Contemporary Resort Reopening Report: Good Garden, Terrible Tower?

This hotel stay report covers our recent experience at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, where we check out the new health safety protocol, enhanced cleaning, dining, pools, and sunset views of Magic Kingdom as Walt Disney World continues its phased reopening. Additionally, we’ll either flip-flop on the Contemporary, or “expose” its two-faced nature, depending upon your perspective.

Our stay at Contemporary Resort was mid-week during the fall off-season, which offers insight into its operations…but not the full extent of how the hotel is handling weekend crowds. However, with significantly better pricing via the Florida resident and Annual Passholder “Rediscover the Magic” room discounts, we opted for weekdays.

For that same reason, we also booked the Garden Wing over the Main Tower. Even after discounts, the cheapest room in the A-frame was almost $150/night more expensive–or roughly $200/night more for a view of Magic Kingdom. That’s just the start of the reasons we didn’t want to stay in the Main Tower right now…

Aside from cost, our primary reason for avoiding the Contemporary’s A-frame was the elevator situation. We’ve heard countless reports from readers that this is a big issue, especially during peak hours in the morning heading to the parks or in the evening returning from them. I’ll trust these reports without experiencing these frustrations firsthand.

These problems are clearly not isolated or anecdotal, as signs have been added encouraging use of stairs if staying on a lower level. Even at other, less “vertical” Walt Disney World hotels, we’ve had sporadic elevator issues with this post-reopening. There’s little surprise that one of Walt Disney World’s oldest and tallest tower hotels would suffer from this when operating its elevators at a reduced capacity.

Beyond this, there’s not much advantage to staying in the Main Tower from an amenities or transportation perspective. Right now, it’s faster to walk between the Garden Wing and Magic Kingdom than it is to take the monorail, and there’s no reason to go to the TTC since the EPCOT monorail isn’t operating.

While the Lake View and Theme Park View rooms still hold their appeal, one of my favorite things to do is book the former and watch Electrical Water Pageant from our balcony. That’s also not happening right now.

Then there’s dining. While Walt Disney World has announced some promising changes for Chef Mickey’s, those don’t come until December. In the meantime, the food there held no appeal. Ditto the scaled-back menu at Contempo Cafe.

California Grill and the Wave of American Flavors look much better, but we’re still not dining indoors. (Unfortunately, neither have the same air-flow advantages of Chef Mickey’s or Contempo Cafe.)

On the plus side, Mobile Order Table Service to Go has since been unveiled for the Wave, making that a much more attractive option–but that restaurant is equally accessible from most Garden Wing and Main Tower rooms.

None of that is really flip-flopping, it’s all grounded in the current operational realities of the Main Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. In this sense, the hotel is sorta two-faced.

However, that’s not our only reason. Another big thing is that the Contemporary’s Main Tower has lost some of its mystique for us. Warning: flip-flopping incoming

A little over four years ago, we revisited our (previously negative) assessment of Disney’s Contemporary Resort after staying in the A-frame building for the first time.

To boil down 1,000+ words to something succinct, the core thesis there was that the Main Tower comported with childhood fantasies of staying in the fancy hotel the monorail whizzes through. It fulfilled a lifelong dream and was high on novelty value and cool factor.

In the time since, we’ve done a couple of subsequent stays in the Contemporary’s Main Tower, and none have compared to that. Part of that is undoubtedly personal–the luster wore off. The more you do something, the less special it can become.

That’s not entirely it, though. In equally large part, Disney’s Contemporary Resort is starting to feel anything but. Its Grand Canyon Concourse looks tired, dated, and visually chaotic.

The atrium has been a hodgepodge for the last decade, but its style has continued to age and clutter has continually been added. Now, there are (understandably) a bunch of health safety signs, ground markers, and more that just make it look like a mess.

If you compare photos of the Contemporary’s atrium today versus the 1970s or 1980s, it’s a night and day difference. So much less stuff and stylistically superior. More than any other Deluxe Resort, the Contemporary needs an aesthetic overhaul.

Hopefully that happens once Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is done with its refresh and Moana enhancements next summer. It’s likely that occupancy rates will still be on the low side, making it the perfect time to take down the Contemporary.

Timing-wise, that’d be right around the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. While having an original “Vacation Kingdom” hotel closed on October 1, 2021 wouldn’t be smart–what better date to announce the overhaul of the resort, with a reimagining to start in early 2022 inspired by Walt Disney World’s own rich historical legacy?

