Bay Lake Tower Review
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.
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 for a New Year’s Eve 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 special fireworks during both Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and 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!
Do you happen to know or hear any rumors what Disney is doing between contemporary and the ttc. Saw construction fence and dirt road cut in going towards the lake. It was just this past week, abs was on the monorail so didn’t get pictures.
Our party of 8 stayed in a 2-bedroom suite at BLT and the proximity to WDW is a plus. I had requested a lake-view room. We could see the fireworks from our patio, (sound from TV was awful) but not the lake as the view was obscured by trees.
We were not allowed on the roof to watch the fireworks as we were renting from a DVC member via David’s and only members were allowed which was very disappointing. We did get a great view from the walkway between the Contemporary and BLT and the sound was great.
Staff was great. We’d stay again!
We are staying at BLT this nov 3rd in a 2 bdrm unit. Can you tell me which room has the best view, lake view?
Tongue in cheek but I can’t really see a difference besides the kitchenette in BLT studio compared to a renovated Pop room
We love Bay Lake Towers due to its accessibility to Contemporary and the MK. I particularly like the pool bar and the adult pool at Contemporary. Not many Disney pools are deep which is a problem for taller people. The Contempo Cafe has a large variety of food and affordable. The arcade is larger than most DVC Deluxe resorts. I have had some issues with Bay Lakes last two stays and was given my DVC points back 1 stay and half of my points the next stay. The location was not what we were told and quite bad first trip and 2nd trip the trash was not taken out and falling onto the floor when we entered the room. They were very accommodating both stays. The Bay Lakes pool is crowded, not deep anywhere and small. The hot tub was very nice though compared to the Contemporary hot tub being kind of in the middle of things. There are give and takes at any resort, but just still love the proximity of Bay Lakes and the view is great no matter.
We are staying at Bay Lake this coming weekend. We have never been crazy about the pool area either, but DVC allows pool hopping to Grand Floridian so we hop on the monorail and enjoy one of our favorite pools for the day…then head back to Bay Lake to enjoy our favorite restaurant, California Grill. Then top it off with an after dinner drink/fireworks at Top of the World….my idea of a perfect day! 🙂
If you read carefully in the DVC member info, DVC does not allow pool hopping to certain pools ever. All pools are listed as no hopping except Boardwalk and Saratoga Springs. It states you have to check with the desk to see if the pool if accessible at that time. We have hopped many times, but with Disney adding the fences and the fact that you have to scan your armband now, they are aware whether you are checked into that resort or not. Contemporary has a fence, but only because they lock the pool area up after closing. I love the AKL pool. Very relaxing and large and numerous hot tubs. If this is wrong, I apologize, but that is what I read.
The only time I’ve had to scan my band is at the Yacht/Beach Club. To be fair, I’ve only stayed in three properties, though. Still, it seems like they would check if it weren’t allowed. I honestly could be completely off property and go to some of the monorail pools (just got back from GF and there was zero checking or need to show an arm band or any ID.
Surprised by your feelings on the Bay Lake Tower pool area.
I really love it.
It’s got a very unique setting, and the extra shade is wonderful in the hot summer months.
we will be staying at BLT in July for 4 nights. I keep hearing that we can’t go to the Top of the World since was are not DVC members. Is this true?
You have to be a DVC member to go there. See if you can meet a DVC member staying at the resort and ask them to escort you up.
What if you are renting points from DVC Rental Store . You are a guest is the dvc person . Since you are renting their points shouldn’t you be allowed to go up there or how would they know if you aren’t a member . The actual member is the one that makes the arrangements for you
Yes. May be different during the pandemic. You have to show your membership card before you can get on the elevator.
Could anyone comment on the Garden Wing rooms next to the Contemporary? We will be there during the last week of May 2017. I see the info on the Contemporary and BLT but nothing on the Garden rooms. Should I be concerned?
Linda, we stayed in a ground level garden view room and it was fantastic! We watched the Electrical parade right outside our room (or on the bed if you wish). It was our first stay at WDW as adults. We had 4 adults and 1 child in the room for 5 nights and it was really manageable. The bathroom layout was great for that many people. When we arrived, we requested the best room available (when asked if we had requests/questions) and we had a birthday celebration along with an anniversary celebration, so that might have helped the room location. It was very private and we never heard others around. Once we figured out the side doors and paths, getting to the main building took no time. I would stay there again and would likely prefer it over the Contemporary (due to view and relaxation).
