Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Walt Disney World opened as the “The Vacation Kingdom of the World” on Oct. 1, 1971, and Walt Disney’s vision to have a world full of resorts, sports, recreation and entertainment is what we’ve inherited today.
When Walt began thinking up “The Florida Project” in the 1960s, it was paramount to have a vacation destination that wasn’t just a place to play, but also to stay. With 27,000 acres, he had a lot of room to set up camp.
Walt had such keen sense of the world’s future, so it was only fitting that one of the first resorts built had a futuristic feel, which was the goal of architects who designed Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
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Help from the Happiest Hotel on Earth
In the 1950s, hotels didn’t exactly cater to families. After striking a deal with businessman and entrepreneur Jack Wrather, Walt Disney developed the Disneyland Hotel, complete with a convention center where dad can do business while mom took the kids to Disneyland. The hotel was also convenient for families not having to travel far after a tiring day at the theme park.
The inspiration for Disney World didn’t just come from the Disneyland theme park, but also the Disneyland Hotel. The Disney World design teams took what what they learned and what worked in California to build the Contemporary Resort in Florida, plus they figured out ways to make vacationing better.
During the design stages of Disney World, Imagineers wanted each hotel to be a complete major attraction in itself, with its own recreation activities, entertainment, dining facilities and a resort atmosphere.
Bordering the Western shore of Bay Lake, the Contemporary’s iconic 14-story A-frame tower is the main focal point. What is possibly more unique than the hotel’s shape is how it took shape. The way it was built in the 1960s, was quite innovative at the time. Both the Contemporary and Polynesian were built by U.S. Steel and employed the world’s first major use of steel framed unitized construction. So instead of being built in place, the rooms were actually built off site with that steel frame, as well as flooring, and wall panels. After the units were completed, they were shipped to the construction site then fitted into the tower frame, much like sliding drawers into a dresser. The resort also has a proper placement in Disney World, because from Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary offers a futuristic backdrop view.
The hotel’s atrium is a representation of Walt’s love for mass transit and houses what is perhaps the most famous feature. For Magic Kingdom guests, Disney’s monorail transports them non-stop through the hotel to the park, whereas for resort guests, there is a convenient monorail station. It’s during that high ride in the sky where guests can get a great view of a can’t-miss masterpiece by a Disney legend. Located on the Grand Canyon Concourse stands Mary Blair’s 90-foot tall mural that celebrates the American Southwest. As far as dining, the Contemporary also offers one of the most unique culinary experiences at the California Grill. The elevated eatery offers views of the Seven Seas Lagoon, plus prime seating for Magic Kingdom fireworks.
The Contemporary Resort is known for event accommodations, with its ballrooms, boardrooms and breakout rooms. It’s convention center features 115,000 square feet of meeting and event space. One of the resort meeting rooms was actually where a U.S. president delivered his most infamous phrase. On Nov. 17, 1973, in an attempt acquit himself from the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon told a group of Associated Press editors that he was “not a crook”.
Renovations & Reimaging
In 2009, a big expansion came when the opening of the Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It’s now designated as a standalone Disney Vacation Club resort hotel. In June of 2021, Disney World announced new guest room renovations that will have an “Incredible” touch. All nine floors of the A-frame tower will be completely reimagined. On the same day as Disney World’s 50th anniversary, Steakhouse 71 will open at the Contemporary Resort. The restaurant replaces The Wave… of American Flavors, and gets its name from the year the resort opened.
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