Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort ranks highly on our list of top Disney Vacation Club resort-hotels at Walt Disney World. In this review, we’ll weigh the pros & cons of this hotel, offer a photo tour of the studio and grand villa rooms, and share our experiences having stayed here a few times. (This review was last updated June 18, 2017.)
For starters, Bay Lake Tower is one of the newer Disney Vacation Club properties at Walt Disney World. While it’s now several years old, only the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, and Copper Creek Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are newer. For better or worse, Bay Lake Tower was the resort that kicked off a wave of DVC development in the Magic Kingdom Resort Area.
Speaking of Magic Kingdom, Bay Lake Tower is also the resort at Walt Disney World that’s closest to a theme park. You can walk out the front door of the hotel and walk into the Magic Kingdom less than 10 minutes later. For some people, no further info in this review is necessary. Being that close to the Magic Kingdom is a huge benefit…
Bay Lake Tower was controversial from the moment its construction began as many viewed it as an eyesore that distract from the Contemporary, and it remains rather divisive among Disney Vacation Club members to this day. Some believe the theme is too “sterile” or “un-Disney” and some believe the amenities (namely the pool and community hall) aren’t as impressive at Bay Lake Tower as they are at other Disney Vacation Club resorts.
With the exception of the “un-Disney” complaint, I can understand where these folks are coming from. The theme is not for everyone, and if a Disney Vacation Club stay is about enjoying the resort, Bay Lake Tower will probably be low on your list. If you enjoy what the resort has to offer but don’t spend a ton of time at it beyond dining, we think you’re much more likely to enjoy Bay Lake Tower. Plenty of people love it, too!
Let’s start this review by taking a look inside the studio villas at Bay Lake Tower…
We enjoy the design (on the interiors–I agree with those who think it’s an eyesore from the outside) of the resort. It’s a nice blend of modern and luxurious design that is akin to something you’d see at a trendier hotel in a large city, while still having flairs of Disney.
Bay Lake Tower rooms don’t have the same themed environment as, say, the Polynesian, but not everyone is looking for that sort of thing.
My personal preference is for a more heavily-themed resort when at Walt Disney World, because it’s rare to see that elsewhere, and I enjoy a more immersive experience that’s like an extension of our park visits.
However, I think the rooms at Bay Lake Tower are an excellent execution of the intended design style. Sarah, on the other hand absolutely loves Bay Lake Tower–it’s her favorite resort at Walt Disney World.
The biggest problem with the Bay Lake Tower studio villas is their size. These are the smallest studios of any Disney Vacation Club resort.
While space is utilized remarkably well and it’s an incredibly efficient layout, the size difference is still noticeable. This is particularly true when you compare them to the spacious villas of the Polynesian and Old Key West.
This definitely stands out in the kitchenette area. I don’t know why Disney Vacation Club opted for a layout that makes this basically a cramped walk-in closet (this photo definitely makes it appear more spacious than it is), but it’s a small area.
On the other hand, it’s not out in the open, so whomever is in the kitchenette is not in the way of everyone else in the room. Perhaps some guests prefer this layout?
On the plus side, the bedding is incredibly comfortable, the couch is nice, and the rooms have a lot of texture and depth.
From the headboards on the bed to the chairs, couch, curtains, etc., there’s a lot of dimensionality and character added to the room to keep it from looking bland or generic. They’re subtle touches, but are important.
The bathroom in the Bay Lake Tower studio villa is pretty basic. Nothing noteworthy here.
Now let’s jump from the smallest rooms at Bay Lake Tower to the largest, and look inside of a grand villa…
Our visit to Bay Lake Tower occurred in for New Year’s Eve as part of the TouringPlans.com end of year party. We were there with a large group, and it was an excellent experience. I can see why people love these villas for family reunions, etc.
I’ve seen Grand Villa models before, but actually staying in one was a totally different experience. The unit was amazing.
Unfortunately, since a lot of other people were staying with us, I didn’t have much of a chance to thoroughly photograph the rooms in the unit.
The photos I did take were all with the fisheye (I was on a fisheye binge that trip!), so I apologize for that, too.
The Grand Villa was an excellent two-story room with plenty of space for our entire party.
