The hotel we now know as Disney’s Contemporary Resort was originally opened in 1971, and a lot has changed over the decades. The Contemporary is one of two original hotels on Disney World property; the other is Disney’s Polynesian Resort. It’s located between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon and is within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom.
The hotel is also on the monorail loop for easy access to both Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and it’s considered a deluxe resort. The Contemporary was once considered the frontrunner of Disney World Resorts. That title now belongs to the Grand Floridian, according to most Disney experts. Richard Nixon delivered his infamous “I am not a crook” speech from the Contemporary, and the hotel has seen lots of other interesting events over the years.
1. It was almost called the Tempo Bay Hotel
Disney’s Contemporary Resort opened as the Contemporary Resort Hotel. Before that, however, Disney was going to name it the Tempo Bay Hotel. The problem was, everyone had gotten used to calling the resort by its working title, the Contemporary Hotel. When Roy Disney heard that the official name was the Tempo Bay Hotel, he said it was “phony” and that the simpler name was better.
The original idea for the Contemporary was much like Walt’s idea for Epcot. In fact, Disney adapted the building design idea for the Contemporary from a model that was originally going to be a shopping center in Epcot. The original design was to be the center of Epcot, complete with a monorail going directly through its center.
When the Contemporary was built, a unique design idea was used. Steel frames were constructed by U.S. Steel. The rooms were created off-site and lifted by crane to fit into the frames. This wasn’t a completely smooth process. The idea was to build the rooms and the frame at the same time, which would save Disney time and money. Unfortunately, fitting the rooms into the structure wasn’t quite as easy as they expected and costs were much higher than anticipated. US Steel's dreams of using the resort as a proof-of-concept for its new modular construction techniques were dashed, and Disney took full control of the hotel.
2. It has been home to a number of high-end restaurants over the years
Which brings us to the next thing that’s changed at the Contemporary over the years—the food. This resort has seen its fair share of restaurants, both quick service and table service.
Top of the World was once the most popular Contemporary Resort restaurant. This Supper Club-style restaurant was located on the 15th floor of the resort. It served Sunday brunch, lunch, and dinner and hosted a popular show each night. This show was called “Broadway at the Top,” and it featured various Vegas-style performers. The most popular dish at the restaurant was perhaps the “Make Your Own” Strawberry Shortcake, which was served during Sunday brunch.
Sadly, the restaurant was removed in 1993, but it was replaced by The California Grill, another popular Disney restaurant. You could see the fireworks from the rooftop access at Top of the World, and The California Grill retains that aspect of the dining experience. The California Grill is a fine dining establishment and serves a seasonal menu that features many market varieties. It’s better-suited for adults, much like the Top of the World, but children are allowed to eat here.
The Concourse Steakhouse opened in the Grand Canyon Concourse of the Contemporary in 1994. It was the main restaurant at the hotel when it opened and breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all served. You could watch the monorail as you dined, and many guests raved about the steak served here. In 2008, the Concourse Steakhouse was removed, and the Contempo Café, a quick service restaurant, was added in its place.