Updated for 2016!
Along with Polynesian Village Resort, the Contemporary Resort is one of Walt Disney World’s two original hotels. The building was constructed with modular components, meaning the rooms were built off-site and hoisted by crane into place once the hotel structure was built, although later refurbishments locked everything permanently in position. The main 15-story tall Contemporary Tower was constructed as an A-frame; the outer walls slope inwards around an inside atrium. This design was a collaboration by the United States Steel Corporation, California architect Welton Becket, and Walt Disney himself.
What stands out with the Contemporary Resort? It’s located right next door to the world-famous Magic Kingdom. Oh, and there is a monorail that zips through the building, like literally goes through the building. That’s two things your average hotel can’t boast about. Here’s another bit of trivia: the original name of the Contemporary was the Tempo Bay Resort Hotel.
If you stay at this resort or you “Disney Resort Hop,” which means you visit Disney Resorts as a guest for a few hours, what is there to do for FREE at the Contemporary? A lot, both inside and out. If a free activity requires a room key, called a Key to the World card/Magic Band, we will indicate that in blue. So get ready for our guide to over 30 free activities at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
1. Mickey Topiary
Topiary gardening, where living plants are fashioned into decorative forms, has been practiced for centuries. Behind the Contemporary, just before you reach the pool and the marina areas, is a fantastic Mickey Mouse topiary, just right for a photo. If you snap one every year, you can see how fast your children are growing.
2. Mickey Statue
Just to the left of the Mickey topiary is a metal Mickey Mouse ears statue, and seated up top is a metal Mickey. Adventurous kids climb on it, as do older teens, while taller people usually just stand in front. If Cast Members see you on the statue, (ask me how I know,) you will be kindly asked to just to stand in front.
With a parent close by, smaller children could sit in the ears. This statue is taller than it appears in this photo.
Enjoy a friendly beach volleyball match on the lakeside court. Complimentary volleyballs can be checked out at the Boat Nook Marina with your MagicBand/ Key to the World card.
4. Jogging Trails
A jogging path loops around Bay Lake Tower and the Contemporary South Garden Wing for a just-under-1-mile run, or in my case, a brisk walk. Your feet may already be tired from walking through theme parks, but this is a fantastic way to see the entirety of both resorts from a much more up-close view than simply looking out the window from the lobby.
5. Go Visit other Resorts
Disney has an “open resort policy” where you don’t have to be staying at the resort to go visit, which we referred to earlier as “Resort Hopping.” This would be a great time to determine what section of the property you might like to make reservations for on your next trip. You can inquire at the front desk about rates and current discounts. It’s more pricey to stay in the main A-frame building than to stay in the Garden Wing rooms.
Hop a boat to the Magic Kingdom, and with one more boat transfer, you can be at the Polynesian Village or the Grand Floridian resorts, and a different boat takes you to Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Check the time schedule with the front desk, but the usual posted hours for these boats are 6:55 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. We have a whole series of guides for free activities at resorts close to the Contemporary,
- Free Outdoor Activities at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*
- Free Indoor Activities at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*
- FREE Activities at Disney World’s Polynesian Resort: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*
- 30 FREE Activities at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*
6. Wishes Viewing
You can watch the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks from a balcony outside the Grand Canyon Concourse level, just in front of the Fantasia Gift Shop. Get here early for a good spot, because at night, this area is pretty busy with watchers. Once the fireworks are finished, it’s nice to sit here and watch the monorail sail quietly over your head inside the building. You’ll see two different monorails going two different directions, all leading ventrally back to the Magic Kingdom.
You can also see Wishes from the sidewalk between the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower. There is a nice breeze here on most nights, as well as out in front of the Contemporary Resort. The lower you are, obviously, the more trees may obstruct your view. A better plan is to Resort Hop over to the Polynesian Resort and watch Wishes from the beach.
7. Park for Free
Parking is free while you visit the Disney resorts, with the understanding that this is for a maximum of about three hours. But this one is a little tricky, because you are not allowed to park at the Contemporary throughout the really busy times of year, which “busy” now can describe most of the year. Imagine how many people would park here if they were allowed, simply to walk over to the Magic Kingdom.
Your best bet, if you are not visiting before or after you enjoy a meal here, is to ride the monorail over or walk over from the Magic Kingdom. You are allowed to park for free with dining reservations, but remember you are required to give your credit card number to hold your reservation. Ditching your reservation just to park for free would be counterproductive with this suggestion.
8. Fireside Marshmallows
Camp fires are held at resorts that offer free marshmallows and roasting sticks for resort guests. Complimentary campfire activities can be found at 14 locations at the Walt Disney World Resort; the Contemporary shares a fire pit with Bay Lake Tower, very close to the shores of Bay Lake.
9. See a Movie Under the Stars
Come for the campfire and then stay for a movie. Take in one of the many free “Movies Under the Stars” outdoor movies at the WDW resorts following the campfires. A huge screen is blown up for nightly movies outside, although this can depend on weather. At some resorts, you will need to bring a towel or blanket to sit on, and at others, they provide chairs. The Contemporary offers chairs and towels.
Movies and entertainment are subject to cancellation or change without notice. For movie schedules, call 407- WDW-PLAY or 407- 939-7529.
10. Night Time Water Parade
Visit the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness, or the Contemporary Resort to catch a glimpse of the nightly water show, The Electrical Water Pageant. This water light-parade was created in 1971 for the dedication of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Scheduled to run just that one time only, popularity has kept it playing each night for all these years. Approximate show times are:
- Polynesian Resort, 9:00 p.m.
- Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 9:15 p.m
- Wilderness Lodge, 9:30 p.m.
- Fort Wilderness Campground, 9:45 p.m.
- Contemporary Resort 10:00p.m.
11. Take an Outdoor Seat
This may not be the best idea from May until September when the weather is pretty hot, but there is wonderful seating outside by the marina, which feels especially nice on a cool spring or fall day with a light breeze blowing off the water. You will hear the sounds of the boat whistles echoing off Bay Lake. There are benches in the shade of trees or tables with umbrella canopies just perfect for a picnic you bring yourself.
Bathrooms and a water fountain are close by outside for your convenience.
12. Have a Picnic
Saving some money by providing your own meals? As we just mentioned above, there is seating by the marina with umbrellas to block the sun. It’s lovely being between two Disney Resorts, the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower, and lots of people will pass by as they make their way to the boats headed to Wilderness Lodge/ Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and the Magic Kingdom.
You could hop a boat when you finish your meal.
13. Outdoor Viewing Deck
The outdoor viewing deck we mentioned earlier on the Grand Canyon Concourse level, with the great benches to see Wishes, also would make a nice place for a picnic. It’s hard to get much closer to a monorail unless you are climbing in one.
This is a designated smoking area, just so you are informed.
14. See the Christmas Tree
Will you be visiting the Contemporary Resort during the Christmas season? Don’t miss the 70-foot-tall Christmas tree at the resort’s main lobby entrance, featuring nearly 36,000 white LED lights. Kids love to stand beside this tree in amazement of how big it is, and you’ll be impressed by the size as well.
Window shopping is a great “activity” at the Disney Resorts, and given your propensity to touch fabrics and metals, you could easily spend an hour in the Contemporary’s three gift shops just admiring the goods. You can always do some actual shopping, but looking is free!
15. Bayview Gifts
Located right in front of the Contemporary escalator and across from the Fantasia Gift Shop is Bay View Gifts (BVG.) You can pick up chocolate treats like fudge and cookies, plus items for the home, picture frames, art work, and Christmas decorations. BVG also sells clothing for men, women, and children, plus watches and other assorted jewelry. