Pro’s – Large comfortable rooms, walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. Advance planning and annual Passholder rates can keep the price of your room more reasonable.
Con’s – Rooms can be overpriced. This is a convention resort and often times draws in large convention crowds, which can be challenging depending on the group that’s in house at the time you visit.
Let it never be said that I’m too stubborn not to change my mind, even if only a little bit. Since a disastrous stay at the Contemporary in July of 2006, I’ve frequently said on the record that I thought the Contemporary was the worst run resort on Disney property. At one point, I may have even said that its management staff should be fired and the resort leveled. So, it was no accident that I scheduled my first review in an ongoing series to be the Contemporary. I’m glad I did.
The resort is located just a short walk away from the Magic Kingdom, clearly one of its biggest selling points. Its now iconic A-Frame structure is well known to many who may not know its name, but know that it’s the “hotel that the monorail runs thru”. As the name implies, its theme is … well, Contemporary. Disney’s definition of ‘contemporary’ has changed over the years – from garish (think Jetsons without the charm) to its current incarnation - elegant and upscale. This resort also holds the distinction of being Disney’s first resort - opening with the Magic Kingdom in October of 1971 (some have claimed that the Polynesian was the first to open, but Disney officially recognizes the Contemporary with that distinction). One would expect any hotel that’s pushing 40 to look it’s age, but Disney has done an outstanding job of upgrading both the décor and amenities making this hotel a perennial favorite of Disney fans and convention goers alike (this hotel is also a very popular convention destination).
As with any of Disney’s deluxe resorts, the Contemporary is rarely inexpensive. Rack rates for a standard room at this hotel range from $270 per night in the value season up to $800 per night during peak. By any measure, those are steep prices. The rooms here are located in two different areas – the tower (inside the A-Frame), or the Garden wing (an annex off the main building). For this review, we booked a standard room with two queen beds in the garden wing for 4 days / 3 nights. Our original price with an annual pass discount was $357 p/n, but due to a family emergency I was forced to change my check in date by one day – which apparently was a crime punishable by a $120 p/n increase. So, this review is based on a $470 per night rate for a standard double queen room. And yes, that did affect its overall rating. This hotel is much more acceptable at $350 than at $470, but I will admit that in spite of that, it still scores some fairly decent marks.
Check in was part of my nightmare on my last visit. Arrogant, self important cast members have been replaced by the well trained, polite and professional version. I decided to throw a couple of curve balls during the process to see how well they were handled – I added one night to my stay, and asked for a room on the first floor as opposed to the third (the second and third floors in the garden wing do not have balconies, but first floor rooms have patios). Both requests were dispatched with easily. The check in process took all of 10 minutes from start to finish. My only comment on the process was that I wasn’t given information about resort staples like where the buses run, where guest services is located, etc. Instead, I was rather unceremoniously handed a folder with lots of brochures (and a big advertisement for Disney Vacation Club). I was more or less left to figure it out for myself. That wasn’t a problem for me per se, but for a first time visitor paying that kind of money for a hotel room, time is precious and getting a quick overview of what’s where isn’t such a bad idea.
The room was the other part of my nightmare a few years ago. Most everything in the room didn’t work and getting maintenance to show up and fix anything was akin to getting an audience with the pope. No need to call maintenance this trip – the room was quite simply one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. Gone are the nasty, uncomfortable mattresses of yesteryear, replaced with ultra comfortable pillow tops that sport first rate bedding. The décor is a blend of earth tones ranging from olive to tan to mocha. The colors lend a warmth to the room that make it all the more comfortable and visually appealing. A sleeper sofa in the room allows for a total of 5 people – although Disney will charge extra for more than 2 adults in the room (there is no additional charge for children).
One of two notable additions to these rooms are a spacious desk/work area that allows those of us who HAVE to have a computer with us on vacation to spread out and actually be comfortable when we work. I remember all too well trying to use a laptop at a Disney resort, having to set up shop at a small table and run an extra long telephone cord across the room in order to dial in to the internet. Being that this is a convention hotel, the desk/work area make perfect sense, but for me, this was a touch of nirvana (I go NOWHERE without the laptop). On the desk is a computer that is labeled as “Disney Online Concierge”. The computer is a self contained unit, meaning that the CPU and monitor are one unit, and a separate keyboard with track pad in place of a mouse. From the computer you can place orders for room service, housekeeping and bell services. This feature is being tested at this resort and is not currently available elsewhere. Upon arrival, I entered my bell services receipt number and had my bags within 10 minutes. When I wanted some extra shampoo, a request to housekeeping was answered within 15 minutes – same for room service. For those like me who enjoy limiting their interaction with others as much as possible, this feature is pure heaven :) It’s incredibly well executed and should be expanded property wide sooner rather than later. You also have complimentary internet access thru the PC (wireless connections incur a daily charge of $9.95.)
The other addition that I liked was the built in flat screen TV – which replaces the armoire that is standard in most hotel rooms. This serves not only to enhance the ‘contemporary’ décor, but it also opens up the room to feel even more spacious. It also takes away a certain amount of drawer space, which is a minor negative. The closet space is ample enough to handle most needs, so the lack of drawer space isn’t a huge issue, but it is noticeable.
The bathrooms here are a religious experience. Marble floors and shower stall add a very elegant feel to an already elegant room, but the flat, Kohler sinks are just stunning (and very expensive – this was not a renovation done on the cheap). The shower heads are a bit less than I expected, but I like my shower heads to blast me into next week with water pressure – that doesn’t happen at too many hotels. The highlight though are the H20 Aquatics bath products that replace the nasty dreck that Disney used to pass off as ‘toiletries’ in the past. I’m very selective about shampoo and conditioner and rarely ever use what a hotel provides, but this is a very noticeable exception. Not only is it good, but I’ve already ordered more!! The deluxe resorts have the H20 Aquatics products, while the moderate resorts have the H20 plus product. The Grand Floridian and Disney Cruise Line both feature the upper end H20 Spa line of products.
