Hotel Review: Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort: Child Centered

It’s Disney World, so it should come as no surprise that this hotel is “Family Friendly.” But, how does it stack up in a review where a knit-picky Momma of three occasionally exhausting (read “always exhausting) little people sets out to see if it could be a perfect fit? First of all, we keep coming back. Second of all, fireworks. This hotel makes the difference to this family of five because of the fireworks.

Even after nearly seven years of going to Disney World multiple times a year, I have never managed to see the fireworks at any park with my little people in tow. This is both a curse and a blessing. It means that my park-loving, night-owl husband is forced to leave the parks at a semi-decent hour for the littles (they need sleep after the mouse-induced hysterics of the day…well, really it’s that I need them to sleep after the mouse-induced hysterics of the day, but really, the details are unimportant right?). Having little people who are petrified of fireworks also means that we miss some of the fun of each night. And because it’s the oldest little who has the fear, each subsequent little has taken that fear as his own. Some day though…some day.

View from the Sky Walk of the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom (oh, and the parking lot).

But the beauty of Bay Lake Towers (which is also true of the Contemporary Resort as a whole) is that the music for the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom is pumped through the speakers, all speakers. I’m talking even parking lot speakers. There is a firework viewing deck, with a perfect view of the castle. Here it becomes how obviously spectacular the show is, in a way that’s not perceptible by those people actually in the park. The sheer size of the display, the length that it spans from one end of the park to the other, becomes clear. Here, my little people get all the splendor and awe of the display, but with a much more tempered explosive sound, which really is the part of fireworks that they fear.

But it isn’t just the fireworks that keep this traveling family coming back, especially when there are so many options out there. So why? Well, let me explain:

Pros

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Parade late night magic.
  • Location: This is the hotel we often stay at when Magic Kingdom is having an all out, throw down, evening bash. Think along the lines of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Both of which are filled with sugar and sugar and more sugar, truly a parent’s dream. We know this tribe has got to see the parade (the earlier showing, of course) and will be out late(ish). Rather than getting through the parade and then collapsing into clingy and sticky piles of mush that need to be carried onto and off of a crowded bus, this family would rather just plop them into strollers and walk them a few minutes to the Bay Lake Tower where they can (fingers crossed) be transferred from little sleeping mushes in a stroller to little sleeping mushes in a bed. Part of what is particularly lovely about Bay Lake Towers is that it is, literally, next door to Magic Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom is the park to be at for the littlest of the little people (friendlier rides, characters are more their speed). It is just so easy to get there, get back to the hotel for a quick nap, and get back to the park in the afternoon or the evening. There’s no waiting for monorails or buses. There’s no walking through parking lots searching for cars. It is just a quick walk and Boom! We’re back home. And getting to the park in the morning? Please, that’s no big thing. In fact, because we were staying at this hotel, once we actually managed to get to the park for the opening early in the morning (it’s a whole show in and of itself…I definitely recommend).

    Magic Kingdom is full of fun for the littlest of the little people.
  • Accessibility: At first this hotel seems to be a bit isolated. Sure, it’s next to Magic Kingdom, but what else is there to do? Seriously? What it has is a monorail. A monorail that picks you up right inside the hotel. Just right there. There is no need to even contemplate setting foot outside in the rain or the early morning chill. And that monorail makes a stop at the Transportation and Ticket Center, where with one short little shuffle and a switch in monorails, and you’re on your way to Epcot. Feeling brave? Great because with just a quick walk through Epcot, you can exit the park by the France Pavillion and take a small stroll by The Boardwalk area and end up at Hollywood Studios. So, if you’re a traveling family that shuns your car (and that wicked-crowded, stroller-hating bus) as much as possible (like us), then there’s no need to take this hotel out of the running. With a little added time and walking, you can get to three parks (no one can get to Animal Kingdom without a car or bus…sigh…).

