There are a few key memories that I have from my first "real" trip to Walt Disney World. Chief among them is riding through the Contemporary Resort on the Monorail. I remember thinking that there is not a cooler hotel in the world. First of all, it is right next to the Magic Kingdom. Secondly, the freaking Monorail drives right through it! The last thought I had was, "Wow! What kind of rich do you have to be to stay here?" Those thoughts continued to run through my head as we drove back to the Econo Lodge (or something like it) we were staying at in nearby Kissimmee.
You can imagine how excited I was when I got to stay at the Contemporary 24 years later! Staying at the Contemporary had been a goal of mine since I was 10 years old. The goal became almost an obsession when I "rediscovered" Disney in 2007. Could a hotel that I had been building up in my mind for 24 years possibly live up to the hype? Yes and no... The Contemporary Resort was built as one of three opening day resorts (along with the Polynesian and Fort Wilderness Campground) at Walt Disney World in 1971. It's A frame design is unmistakable, and it is nothing short of a Disney icon. Another cool fact is that the resort was built similar to how cruise ships are constructed, all the rooms are compartments that were installed into the main building. There is also a Garden Wing that is separate from the main building, and the Bay Lake Tower on the same grounds, houses Disney Vacation Club villas.
We got a great Annual Passholder rate and stayed for three nights. When we booked the room I was afraid that we would be sent out to one of the Garden Wing rooms, but our room was in the main building, on the 5th floor, with a view of the pool and Bay Lake. The room had two queen beds and a pull out sofa (that tried to eat my then 2 year old son). There was a flat screen TV mounted on the wall, and the decor was very modern. The bathroom's were equipped with big flat square sinks, and doors that slid inside the walls when they were opened. It was a really cool room, in a really cool hotel!
No other resort at Disney World can make the claim that it is walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. It is so close that my daughter and I were able to walk from Space Mountain Tomorrowland, back to our room in just over 15 minutes! If you want to take your time, you can hop on the Monorail, and get off at the next stop. Coming back is a little more time consuming because you have to make stops at the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. If you are travelling with small children who nap in the afternoon, there is no better resort on property.
Even if you aren't staying at the Contemporary, there are three restaurants and a food court that you can visit for a bite to eat.
At the top of the resort is the California Grill. This is one of Disney's Signature restaurants, and although I haven't had the opportunity to dine there, it gets great reviews! This is fine dining with a great view! If you're lucky you might be able to snag a reservation for dinner during the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Chef Mickey's is one of the toughest reservations in Disney World. Here you can enjoy a breakfast or dinner buffet, with the Fab 5 of Disney, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. We have had breakfast here a few times, and it has never disappointed in terms of food or character interaction. It;s a bit pricey, and incredibly loud, but when you see your kids meeting their favorite characters, you forget about everything else! Another cool thing about this restaurant is that it is located just below the track of the Monorail, in the Grand Canyon Concourse of the hotel.
The third restaurant in the Contemporary is The Wave... Of American Flavors. The good news is that it is pretty easy to get a reservation here, that is also the bad news. The menu here has a big focus on healthy, sustainable food. I'm all for that, but the quality just doesn't cut it. Kevin Klose, the restaurant reviewer for for the Dis Unplugged Podcast described the restaurant as "beige", and I can't think of a better way to describe The Wave. The food is just ok. The decor is just ok. Even the service was just ok. We probably would not have eaten here had we not been staying at the resort. I have heard that the breakfast is quite good here however, and the wine list is very extensive!
The Contempo Cafe is the quick service option at the resort. By food court standards I found the food to be pretty good. Nice sandwiches, and a good selection. You place your order here at a self serve kiosk, and then take the printed receipt to the kitchen counter. The food is prepared fresh and comes out hot. I had no complaints about the meals we ate here. This is also where you can purchase and put to use your Disney refillable mug.
In addition to the restaurants and food court, there is a coffee bar at the resort. Contemporary Grounds serves up your favorite latte, tea, frozen coffee, and pastires. My wife says that this is the best coffee on Disney property (not a high bar to clear), but with Starbucks coming to the parks soon, we'll see where it stands!
The pool complex is behind the main building, and was a bit of a disappointment. Considering that this is one of the most expensive resorts to stay at on property, the pool just doesn't compare with other deluxe resorts. There is a water play area for the little ones, and a lack luster slide but that is about it. Our kids actually preferred to just play in the sand by the lake. The pool at Bay Lake Tower next door is much better, but you can only access it if you are staying in the villas. In addition to the pool there is a marina where you can rent boats for tooling around in the lake, or if you are feeling adventurous, book para-sailing.
Surprisingly enough, the Contemporary Resort did live up to the 24 years of anticipation. I would love to be able to hop in a Delorean and go back to 1986 and tell 10 year old me, "one day you will stay here!" Or maybe I'd still keep it a surprise...