Travel Tuesday: Disney’s Bay Lake Tower Grand Villa Hotel Review
Fun fact: when you walk into certain Walt Disney World hotels, the Cast Members will greet you by saying, “Welcome home.” After nearly two years away, I felt that welcome when my wife and I had the chance to stay at WDW this past weekend. Making the event even more special, our friend managed to book us a three bedroom grand villa inside the Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
While this stay was obviously magical, did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look at our Bay Lake Tower experience.
My Experience in a Bay Lake Tower Grand Villa
Here’s the thing: Bay Lake Tower is what’s often described as a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property. Thus, the main way of booking any of the units is via DVC — meaning that it’s mostly DVC members staying there. However, some of the rooms are offered to cash customers from time to time, especially for near-term bookings. As for us, we didn’t pick up the bill on this one as we were graciously hosted by our friend (who is indeed a DVC member).
With that said, it seems fairly unlikely that a cash customer would be able to book the Three Bedroom Grand Villa we stayed in unless there was a last-minute cancelation or other rare phenomena. Because of this, I’m not even sure how much the unit would fetch. But, for comparison, I was able to find a Two Bedroom Grand Villa listed for next week, coming in at a cost of $1,200 per weeknight. So, even if you do manage to find this room type available to book with cash, I’m sure it would cost you a pretty penny.
If you’re wondering why Bay Lake Tower villas would command such a high price, perhaps the biggest answer would be “location.” For those unfamiliar, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower are located literally across the street from Magic Kingdom park. Considering that many other guests need to park at the Transporation and Ticket Center (TTC) and take a boat or monorail to the park, the fact that you can simply take a five-minute stroll straight to the front gates is a huge perk. Plus, speaking of transportation, the Contemporary Resort is on the Walt Disney World monorail loop. This means that you can catch the “highway in the sky” to the TTC (where you can then transfer to the EPCOT monorail line), Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and, yes, Magic Kingdom.
The proximity to the park also means that some rooms at Bay Lake Tower offer theme park views. Even though our unit was actually a lake view, we could still see such icons as Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain right in from of us. Meanwhile, as observers of Disney news, we were also fascinated to have a straight view of Tron Lightcycle / Run (which really is written with the / for some reason) construction. I should also note that the hotel offers near-perfect fireworks viewing while you can also catch the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
All of this is to say that, when it comes to Walt Disney World accommodations, the Contempoary Resort is one of the prime locations that everyone dreams of having. And, by extension, that applies to Bay Lake Tower as well.
When walking into our three bedroom grand villa, the first thing we noticed was the stairs. That’s right, stairs — this villa is two stories! On the ground floor is the master bedroom, kitchen, and living room while the upstairs houses two additional bedrooms and a loft area. According to the Walt Disney World site, this unit sleeps 12 adults thanks in part to the pull-out sleeper sofa, although I’m not 100% sure whether the sofa in question was the downstairs or upstairs one (both looked like beds to me but I didn’t try pulling either out). While the two upstairs bedrooms are remarkably similar, some slight differences include one having a desk while the other had a round table and one of the rooms has a much deeper closet.
As the six of us headed to our unit after a long morning in the Florida heat (and god-awful humidity), we were very happy to find that this three-bedroom villa also had four full bathrooms — meaning four available showers. These four bathrooms include one encased in each bedroom as well as a bonus one on the bottom floor.
One of the reasons why I love staying in Disney’s DVC villas is because of the apartment-style amenities featured. In this case, that includes a full kitchen, with oven, range, microwave, fridge, and toaster along with all of the accessories, tools, flatware, etc. you’d need to cook and serve your meals. Speaking of serving, the dining room table seats eight by default, but an extra leaf tucked away on the end can be utilized to extend to it and there are four additional chairs stashed around the unit that can be moved over to seat a total of 12.
Silly as it may sound, to us, the most surprising element of this villa was the laundry room. Although we’d expected a stacked washer-dryer to be tucked away in a small closet, this unit offered a full and frankly huge laundry room. This included numerous cabinets, cubbies, and more — making this room fit for a full family’s Floridian laundry needs (whether that means washing additional sweaty clothes or letting bathing suits dry).