    Looking towards Chef Mickey’s restaurant and the Contempo Cafe.
  • Restaurants: It does not matter what your food-style is, you’re bound to find an option here (and by here, I mean in an easily accessible location). The sit-down restaurants are delicious, and even if you’re not a hotel guest, I suggest checking them out as an option when you’re spending the day at Magic Kingdom. Within the hotel itself are fine dining options, themed options, and character dining (all of which require reservations). Here you’ll find Chef Mickey’s, which has been one of our littles’ favorite character dining experiences (they’ve been fortunate enough to have many to compare it to) (and yes they are young enough to fully believe that all of the food has, in fact, been made by the characters…quite charming if you ask me). Beyond this, there are plenty of options for fast dining as well for those less-than-planned-out days. The thing is, though, you’re not restricted to these restaurants. Since the hotel easily connects to The Grand Floridian and the Polynesian by monorail, as well as Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground by water taxi (this means that it’s super easy to get to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue). With a bit of planning and researching, the number of restaurants surrounding Bay Lake Towers (and The Contemporary Resort) should provide events pickiest of eaters with at least one solid meal option (well…unless they’re like my middle little who feels that there really is no such thing as a solid meal…).

    The rooms have plenty of room to make a mess.
  • Rooms: One of the aspects of Bay Lake Tower that this traveling tribe most appreciates is the size of the rooms. Unlike many suites that are found in Disney properties, those of Bay Lake Tower are quite spacious. They have a full size table, large enough to sit at least six people comfortably. They also come with a pull-out couch and a chair that turns into a single bed. The rooms are spacious enough that we’ve managed to put two cribs in the bedroom at the same time with ample space to still maneuver around easily (we actually could’ve held a small dance party and been fine if not for the giggles that would ensue, and the music too I guess). The single room suites also have two full bathrooms with tubs, which is, again, not something that is found in all Disney property single room suites. Of course this is essential when bathing one little person as another sleeps.
  • Pool: The pool at Bay Lake Towers at first appears to be less than what it is due to the fact that it is less “themed” than some other pools (think Animal Kingdom Lodge), but it does offer some great characteristics regardless of its “ambiance” that any family would love. First of all, we love the fact that it has a zero entry pool. With two non-swimmers it’s a great feature that gets our little people off of hovering around pool steps and into the water where they are comfortable playing (truth be told, it also keeps them off of hanging on us in the water all the time). It also has a slide that’s both big and little. It’s enough to give a thrill to the big kids while still be safe for those beginning swimmers. And finally, there’s a water play area where the little people can get wet, get cooled off, and still avoid the pool.

Cons

  • Service: I’m going to mention this, and then suppose that it was just a one-off trip because the quality of service we’ve had at this hotel has always been exceptional, with the exception of our last visit. I’ll start at the beginning and let that illustrate the rest of the stay. We arrived late and then entered the front doors of Bay Lake Tower (where the Magical Express bus dropped us off after having picked us up at the airport (because we arrived so late, we had to bring our bags with us rather than have them shipped to our room)). We opened the doors and…nothing. Not a soul to be seen. Anywhere. So there we were, close to midnight, with three exhausted, kind of sleeping, mostly whining little people and a collection of bags and strollers and…um…that’s it. It was just us. Fortunately, we already had our own magic bands and were checked in online, so we knew our room number and had the magic bands to unlock it. I took the littles, the hubs took some bags (he had to leave the rest just sitting unattended in a pile at the front door), and we went to the room to try to get situated and get the little grumpy people in bed. But then we showed up and there were no cribs…even though they had been checked on and called about at least four times that evening, even within that hour. While my husband proceeded to take trips to get our bags, I called the front desk and requested cribs, which I was told would take at least an hour since they no longer had people working at Bay Lake, only at The Contemporary Resort. After a few phone calls, some heated exchanges, and discussions drowned out by screaming and crying, exhausted-beyond-their-threshold little people, the cribs came rushing to us. And that story basically sums up the service we received the rest of the trip. Fortunately, we’re pretty self-sufficient and request to have housekeeping come every three days or so (when they’re required to), so in all, we weren’t that inconvenienced. But if this were the service given to a family for whom this trip was a trip of a lifetime? I think the level of service would be unacceptable. I’m going to chalk this up to a blip in the matrix, rather than as a new norm though, which means I’ll still be back.

