One of the most divisive discussions among Disney Vacation Club members involves one of Walt Disney World’s original resorts. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Disney’s Contemporary Resort joined it as the first Disney-owned theme park hotel. Yes, an obscure bit of Disney trivia is that someone else, Jack Wrather, owned and operated the Disneyland Hotel with Walt Disney’s blessing. Sixteen years later, Disney learned from its mistake by opening two monorail resorts in Orlando. Today, we’ll talk about the DVC offering that came much later. Here’s my review of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Bay Lake Tower Location and Logistics
In my introduction, I hinted at the impeccable location and logistics of this resort. Early in the 2000s, Disney executives chose to build an adjoining property on the Contemporary’s campus. This space would turn into Bay Lake Tower. So, the location is a few hundred feet away from the front gate at Magic Kingdom.
Importantly, the lobby at Bay Lake Tower is even closer to the park than the one at the Contemporary. You’re only a brief walk away from Main Street, U.S.A. It takes 10-15 minutes. Of course, you don’t have to walk. You could head over to the Contemporary and ride the monorail instead.
DVC members know the best strategy, which is to walk to Magic Kingdom. Then, you take the monorail back from the park to the Contemporary. When you ride the monorail from the Contemporary to
Magic Kingdom, it’s the last stop. However, when you exit the park and ride the monorail, the Contemporary is the first stop. By taking this approach, you’ll maximize the remarkable logistics at Bay Lake Tower and the Contemporary.
This review’s recurring premise is that other DVC resorts possess more substantial offerings than Bay Lake Tower. I’ve established these comparison criteria for all DVC properties to provide a baseline.
The theming absolutely qualifies as one of the most essential barometers for determining the appeal of a DVC resort. Sadly, the theme at Bay Lake Tower proves a bit challenging to pin down. It’s also a modern hotel whose décor and amenities should feel contemporary. On this front, I have nothing but kind words. Over the past four months, I’ve stayed at both the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower. In fact, by the time that you read this, I may be back at Bay Lake Tower, as my Disney countdown is in the single digits.
Obviously, I wouldn’t keep going back unless I admired the style and theming. However, Bay Lake Tower pales in comparison to places like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The lack of distinguishing characteristics definitely qualifies as a drawback relative to those DVC resorts. Bay Lake Tower simply counts as a lovely, nicely designed hotel. It lacks the impeccable theming that you may expect from Disney, though.
The Bay Lake Tower Lobby
That statement trickles into the lobby, too. In truth, I suspect that few DVC members spend a substantial amount of time in the hotel lobby. Oddly, that statement applies twice. Bay Lake Tower features a modest check-in desk area where DVC workers address customer service needs. These folks have demonstrated high levels of competence in my dealings with them. Still, the lobby space here is no bigger than your living room.
At the Contemporary, the first floor qualifies as more expansive. And yes, it does feature a fragrant scent, as is the case with all DVC resorts. Still, beyond an extended check-in desk section, the Contemporary doesn’t qualify as a hangout spot. At most, guests meet here and then head elsewhere. Yes, you’ll find ample seating near the check-in desk, and parents will be happy to know that a nearby television plays Disney cartoons. So, you can address customer issues while your child enjoys a background distraction. In a world of smartphones, this aspect is less critical now anyway. Beyond that, the most essential needs in the lobby are the elevators and the escalator.
You’ll find the latter across from the entry to The Wave… of American Flavors, the restaurant positioned beside the check-in desk. The escalator may remind you of your youth, as it’s always been there, and kids love to play on it. For parents, the escalator comes with utility, as it transports guests to two signature parts of the Contemporary: the group meeting rooms on the second floor and the shops on the Grand Concourse. When I say Grand Concourse, I mean all the stuff on the fourth floor, the heart of the Contemporary.
Realistically, Bay Lake Tower’s lobbies emphasize function over form. You can do whatever you need here, but you’ll only spend time here when you need something.
Restaurants and Shops
I’m flipping the order with this review since I just mentioned the Grand Concourse. For DVC fans, it’s a memorable destination that will create many of your vacation memories. Since Bay Lake Tower adjoins the Contemporary, Imagineers constructed a bridge that connects the two buildings. And here’s where things get a bit confusing.
You’ll take the elevator to the fifth floor of Bay Lake Tower. Then, you’ll walk across the bridge to reach the fourth floor of the Contemporary. It’s witchcraft. I joke, but the point here is that Bay Lake Tower guests enjoy all the Grand Concourse amenities. You’re never more than a five-minute walk away from Chef Mickey’s, Contempo Café, Bayview Gifts, Fantasia Shop, or Fantasia Market.
Focusing on the shops first, Bayview Gifts merits a spot in the discussion for the best DVC resort shop. You’ll find everything you need here, from candy to clothing. There’s even some wall art that you can ship home to decorate your home with Disney magic. This lengthy store includes several sections for kitchenware, swimwear, and even luggage.
Fantasia Shop sells more novelty items like Magic Kingdom Railroad and Monorail miniatures, complete with tracks. Stuffed animals and collectibles are also ubiquitous here. You’ll do virtually all your shopping on the Grand Concourse, and it’s genuinely perfect for DVC members.
Fantasia Market sells plenty of foodstuffs that you can stick in your refrigerator. And a whiteboard there often includes Disney movie trivia. It’s one of my favorite Disney distractions.
As for the restaurants, Bay Lake Tower features some of the finest in any DVC resort. I already mentioned three of them, two of which are on the Grand Concourse.
Chef Mickey’s offers a character meal with Mickey Mouse as the cook. People of all ages delight in this rare opportunity to interact with many of the Sensational Six Disney characters.
The Contempo Café, a reliable Quick Service eatery, resides right beside it. And both come with views of the monorail in action. The tracks cross a few feet over the drink station at the Contempo Café. It’s a sight that your brain will struggle to reconcile.
