Guide to Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
A Brief History of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Since the inception of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), members lustily anticipated the introduction of monorail resorts to the program. Any self-respecting Disney fan understands that the properties on the Resort Monorail loop claim the best logistics at Walt Disney World.
Fans waited impatiently for 18 years before Disney finally fulfilled this longstanding wish. That’s the gap between the introduction of DVC in 1991 and the debut of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in 2009. After years of rumors and dashed hopes, DVC strategists finally published their plans for “Kingdom Tower” at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in late 2007.
By January of 2008, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel had learned additional details about the property. It was a “$110 million, 15-story tower” that they described as a “fast-rising Contemporary addition.” The newspaper determined that it was a DVC property despite Disney’s refusal to confirm. The following month, the paper unearthed additional details. These documents revealed that the new expansion was in fact a series of DVC villas.
In August of 2009, Disney validated the Orlando Sun-Sentinel’s exceptional journalism when they opened Bay Lake Tower. In the process, the property became the ninth participant in DVC, narrowly beating Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa. The West Coast hotel joined the DVC lineup roughly seven weeks later. 2009 was a year of huge expansion for DVC, but Bay Lake Tower represented almost two decades of wishes finally fulfilled. DVC members finally had a monorail resort in the program.
The Style of Bay Lake Tower
I’m not being cheeky when I say that to a certain extent, this hotel’s theme is Magic Kingdom. Imagineers specifically positioned it as the closest resort to the most popular theme park on the planet. That’s the strongest selling point. Otherwise, guests would be hard-pressed to name the precise theme of the hotel.
I’m not knocking the property when I say that. To the contrary, Bay Lake Tower is upscale in design, stylish and sleek. It’s an updated sibling to Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The company wanted the new facility to blend well with the A-frame hotel standing right beside it, and so they augmented its theme of “contemporary.” It’s modern in style, although the most frequent complaint is that Bay Lake Tower is neutral bordering on sterile.
Unlike other properties in the DVC lineup, this hotel doesn’t inspire a mental image of some distinctive aspect. For this reason, cynics describe it as “un-Disney,” which drives me to distraction. What’s more Disney than sitting a few hundred steps away from the entrance to Magic Kingdom??? Still, if meticulous theming is important to you, Bay Lake Tower will rank lower on your list of DVC resorts. The unstated theme is “luxury hotel right by Magic Kingdom,” for better and for worse.
The DVC Aspects
The DVC points chart for Bay Lake Tower is reasonable relative to the other monorail resorts. You can spend a week in a studio villa for only 102 points. Yes, it’s a room that faces the parking lot and yes, you’ll have to visit in January, September, or early December. Still, that’s a lovely trip for many fans of the holiday season lights or Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
Something to keep in mind is how quickly the points cost increases for a room with a view. Under those same parameters, a Lake View room costs 123 points while a Theme Park View is 141 points. I should also point out that some of the Lake View rooms here are notoriously questionable.
I’ve spent the extra points before only to discover a parking lot view that includes a miniscule view of some water at an extreme angle. DVC News has thoughtfully compiled pictures of various room views at the hotel. I strongly suggest that you look at some of them before committing to the extra points expenditure.
The specifics of the views are straightforward. Lake View promises a panoramic view of Bay Lake. In the right room, the visuals are serene. When you’re in one of the middle rooms at the resort, you’ll have a wonderful perspective of the main pool below you as well as beautiful sights across the water. Some of my happiest times here have involved sitting on the balcony during a gentle rain, savoring the dripping of water on the trees and pool.
The Theme Park View gives you a look at several wienies at Magic Kingdom. While everyone wants Cinderella Castle, the reality is that you’ll have a better perspective of Space Mountain, which is closer to the resort. You’ll have an unusually close look at the monorail system, too. It cuts through the Contemporary Resort, but it passes near Bay Lake Tower during its trip. Some of the rooms are effectively monorail view, and that’s also great.
Here’s the thing about Bay Lake Tower and its points chart. For more than half the year, you can spend a week at this resort for 123 points or less. That’s on a par with Disney’s Beach Club Villas. While that hotel features close park proximity as well, being right beside Magic Kingdom and on the monorail loop is better for most people. The fact that the points are similar is a strong selling point for Bay Lake Tower.
People expect to pay more for a monorail resort, and that concept translates to DVC points as well. I would go so far as to describe a studio at Bay Lake Tower as one of the best values in the DVC lineup. This statement assumes that you don’t mind looking at a parking lot during your hotel stay. Guests who want to look at Cinderella Castle will feel differently. The DVC points upcharge is as much as 41 percent in some instances. As always, you pay more for the best things at Disney.
Giving you a sneak preview of the cons section, the other frequent complaint about Bay Lake Tower is the room size. The studios in particular are quite small. These rooms are 339 square feet, although I should point out that the floorplan is impressively efficient. The subdivision of the bathroom and kitchenette from the living space makes for easy room navigation. I’m 6’2”, and I never feel claustrophobic here.
The one- and two-bedrooms are also smaller than the average DVC property. A one-bedroom is 803 square feet, but Disney has done something clever to compensate. In addition to a pullout sofa, it has a chair that turns into a bed, too. Officially, these rooms only sleep five, though. The two-bedroom comes standard or as a lock-off. Either way, these rooms are 1,152 square feet. They’re also quite stylish, albeit understated in tone.
Bay Lake Tower Resort Amenities
Almost all of the amenities at Bay Lake Tower are in reality ones from Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Imagineers connected the two hotels via an outdoor bridge from the fifth floor of Bay Lake Tower to the fourth floor of the Contemporary. That floor happens to be where much of the action is at Contemporary, but let’s start with what’s at Bay Lake Tower.
The pool here is small and exclusive. Only guests staying at Bay Lake Tower can visit the heart-shaped Bay Cove Pool or ride the accompanying circular waterslide (that’s pretty awesome). Guests at Bay Lake Tower have the ability to swim at the Contemporary’s pools, too. The main pool there isn’t just terrific. It also features an inimitable view of the marina and surrounding lake. Speaking of the marina, plenty of aquatic activities are available via rental at this facility. Don’t forget about them as great ways to spend a few hours!
The bottom floor of Bay Lake Tower has three other important amenities. One is a hotel-specific concierge staff I’ll discuss more in Resort Pros and Cons. Another is a washer and dryer room that has plenty of machines plus a nice feature. You can check via LaundryView to see if your clothes are ready. This forward-thinking solution streamlines the laundry process for extended stay DVC guests (which my family usually is).
The best onsite amenity at Bay Lake Tower is unquestionably Top of the World Lounge. Here, guests who have membership cards can board an elevator on the bottom floor of the hotel and ride up to the roof. At this spot, you’ll enjoy an unprecedented view of Magic Kingdom. Plus, you can enjoy beverages and snacks in the lounge area.
The non-restaurant portion is only partially covered, but the lounge is indoors, making it a perfect place to hang out during a rainy evening. Either way, Top of the World Lounge is a membership favorite for watching the Happily Ever After fireworks display. The only caveat is that you need a membership card to visit the top floor of Bay Lake Tower.
The other amenities for Bay Lake Tower are at the Contemporary. This resort is one of the two originals at Walt Disney World, making it an integral part of theme park history. The bottom floor features The Wave, a Table Service restaurant with a robust menu. The Wave is a great place to try when you don’t have an Advanced Dining Reservation as they don’t tend to book up as much.
When you’re in the mood for something even classier, head to the top floor of the Contemporary to dine at California Grill. It’s a Signature Dining experience that’s among the best at Walt Disney World. You’ll have a view of Happily Ever After here as well. The windows are made of floor-to-ceiling glass panes that provide breathtaking views of several Disney landmarks in the area.
