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The Contemporary is as close as you can get to staying in the Magic Kingdom without actually being in the Magic Kingdom, and is wonderfully situated for families with very young children. Pros: close to the Disney park, right on the monorail and the opportunity to meet Disney characters right on the grounds. Cons: pricey, and elevators, A/C and other elements that struggled with 21st-century expectations.
Walt Disney passed away several years before Disney World first opened its gates in 1971, but he played a huge role in planning the initial design of this magical land where family vacation dreams can come true. The two original Walt Disney World hotels were Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the iconic Contemporary Resort.
This summer, my husband, two daughters (ages 8 and 2) and I finally had the chance to stay at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, 47 years after the park and resort first opened.
Having stayed at the Polynesian Village Resort last summer and the Contemporary Resort this year, I can confidently say that there is something special about going all-in on a Disney experience the way Walt originally envisioned. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, using points and staying off of Disney property — in fact, here are properties where you can do just that without trading off most of the Disney perks.
But let’s be honest, when you can get on the monorail that drops you off steps from the entry to the Magic Kingdom without leaving your hotel, the stay is just that much more … magical. The Contemporary’s premium location is especially appreciated at the end of a magical day when your family retreats back to the hotel for naptime or bed.
While you can book Walt Disney World Resort hotels using points, we paid cash for this particular stay at the Contemporary. Having stayed at Disney World last year, we were sent a targeted bounce-back offer that saved us about 30% off the regular price directly from Disney. Rack rates for entry-level rooms at Disney’s Contemporary Resort range from about $400 to $600 per night, but Disney sales can drop that price to closer to $300 per night certain times of the year.
If you’re staying four nights at the Contemporary, or any Disney hotel, an easy way to save money would be to book with your Citi Prestige Card to get the fourth night free. In our case, we only stayed three nights, so we paid with our Chase Sapphire Reserve and earned 3x points for the stay. If you want to use Chase Ultimate Reward points to book a Disney Resort, that’s possible if you’re willing to pick up the phone.
You could also use your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to book your Disney Resort stay, and then use the points from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per point to cover the charges.
Staying at Disney’s Contemporary was 100% about location, location and then a little more location. Not only are you just a monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom, but you’re also within relatively easy walking distance if you wanted to make the trip by foot.
We timed it by making it a family race of sorts, and found that an adult walking from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom was often many minutes faster than taking the monorail loop. That equation shifted a bit with little legs and strollers, but if you’re up for walking, it’s actually faster than taking the monorail that makes stops at the Ticketing and Transportation Center, the Polynesian Village Resort and the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa before ultimately arriving at the Magic Kingdom.
On the ride back to the hotel, though, you got a straight shot, as the Contemporary was stop No. 1 after departing the Magic Kingdom.
If your final destination were EPCOT, you could take the monorail from the Contemporary to the Transportation and Ticketing Center and then transfer to the monorail to EPCOT. If you were ambitious, you could technically walk from EPCOT to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
To get to Animal Kingdom using Disney transportation, you would likely want to take a bus. We actually went to Animal Kingdom at around 7:00am one morning to ride Avatar Flight of Passage and used a Minnie Van for that early-morning adventure. Minnie Vans were requested through the Lyft app but were operated by Disney employees. They came with high-quality car seats and could take you anywhere on Disney property for a flat fee of $25 plus tip.
The check-in area at Disney’s Contemporary Resort had a modern look that reminded me a bit of Disney’s Tomorrowland section of the Magic Kingdom. We arrived at the hotel around 9:00pm, so there were no crowds or lines to speak of.
What I appreciate about Disney Resorts such as this one are the little touches: Directly across from the check-in desk was a seating area with a TV playing Disney cartoons. If there’d been any measurable wait to check-in, our kiddos would probably have been more than happy to sit down and watch a bit of a show.
At Disney, early check-ins, late checkouts and upgrades are few and far between, so I recommend booking the exact room type you need. Because the Contemporary was so close to the Magic Kingdom, and our 2-year-old was unlikely to have the stamina to stay in the parks until the fireworks at 9:15pm each evening, we booked a room with a theme-park view. I don’t normally pay extra for a particular view when we travel, but we watched those fireworks with the music from the TV every single night we were there, so Mickey wins that round of Magic vs. Wallet.
Aside from the stellar view, our room at the Contemporary was fine but not overly impressive. Paying average rates of $500 or more for a roughly 400-square-foot room like this one almost anywhere other than right next to Disney’s Magic Kingdom would probably feel like a letdown. At Disney, virtually everything costs more than in the real world, so keep that in mind when the sticker shock starts to sink in.
At Disney’s Contemporary, the ceilings in some places were low, the elevators could take a while, the air conditioning couldn’t totally keep up with Florida’s midsummer heat and humidity, the pillows were lumpy, and the room décor wasn’t overly impressive. And yet the smiles never left our faces. How can that be?
The magic, of course.
Staying at Disney’s Contemporary wasn’t about booking the nicest room, saving money or even enjoying the nicest pool, although the pool did have a waterslide with lifeguards.
Food and Beverage
Aside from being ultraconvenient to at least two of the Disney Parks, the Contemporary had another convenient perk up its sleeves. On the same level as the monorail was Chef Mickey’s, which played host to character meals with all of the Mickey’s traditional crew (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto).
Chef Mickey’s served breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we joined Mickey for breakfast. For about $40 for adults and a little less for kids (ages 2 and under were free), you could fill your plate with all-you-care-to-enjoy options including a waffle bar complete with selfie station, hickory-smoked bacon, buttermilk biscuits, classic scrambles and much, much more.
The food was more than fine for a breakfast buffet, but the real draw of Chef Mickey’s was having all those major characters come right up to your table during your meal for photos and meet and greets.
Since we stayed at the Contemporary and enjoyed a meal at Chef Mickey’s, we could check these key character greetings off our list without even leaving the indulgent air-conditioning of our hotel! This may not have been the most cost-effective way to hang out with Mickey Mouse, but it was a convenient option.
Should we have wanted to let our kids enjoy time at a Disney Kid’s Club while we took a few hours off from kid duty, there was the Pixar Play Zone on the fourth floor of the Contemporary. We didn’t use it, since kids had to be at least 4, but we did get a peek inside (though no photos were allowed). Let’s just say that peeking inside turned out to be a real error on my part, as my children were then massively disappointed when we didn’t let them stay and play in the bright, colorful, arcade-style playroom with inspiration taken from the “Toy Story” movies.
Again, like all things Disney, this playtime was not be inexpensive, $65 per child for supervised play time from 6:00pm to 10:30pm, but my husband does infinitely better on a Disney trip if he knows that there will be a few hours of adult-oriented conversation and activity built into the schedule. You don’t have to be a guest of the Contemporary to use the Pixar Play Room, but guests of the Contemporary have the added perk of it being conveniently located within the hotel.
Even though the room at the Contemporary was not out-of-this-world, my family very much enjoyed the convenient and authentic Walt Disney experience. If you’re trying to decide if the Contemporary is worth the extra cost over other Disney lodging options, I’d consider a few things: First, if budget is the primary hurdle, consider “renting” Disney Vacation Club points (buying them from a DVC owner who makes the booking for you) to stay at the adjacent Bay Lake Tower. This gets you 95% of the convenience of the Contemporary at a potentially discounted price.
Next, check out the deals put out by Magical Vacations Travel, as they can have phenomenal rates for the Contemporary certain times of the year.
If you’re still on the fence, then consider booking the Contemporary when your children are young enough to still need to return to the resort for naps in the afternoon and when you will be spending a bulk of your time at the Magic Kingdom.
In fact, you might want to just book the Contemporary for a couple of nights of a longer trip, staying there when you will be at Magic Kingdom and then elsewhere for other parks. While I hope to return to the Contemporary in the future, I’ll likely just stay there for two nights while we play at Magic Kingdom and then move to a resort closer to Animal Kingdom, or maybe even stay in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for its fully immersive Star Wars-themed hotel when it opens in a few years.
Disney always has new flashy options on the horizon, but despite its name, the Contemporary is a classic and convenient option for young families planning a special trip to the Magic Kingdom.
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