    Getting into the room.
  • Noise: We’ve got some tired little people. And tired big people. One thing I’m not going to shun on vacation is sleep. I like to make sure my people (both little and big) get the proper amount of shut eye because the alternative is unbearable. I mean, I don’t even like myself when I’m tired. It’s all moans and groans, and the last place to be moaning and groaning is Disney World. So, there are two noisy (yet kind of awesome) aspects to this hotel. You can, in fact, hear some of the booming from the fabulous fireworks. So, on those nights when the need for sleep eclipses the fireworks, hearing them inside the room isn’t a help. And often those fireworks coincide with bedtime. It’s one thing to hear some booming when a little person’s already asleep and just hold your breath in the hopes that they don’t wake; it’s a whole different ball game when that little person isn’t yet asleep and is still trying desperately to process the sheer unicorn-value of the day and all of its sugar-laden glory. On the same note, there’s an amazing show on the lake behind the resort, The Electrical Water Parade. We’re talking lights and lake-monsters moving slowly towards the dock. But with that water show comes the noise (music) accompanying it. Again, both a curse and a blessing. In addition to what happens outside, is what happens inside. The hotel is designed as  open air, with the rooms and hallways looking out into the central area where the monorail also drives stops. Because the hotel is so tall, this means a large, echo-filled, noisy space. Eating in this part of the hotel can be a bit loud, but it’s also pretty fun for our middle little to see the monorail come and go. It’s always a game of give and take.

    While the bedrooms are large, we had to snuggle the tiniest one to sleep through the fireworks some nights.
  • Layout: Bay Lake Towers has some pretty amazing rooms, but they do come at a small sacrifice in terms of hotel layout. The hotel is a Disney Vacation Club property and connected to The Contemporary resort through either an outside sidewalk (along the parking lot and street, so not entirely safe for roaming little legs) or a Sky Way which connects to the Towers on the fifth floor. The Towers themselves do not have any amenities and therefore you must take the Sky Way to get to anything. Additionally, all of the transportation pick up locations are in The Contemporary rather than in the Towers themselves. This isn’t a gigantic deal, except when you have to run down to the convenience store in The Contemporary to grab milk because you used all of it making scrambled eggs that morning and totally forgot to grab some when you got off of the monorail. This, of course, has never happened to us as we are always beyond prepared when traveling; I bring it up more as a “what if” scenario. (I mean, who forgets the milk? Geesh.)

    A fun “find all the Olafs” holiday set up in the resort’s center kept the little people busy for a few minutes.
  • Amenities: Hand in hand with layout are issues of amenities. As mentioned above, Bay Lake Towers themselves have very few amenities. Most amenities are accessed through The Contemporary Resort next door. While The Contemporary does, in fact, have a variety of amenities, it is not quite of the same level as other Disney resorts. There is a great arcade, some Disney-themed stores (both for adults and children), fishing, and a number of water activities that can be done. There are campfires and movies on the lawn. But what’s missing are those activities that a daddy would take his oldest little people to while a mommy sits on a balcony in the room, feet up, as the tiniest of littles naps. Here it seems activities occur at specific times and have to be planned beforehand rather than those that a free-wheeling family can just spontaneously head out to. The grounds of the hotel itself just don’t lend itself to exploring as well as other resorts do such as The Boardwalk Villas or Animal Kingdom Lodge. Surrounded by water on one side, Magic Kingdom on another, and parking lots everywhere else, it lacks a certain beauty of other resorts. But it does remind one of the “contemporary” world in which we live.

    An arcade to entertain older little people.

The options of Disney resorts can be mind boggling, and Bay Lake Towers is one option that presents itself as a perfect base for those who plan on placing their Walt Disney world energies into Magic Kingdom. The sheer access to this park pushes it above and beyond other resorts, especially for the littlest of little people. The spacious rooms provide a safe, exciting view of the fireworks or, alternatively, The Electric Water Parade for those little people who want to spend the day at Magic Kingdom, but have fears once it turns night. This traveling tribe will be back to celebrate another of Mickey’s special parties, and who knows, maybe the next time we stay here, my little people can find their shoes in a reasonable amount of time and we can see the special moments when Magic Kingdom opens up for the day once again (we’re nowhere near that together right now, but some day…maybe?).

 

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.