Just a Walk Away From the Magic Kingdom: A Review of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
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When you travel with little kids, there are two variables that are more important than all others when it comes to making your lodging selection: space and proximity to what you want to do. Should Walt Disney World be in your family’s traveling future, there is one property of the couple of dozen options on Disney property that wins out for both proximity and square footage — Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
If you’ve never heard of Bay Lake Tower, imagine a Disney property that’s walking distance to the Magic Kingdom, that has its own private rooftop fireworks viewing spot, that has easy monorail access to all of the magic and features villas with full kitchens, living rooms and multiple bedrooms. If that doesn’t already sound too good to be true, there’s also a way to book it for less, using rented Disney Vacation Club points. The downside? Well, at Disney, “magic” is a code word for “expensive.”
At Walt Disney World and Disneyland, there are standard hotel rooms you can book through Disney or via third-party sites such as Hotels.com. But there are also villas that are technically a part of the Disney Vacation Club program. When these rooms are not fully utilized by owners, you can use cash to rent them directly from Disney just as you would a hotel room.
Most of these Disney Vacation Club (DVC) properties have rooms ranging in size from studios that are similar to standard hotel rooms in square footage all the way up to two- and three-bedroom villas that clock in over 2,000 square feet. While you should always compare prices, the cheapest way to book DVC properties such as Disney’s Bay Lake Tower is often by renting DVC points from an owner. We went through a site called David’s Vacation Club Rentals to secure enough rented Disney Vacation Club points to try out the three-bedroom Grand Villa at Bay Lake Tower for one night. Sadly, this was for a work trip so my kids didn’t get to enjoy the stay, but we did house a few TPG-ers in the space so we still made the most of it. (We haven’t tested them yet but DVC Rental Store offers a similar service.)
The number of points it costs per night to book this three-bedroom unit ranges from 84 points per night in the lowest-priced “Adventure season” (January, September and the first half of December) to 170 points per night during the peak “Premier season” (Christmas and April spring break weeks). Anyone can check the points requirements for various Vacation Club properties here. Our own stay fell during the second-priciest “Magic season” at 120 points for the one night. When renting from David’s, points are typically $17 each to rent, though that number can go a little higher or lower in some cases. If you rent from a friend or individual owner you may pay less — I’ve rented DVC points for as low as $13 each from a friend.
But for us at $17 per point this time around, it was $2,040 all-in for one night in what felt like our own Disney castle that sleeps up to 12 people. While we did not put the charge on a card that awarded a bonus on travel (the one paying the bill was working on a minimum spending requirement), charges from David’s Vacation Club reportedly code as travel, so if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier Card, you’d earn 6,120 points.
Note that unlike most of the smaller DVC units, Grand Villas like this one must be booked with vacation club points and can’t be booked with cash via Disney.
Location unquestionably is the best part of staying at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. To get to the Magic Kingdom, you can just walk or take the monorail from the Contemporary Resort located next door (and connected via a bridge).
While walking to the Magic Kingdom from Bay Lake Tower is often faster than heading to the monorail (we’ve timed it), the monorail can also take you to Epcot (with a transfer), Polynesian Village Resort and the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
Even though we booked using rented DVC points via David’s service, we had a confirmation number and booking all in my name that was sent to us directly from Disney. This means you can link the reservation to a Disney My Experience account, get Magic Bands, 60-day FastPass+ reservations and more.
Check-in was easy and uneventful, and I was excited to spot my all-time favorite Disney employee, David, working at the desk. (You can read all about him in “Is Disney Club Level Worth It” as he also works in the club lounge at the Contemporary.) David does the most amazing Disney character voices and is a true gem.
Given the size of our villa and the very limited number of them available, early check-in was not available, and I was texted when the room was ready at 3:10pm, before a scheduled 4pm check-in time.
The Grand Villa at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower is a little over 2,000 square feet in size, has two levels (with entrances on both levels), three bedrooms, five beds, two pull-out couches, four bathrooms, a laundry room, full kitchen, balcony, living room and multiple balconies. It oozes I-can’t-believe-I’m-staying-here magic. There’s probably also a partridge and pear tree lurking somewhere in that lineup.
On the ground floor is the large living room with floor-to-ceiling windows. We did not book a theme-park view (that costs more), but the view was still pretty awesome — I can only imagine how breathtaking it is with a theme-park view.
The living room has chairs, TV, balcony access and a pull-out sofa that you can easily turn into a bed using the linens in the ottoman.
Adjacent to the living room is the impressive kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, stove, microwave, island, soap, pots, pans, plates and pretty much anything you would need to whip up an easy breakfast or a three-course dinner. (You can even order your groceries for delivery at Disney.)
We did not use the kitchen on our one-night stay, but it was ready for us to just add food.
