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  • Writer's pictureDana Birch

A Tale of Two Original Resorts: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort & Disney’s Contemporary Resort

On October 1, 1971, two resorts debuted with Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Fort

Wilderness Resort and Campground. The original two resorts were Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. On October 1, 2021, Walt Disney World celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and these hotels are now celebrating 53 years of operation.

A Tale of Two Resorts - Which original resort should you try?

Let’s look at some of the features of each of these great resorts!

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort:

Located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon and situated directly across the lagoon from

Magic Kingdom Park is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. If you are a fan of vintage tiki culture, and mid-century modern style this is the resort for you! Why, just stepping into the lobby of this resort one tends to feel transported back to the 1970’s.

In its most recent refurbishment, the demigod Maui has taken up residence in the center

of the Great Ceremonial House atrium. Unlike the one from Disney’s hit Moana, this is a stylized version of the demigod that has been a symbol of this resort since the beginning. He welcomes guests with open arms and a mischievous smile. Peeking out from behind Maui you can now see Cinderella’s Castle rise above the trees from across the lagoon

welcoming guests, beckoning them to enjoy the magic this resort has to offer.

Cinderella's Castle from Polynesian Resort
Cinderella's Castle from Polynesian Resort

Aside from picture-perfect views of Cinderella’s Castle, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort offers guests some amazing amenities. The feature pool of this resort has a volcano water slide, a kid play area, hot tub, and zero entry from the beach side of the resort. There is also a very relaxing quiet pool with three large cabanas, perfect for a quiet family respite from the afternoon sun.

Both pools at the Polynesian Village have their own pool bar, and the main pool is just steps

away from the Great Ceremonial House, where the rest of the resort’s shopping and dining is located.

From family-style service meals at O’hana’s to the ala carte menu at Kona Café, to the delicious quick service at Captain Cooks, there is sure to be something to please every palate and every budget.

Looking for something more exotic?

Check out Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto for tiki drinks with a

Disney twist. The bar itself has some surprises in store depending on the drink selected. Or step on over to Pineapple Lanai, my personal favorite, and grab a famous Dole Whip to enjoy while you wander the resort.

Rooms here are in separate buildings called longhouses. On the resort side, or original side of the resort, rooms are spacious and have been reimagined for the 50th Anniversary to reflect a Moana theming.

Moana Themed Room
Moana Themed Room

Something interesting to note is that when they built the original buildings, the

second floors were built with no balconies. Imagineers attributed this decision to the

Polynesian legend of the Menehune is that they could climb up to the 2nd floor, and sneak in to cause mischief. They were going for authenticity and intrigue at the time, but if the longhouse has a third floor, those are equipped with balconies.

There are also villa-style accommodations here that currently come in two different floor plans. In the most recently built longhouses of the resort, Tokelau built in 1978, originally named Oahu, Moorea, and Pago Pago built in 1985, reside the Deluxe Studio Villas. These rooms offer guests a pull-down murphy style twin bed, a pull-out queen-size sleeper sofa, and a queen size bed with storage underneath. They also include a split-bathroom concept with two showers for families needing extra bathroom space, and a wet bar-style kitchenette with mini fridge, sink, and microwave. Again, these rooms are large as well, but offer a bit of the convenience of home that a hotel room alone may not provide.

These buildings have 2nd floor balconies unlike the original buildings of the resort and are a

short walk from the Ticket and Transportation Center. To get to Magic Kingdom or Epcot there is no need to walk all the way over to the Great Ceremonial House to catch the monorail, it is just steps away at the TTC.

The other villa style is the two-bedroom, over water Bora Bora Bungalows. Twenty gorgeously

appointed, mid-century modern style meets tiki, villas with amazing views of Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella’s Castle beyond from your own private deck with your own private plunge pool! It is as awesome as it sounds, and there is a sound box to pipe in the

music for nighttime fireworks shows at Magic Kingdom, and Electrical Water Pageant (another WDW Resort original that debuted as a celebration for the opening of the Polynesian

Village Resort) when they are operating.

two-bedroom, over water Bora Bora Bungalows
two-bedroom, over water Bora Bora Bungalows

There are also beautiful suites that come with access to a two-story concierge lounge with complimentary food daily during normal operations. This resort has hosted many famous people, and even was host to John Lennon as he signed the papers to dissolve the Beatles! While this resort comes at a premium price point, one stay will convince you that is well worth the extra cost for the beauty and history that resides here.

A new addition to the Villas is currently being built and is slated to open in 2025. This new

tower will tentatively add 1, 2, and 3 Bedroom Villas + 2 Person Tower Rooms. The final floor plans and such have still not been divulged.

Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower:

As you drive up World Drive this A-frame beauty rises up in front of you as the monorails come gliding in and out of it and you know right away you are going somewhere special, and somewhere that only exists in Walt Disney World.

Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Contemporary Resort

The Contemporary was the original flagship resort of Walt Disney World before the Grand Floridian was built, and it shows it in every way.

As you pull up to the porte-cochere of this 50+year old resort, you can’t help but feel the history, and excitement that you are about to encounter inside. The lobby itself is low

slung, and surprisingly comfortable, yet formal.

