Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a Deluxe Resort hotel at Walt Disney World, located within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom on the monorail loop. This review features updated room photos, the pros & cons of the Contemporary, thoughts on amenities, and more.
Ironically, it is the oldest hotel at Walt Disney World, but despite this fact, it does have a modern look and a general design-aesthetic that will likely appeal to affluent guests accustomed to luxurious real-world hotels, and not interested in the typical theming found at other Walt Disney World hotels.
This makes the Contemporary a fairly divisive hotel: guests visiting Walt Disney World in part to escape the real world and be transported to another time and place often are underwhelmed by the Contemporary, whereas guests interested in no-nonsense luxury who want a respite from the themed environments once they leave the parks but want Disney perks and a great location are likely to love the Contemporary.
If you’re unfamiliar with Walt Disney World hotels, most people—even first timers—will probably readily be able to identify the Contemporary as “the hotel with the monorail going through it.” That alone is going to be a big draw for many guests, and is what always drew me to it as a kid, but it’s important to know that many rooms at the Contemporary are not located in the central A-frame building through which the monorail passes.
This review focuses on the cheaper rooms in the Garden Wings (where we stayed), which are directly adjacent to the main A-frame building. How do those live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…
The rooms at the Contemporary are sizable, make good use of space, and are really quite nice for Walt Disney World resort hotel rooms. They are not my style for what I want from a Walt Disney World hotel room, but even I can recognize that, when looking at them objectively, they are some of the nicest rooms at Walt Disney World.
“Objectively” is a pretty dull way to approach a subjective review (just wait until I bust out my scientific instruments for the review of All Star Music to quantify its “enjoyableness”!). My subjective take is that, while nicely put together, the rooms are a bit ordinary as compared to other Walt Disney World resort hotels.
This isn’t to say there aren’t nice features (I love the light up panel below the television) or that they aren’t nice, they just lack the more “aggressive” theming I prefer of Walt Disney World hotel rooms. To this extent, I think Disney’s Contemporary Resort is bound to be a love-it or hate-it type of hotel.
I suspect the comments to this article will generally reflect two extremes without much in between: people agreeing with me that it’s not their cup of tea thematically, and people staunchly disagreeing, finding the Contemporary to be one of the best hotels at Walt Disney World.
The bathrooms at the Contemporary are quite nice. They are split, which is fairly standard for Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort hotel rooms, but unlike most rooms, they place the dual sinks and the shower/bathtub in one area and the toilet in another area. Personally, I prefer having the sinks outside of the shower area so it’s easier to get ready, but these bathrooms really look nice and classy.
One big advantage of the Contemporary that’s frequently overlooked is its dining. I rarely hear it mentioned as one of the heavyweights in terms of Disney dining, but I can think of few hotels that best it. California Grill and Chef Mickey’s are obviously the restaurants with a strong reputation here, but don’t discount The Wave and Contempo Cafe. I view The Wave and Contempo Cafe as two overlooked gems, and I would actually sooner eat at these two restaurants than the much more popular California Grill and Chef Mickey’s.
In fact, Contempo Cafe is my #1 counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World! While I would definitely eat at California Grill again, I think it’s a tad overrated and overpriced, and I think Chef Mickey’s is one of the worst restaurants at Walt Disney World when considering value and cuisine. Even accounting for my dislike of Chef Mickey’s, I think it’s still a top 5 hotel for dining. Add the Top of the World Lounge next door at Bay Lake Tower, and you have a really well-rounded hotel in terms of Disney dining.
The biggest “amenity” of Disney’s Contemporary Resort is undoubtedly its location. No hotel at Walt Disney World is closer to the Magic Kingdom than the Contemporary (well, besides Bay Lake Tower, but they’re basically one in the same). It’s a short monorail ride to and from the park, and an even shorter walk. It’s really awesome to not have to hassle with any transportation in the morning or after a long night as you just walk 5-10 minutes to and from the Magic Kingdom.
