There comes a point in everyone's life where you get that "once in a lifetime" opportunity. Ever since I was little, I wondered what it would be like to stay in the hotel that has the monorail running through the middle of it, or to be able walk out on your balcony and see the Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or, even better, to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the privacy of your balcony instead of in the crowded Disney streets. In 2007 (thanks the generosity of my sister's wonderful husband), I finally got the chance to find out!
The room itself, unlike most Disney resorts, really wasn't themed well, but it is one of the biggest I have ever stayed in. You definitely didn't feel like you were in Disney World, but more like a regular luxury resort:
Although there are Hidden Mickeys if you know where to look:
But any doubts about the "Disneyness" of the resort was definitely moot by the time we walked out onto the balcony. We had a great view of the Polynesian:
To the Grand Floridian:
And, of course, of the Magic Kingdom itself:
The interior view of the resort from the walkway to our room (in both directions):
There is plenty of amazing artwork throughout the entire resort, including the massive Mary Blair mural on the main concourse:
And I FINALLY found the infamous five-legged goat last year:
Although there are several sculptures throughout the interior, the backside near the pool definitely has one of my favorites:
It's just an amazing sight from the back as it is from the front (although it definitely has that 70's feel to it more from this side than the front):
The A-shaped building isn't the only one, there were two separate winged arms as well called East and West Garden Wings, but one of those was torn down to make way for Bay Lake Tower (the DVC for The Contemporary). There is also a massive convention center in the front. Here's the most recent Google Maps shot of the resort:
Even though there is only one extra wing now, this is what I was referring to in my Wilderness Lodge post about separate buildings. Once we get to the Polynesian and Caribbean Beach, you'll definitely see it (because it has several). Considering that all transportation leaves the main building and the main building houses all the other amenities like gift shops and food courts, the fact that the resort is a hotel and the rooms are interior are no help against the elements because you still have to walk outside from your building to get to the main one. Luckily, The Contemporary does have a covered walkway (which the others don't). If the Garden Wing was our only choice, I would have picked a different resort. The cost of The Contemporary just isn't worth it unless you stay in a tower room (be it on the Magic Kingdom side or the cheaper Bay Lake side). Granted, the Garden Wing costs even less, but not enough less.
Here's the backside from the boat from Wilderness Lodge, including a full on shot of the Garden Wing:
It's my #2 favorite resort because of location, location, location! The theming may not be typical Disney faire, but the fact that you can step out of your room and, after a bit of navigation through the resort, you are walking directly on the monorail! The resort monorail has direct service to the Magic Kingdom via The Grand Floridian, the TTC (Transportation and Ticket Center), and the Polynesian. You can get off at the TTC and switch monorails for a direct ride to Epcot. Although there are sometimes delays on the monorails, it's far faster and easier than a bus any 'ole day and if you can take two parks off your bus route, so much the better! Not only that, but you are close enough to the Magic Kingdom to walk directly there (and it's an amazingly quiet and peaceful walk):
I'm not going to go into too much detail about the main signature restaurant, The California Grill, I'll save that for a restaurant review, but the view from the top observation deck is absolutely amazing (it's only accessible from the restaurant, and you have to have a reservation to even get access to the elevator that goes up, so there is no peeking inside it like you can other resort restaurants). There is, however, an observation deck on the fourth floor (the main concourse) that everyone can have access to (although it was closed the year we stayed there due to construction on the Fantasia shop).
The view itself was very similar to that of our room, but the fact that you are standing on a walkway of the roof of a building, with only a railing between you and the ground, made for a more extravagant experience:
the interior of the restaurant has changed since we were there, but here it is as was:
and this particular beauty was taken out the wall to wall windows that my chair sat against (which was a bit un-nerving and I ended up scooting as close to the table as I could to get away from the windows):
There are several different gift shops in the main concourse from toys to luxury items. Besides California Grill, there is also a steak house called The Wave (although it was in a different location and called something else when we were there). There is also a buffet called Chef Mickey's, which is a character meal (aka it has plaque-status in my book). The noise levels coming off it were just as, if not louder, than that of Whispering Canyon Cafe in Wilderness Lodge. I can't imagine, for the life of me, why anyone, even those with kids, would want to go to such a place, but they do, in massive droves!
Which brings me to The Contemporary's bad points. The walls of the actual rooms were beyond paper thin. You'd think, since the rooms were actually modularly built off-site and then inserted into their slots in the A-frame, they would have thicker walls, but nope. Between the horrible outside noise of the main concourse, and the nightly phone calls by our neighbor to his girlfriend, which he insisted on making outside our door, I spent many a night without sleep. Added to that the fact that my sister snores (as do I, but it takes me longer to fall asleep and hers starts long before I'm close to sleep), I ended up sleeping on the bathroom floor by the end of night three (and it was the first time I had slept since our arrival, even if it was only for a couple of hours). Eventually, close to the end of that trip, I was sleeping out of sheer exhaustion more than anything else.
When we were there in 2007, there was some major renovations going on. They were building the Fantasia shop on the concourse, moving restaurants around, especially the food court (so we were without one that year...you don't know how much you use the food court until you don't have one and it's the one year I don't have a refillable mug for), and they were also building Bay Lake Tower (the DVC arm of The Contemporary). There was a temporary food court that served basic stuff, but was more of a hassle to get to and through, so we just didn't bother but once.
We also had major issues with our door not closing and locking properly. There was nothing more unnerving than coming back, after a long day in the parks, to a cracked open door (because mousekeeping - Disney's housekeepers, didn't close the door right). How someone didn't just come in and steal everything we had bought up to that point was a complete miracle! But, after several phone calls to guest services, the door eventually did get fixed (although, by then, it just added to my sleeplessness).
Because it is a convention resort, a lot of guests tend to be conventioneers, not a very "nice" breed of Disney park guest. They either go nuts and get super drunk because they are away from house and home, or they are all business and play the jerks because they can. You can usually spot a conventioneer (they are typically wearing business attire) and it's easy to stay away from them (unless they are in the room next door, as was the case with Mr. Talk-To-My-Girlfriend-Outside-Every-Night guy).
The resort is hard to navigate around. The main concourse is actually on the 4th floor. The lobby is technically on the second floor and where you go for the bus stop and to walk to Magic Kingdom, but the first floor is how you get to the pool or the boat dock. You have to take elevators to get to escalators to get to where you want to go. You'd think, because of the simplicity of its design, it would be easy to get around. Nope. And my horrible sense of direction kept me as lost there as I am at Port Orleans French Quarter (another review for another day).
But, given its faults, if I ever had that kind of budget again, I'd definitely stay there in a heartbeat! The views of the Magic Kingdom and the convenience of transportation make that resort second only to Wilderness Lodge in my eyes. The lack of theming is more than made up for by the Magic Kingdom vibe that radiates through every pore of The Contemporary's bland walls! And, almost every complaint I had about it could be attributed to the construction (well, except for the wall thinness) and all that is finished now. We have typically walked through it every single year just for the sake of reminiscing and I rarely remember the bad stuff about it. It has fond memories despite it's faults, and that is what makes a great Disney resort!