The lobby, like the rooms above in the tower building, and the garden wing to the south are all very sleek and modern in styling, I find them relaxing, and comfortable. These rooms are very spacious, and fun fact, like those at the Polynesian, were all installed by sliding them into place from the exterior once the building had been built! There are a variety of rooms in the original buildings including standard rooms in the main tower with views of Bay Lake on

one side or Magic Kingdom/Seven Seas Lagoon views on the other, standard rooms in the garden wing, one-bedroom and hospitality suites with very unique layouts due to the shape of the garden wing, and of course the atrium, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and presidential suites in the main tower building.

The tower, and garden wing aren’t the only options at this resort.

Just to the north is Bay Lake Tower, which took the place of the north garden wing back in 2009 and is where you will find villa accommodations. Just like the villas at the Polynesian Village Resort, these rooms have even more to offer with galley style kitchenettes in the Deluxe Studio Villas, and full kitchens in the one, two, and three-bedroom grand villas. If you want to take a large family reunion-style vacation, these villas are perfect to allow for multiple families to stay together but have their own space for sleeping.

Bay Lake Tower
Bay Lake Tower

The Contemporary doesn’t reveal itself all at once, you must take an elevator up to the 4th floor to really get a feel for how cool this hotel is.

My favorite way to get up to the 4th floor, is to meander up a set of escalators towards the rear of the lobby and pass through the ballroom facilities.

These ballrooms incidentally have their own unique history of hosting former president Richard Nixon at an event in 1973 where, while in the middle of the Watergate Scandal, he gave his famous “I am not a crook” speech, talk about history!

On the 4th floor is the Grand Canyon Concourse, a soaring nine-story atrium. This is the heart of the Contemporary Resort.

Want more history?

The floor-to-ceiling mural depicting a stylized version of the Grand Canyon was designed and painted by artist Mary Blair. My challenge to you in taking in this glorious artwork is to keep an eye out for the 5-legged goat! He’s so famous, he’s even been immortalized on Disney


floor to ceiling mural
floor to ceiling mural

The artwork isn’t the only amazing thing in this space, this is where the monorail station for the resort is located. Remember those monorails gliding through the building, they stop here. So, while you shop, play in the arcade, eat, or just sit below, keep an eye up for the highway in the sky, and see how many different monorails you notice as they glide through the building.

As for food, Contemporary is among the best.

Two of my favorite restaurants, Steakhouse '71, and California Grill call this resort home.

Steakhouse '71 has amazing food in a relaxed yet modern style in the main lobby, focusing on local and seasonal fair, it is a must try.

At the top of the main tower building is California Grill, with the best view of the Magic Kingdom, and the surrounding resorts.

The food here is as amazing as the view, with a focus on high-end and delicious cuisine.

Sad you didn’t get that window-side seat for the fireworks? No problem!

If you dine here for dinner, you can return for the fireworks and be escorted out to

the roof of the building for some amazing views.

This is also the resort where you can meet Chef Mickey and his pals on the Grand Canyon Concourse at Chef Mickey’s.

There is also Contempo Café a quick service restaurant with some delicious fare, and like all resorts has a pool bar at each pool, and a little hide-away style bar called Outer Rim. This used to be an amazing and peaceful place to grab a drink and people watch, but during busy times for Chef Mickey’s, which is most of the day, this turns into the waiting area for the restaurant. The bartenders here are great, so if you find yourself at Outer Rim, grab a drink and enjoy watching the World go by.

Recreation here is plentiful. From lakeside yoga, to fishing, tennis, boat rentals, and pools, this

resort has lot to offer those preferring an active vacation. I personally enjoy watching the monorails go by and staring at the castle from my room, but to each their own. While the pools here are not as fantastically themed as that at the Polynesian, there are three of them.

One feature pool with a water slide and zero entry for each building, Bay Lake Tower,

and the Main Tower. There is also a quiet pool nearer to the boat dock with poolside cabanas for rental, and it tends to be popular with adults looking to distance themselves a bit from the activity at the main pools.

One of the pools available
One of the pools available

Transportation may be the best feature of this resort; you can walk from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom. Yep, that’s right, you can walk to the Magic Kingdom from this resort. Trust me, there is nothing like the feeling of walking out of Magic Kingdom at night with hordes of people headed to the monorail, buses, and boats, and you are quietly walking back to your room which is just about 8 minutes away. This resort is also the first stop for those getting on the monorail to head to the TTC to go to Epcot during normal operation and is the first stop for those heading home from Magic Kingdom via the monorail. Boat launches also make it easy to enjoy a wilderness escape at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground for the day and explore all the outdoor fun awaiting there, and at Wilderness Lodge.

The Contemporary Resort may seem stark and sleek from the outside, but the fun and magic

inside is worth the stay. Also, having been the former flagship resort, you can feel an upscale difference when you stay there, but it isn’t a stuffy feeling, it is very warm and welcoming.

If you haven’t stayed at either of these 53-year-old beauties, what are you waiting for?

I love them both and can’t wait to get back and visit each of them. Whatever option you choose, we at Part of That World Vacations are here to help you when you are ready to travel.

Until next time, what Part of That World would you like to travel to?

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