A Short Stay at the Contemporary Resort
by Emily Owens-Pickle
I could name a couple of million reasons I love to visit Disney. One of the top ones is the feeling of nostalgia and timelessness I get driving through the Disney Main Gates, walking down Main Street USA and strolling through the Epcot World Showcase, to name a few. Life changes fast, but tweaks and alterations take place fairly infrequently for a world the size of WDW. It makes Disney always seem familiar and warm and gives us all an opportunity to share memories from generation to generation.
In 1971 the doors of the Contemporary Hotel opened on the Walt Disney World Property. The first of many Disney resorts, the Contemporary was the dream destination for children and families across the United States. In the (always) hot and humid (except for Marathon Weekend 2010") south my mother, Janis Owens, was one of those young dreamers.
'You have no idea how incredibly cool the Contemporary Resort was to kids then. They would show commercials with families going to stay there and we would just fall on the floor screaming,' says Janis, who is now a professional writer.
The youngest of three children and only daughter, my mother, uncles and grandparents visited the World during her childhood. But tickets themselves were a splurge, so the only experience with resort properties was plastering themselves against the monorail windows as they whooshed through the Contemporary Hotel on the way to the Magic Kingdom.
In her high school yearbook, my Mom proclaimed that she would 'write a book to shock the world'; less than a decade later she published the first of four books. This fall she received a call from her agent inviting her to give a talk to educators throughout the US. The location of the conference left her laughing: Walt Disney's Contemporary Resort. She immediately called me and we scheduled our stay at this mythical hotel.
The Contemporary's best feature is undoubtedly location. Of course I have always wanted to stay at the Contemporary, but I have always been a bit skeptical of this resort; the theme is a bit cold and sparse for my taste. However, the rooms are much warmer than the public areas of the resort and it was nothing short of amazing to step onto the monorail or easy-distance walking path to the Magic Kingdom and stroll through the MK turnstiles minutes later.
The rooms were very large and comfortable; Disney did a great job with décor during the recent refurbishment. The flat screen television embedded into the wall adds a significant amount of space to the room but the sink design in the bathroom while visually appealing, left very little counter space.
Previously reported on by AllEars® columnist Jack Spence (see his blog, The World According to Jack) I have been waiting to try the Contempo Cafe for quite awhile. I was able to have lunch and breakfast at this restaurant during my stay. The breakfast burrito was decent though I could not find the cilantro. It was doused in sauce, so I would ask for this on the side in the future, but the sauce was pretty spicy for Disney, which gets big thumbs-up from me. I had the Chicken Chop Salad for dinner and again -- where was the cilantro exactly? The veggies were fresh and portion sizes generous. The Comtempo Café was not nearly as crowded as I would have expected; even during the evening crowds were minimal. We never waited for an ordering kiosk or table. In general, I am not a fan of resort quick-service but the CCafe has been one of the best counter service experiences I have had at a Disney resort, the other being Mara at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
I am ashamed to admit that I have never tried Chef Mickey's and we were unable to get a dining reservation during this stay. By all accounts, this is one of WDW's most popular character breakfasts and features Disney's Fab Five, namely: Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Minnie (dinner) and Mickey, Goofy, and Chip & Dale (breakfast). Add the Fab Five to any meal with your friends and/or loved ones and I ask: how could you go wrong? The two observations about this restaurant I was able to make that I am sure will not come as a surprise: it was loud and busy. In all fairness, it looked and sounded like everyone was busy having a lot of (loud) fun. Just let this be fair warning not to use Chef Mickey's as a romantic date night at WDW and to be careful of spending a sensory filled day at the parks followed by what will certainly be an exciting meal with young or sensitive children.
I would use the phrase 'unseasonably warm' for my December trip, but this is Florida-I am still not sure if we have seasons and I'm a native! Suffice to say, it was very comfortable weather and we were able to try out the new children's splash zone next to the main pool at the resort-what a home run with my daughter! Several children were also enjoying the area while their parents relaxed in the morning sun. The zone is laid-out very well; several umbrella-covered round picnic tables line the zone to the left. The zone and pool are separated by a low wall which means I could sit at a table and have my coffee, supervise my daughter, and not jump up every two minutes to keep her a safe distance from the pool. She was always in a direct line of site and close enough to reach quickly should there be a problem, but also had enough space to play with newfound friends.
The shops at the Contemporary Resort were great - Bayview Gifts and Fantasia are located on the fourth floor of the resort. A large monorail Christmas tree was set up in the center of Fantasia-amazing! The cast members were very helpful and friendly. Standing in Bayview Gifts late the last night of our stay, my daughter commented that a large octopus was waving to her from the window. I 'mhm'ed' her comment and then wandered over to be dumbfounded that in fact she was telling the truth! The Electrical Water Pageant was clearly visible and circling Bay Lake. Front and center a large and friendly octopus was gliding by waving a tentacle at us. The beach of the Contemporary would be a wonderful place to view the parade.
My daughter has developed a recent fireworks-phobia-shocking for this Disney-phile Mother! We did view 'Holiday Wishes-Celebrate the Spirit' at the fourth floor observation area from behind the glass. It was very convenient to look at my watch, realize Wishes started in less than five minutes, walk to the observation deck, and then watch the extravaganza from the comfort of our resort.
One piece of Disney Magic in the Contemporary Lobby that immediately caught my eye: Kid's Check-In. A large check-in book with stool sits at the top of the registration desk in the lobby. Children can enter their names and information into this colorful book-loved this extra touch.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
So the real question... would I stay here again? Probably not. The Contemporary is a pricey resort, even for a Florida Passholder who enjoys discounts of 40 percent or more. If I have the opportunity to stay at what is in my opinion a resort with a stronger 'theme', such as Animal Kingdom Lodge or Wilderness Lodge, for a lesser rate, then the decision becomes a no-brainer for me. Even with the recent refurbishment and addition of Bay Lake Tower, there is nothing about the Contemporary that has the Disney 'X' factor for me.
Was the Contemporary my dream resort? No. But I absolutely think a stay here would not be regretted. It is a nice, clean, family-friendly, and extremely well-located hotel. The convenience is a huge plus-factor in and of itself and in all fairness, I am sure Bay Lake Tower offers its own unique experience worth trying.
I was thrilled to have been a part of my mother's dream come true at Disney. I have gotten quite a bit bigger since walking through the Magic Kingdom for the first time at age 5 -- my daughter is getting to walk those same steps now and I am lucky enough to take those steps by her side, this time as one part of a three-generation trio, which is about as magical as it gets for this mouse.