During our visit to Walt Disney World the first week of January, we stayed at the newest hotel on property, Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Bay Lake Tower is the recently-opened 15-story Disney Vacation Club tower located adjacent to the Contemporary on the site where the north garden wing used to be located. The Contemporary, of course, was one of the two original Disney World hotels (along with The Polynesian) and is the closest to the Magic Kingdom.
We have been Disney’s Vacation Club members for a few years, having previously purchased points with Disney’s Saratoga Springs as our home resort. We had always been a bit reticent about that resort due to its size and location and didn’t actually stay there for any length of time until 2008. For most of that trip, all of the alternative DVC resorts had sold out by the time the home resort exclusivity window was over. We really weren’t very happy with it, since it was so far away from all the parks while also being so large and spread out that we found it difficult to navigate around or to use many of the resort’s amenities. After that experience, we sold off our interest in the early part of 2009 and then re-purchased with Bay Lake Tower as our home resort.
While we were taking a little bit of a risk by re-purchasing at a brand new DVC resort, we felt it was a very small risk. We had actually stayed at the Contemporary once before during our last trip before we bought into DVC. On that trip, we had stayed in a room in the old north garden wing, which was since demolished to make way for Bay Lake Tower. We knew from that experience that we liked both the location and the overall amenities of the Contemporary and that the specific location of the new DVC tower worked really well for us as well.
Bay Lake Tower is considered to be a part of the Contemporary Resort and generally shares amenities. Check-in and other guests services are done at the main desks in the Contemporary lobby. Access to the tower is available via a couple ground floor entrances or by way of a skybridge that connects the 4th floor of the Contemporary with the 5th floor of Bay Lake Tower. The bridge is not fully enclosed and, therefore, exposed to the elements. If the weather indicates, it is definitely important to remember to grab coats or rain gear when crossing between the two buildings.
They do maintain a certain amount of exclusivity by always requiring the use of a room key to access any of the Bay Lake Tower entrances. This isn’t strictly enforced as it is extremely easy to simply follow other guests into the building, but I do think this is a generally good policy to discourage non guests from wandering the building. There are some pretty impressive views from the elevator lobbies and hall windows in the tower and I could easily see crowding and noise levels becoming a problem without the more restrictive access.
The 4th floor of the Contemporary (where the skybridge is located) is the hotel’s famous “Grand Canyon Concourse” which includes the monorail station as well as various gift shops, restaurants, and a video arcade. The gift shops include two general Disney merchandise stores, Bayview Gifts which was mostly clothing and the Fantasia Shop, which featured a lot of Disney-branded toys, trinkets, and a pin shop. Near the skybridge is an additional shop called Concourse Sundries and Spirits, which has some grocery items. This store had a small selection of DVC-branded clothing and other items, including one Bay Lake Tower t-shirt, but I didn’t much like the design on it. We were disappointed that none of the shops had anything else in the way of merchandise specific to the Contemporary or Bay Lake Tower.
The two restaurants on the 4th floor included Chef Mickey’s, which is a character buffet, and the quick service Contempo Cafe. We had a nice breakfast at Chef Mickey’s on our day of arrival and had a couple quick service meals at Contempo Cafe at various times during our trip. Both were nice locations and we particularly appreciated having the quick service location that was so conveniently located. The Contempo Cafe is fairly new (it is in the former location of the old Concourse Steakhouse) and has a very modern feel to it, including a touchscreen ordering system. The Contemporary has two more restaurants that we didn’t visit, which are The Wave down on the first floor (in the location of the old fast food location) and the high-end California Grill on the top floor.