Suffice to say, if we had a surplus of Disney Vacation Club points, we’d definitely be doing this again. Such a fun room.
The greatest benefit of Bay Lake Tower is definitely its location. Obviously, it’s located within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom.
I’d hazard a guess that most people who book Bay Lake Tower would cite that as one of their main reasons for staying there. Being within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom isn’t the only thing that’s great about the location.
When it comes to dining, you have Chef Mickey’s, California Grill, The Wave, and the underrated Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary (accessible via the Sky Bridge). Only Top of the World Lounge, which is also underrated, is actually located in Bay Lake Tower.
You also have a long list of other restaurants that are only a boat or short monorail ride away.
The other big “location” perk is Top of the World Lounge. Not just for the lounge itself, but for the views that this exclusive lounge offers. We watched the Fantasy in the Sky New Year’s Eve (and NYE-Eve) fireworks two nights from up here, and we didn’t encounter a crowd either time.
Compare that to those who viewed the fireworks from the park, and were packed in like sardines. As you can see from the photo below, our view of the fireworks from up there was pretty impressive.
While this location benefit is best when there are heavy in-park crowds that you want to avoid, it also applies for the Boo to You fireworks during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Holiday Wishes fireworks during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Don’t want to pay $80+ per person to attend these parties, but still want to see the fireworks. Easy! Just watch them from the Top of the World Lounge, where you’ll have a better view of the shows than if you watched at the Transportation & Ticket Center or on the beach of the Polynesian.
Perhaps the weakest selling point of Bay Lake Tower is the pool. I might be alone in this sentiment, but I think the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower have the weakest pools of any Deluxe Resort at Walt Disney World.
In fact, I’d be inclined to put them behind most Moderate Resorts, too…and maybe even a couple of Value Resorts.
Finally, the advantage of walking distance to the Magic Kingdom cannot be overstated. While our experience is a bit of an extreme, during the incredibly busy Christmas to New Year’s Eve week, we were able to rise early to arrive at the Magic Kingdom before rope (which occurred at 7 am), walk back to our hotel once crowds got bad to take long naps, and then return at night and stay until park closing (3 am). You can do this when you stay at any resort, but transportation times make it less effective elsewhere.
While you won’t be able to leverage the location to this much of an advantage during other seasons, you will still have the “midday nap advantage” at Bay Lake Tower no matter what time of year you visit. (For this same reason, we also recommend staying at BoardWalk or Beach Club during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival.)
These “location” reasons are the big selling points for us. During a “busy season” trip where the Magic Kingdom will consistently have longer operating hours than any other park, and we’ll want to eat outside of the parks a lot, Bay Lake Tower has no rival.
There are other amenities, including a health club, business center, babysitting, tennis courts, and other recreational facilities, which are shared with Disney’s Contemporary Resort available, but to us, location is key.
By the way, if you’re considering Bay Lake Tower and you’re not a Disney Vacation Club Member, you should be considering Disney’s Contemporary Resort, too.
Check out our Contemporary Resort Review to get an idea of what it has to offer that’s different from Bay Lake Tower.
Overall, we really enjoyed Bay Lake Tower, and think it’s a great choice if you’re going to find yourself in the Magic Kingdom a lot and like the modern design. Most of you probably know whether Bay Lake Tower is or isn’t for you without even reading this review, based simply on what you think of its theming and how often you visit the Magic Kingdom on a typical trip. Hopefully this review has given you a bit more to think about with regard to when you stay at Bay Lake Tower. Planning a stay at BLT for the right time of year can really make a busy time seem relatively manageable and can make your trip go a lot better.
Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Check out our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page, which offers quick-hit capsule reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of every Walt Disney World hotel, plus links to our reviews and photo pages for every hotel we have reviewed.
For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides”are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
I’m sure most of you have an opinion on Bay Lake Tower, regardless of whether you’ve stayed there. So…what do you think of the place? Do you view it as another example of the unnecessary proliferation of Disney Vacation Club that is harming bits of the Vacation Kingdom? Do you view it as a great addition to the Disney Vacation Club portfolio in an excellent location? Or, is your opinion somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments!