive reviews. I have stayed at almost all of the Disney resorts and finally stayed at the Contemporary in December 2010. We stayed in a Garden wing room and I found the resort lacking compared to the other deluxe resorts.
I love the history and location of the Contemporary and the rooms themselves were spacious and comfortable like the other 1971 resort, the Polynesian (I find the rooms built in the 90’s and 00’s to be a little cramped).
Because “Contemporary” is a style as opposed to something you can theme, I think it’s the least impressive of the deluxe resorts. My complaints, in no particular order, were:
1) The lack of a 24-hour snack bar/shop. I really enjoy this feature at the Polynesian with Captain Cook’s being open all night. Especially when the parks close at or after midnight. The Contemporary is simply too large a resort not to have this offering somewhere.
2) The addition of Bay Lake Tower and its guests making use of the Contemporary’s transportation has added hundreds of additional people using the monorails and buses without adding capacity. I found the monorail to be far more crowded now compared to before Bay Lake came online.
3) You touched on it in your article. In 1971 the theming was modern and futuristic. Now it seems like a relic from communist eastern europe. A cold concrete tower. Disney was able to take a plain hotel in California and add modern Disney magic to the Disneyland Hotel. They can do the same thing with the Contemporary. And they should.
4) I love the Wave and the California Cafe. Chef Mickey’s is fun once in a while, but the mayhem of it keeps me away for the most part. I very much miss the Concourse Steakhouse. Sneaking away from the park for a quiet lunch here was one of my favorite things to do.
I prefer the Polynesian to the other monorail resorts and personally wouldn’t stay at the Contemporary again. The magic just isn’t the same there for me.
The one thing great about Disney World is that if you don’t like one resort, there are many others to choose from. 🙂 I certainly understand that the Contemporary isn’t for everyone.
I do need to correct one statement you made, Captain Cook’s is not open 24 hours. It is only open from 6am to 11pm, the same as the Contempo CafÃ© at the Contemporary. I just verified these hours with on an official Disney website.
I absolutely love your writings and your library of Disney pictures. You must write a book about Disney history from the beginning to current facts. Just reserve the first autographed copy for me please! God bless you and Disney World!
“The Disney Fanatic”
The CR is one of our favorites too (it’s the only resort our son has known since we’ve stayed their every time since he was born and he doesn’t want to stay anywhere else).
Just a note the balcony’s are nice sized, but if you are lucky enough to stay on the 14th floor. (as we did last December), the balcony’s are HUGE. VERY large. So much room that I was surprised there were only the standard 2 chairs and table. It could have easily held 2 more chairs!
Another great report. You captured the reason why the remodel, as beautiful as it is, left me not as thrilled with the rooms here. I realize this is a convention hotel, they cater to a lot of business folks as well as vacationers, but the sinks are a challenge. They are lovely, but we had 5 in the room (4 girls) and there is no place for storage! We ended up using the shelf under the sink, but it just makes it a little harder. I made the mistake of the towel on the sink once as well. In addition, there aren’t really enough drawers for 4 people either. Don’t get me wrong–none of these things would prevent me from spending the night at the CR! Just seems like they missed the design mark a bit.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention the five-legged goat in your discussion of the beautiful Mary Blair mural. To this day, my kids (in their late teens) still like to point it out.
Like the Contemporary, the showers in the Polynesian have similar tile shelves to which the soap glues itself to. I remedy this problem by folding up a wet washcloth and placing it on the shelf with the soap on top. No more stuck soap!
I was wondering if you had any inside scoop on this property. A member of my husband’s family (who passed away a number of years ago) claimed to have “owned” a room at the Contemporary. I have never known anyone to actually own a room at any of the hotels, but she would have acquired it early in the park’s history. She was also pretty wealthy and one of her husbands (there were a few) was pretty influential as one of the founders of McDonalds.
We are just curious how true this actually was.
Great blog by the way! I have never stayed here myself, but my parents stayed in the garden tower which is now gone, when they realized they were pregant with me. So I was kind of there!
I’m 99.999999% sure your relative NEVER owned a room at the Contemporary. Disney has had to jump through legal hoops just to be able to sell their DVC memberships. There would have been no logical reason to sell their hotel rooms in the early years. I suppose it’s possible this woman was rich enough that she could have book a room year-round, but most non-residence hotels forbid this.
So nice to read some of your blogs again!