My family stayed in a 1bedroom unit at BLT for only one night. We all liked the resort but I really liked it a lot. In fact, I loved it. I am a huge fan of the Magic Kingdom and being able to walk back to the resort after staying out very late without having to board a bus, boat or monorail is awesome. I liked the pool area a lot and like the convenience of the monorail. We are DVC members and our home resort is the Polynesian. While I also love that resort for so many reasons; in particular the theming, meandering walkways, torches, and walking distance to the TTC, I don’t like the rough pool surface. It feels like sandpaper.. If I could re-do my home resort choice, I would pick Bay Lake Tower and possibly suffer the wrath from my family. It is also nice that they do have 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units while the Poly only has studios (the bungalows are not an option for us). I agree with Sarah, BLT is tops.
Great review on Bay Lake Towers. I was interested in your fireworks shot. Where were you at when you took that shot. What was your ISO, shutter speed, f/stop, ND filter strength, etc. I’m an experienced photographer but my fireworks images for the Magic Kingdom was mostly taken from the Tomorrowland bridge or the Tomorrowland Plaza. I usually come to the park with my Nikon D810 gear but this year, I’ve got a new travel rig, the Fuji X-E2 because I’m getting tired lugging around a DSLR+accessories. I know that APS-C doesn’t have the IQ or DR of an FX camera but I’m sure it’s better than my experimental Nikon CX rig.
I’m also interested in finding a better way to get tickets to the Desert Party during the Christmas Party. Is it just luck or is there some secret code you need to know. Last year, I was lucky to get a cancellation (Wishes Desert party not the one during the Not So Scary event). I’m hoping this year, things will be different.
My wife and I are only a few weeks away from our second WDW trip together. We went last February with our 5 yr old, and stayed off site. We were at the park for a total of five days and while that originally seemed like a lot of time, it was not nearly enough. We would leave Westgate around 7 am, get to Disney Springs park in the garage and walk to SSR to catch a bus to whichever park we were going to that day. Our first day we tried to commute back and forth from WDW to our suite at Westgate, this was about a 3 hour round trip. For six nights we payed just north of 1000 dollars to stay there. I feel we saved a fair amount of money by ding this but sacrificed a lot in the way of the total experience. The first two days were great, but then it got freezing cold and my wisdom tooth got infected for the rest of the time, and my car battery kept dying, every single day lol. Given our financial situation at the time, we had never really had much in the way of a real big family vacation, so we made the most of it and had a blast anyway. I say all that to say this time, we have decided to do an adult only stay, and rented DVC points for BLT, primarily because of location, and the theme. We felt it was a little more adult than the others we looked at. We will be there for five nights this year, and will be going down during the flower and garden fest. We are so damn excited to go again we can barely stand it lol. I have a few questions however, first, does BLT have any grills outdoors around the pool or wherever? We have one day scheduled without any time in the park, this would be a good grill by the pool day if such a thing where even possible. And two, we are not planning on spending a ton of time at Magic Kingdom though I imagine we will be in there most evenings given that it stays open the latest. We are more concerned with Epcot and AK, will I regret being at BLT?? And third is there a way you can link your DOB to your magic band so I dont have to carry my ID into the park? If this is possible it seems we would not have to bring anything into the parks with us.
We have stayed at BLT three times. March 2014 was our first time there and it was wonderful so much so we purchased points at BLT. Our next two visits November2015 and February 2016 were disappointing. BLT lacks customer service. We had a two bedroom lock off which they could only get our magic bands to work one of the doors, lights did not work in the room,washer had mold in it. We were suppose to have towel and trash service but housekeeping left a bag of towels outside the door and never emptied the trash. In November our room check in was delayed because they needed to clean sofa it remained wet for over 24 hours so we couldn’t used.
As a DVC member of 15 years it has become not so Magical!
Just booked a studio at Bay Lake Tower for our very first WDW trip! While I do like the design, we picked this DVC resort solely for the location. In fact, location is so important to us, that we are splitting our trip and staying at Boardwalk as well! (Can you tell I realllly want to avoid the busses if at all possible?)
