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Exploring WDW's Contemporary Resort Hotel

Exploring WDW's Contemporary Resort Hotel

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Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. Given that it's the start of a new year, I thought that it was high time that we actually tried a few new things around here. (More importantly, given that JimHillMedia.com has spent the last 10 days beating up on the Walt Disney Company for its mishandling of the closure of Feature Animation Florida, I thought that it was also high time that we actually said something nice about the Mouse again). Which is why we're trying out a possible new feature at the site. One that would regularly give in-depth reports of various resorts at the Disney theme parks.

Now let me tell you a little background on the author of today's JHM guest column: He's Scott Liljenquist, one of the co-owners of Mouseketrips.com. A company that Scott says is "the web's best Disney-only travel agency." Liljenquist and I actually met back in December at Mousefest 2003. Scott seemed like a very nice guy who did seem to know an awful lot about Disney's theme parks and resorts. So I decided: "What the hey - why not give Scott a shot?"

So the following in-depth article about WDW's Contemporary Resort is kind of a test run, folks. By that I mean: I like what Liljenquist has put together here. But I'd like to hear what YOU think about this article as well. As is: would you like to see more articles like this at JHM? Possibly as a regular feature?

So -- after you read Scott's story (which I think really does a nice job of summing up the assortment of activities one can enjoy while staying at the Contemporary Resort) -- could you please drop me a line or/and heave a note up on the JHM discussion boards? Letting me know if you'd like to see more stories like this up on JimHillMedia, com, okay?

Okay. That's enough prologue for today. Now -- ladies and gentlemen -- please give a warm JHM welcome to Scott Liljenquist of Mouseketrips.com!


Disney's Contemporary Resort

Facts and Figures

The first of the two original Walt Disney World resorts, Disney's Contemporary Resort opened on October 1, 1971. With the monorail running directly through the middle of the A-frame structure's 10-story atrium, the Contemporary is arguably the most famous and well-recognized of all Disney hotels. The resort is actually comprised of three large buildings: the large A-frame tower building, and two garden wing buildings located on the eastern side of the property. The focal point of the resort is, of course, the tower building, in which are located the lobby, restaurants, shops, arcade, health club, and monorail station.

The Contemporary resort, more than any other, illustrates Walt Disney's passion for the newest designs and latest technology. Designed by WED (forerunner to Walt Disney Imagineering) and architectural firm Welton Beckett and Associates (who, by the way, threatened to pull out of the project for a time if the Imagineers continued to insist on running their "carnival ride" through the middle of the structure), the Contemporary was built as a completely modular hotel.

Each main building was constructed as a steel skeleton frame on a concrete foundation. Individual hotel rooms were assembled separately at an on-site location by US Steel. The hotel rooms were built as completely "unitized" self-supporting modules, and could be stacked three high with no external support. Each room was completely built, painted, carpeted, wired, plumbed, and furnished at the US Steel site. Once an individual room was completed, the door to the room would be locked and not opened again until the room was transported to the hotel site and hoisted by crane into the steel building structure, slid into its spot like a dresser drawer, bolted down, and connected to the water, sewer, and electrical systems.

The original intent of this building method was to facilitate very rapid renovations and maintenance. A supply of "extra" rooms would be maintained which would be periodically refurbished with updated decor and furniture. Once these new rooms were ready, the existing outdated or damaged rooms could simply be unbolted from the frame, disconnected from the utility services, and removed from the structure. The new room would then be inserted into the empty space, reconnected, and the renovated or repaired room would be ready for occupancy in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, due to settling and shifting of the main steel frame, the original rooms have become immovably bound into the structure and can no longer be easily removed. The rooms originally inserted in the structure remain in the resort to this day.


As mentioned earlier, the Contemporary's 1041 guest lodging rooms are located in either the tower building or in one of the two garden wing buildings. Rooms in the tower building are the most popular, and, of course, the most expensive. All of the rooms in the resort, like those in the Polynesian, are among the largest of any Disney property. Guest rooms are decorated in bright, vibrant colors and have somewhat funky, futuristic decor and furnishings.

Tower building rooms are located on floors 5-14 (no 13th floor), with floors 12 and 14 being reserved for concierge service and suites. Rooms in the tower can face either the Magic Kingdom or Bay Lake and provide spectacular views. These rooms all have private balconies with a couple of chairs and a small table.

Garden wing rooms are located in either the north or south garden wings. These rooms have views of Bay Lake, the garden/landscaping area, or the parking lot. First floor rooms have a small patio with furniture similar to that of the tower balcony rooms. Second and third floor rooms do not have balconies. The entire north garden wing building and the second floor of the south garden wing building have been designated as non-smoking.

Rooms in the tower building are closest to the restaurants, shops, monorail, and bus stops. Nearest to the tennis courts, Magic Kingdom (to which you can easily walk) and monorail station in the tower are the rooms in the north garden wing building. South garden wing buildings are nearest the pools, marina, and convention center.


Restaurants at the Contemporary are all located in the tower building. Located on the 4th floor of the tower building, which is known as the Grand Canyon Concourse, is Chef Mickey's. Here diners enjoy one of two Disney character meals each day. The breakfast buffet is very popular, and features an all-you-can-eat selection of breakfast foods, accompanied by visits from Chef Mickey himself, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, and others. The same characters also pay a visit to a daily dinner buffet, which features salads, seafood, pasta, and prime rib.

The Concourse Steakhouse, located on the Grand Canyon Concourse right next to Chef Mickeys, offers full-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. The specialty here, of course, is steaks and prime rib, both of which are excellent. This is one of my favorite low-key places to dine at WDW. It's not usually too crowded, the food and service are invariably good, and you can watch the monorail glide past just above your head as you dine.

At the top of the tower building is the California Grill, undoubtedly my favorite restaurant in the World. Located on the 15th floor, the California Grill serves dinner only, accompanied by spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom, Seven Seas lagoon, Bay Lake, and the surrounding landscape for miles in every direction. California-style cuisine is featured here, with outstanding salads, seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes. The desserts are all delicious and near-decadent -- the creme brulee is absolutely the best I've had anywhere. The lights are dimmed each evening for the fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom, and the same music that accompanies the fireworks in the park is piped over the restaurant's speaker system.

Counter service is offered at the Food 'n Fun Center located on the first floor of the tower building. This restaurant is open 24 hours, and serves the usual assortment of burgers, fries, chicken, salads, hot dogs, pizza, and other fast-food fare. Breakfast items are offered daily from 7am - 11am, and the grill is open from 7am - 11pm.


The focal point of the transportation options at the Contemporary is, of course, the monorail. The monorail station is accessible via escalator or elevator from the Grand Canyon Concourse on the 4th floor of the tower building. The resort monorail makes a stop here before continuing on to the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. Epcot is easily accessible by riding the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center, then switching there to the Epcot monorail.

Buses to Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney depart from the bus stop area located near the lobby entrance area on the west side of the tower building. Other areas of WDW can be accessed by boarding a bus to Downtown Disney and transferring there to the appropriate destination.

Boat service has been offered between the Contemporary and the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness campground in the past, but this appears to have been reduced to seasonal operation, and is available only during peak periods of demand.


The Contemporary is home to two swimming pools, six tennis courts, a beach volleyball court, a health club, a marina, and a large arcade.

There are two swimming pools located east of the tower building and in between the two garden wing buildings. The main swimming pool features a large deck area and a waterslide. The bay pool is located right on the shore of Bay Lake, and is a smaller, shallower quiet pool.

The six tennis courts are located near the north garden wing building, and are home to the Walt Disney World Racquet Club.
A large health club/fitness area is offered to resort guests and features a wide variety of fitness machines, free weights, and exercise area.

The arcade at the Contemporary is fantastic. By far the best arcade anywhere in WDW, it is large, brightly lit, clean and well maintained, and fully stocked with the latest arcade games and entertainment. You may very well lose your teenagers here and never see them again.

Available at the Contemporary's marina are a wide variety of boating and watersport options. Sailboats, pontoon boats, water mice, and waterskiing boats and equipment can be rented here. In addition, the Sammy Duvall Watersports Center is located here, and offers waterskiing rentals and instruction, parasailing, wakeboarding, and, for the first time at WDW, personal watercraft rentals.

Located on the Grand Canyon Concourse are several great shops and boutiques. Men's and womens' fashions and beachwear, jewelry, Disney merchandise, gifts and souvenirs, and snacks and sundries are among the offerings. I've found several unique items at the shops in the Contemporary that I've never been able to find anywhere else on WDW property.

Insider's Tips and Tricks

If you're going to pony up the $$ for a tower room, be sure request a Magic Kingdom view. Some of my favorite WDW memories are sitting on the balcony of a Contemporary tower room after a long day at the parks with a cool beverage and watching the evening's activities. As the sun sets you can watch the pathway torches light at the Polynesian and see the lights come on at Cinderella's Castle, and watch the monorail glide around the Seven Seas lagoon. As the night wears down you ultimately have a front-row, uncrowded, comfortable seat for the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks show.

However, for you early risers, don't discount a Bay Lake view room in the tower. Located on the opposite side of the tower building, these rooms offer absolutely stunning views of the sunrises over Bay Lake.

If you choose instead to save some green and select a garden wing room, be sure to request a ground floor room a the end of the hall. Unlike other garden view rooms, these rooms have a private patio and are a little larger than the other rooms. Views from the room are also generally better because there are two exterior walls with windows.

Take some time from your park-commando itinerary to enjoy the watersports offerings at the Contemporary marina. This is the only place at WDW where personal watercraft can be rented. In addition, waterskiing, wakeboarding and parasailing activities and instruction are offered here at the Sammy Duvall Watersports Center. If you enjoy any of these activities at all or want to learn, it's a great deal of fun to be out on the water (or above it if you're parasailing!) surrounded by the resort hotels and the Magic Kingdom. The instructors are top-notch and very friendly, and will make you feel comfortable no matter what your expertise level.

If you're a light sleeper, be forewarned that the rooms in the tower can be very noisy. The interior of the Contemporary tower building is a 10-story atrium decorated mostly in stone, concrete, stucco, and other hard surfaces. The restaurants and shops on the 4th floor Grand Canyon Concourse are open to the atrium above, so any noise from people, music, monorails, etc., seems to echo and reverberate in this large atrium space.

The Contemporary is the only resort hotel at WDW where you can comfortably walk to the Magic Kingdom. A dedicated walkway is available and is accessed just outside the north garden wing building. It's just a short walk down the pathway, across a very busy intersection, and then right up to the gate of the Magic Kingdom. It's almost always faster to walk than to take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, as the resort monorail that departs from the Contemporary first has to make stops at the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian before arriving at the Magic Kingdom.

Request a late priority seating at the California Grill for dessert. After a busy day at the parks there's nothing better than to be comfortably seated at your table, enjoying a fantastic dessert, and watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from your seat. You can also venture outside to the observation deck for a spectacular view (if it's warm enough, of course!)

The observation deck outside on the north end of the 4th floor Grand Canyon Concourse is a fantastic place for fireworks viewing if you don't want to get a table at the California Grill. As at the California Grill, the music from the fireworks show is piped into the area's speakers.

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