The fourth floor features two Disney staples, Contempo Café and Chef Mickey’s. The former is a Quick Service restaurant that serves every DVC member’s favorite breakfast, the Bounty Platter. The latter is a Table Service meal that’s character dining with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy. Yes, that’s the core roster at Disney, all available for interactive photo ops at your table! Chef Mickey’s is incredibly popular, so you’ll want/need an Advanced Dining Reservation to eat here.
The other selling points of the fourth floor at the Contemporary are its shops. Bayview Gifts is the main store, and it sells everything from candy to luggage. I’ve bought both there at the same time, and I don’t know what that says about me. Nicknamed BVG, this shop is a one-stop solution for all your needs. It’s a functional Disney Store right at your hotel (or at least a bridge walk away from it).
Fans of toys for boys and girls should also visit Fantasia, the store in the middle that you’ll pass on your way to another key amenity. Fantasia sells all sorts of stuffed animals, collectibles, and upscale boys like monorail sets. Right beside it is Fantasia Market, the place where you’ll buy all your sundries during your visit. Pay attention to the bulletin board here, as it hosts a different Disney trivia quiz each day.
With all due respect to BVG and Chef Mickey’s, the best amenity at the Contemporary is on the fourth floor, too. It’s the monorail entrance that will take you to Magic Kingdom, other monorail resorts, or the Transportation and Ticket Center. Disney recently changed their security practices. As of now, you’ll check your bags at the Contemporary, meaning that once you depart from the monorail at Magic Kingdom, you can walk straight to the admission lines. That improvement alone makes DVC monorail resorts wonderful options for diehard Disney fans. It’s an added level of convenience that other resorts don’t get.
Resort Pros and Cons
In reading this piece, you should have a strong idea of the pros and cons already. The strongest pros are logistics and amenities. When exiting the front lobby of Bay Lake Tower, you are only a few hundred steps away from Magic Kingdom. Turn on your phone, load some music, put on your headphones, and you’ll be at the park in two songs or less.
If you don’t feel like walking, cross the bridge to the Contemporary and ride the monorail around to Magic Kingdom or switch to get on the Epcot monorail. You have ready access to two beloved theme parks when you stay at Bay Lake Tower.
As for the other amenities, Bay Lake Tower has access to some of the best restaurants and shops at Walt Disney World. It even includes exclusive access to a DVC pool and a couple of others at the Contemporary. When you stay at Bay Lake Tower, you’ll feel as if you’re enjoying the absolute best that Disney has to offer.
The downsides here are important to keep in mind, though. I’ll start with the cast members in Bay Lake Tower’s hotel lobby. While ostensibly equals to the staff that welcomes you at the Contemporary, the Bay Lake Tower team seems to have less authority. Over the years, I’ve ultimately started skipping them in favor of Contemporary employees, who seem to have more power to satisfy guests. I’d write this off as personal misfortune, but I’ve seen countless DVC members over the years make similar statements. It seems like an ongoing issue.
Another sticking point that’s kind of weird is the water. Yes, I may seem like I’m splitting hairs to mention the tap water. However, it really is a problem. It’s on the same line as much of the water at Magic Kingdom, and you know the deal there. A strongly sulfuric taste is inevitable. If you’re like me and swallow a bit of water while taking a shower or brushing your teeth, it’s kind of gross at times.
The DVC villas are small, too. There’s no getting around that. Some folks find them a bit claustrophobic. Similarly, the “theme” is divisive since a few guests find it not as Disney-esque as other options in the DVC lineup. If theming is important to you, this might not be the place.
Assuming that these cons don’t bother you, the reality is that Bay Lake Tower is the DVC resort that members fantasized about getting for 18 years. Even now, almost a decade after its debut, it’s still one of the strongest options in the entire DVC lineup. It’s only a few hundred steps away from Magic Kingdom! What else could you possibly want???