We stayed at BLT. The two bedroom villa was spacious. The three baths made getting ready in the morning a snap. The unit was beyond dirty. i immediately registered a polite complaint about chewed up popcorn on the floor between the sofa and end table, stickers and trash left under the drapes. We were offered another villa (three small kids were already unpacked) or a full cleaning. We took the full cleaning and left the unit. When we returned with tired children, some cleaning had been done– the specific items cited were vacuumed up. I turned back my bed and discovered hair on the sheet. Behind the bed were old receipts and mounds of dust. Politely complained again in the AM and then each day following. Offered a cleaning each time and never did the villa get really clean. One child became ill and was rushed to urgent care. Most missed the Disney Christmas Party due to the ill child. I spoke to concierge, house keeping manager, etc. I did not write notes and ask for proof the notes had been delivered. I called when we arrived home and was told DW has no responsibility as we booked through Disney Vacations. There were no records of any concerns or complaints abut our villa. While we have returned with the grandchildren to WDW, we now have learned to stay off site. We have been to WDW a couple of dozen times over the years. We arrive again next week but will stay off site. If Disney does not care about the dirty villas at BLT, I can only imagine how they deal with economy rooms.
Bay Lake Tower is our home resort, and we’ve stayed there in every size room — studio, one bedroom, two bedroom and grand villa. The Grand Villas are AMAZING in terms of space and overall look! We’ve had Magic Kingdom view and Lake view and have been very happy with both. The only Disney resorts I’ve liked more are Aulani and the cruise line! (The latter not for the rooms but for the experience.) We’ve also stayed at Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and most of the mid-tier resorts as well as the Kidani Village and Boardwalk. I love the clean, warm decor at Bay Lake. I love the proximity to the MK. I like the fact that the design ethos isn’t as “in your face.”
Excellent review. We are BLT owners and have been thoroughly pleased with the choice for the reasons given [i.e. location, dining options (particularly California Grill), TOWL/fireworks, etc.).
I DO think there is an alternative way to look at the whole “theming” question when it comes to BLT and the Contemporary and whether they’re “Disney” enough though.
Personally- I’ve always considered BLT and The Contemporary very Disney- at least in a “Walt Disney” (the man) sense. All one need do is look at the future/modernistic (for that time anyway) renderings of Walt’s original “vision” for the “Florida Project”/EPCOT (i.e. Disney World) and it seems to me BLT and The Contemporary are easily the most similar in design/execution on property:
Looked at from that perspective- BLT and The Contemporary can arguably be seen as very “Disney”- or “Walt Disney” at the very least. Maybe that will help some folks! 😉
I think you are spot on with your perspective on how the BLT theme is really VERY Disney! It’s a retro feel. It’s 1960s interpretation of modern.
I was wondering are you able to access the Top of the World Lounge if you are just a DVC member? I have heard different ways you can get in, from staying at the resort or being a DVC member staying at the resort.
I was at BLT last week (i.e. Jan 2015) and as of now the policy is that any DVC Member(s) and their guests staying on property on a DVC reservation are allowed into TOWL.
I have been a DVC member since 2003, Beach Club is our home resort and Epcot my favorite park. I absolutely love BLT for the same reason I love Beach Club; because I can walk anytime, day or night, to a park. We had our 2 grandchildren with us last time and they loved the view, theme park, from our villa at BLT. The priceless memory taken away was the 2 year old that could not get enough of the “choo choo in the house.” He is 4 now, we are leaving Wednesday for BLT without him and he asked when he could go back to see the “choo choo in the house.” So worth every point spent.
My family and I have been DVC members since the end of 2008, and we love BLT which is our home resort. I have a small family and we are more than happy in a studio, but when we sometimes bring playmates for my daughter, we get a one bedroom. We enjoy Bay Lake the most, but we usually stay for at least a full week and we like to switch it up spending the first half of our trip at some other dvc resort to switch it up a little, it makes the trip that much more interesting, and not just for our little girl, but everyone in our party.
I will be staying at the bay lake tower for 6 nights for my honeymoon next week, it will be my first time staying at this Disney resort! Love reading all your reviews, so helpful and informative! Have you done any tours like magic kingdom’s key to the kingdom tour? My fiancé and I have been to Disney many times and are looking to do something different.
Never done the Keys to the Kingdom tour. Sorry! Have an amazing honeymoon! 🙂