I loved this installment regarding the Contemporary Resort especially. Your video was EPIC! So well executed, and just 14 minutes of sheer joy 🙂 it certainly brightened up an otherwise miserable day here in Scotland.
This blog was very nostalgic for me as the CR was the very first place we stayed ‘on property’ at WDW. I’ve never looked back since (although the Wilderness seems to win the most votes). I have stayed in the out buildings where BLT now is (the first time), and I’ve stayed in the main building, which I loved. My most lasting memory of that visit was the mother of all thunderstorms I experienced whilst there one night! I visit the CR almost daily when I go to WDW and the last time I ate at the Contempo Cafe for the first time, I was so pleasantly surprised by the standard of food. Some of the salads etc could give the signature places a run for their money!
All the best 🙂 I’m off to bookmark that video 🙂
Thanks for the great information! This makes me want to stay here! I love getting my disney “fix” from your blogs! Thank you!!!!!
Thanks for great info Jack! I stayed in the Garden Wing this past November and really enjoyed the sounds of the Bay Lake water way outside my window! I first stayed at the Contemporary in 1987 in a Tower Room and look back on it fondly!
I’m so glad you’re back! Thanks for giving the history and background on why you consider the Contemporary “home”…you’re right everyone has their reasons why a certain resort is home to them and everyone is different.
I have to say that after reading the report I have a renewed interest in staying here…we have eaten here many times but have never spent the night. The decor is much nicer (to me anyway) than it was in the past. It is modern and contemporary in an understated way. Plus it would be great to be able to walk to Magic Kingdom!
Thanks once again for a great article; this is probably my favorite resort as well. I first stayed here as a child in 1973, and it seems that there was a water slide that went into Bay Lake; am I remembering correctly? This is where I first experienced the Electrical Water Pageant, and almost 40 years later I still enjoy watching it — my husband laughs at me, but understands. Our most recent stay was actually at BLT, but we spent so much time in the Contemporary, I felt like a kid again. Thanks for bringing us a little Disney today.
Thanks, Jack, for this blog. Always enjoy reading your words. Miss your weekly stories.
thanks for your attention to detail & all your hard work. not to mention the COST !!!!
Great post! The Contemporary is a favorite of mine, too, for similar reasons. Although my first trip to Disney was with my parents to Fort Wilderness in 1973, our first “luxury” trip, as members of The Magic Kingdom Club, through my dad’s place of employment (boy, am I ever dating myself!) was at the Contemporary, probably in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Top of the World, the Gulf Coast Room, etc., etc. I remember sitting on our balcony, holding my little boom box toward Bay Lake, recording the music from the Electrical Water Pageant, back when it used Handel’s Water Music (genius!) as its theme. Ah, the good old days. I love the resort for its continental feel, like you wouldn’t be surprised to see James Bond parked on the next chaise at the pool. I love it. Thanks for the memories!
We stayed at the Garden Wings on out second trip to DW and loved it. We were on the first floor and could go rigt outside the sliding glass door to watch the MK fireworks and I could see the castle all the time. We had visitors too a family of ducks. We joked that the ducks follwed us to DW since we have a river that flows through the middle of our town and there are ducks all around us.
Something else that I remember was that when you dined in the one restaurant where the monorail passed by the waitress staff would wave to the people on the monorail and would encourage diners to do the same. I know they don’t do this anymore but it was a nice gesture.
Another memory I have is where thw CA Grill is now there used to be a show and a dinner that was quite nice. I think it was called Top of the World Showcase or something like that.
At that time anyone could be up there just to watch the fireworks.
Thanks again for the great update.
Another great blog! I have my thoughts on why they have added a beach to the ‘floating pool’, maybe they wanted to get rid of the angular concrete and give the pool a little softness that makes it easier on the eye.
Anyway…. I loved reading about the Contemporary and it’s history. Also I’m so glad you’re back!
Hi Jack! Thanks for part two, I really enjoyed it. The rooms sure have changed a lot since the last time I stayed there. We are looking to stay at the Contemporary next August, or go back to the Wilderness Lodge, my personal favorite. Either way, you can’t beat staying on Disney property. It’s always a win/win situation.
Another great post. Thanks for showing the Garden Wing rooms separately. I stayed there as a kid a number of times and I think they’re probably viewed as “lesser” rooms since they’re not in the main tower. Though you have to hike it to the tower for the facilities there, I think it’s great. And of course, now I want to book a room there.
Is there a trick to being able to book the Deluxe Garden room or just planning ahead and persistence?