The first level of the villa is also home to a true laundry room — which pretty much blew my mind. There’s also a closet with a vacuum and pack-and-play at the ready. Remember, as this is a vacation club rental; there is not full daily housekeeping unless you pay extra for that service ($30-$75 per day, depending on the size of the unit).
In the master bedroom on the first level, you’ll find an extremely comfy king bed and large TV. Annoyingly, as at many of the Disney properties, bedside plugs aren’t a thing. This meant plugging my phone in and leaving it on the floor.
The master bathroom has a sliding door separating the large soaking tub and vanity from the bedroom area.
There’s also a separate room with the stand-up full shower and toilet.
Upstairs (and yes, how amazing is it that there is an upstairs), you’ll find a landing area with another pull-out sofa and two more bedrooms.
Each of these bedrooms upstairs has two queen beds and their own private bathrooms with a tub/shower combo. You can enter and exit the villa from this level, which would help you avoid using the stairs that go from the first to second level of the unit.
Upstairs there was an additional pack-and-play in the closet, in case multiple tots were along for the vacation.
While having this much space and the close proximity to the Magic Kingdom is great, the unit was showing some wear in certain places. For example, the finish on the stairs and some of the furniture was not in pristine condition. While not a dealbreaker for me in the slightest, at $2,000+ per night, it is worth a mention.
If you don’t need a unit that sleeps up to 12, know that the villas at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower start as Deluxe Studios that have one queen bed and one sleeper sofa (that is actually pretty comfortable). These smaller Bay Lake Tower studios have a kitchenette and small fridge with a microwave and balcony and are great for a family of three or four to be comfortable with the ability to whip up some easy breakfasts and snacks. Points rates for these smaller units start at 14 points per night ($238/night at $17 per point).
When you stay at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort you have access to the tower’s amenities and also many at the neighboring Contemporary Resort. For example, the tower has its own Cove Pool with a zero-entry area, splash pad, toddler slide and a 148-foot waterslide. I did not see a posted height minimum on either of the water slides.
However, if you want to mix things up, you can go to the two pools at the Contemporary (one of which also has a fun slide). You will find lifeguards and free life vests available at the Bay Lake Tower pools and those at the Contemporary.
If you want to stay a bit drier, you will also find a basketball court, tennis court, putt-putt golf, boat rentals and an indoor community hall with games and DVDs you can borrow — perfect for a rainy Orlando afternoon.
Should your family want a few moments apart, at the Contemporary Resort next door there is a Pixar Play Zone which offers supervised fun for kids ages 4 – 12 for a fee.
One really cool element of staying on Disney Vacation Club points at Bay Lake Tower is that you avoid the $24-per-night resort self-parking fee, even if you just rented the points. If you booked a stay directly with Disney for cash (which you can’t actually do for the Grand Villa), you would have to pay that parking fee if you bring along a car.
Food and Beverage
Bay Lake Tower has limited food and beverage options within its walls, but lots of options if you factor in those at the neighboring Contemporary. At Bay Lake Tower specifically, you will find the Cove Bar out by the pool that has such options as margaritas, hot dogs, turkey wraps, smoothies, Mickey pretzels and kid meals.
At the Top of the World Lounge on the top floor of Bay Lake Tower (where the Grand Villa is located), you will find not only a killer nighttime fireworks view but some pretty nice snacks.
I recommend the Bay Lake Sunset drink comprised of vodka, coconut rum, pineapple juice and grenadine (shown above). However, if you want attention, go for the shared Seven Seas Lagoon Cocktail ($24) that lights up, has Swedish fish and tastes a lot like Sprite. Dangerously a lot like Sprite — be careful if you have an early morning planned the next day!
For snacks, you will find a cheese board, pretzel, flatbread, shrimp and grits and a truly decadent seven layer cake with salted caramel sauce.
Getting a seat here is tough during the fireworks, so come early or just enjoy the view from the outdoor balcony while the music from the Magic Kingdom is piped in.
Next door at the Contemporary Resort, you can dine at the full-service yet pretty casual The Wave (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner), eat with the characters at Chef Mickey’s (make reservations well in advance) or take in the views and sunset at the fancier California Grill (one of our top recommendations if you want to eat healthy at Disney World).
Staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort right on the monorail was a dream come true last year. Staying in a three-bedroom Grand Villa at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower this year was a dream I’d never dared to imagine.
Make no mistake, this is the extreme high end of Disney and comes with a price tag to match. A family of four could potentially take a full trip to Disney World for the cost of renting this unit for one night. However, if you maximize the available bedding and sleep around 12 people, the off-season rates of roughly $1,400 using rented DVC points may not be much more painful than renting multiple individual hotel rooms at deluxe Disney Resorts.
Also keep in mind that you can rent studios through two-bedroom units at Bay Lake Tower for less than the two-level Grand Villa and have all the same park proximity and magic with a smaller price tag.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation
- Disney Pop Century Resort
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs
All photos by the author.
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