Yet another impressive aspect of this villa was the huge windows that, in our case, looked out to the eponymous Bay Lake. Lest you wonder how such large windows can be covered by giant curtains, there’s actually a switch on the wall that will lower the shades. While not exactly being “blackout,” these shades actually did a surprisingly good job at blocking much of the light that these windows normally provided. Meanwhile, even with the shades down, you can still catch views of the lake or the park via one of the unit’s four balconies: one off the kitchen, one off the living room, and one off each of the upstairs bedrooms.
In terms of theming, with the Bay Lake Tower occupying a parcel of the Contemporary Resort, art and design definitely play a role in the look and feel of this unit. While some of these “contemporary” touches add a bit of class, others bring in the characters, such as the pop art-esque Mickey and Minnie portraits found in the bedrooms. With these elements, you’ll definitely know you’re at Disney but it doesn’t overwhelm you like suites at Disney’s Art of Animation or other properties might.
Finally, while it’s impossible not to be impressed by a two-story hotel room, as we got to spend more time in the unit, its age began to show a bit. Bay Lake Tower was constructed in 2009 and I’m honestly not up on my DVC news enough to know when the last time it received a refurbishment. But, some of the small things we noticed included a strange part of the table where it seemed as though something had been removed and patched over, outdated televisions in the upstairs bedrooms, a toilet or two that made an awful screech when flushed, and a few other examples. Again, none of these things really hindered our stay or took away from the overall luxe experience, but with the main Contemporary building now getting a refresh, perhaps Bay Lake’s unit could use a little polish as well.
Dining and amenities
At the time of our visit, there wasn’t much dining to speak of at Bay Lake Tower itself. Instead, you’ll need to head over to the main Contemporary Resort building. To do this, you can actually head to floor number 5 and take the walkway. This will put you at the concourse level where you’ll find retail stores, the Contempo Cafe, and Chef Mickey’s (along with the Monorail entrance). Elsewhere, you’ll find the Contemporary Grounds coffee shop, California Grill, and what was The Wave… of American Flavors and will soon be Steakhouse 71. As I noted, the Contemporary is currently undergoing a refurbishment that not only impacts guest rooms but also the lobby and some of its dining options. While these updates are slated to be ready for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary this October, it meant a few changes for our stay. Additionally, there are still some COVID changes in effect, such as Contempo Cafe being mobile order only.
Heading back to Bay Lake Tower, the property is home to the Top of the World Lounge. Sadly, this experience is also currently unavailable. The observation deck is also listed as closed, although some in our party said they were still able to access this location to view the evening fireworks.
Lastly, while I didn’t try it out for myself, Bay Lake Tower does have its own pool. On that note, while I said there wasn’t much dining at Bay Lake Tower, the pool area does feature the Cove Bar, serving a handful of snack items alongside alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Still, if you’re looking for food, you’ll probably want to head elsewhere or stay in and cook in your villa.
Final Thoughts on Bay Lake Tower Grand Villa at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
For as many times as I’ve personally been to Walt Disney World, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually stayed on property. Therefore, being able to enjoy such things as direct transportation to the parks is still a novelty for me. So, to be able to stay just steps away from the Magic Kingdom was kind of a dream come true. Add in the fact that we got to spend our non-park time looking out onto the lake, watching fireworks from our room, and enjoying some of the comforts of home and it’s really hard to complain about our grand villa stay at Bay Lake Tower.
Of course, there is the matter of the cost. Without even having a cash price listed to go off of, I think this would still be pretty hard to justify in most instances. Then again, if you did manage to cram 12 people into the unit and suppose you somehow found a booking for $2,000 a night, the $166 per person per night price tag suddenly doesn’t sound as outrageous… but keep in mind that “sleeps 12” doesn’t always mean “sleeps 12 comfortably.”
Ultimately, would I recommend Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort? Absolutely — for DVC members with points to burn. I honestly have no idea how DVC points works, but I think it would be worth splurging on a stay here for at least a few nights if you and your family love the Magic Kingdom. Meanwhile, if you can find a cash booking and can split it enough ways between friends, then this also might be an option. But, if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience and grandeur for a more affordable price tag, there are definitely better options both on and off Walt Disney World property.
Also published on Medium.