Other amenities include the on-site convention center, marina, pool, and childcare. Even considering all of this, I just don’t find myself nuts about the Contemporary, like I am about BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club, Wilderness Lodge, or Animal Kingdom Lodge. Guests receive MagicBands and can make FastPass+ reservations. Learn more about this in our MyMagic+ FAQ.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Disney’s Contemporary Resort and especially like its location within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom. It’s no secret that Walt Disney World prices its on-site hotels at a premium as compared to their real world counterparts, and although there are a number of compelling reasons for this, such as the on-site guest perks, I’ve always viewed the biggest justification (for me personally) in their awesome themed environments, unlike what you would find at most “real world” hotels.
To a large degree, the Contemporary lacks this, instead choosing to with a style identical to real-world luxury hotel brands. I really like Disney, but Disney cannot compete with the luxury and boutique hotel brands of the world. The Contemporary comes up short when directly compared to luxury hotels at its price point. (Disclosure: our stay at Disney’s Contemporary Resort was comped.)
Average nightly rates at the Contemporary, even after a regularly available room-only percentage discount, are over $300/night. For less than that price, you can stay at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and Disney simply cannot touch the Waldorf Astoria in terms of luxury, amenities, and service.
In fairness, it is true that most Disney-owned hotels can’t compete with similarly-priced luxury brands, but I think the difference with a hotel like the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, or BoardWalk Inn is that there are no direct comparisons to those hotels.
You can’t point to a real world luxury hotel brand that has a fully-fledged Victorian theme, a South Seas theme, or an Atlantic Boardwalk theme. You have to disregard a central component of the Disney hotels in order to make the head to head comparison to luxury hotel brands in the first place. By contrast, the Contemporary is a modern-luxe hotel, so it’s a direct comparison.
Perhaps this is being a bit harsh on the Contemporary, and also viewing its contemporary theme in isolation of what else it brings to the table. In the case of the Contemporary, it has other on-site advantages and is within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom. When considering these perks, its price becomes more justifiable, and some of its design shortcomings become easier to overlook.
To begin with, there truly aren’t many shortcomings—the new rooms look nice, they just aren’t on par with a Park Hyatt or another major brand in its class…but that’s a high bar and it doesn’t necessary mean the Contemporary rooms are bad. Far from it, actually.
Then there’s the ultimate trump card for the Contemporary of the monorail. Our stay was in the Garden Wing of the Contemporary, and no monorail glides through that part of the hotel. When I envisioned staying in the Contemporary as a child, it was always in one of the rooms that “overlooks” the monorail.
While a main building room wouldn’t have a different theme, per se, there really is something to be said for staying in a hotel building that has a monorail gliding through it. I’m betting that if we stayed in this building, my opinion of the Contemporary might be higher. It seems insignificant, I know, but to me that’s such a cool feature.
UPDATE: I stayed in the main A-frame building after initially publishing this review, and my opinion was much higher of that experience. Read about it here.
Overall, Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a hotel about which I’m of two minds. My immediate, gut-level reaction after we stayed there was just that it was fine, but didn’t live up to the hype; for the cost of staying at a Deluxe Resort, I’d much rather be elsewhere. However, when I sat down to write this review and actually approached the Contemporary “check-list style,” it has a ton going for it, and should rank as one of the top Deluxe Resorts. Just look at its pros: location, dining, room quality, novelty, and size. On paper, it’s at the top of its class. At the end of the day, I suspect for many people, the “theme” of the Contemporary will be the make or break component. For those who love the transportive or whimsical theming of Walt Disney World resort hotels, Disney’s Contemporary Resort may be a disappointment. For those who aren’t as concerned with theme, the “on paper” aspects of the Contemporary will probably be a great choice.
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Do you love the Contemporary or is it not your style? If you’re a fan, do you think the monorail, proximity to the Magic Kingdom, and other perks make it worth the premium price? If you’re not a fan, is it because of the “plain” style? Planning on staying here someday? Share your thoughts in the comments!