The fine dining experiences are The Wave and California Grill. The top-floor eatery receives most of the hype, but Disney fans have grown quite loyal to The Wave. You really cannot go wrong with either, and I say that as someone who has dined at both recently.
I already referenced the x-factor here. It’s a monorail resort, with a station on the Contemporary’s Grand Concourse. Of course, fitness-minded DVC members can ignore the monorail altogether. You can walk from Bay Lake Tower’s hotel lobby to Magic Kingdom’s front gate in 10 minutes. I’ve done this many times over the years, and my wife’s adoration for this amenity explains why we stay so frequently at Bay Lake Tower. She’s obsessed with leaving her hotel room and then standing in line at Haunted Mansion 20 minutes later. Depending on how fast you walk, whether you can make a red light, and the lines at the front gate, this is definitely possible. Remember that annual passholders can enter through that exclusive Magic Kingdom line, which helps.
Bay Lake Tower Hotel Rooms and Other Amenities
And we’re back to the negatives. The hotel rooms at Bay Lake Tower won’t impress you with their spaciousness.
A standard studio includes only 339 square feet of space. By DVC standards, that’s relatively small. We almost always book studios since it’s just my wife and me. I’m 6’2”, 225, which gives me a unique point-of-view on the subject. If the size bothered me, I wouldn’t stay here so regularly. I should add that my wife is only 5’2” (yes, we look ridiculous), which helps. Together, we’re an average-sized couple, and we are perfectly comfortable here.
Disney deserves credit for constructing extremely efficient Japanese-style hotel rooms, complete with sliding doors in the bathrooms. This tactic maximizes the space. Still, I understand why some DVC members prefer the substantially larger studios at the Polynesian or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Then again, from a room type perspective, Bay Lake Tower is tough to beat. You can spend extra points for a Lake View or Theme Park View. One option allows you to gaze over Bay Lake Tower’s main pool to the lush waters of the lake itself. I love to do this, especially on rainy days. The other provides a panoramic view of Tomorrowland and Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. It’s all but impossible to surpass that view at Walt Disney World.
Finally, when you have the needed points, you may prefer a one-bedroom villa instead. They’re 803 square feet, more than double the studios. The extra space will remove any potential feelings of claustrophobia.
Of course, the Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort is only 255 square feet, making Bay Lake Tower’s studios seem massive by comparison.
All DVC resorts come with tradeoffs. When you buy or stay at Bay Lake Tower, you’re banking on convenience and utility.
The onsite restaurants and shops guarantee that you won’t run out of dining and shopping options, even in the rare event of a hurricane. This place is modular and self-sustaining. To many, my wife included, Bay Lake Tower features the strongest X-Factor amenity in the entire DVC library. Near-immediate access to Magic Kingdom is tough to beat. I’m also an ardent proponent of the restaurants here, especially Chef Mickey’s. I could care less whether the food is on a par with Boma or ‘Ama’Ama. What matters is that children laugh uproariously throughout the meal. It’s a joyous soundtrack for the soul.
My family embraces split stays, and I just did some quick math. We’ve spent at least one night at Bay Lake Tower on four out of our last six visits. We wouldn’t do that unless Bay Lake Tower stood out among its peers. For Magic Kingdom fans who spend much of their time at the park and the hotel, it’s THE best option. I understand that large families and theming fanatics will look elsewhere. For me, the utility of this place makes it a top three DVC resort.
I’ve had several A experiences here and an even an A+ one rainy week.
- Resort grocery delivery available from Publix Super Markets (powered by Instacart)
- In-Room Celebrations
- Disney Bus Transportation
- Disney Monorail Transportation
- Disney’s Magical Express
- Online Check-In
- Complimentary Wi-Fi Internet
- Resort Airline Check-In
- Complimentary Standard Parking
- Valet Parking
- Childcare Services
- Designated Smoking Areas
- Disney Meetings (Convention Center)
- Disney Water Transportation
- Laundry and Dry Cleaning Services
- Mail Services
- Merchandise Delivery and Pickup
- Resort Concierge
- Spa & Fitness
Deluxe Studio Villas (Sleeps Four)
Approx. 339 sq ft
Deluxe Studio Villas feature one full bathroom and accommodate up to four Guests, plus one child under age three in a crib, and include a kitchenette, queen-size bed, double-size sleeper sofa, flat-panel TV, DVD player and private balcony.
One-Bedroom Vacation Villas (Sleeps Five)
Approx. 803 sq ft
One-Bedroom Vacation Homes feature two full bathrooms and accommodate up to five Guests, plus one child under age three in a crib. Each offers a fully equipped kitchen, king-size bed in the master bedroom, whirlpool tub in the master bathroom, queen-size sleeper sofa, sleeper chair, flat-panel TV, DVD player, washer, dryer and private balcony.
Two-Bedroom Vacation Villas (Sleeps Nine)
Approx. 1,152 sq ft
Two-Bedroom Villas feature three full bathrooms. Each features the amenities of a One-Bedroom Villa, plus an additional bedroom with a flat-panel TV, DVD player, two queen-size beds, and private bathroom.
Three-Bedroom Grand Villa (Sleeps Twelve)
Approx. 2,044 sq ft
Three-Bedroom Grand Villas include four full bathrooms and accommodate up to Twelve Guests, plus one child under age three in a crib. First Floor features a master suite with king-size bed and flat-panel TV, a master bathroom with whirlpool tub, dining area and fully equipped kitchen, laundry area with washer & dryer, and living room with a flat-panel TV, DVD player and queen-size sleeper sofa.
Second Floor features two bedrooms, each with a flat-panel TV, two queen-size beds, separate bathrooms, and private balcony and sitting area with double-size sleeper sofa.