Overall, the rooms are exceptional, both in style, design and comfort. My standard for this is very simple: how comfortable is this room to come back to after a long day walking around the theme parks in the Florida heat? Answer: Extremely.
There are four main dining options at the Contemporary – Chef Mickey’s, which offers character buffets for breakfast and dinner, the Concourse Steakhouse (which is scheduled to close in May of 2008 and will become Chef Mickey’s Express-the resorts ‘quick’ service restaurant), Tempo Grab and Go (the current quick service option) and the venerable California Grill on the 15th floor of the resort. During our stay we tried all but the California Grill (for a review of that restaurant, listen to Kevin Klose’s official site review on our podcast here). We tried Chef Mickey’s for breakfast and found the food slightly above average – with an extensive buffet covering everything from pastries to omelets and scrambled eggs, waffles, pancakes, fruit, cereal and a host of other options. For character interaction, this really can’t be beat. Characters include Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald – the characters make their rounds to every table and will spend as much or as little time as you want.
The Concourse Steakhouse is also open for breakfast and dinner. During our stay, we had dinner and it was also above average, although not superb. The New York strip was good, and expertly prepared, but the quality of meat was a little less than you would expect to find in a premium steak house. In fairness though, the steak here was not priced the way it would be in a premium steak house, so that must be taken into account. This restaurant has exposed me to my new favorite food – Honey Ginger chicken wings. If you don’t feel like eating at the Concourse to try them, they are available at the Outer Rim lounge as well.
The Grab and Go is the temporary quick service location at the Contemporary. This will be closed when Chef Mickey’s Express opens later this year. Options here range from eggs, pastries and fruit in the morning to fresh sandwiches (including tuna and turkey), as well as salads (Chef and Cobb). The food here is very fresh, and the sandwiches are excellent.
Common Areas / Resort Amenities: Most of the activity at this resort is located on the 4th floor concourse – that’s where you’ll find BVG and Fantasia (the two retail outlets), Tempo Grab and Go (the quick service food area), Chef Mickey’s (character dining for breakfast and dinner), and the Concourse Steakhouse (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner). The 4th floor is also home to one of the largest hotel arcades I’ve ever seen. If you have younger kids, teens (or adults who haven’t gotten past the video game phase – like me), this will be a little slice of heaven. You purchase ‘points’ on a rechargeable card that is used to play the wide variety of games available here.
The pool area is particularly nice, as it has a wonderful view of Bay Lake. There is a large kiddie pool, as well as a standard swimming pool with a water slide. This does not rate as one of the better pools on property, but it’s adequate enough to get the job done. The Sand Bar serves quick service food items that we refused to try. The hot dogs alone that were spinning on the grill looked like they had been there since the park opened….in 1971. As with all Disney establishments, there are some healthier choices available here from turkey sandwiches to salads.
Also located near the pool area is the resort marina, where you can rent pontoon boats, water sprites and now Jet Ski’s, although the cost of the Jet Ski’s are prohibitive at $75 per half hour. Taking a pontoon boat around Bay Lake will allow you to motor past all the Magic Kingdom resorts (Grand Floridian, Polynesian and even the Wilderness Lodge). This is a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re tired of theme parks and just want something relaxing and visually exciting.
Transportation: Transportation from the Contemporary includes Monorail (to Epcot, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center. There is a water launch that goes to the Wilderness Lodge and bus service to Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney. Bus service is shared by all the Magic Kingdom resorts. In the morning, the Contemporary is the first stop, so you’ll have your pick of seats.
Children’s Services: There is no ‘kids club’ at the Contemporary. Guests needing such services will have to use the Neverland Club at the Polynesian (reservations are required). Babysitting services are available at all Disney hotels thru an outside company. Guest services can provide information on availability and pricing.
Tips: If you want a view of the Magic Kingdom from your balcony, you’ll have to put in a room request when you make your reservation. Rooms with Magic Kingdom views start on the 6th floor and room numbers are as follows: 4225 – 4248 (6thflr), 7th-4325-4348, 8thflr, 4425-4448, 9thflr is 4525-4548, 10th 4625-4648, 11th 4725-4748, 12th 4825-4848, 14th 4911, 4912, 4913, 4915
If you’re not lucky enough to get a MK view room, there is a large outdoor patio on the far end of the grand concourse where you can view the fireworks.
If you find the $2.50 for a 20oz soda from the vending machines too expensive, there is a hidden vending machine on the 3rd floor, just down the hall from the Salon where sodas are $1.25 and snacks are also less expensive. I think that’s because that particular machine is used mostly by the hotels administrative staff (admin offices are located in that area), so they pay less than you do. But the machine is available to anyone if you can find it.
If you like having a balcony, you’ll need to book a room in the tower, or on the first floor of the garden wing. 2nd and 3rd floor rooms in the Garden wing do not have balconies.
Overall Impression: Overall, I give the Contemporary a 7.5 out of a possible 10. If you can score a room here for less than $350 a night, you can add 1 point to that number. The rooms are large and comfortable, the services are plentiful, and the staff is (finally) well trained and courteous. Add to that a 5 minute walk to get to the Magic Kingdom, and a great view of the fireworks (either from your room, or from the viewing area on the 4th floor), and this is a unique resort and a great place to spend your Disney vacation.