The iconic hotel of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, had been a dream destination long before we were Us, and remained a dream even after we no longer had to dream of a Walt Disney World vacation. Cost was a factor, to be sure, but so was the lack of intimacy we had fallen so quickly in love with at the Wilderness Lodge. Then there was the “hub” factor: The very ohmygod-awesome and unbelievable coolness of having a monorail station right in the hotel also carries with it the reality of crowded elevators, lines for escalators and crowded gift shops. Amy thought that had a certain excitement to it, like the Disney equivalent of Grand Central Station. On that, Mark agreed, but still maintained that the Contemporary, being a big convention hotel in addition to a transportation hub, might have less “rarified Disney air” circulating throughout and some of the Disney magic might be diffused by the hotel’s more contemporary style and less personalized service.
And then priorities changed. Or rather, evolved. It was time for a change and we were both realizing it on our last trip. We were starting to see a number of compelling reasons to stay at the Contemporary: 1) The hotel and one of its signature restaurants, California Grill, had just been remodeled. 2) More transportation options made for greater flexibility and spontaneity. 3) We could take the monorail almost everywhere! 4) It would be nice to do a write-up for “Dfor2.” 5) We’d been so thrilled with the improvements to our own Disneyland Hotel that we were eager to discover how similar the Contemporary experience may or may not be.
The idea of hopping on the monorail and whooshing over to the Kona Cafe (at the Polynesian Resort) for breakfast or to Citricos (at the Grand Floridian Resort) for dinner was a huge plus. As much as we love our Wilderness Hotel, Amy’s never been quite as keen on the boat for our primary mode of transportation as Mark, and neither of us have enjoyed having to wait for the boat at the end of the dock in front of the Contemporary after a nice dinner at The Wave while fireworks go off in the Magic Kingdom that we can’t see and the boat is delayed for the Peter Pan meet-and-greet, and even though the captain of the boat delayed by the meet-and-greet assured us the mosquitos infesting the white dock are only cousins of mosquitos and they won’t actually vampire us to death, we were still afraid to venture out too far. Regardless, leaving the Contemporary to return to the Wilderness Lodge always ended up taking a half an hour, which was long enough for the perfect buzz to diminish and Amy to wonder how the concept of “resort” was applying to the experience. So, there was some scar tissue there, and the thought of taking an elevator down to The Wave for cocktails and not having to wait for a boat to get back to the Wilderness Lodge was a happy thought, indeed.
So it was decided: we’d start our next WDW vacation at the Contemporary Resort, and the excitement only escalated over the ensuing months.
It’s called the “Contemporary” for a reason. Its atmosphere of modernity is enticing, and its sleek, clean and efficient lobby has an air of airline check-in to it. There’s no greeter to personalize your entry, but instead you’ll feel cosmopolitan as your suitcase wheels roll silently across the polished stone.
If you’ve never been to the Contemporary before, you’ll glean little sense of the grounds or the hotel proper from street-level. The pool is on the lake side, opposite the drive-up entrance, and the great trapezoidal space that defines the hotel’s unique architecture is an elevator’s ride up to the 4th floor, where the “official” lobby resides.
But you’re first stop will be your room, which will take you down a corridor open to the rest of the hotel, with the stunning and arresting 4-sided, 90-foot, mosaic mural by the renowned Disney artist, designer and colorist Mary Blair. Floor to ceiling, this is something to stop and behold. So is the view of the lobby from whatever floor your room happens to be on.
Just walking to the room is a unique experience. From the ground level looking up at the rooms it’s not unreasonable to expect a rather narrow monotony to the corridors, given the uniformity from one room to the next. The Contemporary’s style is, after all, contemporary, with clean lines, minimal detail and punctuated variation; so while the ascending floors are attractive and inviting, with their cream tones accented by coffee and espresso, our expectation was still that of a less-Disney-more-corporate experience.
To some degree that was true. And yet…
When Disney takes on a theme, subtle or over-the-top, they do it all the way. Every aspect of our Contemporary room spoke to the contemporary theme, from the frosted glass bathroom door to the flat-basin sinks and vertical walnut towel rack, from the modern modular bureau to the wall unit with colorful glass brick-a-brac. Every detail was coordinated with the rest and the use of deep taupe and light moss with bright pops of isolated color made for a relaxing ambience with an air of fun. It’s a room that manages to be clean and efficient for the conventioneer and spa-like and sexy for the vacationeer.
It’s possible there’s no such thing as a bad view at the Contemporary—even if you have no view at all. Just being within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom is somehow elevating, whether you’re at garden level or up in the rarified air of the 14th floor. If you go for rarified air—that being the tower—you can request either the Bay Lake View or the Magic Kingdom view. “The view of the lake is a lot like looking at a lake,” Amy remarked dismissively when confronted with the two options. “Having a view of the park would be like wishing upon a star and our dream coming true!” Mark didn’t disagree except to add that the view of the lake is very nice if a lake view is what you want.
Our 8th floor view of the park was not devoid of lake. But it also gave us a vista that included the Polynesian Resort, the Grand Floridian, the monorail track, and of course, the Magic Kingdom, where we could see the Castle, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, the Train Station and City Hall on Main Street, and even the train! The only advantage of the lake view over the park view is being able to look away once the sun goes down. The park view never has a dull moment, which has its disadvantages given the sex-appeal of the room. It should be noted, however, that the park view is also a parking lot view. Somehow, though, it was easy enough to look past thanks to all the other distractions, like the Castle, Space Mountain, the boats, the monorail…
Click the slidemounts to view at full size
The Contemporary is not a sedate or intimate experience (outside the room). As a transportation hub, it has a constant tide of incoming and outgoing guests; and as a convention hotel, large groups and events are also a consistent presence. The upside is in being part of the hum. A sense of purpose and vibrancy abound and the hotel well accommodates the flow. The downside is the crowd factor. The bar at The Wave may have been empty when first you sat down, but it takes only minutes to fill to capacity with blue shirts and suits all celebrating the end of a long day of meetings and presentations. This can provide some good spectator viewing, but will also make it harder to get in your drink order or enjoy a casual bite at the bar. Advice: Wait it out. Conventioneers don’t usually stay in one place too long, whereas vacationeers will take as long it takes to feel their feet again after a long day in the park. At the same time, being at the Contemporary means being just a stone’s throw from the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian and the Wilderness Lodge, which all offer unique dining and drinking options of their own.
As for us, we’ll be going back.