Suffering from its own “Tomorrowland Problem,” this would be a good chance to pivot the Contemporary in the direction of Disneyland Hotel, which is self-referential and a love letter to Walt Disney and the lands of Disneyland.

Likewise, Disney’s Contemporary Resort could be redone in a sleek, timeless, and clean mid-century modern punctuated by decor inspired by the history of Walt Disney World. Attraction posters, nods to extinct offerings, old park maps–perhaps even suites or rooms with visual motifs inspired by the themed lands of Magic Kingdom. As with Disneyland Hotel, there are now enough longtime Walt Disney World fans to make this really appealing. It’d certainly be better than redoing the resort to the Incredibles!

Calling the Main Tower “terrible” is a bit harsh and extreme, but “tired” is too charitable–especially in light of the high price points. In reality, it’s somewhere in between for us. With that said, if you’ve yet to stay in the A-frame, your first time will probably still hold that same mystique–so take our review here with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, we also now need to (once again) revisit our review of the Garden Wing. Its stock is on the rise for us after this stay…

While not the greatest or most Disneyfied hotel room ever, the big change since our last stay in the Garden Wing is that now most other Walt Disney World hotel rooms are also much lighter on Disney details and themed design.

Moreover, we have a greater appreciation for the texture and design touches, all of which give the room more depth and character–even if it’s not Disney character.

I especially love the moody lighting panel under the television.

This is–not even kidding–one of my favorite features in any hotel room at Walt Disney World. I’m a total sucker for good lighting, and absolutely love this.

I also really like the style of the bathrooms in the Contemporary’s guest rooms.

They’re a tad visually busy with the wallpaper and tile patterns, but the quality is undeniable.

It might be indistinguishable from a Hilton or Hyatt room anywhere in the country, but it’s still a nice room.

For this stay, it was really nice being on the ground level, able to leave directly from our room or simply enjoy the fresh air of the patio. Right now, I’ll take the natural serenity and peacefulness of the Garden Wing over the Main Tower–no doubt about it.

As for the enhanced cleaning and health safety changes, Mousekeeping performs a light cleaning service every other day, which includes removal of trash and used towels. They’ll also replenish amenities throughout the room and bathroom, cleaning various surfaces, etc.

The television remote comes wrapped in package to verify that it’s clean. Same goes for the refillable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the shower.

The Keurig coffee maker is still present in the room, too. We had a half-dozen pods for using in it and were given more upon request.

Guest rooms have extra linens and towels, individually wrapped paper cups, double-cased pillows, and additional items that have been cleaned and wrapped in single-use packaging.

The Garden Wing also provides convenient access to the pools, beach, and running path at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Again, this was a weekday stay–we saw barely anyone using the pool.

Now that we’re out of summer vacation season, I wouldn’t expect pool crowds to be much of an issue going forward except on weekends and over holiday travel periods. See our Guide to Pools at Walt Disney World: FAQ & Info for current (post-reopening) policies and everything else you need to know about hotel pools.

Ultimately, it was nice to revisit the Garden Wing and be pleasantly surprised by that–and have our expectations exceeded as compared to previous stays. On the other hand, it’s disappointing that the Main Tower has fallen out of our favor–but at least we didn’t book it in the first place. The key takeaway to anyone planning a trip is that the Garden Wing will minimize hassles and cost, with very little downside for the “compromise” (aside from maybe the view or novelty).  

In the end, perhaps this Disney’s Contemporary Resort post-reopening review amounts to flip-flopping, or perhaps it underscores how the hotel is two-faced. Or maybe a little of both. We think, it’s probably most aptly described as a further evolution of our opinions and perspective based upon changing circumstances, continued experiences, and the mystique wearing off. That’s not as succinct or as catchy of an assessment, though. As always, opinions and personal experiences are bound to vary based on a range of unique variables. In the end, it was another excellent post-reopening stay at Walt Disney World, and that’s what matters most to us!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, 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 clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort since it reopened? What do you think of all the modifications? Right now, would you recommend the Garden Wing or Main Tower? Experiences with the elevators, pools, transportation, or dining? If you’ve stayed here, how would your review differ from mine? Will you be booking a resort reservation for Walt Disney World this fall or in 2021, or are these rules/restrictions/policies going to cause you to postpone? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


45 Responses to “Contemporary Resort Reopening Report: Good Garden, Terrible Tower?”
  1. Liz October 31, 2020

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