By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Review: Disney’s Contemporary Resort, p3

By Dave Shute

This is the third page of this review. For the first page click here, and for the second, click here.


Disney’s Contemporary Resort opened in October 1971, and its last–very nice–renovation was completed in 2007. It is officially described on Walt Disney World’s website as

“…an ultra-modern Disney Deluxe Resort, made up of a towering A-frame high-rise building—the iconic Contemporary Tower—and complemented by one garden wing annex. This lakeside Resort is the only hotel in Walt Disney World Resort to have the Walt Disney World Monorail System pass through the main lobby.”

The Contemporary Resort was designed collaboratively by the US Steel Corporation, Disney, and the under-rated Welton Becket, friend and neighbor of Walt Disney. (This same group also designed the Polynesian.)

Becket is under-rated not as an architect, but rather because, in a sense, he created Imagineering.

According to John Hench, when Disney was looking for help is designing Disneyland, “Becket said [to Walt Disney] ‘You’ve got to use your own people. We can’t help you. We don’t have any kind of a background for this. Just use your own guys.'”

As a result, Walt Disney started bringing artists and craftspeople over from his and other studios to work on the park, and Imagineering was born.

(Quoted in Jeff Kurtti’s Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park.)

The original concepts for the Contemporary were that it was to be a high rise, and that the monorail was to run through it.

This led to the internal atrium, and to the length of the building, which was designed to shelter two monorail trains on each track in case of hurricanes.

(Hurricane doors are at either end of the atrium, where the monorail tracks enter.)

At some point the total number of rooms were defined–I’ve seen no source on why the particular number was picked–and the design result was the long, monolithic, and dull facade that we’ve known ever since.

Although the building has no kid appeal other than the monorail itself, a family that stayed only there, and never saw one of the value resorts, or the Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, or Animal Kingdom Lodge, could be forgiven for thinking they were staying in the perfect Walt Disney World hotel!

It has two of Disney World’s signature restaurants.

On the rooftop is the California Grill, almost as iconic as the Contemporary itself.

Joe Fowler notes (quoted in Didier Ghez’s section of Chad Emerson’s Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World) that Walt Disney asked to see how Disney World would look from the California Grill (then with a different name) location.

“So we got the biggest damned utility crane in Florida…and they hoisted us straight up to where the lounge at the top of the Contemporary would be…he was so enthusiastic: ‘Oh Joe look at this! This is going to be great!'”

Walt was right…not just about Disney World, but also the view from what would later become the California Grill.

At the monorail level is Chef Mickey’s, one of the most-loved character meals at all of Walt Disney World.

The Wave, on the ground floor level, is another sit-down restaurant with its fans.

The main dining options are completed by the Contempo Cafe, the Contemporary’s great counter-service option.

Other dining options are easily accessible via the monorail to the Grand Floridian and Polynesian, and boats to Fort Wilderness Resort and the Wilderness Lodge.

The Contemporary has a fine, though uninteresting, pool, accompanied with a pool snack bar and a pool bar–though these (especially the bar!) closed too early on my May visit.

In addition to the main pool, there’s also a smaller circular pool more attended by adults, and a great kid water play area.

There’s also a large lovely beach–but, as at all other Disney resort beaches, no swimming is allowed (see the top of the page for a photo of the beach).

My annoying sister and I, in the 70s, came to this beach every year to work on our tans in between visits to the Magic Kingdom and to my grandparents on my dad’s side. (Happy Father’s Day, pop!)

The convenience of the Contemporary is hard to beat…being able to walk to and from the Magic Kingdom is quite a luxury.

All in, though, the comparative lack of kid appeal puts it fourth among the deluxe resorts for first-time visitors.  It is well worth a visit by returning visitors!

While the Contemporary served as Disney World’s flagship resort until the Grand Floridian opened in 1988, such was not Disney’s original intention.

In its pre-opening master plan, the never-built Venetian Resort (to be built between the Contemporary and the TTC) was to become the resort’s flagship hotel.

Also planned but never built were the Asian Resort, planned for the current site of the Grand Floridian, and the Persian Resort, to have been built on Bay Lake, between the Contemporary and Tomorrowland.

The Venetian site was revisited in the 90s for the Mediterranean Resort, but the site was found to be too expensive to build on at that time.

Another planned early resort was Buffalo Junction, to have been built between Fort Wilderness Resort and the Wilderness Lodge. Rumors emerged last year of this site as a potential Disney Vacation Club resort location.

Disney World’s master planning is influenced (though not shaped, it’s a long story, see this, though there are some lies in it…) by the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s long term plan.

The latest version, a 2020 plan released in 2008, includes all of these spots as potentially buildable.

Land suitable for further development is marked on the map in red; marginally suitable land is in light yellow-green. (Unsuitable land is in dark green.)

So maybe we’ll see more Magic Kingdom deluxe resorts one of these days…


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