Ticketless Disney: Experiencing Disney’s Contemporary Resort

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Contemporary Resort

Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? Many guests fail to realize Disney magic can be found outside the parks, particularly at the Walt Disney World Resorts. Even those who aren’t staying at a Disney Resort are free to visit and enjoy some of what the different resorts have to offer. Let’s begin with one of the first and most recognizable Disney World Resorts for this installment of Ticketless Disney: Experiencing the Contemporary Resort.

The Contemporary is, well, interesting. Evoking Brady Bunch vibes, concrete, and wide open spaces, it stands as one of Walt Disney World’s opening day resorts famous for its signature A-frame structure, Magic Kingdom views, and the fact the Monorail literally runs through it. It’s a Deluxe Resort, meaning it falls in the most expensive of Disney World’s resort categories. While loved by many, I feel the Contemporary suffers from the Tomorrowland syndrome. Intended to be futuristic yet accomplishes the opposite. Despite its modern decor, it can’t seem to escape its disco era undertones and has clearly been retrofitted to meet the current needs of a Disney World Resort. Still, the Contemporary is arguably the most convenient of all the resorts on property with a rich history, loyal fan base, and is a must-see for those resort hopping during their visit.

Check Out What Makes the Contemporary Unique:




The Contemporary is one of Walt Disney World’s original resorts, opening to guests on October 1st, 1971 along with the Polynesian Village Resort and the Magic Kingdom. Sitting right next door to the Magic Kingdom, it offers views into the park and a walking path right to the front gates.

The Contemporary is also the only resort where the Monorail picks up and drops off guests inside the building, specifically the Grand Canyon Concourse. This cavernous atrium serves as the main area of the resort. It’s where guests can shop, dine, and view the Contemporary’s iconic 90 foot Grand Canyon mural by famed Disney artist Mary Blair. Be sure to look for the five-legged goat in the mural. It’s a must-see!

Back in the day, the Contemporary truly lived up to its name, particularly in how it was constructed. Guest rooms were assembled outside the resort structure and then slid into place, much like a giant chest of drawers.

Lastly, on the second floor of the Contemporary in the Ballroom of the Americas, President Richard Nixon delivered his famous “I’m not a crook” declaration.

Stuff Your Face:

In regards to dining, the Contemporary Resort primarily offers The Wave… of American Flavors, Contempo Cafe, Chef Mickeys, California Grill, and a number of lounges. My suggestions? The Contempo Cafe and Chef Mickey’s.

The Contempo Cafe is a quick service restaurant with a grab and go section. It’s small and situated right in the middle of the Grand Canyon Concourse, but it offers a refreshingly unique and delicious menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The treats alone are worth a visit.

Now here’s my philosophy on Chef Mickey’s. Instead of waiting for one character at a time in the heat, families can meet Mickey and the gang in one air-conditioned location. With plates of food everyone likes in front of them. With the Monorail zipping overhead. It’s a guaranteed win.

Go On a Shopping Spree:

A rule of mine is to always carve out time to shop the Deluxe Resorts, particularly those on the Monorail loop. This is because they offer several gift shops as opposed to one. Now along with your standard selection of Disney merchandise, these shops carry items you may not find at the parks. Disney’s resort-themed merchandise game is strong these days, and their name brand clothing and accessory lines for men and women are definitely worth a browse.

Watch the Fireworks:

The California Grill gets all the attention for its rooftop views into the Magic Kingdom and piped in music for the Happily Ever After fireworks. And it should! But a reservation is required to dine, it’s very expensive, and not every table features a fireworks view. Thankfully, there’s more than one spot to watch the nightly fireworks at the Contemporary Resort that doesn’t require a dining reservation. For instance, there’s a balcony right behind the Fantasia store in the Grand Canyon Concourse offering a view into the Magic Kingdom without that hefty dinner bill!

Get Those Insta-Worthy Photos:

Since Disney makes merchandise solely themed around oft-photographed walls and backgrounds these days, I gotta point out photo spots found outside the parks.

Due to the resort’s modern decor, there are a number of walls and backgrounds here to meet your social media feed needs. The Contempo Cafe’s cupcakes and treats are definitely Insta-worthy; and I love getting photos on the resort dock. The Contemporary itself sits perfectly centered in the background.

Be sure to look for the metal Mickey sculpture just outside the lobby. It’s seemingly designed for personal or family photo shoots. One of the best spots of all may be the Sky Way Bridge. Spanning the Contemporary and Disney Vacation Club’s Bay Lake Tower, this walkway offers perspectives of both resort buildings, the Monorail, and the Magic Kingdom!

Go For a Run:

Haven’t walked enough during your Disney World Vacation? Determined to stick to your work out routine even while on vacation (which I admire, but can’t relate)? Take advantage of the marked 0.9-mile, paved jogging path at the resort. Perhaps the near presence of the Magic Kingdom will serve as extra motivation!

Go to the Beach (Sort of):

So guests are not allowed to wade or swim in Bay Lake due to the Florida wildlife. However, the Contemporary offers sandy beach areas with lounge chairs for soaking up the Florida sunshine. With views of the lake, these beaches are both beautiful and often very quiet and private. If you’re looking for an escape from the crowds, this is a safe bet.

Note: A commonly asked question is whether or not non-resort guests can swim at the different resort pools. The answer is no. The resort pools are reserved for resort guests only; and to enforce this policy, guests must scan their MagicBands to enter the pool areas.

Do Some Pin Trading:

You don’t have to be in the parks to pin trade or find new releases. The Fantasia store has an impressive selection of pins for a resort, including certain limited edition pins. Know that you can always trade with Cast Members at the resorts and in the parks. Just look to make sure they have pin lanyards or pin boards displayed to trade.

Indulge in Park Treats Outside the Park:

Did you know the rice krispie treats, Mickey-shaped cookies, fudge squares, and the like from the Magic Kingdom’s Confectionery and Big Top Treats are available outside the park? Dreams do come true! The Bay View Gifts shop has a bakery case inside filled with treats from the parks! This includes those seasonally decorated goodies too at the holidays too.

Go Jump in the (Bay) Lake:

Looking for adventure on water? Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre located at the Contemporary’s marina has it all. Parasailing, tubing, skiing, wake surfing, wakeboarding, Sea Raycers, pontoons, and personal watercraft rentals are all available. What a great way to see more of Bay Lake, the surrounding resorts, and the Magic Kingdom. Plus, for most experiences, a limited number of friends and family can ride along for free of charge. Those interested can book online at sammyduvall.com or call (407) 939-0754.

Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? What is your favorite thing to do at the Contemporary Resort?

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Mike H
Mike H

The Contemporary holds such an incredible amount of nostalgia for me. My parents stayed there on their honeymoon and we have been staying there as a family since the early 80s. However, when my family goes down with my parents now, they will stay at the Contemporary and we will stay at another hotel. The Contemporary just lacks a lot of the themed elements the other resorts now have. But if there is anywhere on property that takes me back to my old family vacations, it’s the Contemporary.


Important point about watching the fireworks from the California Grill: You don’t need to have a table with a park view, or to even be dining at the time the fireworks are happening. Anyone who is currently dining or has dined that day (just show your receipt to the host at the check in podium) is welcome to watch the show from the outdoor viewing areas on either side of the restaurant. It’s our absolute favorite place. And if you don’t have a reservation or don’t want to have an expensive meal, you can always try for the California Grill… Read more »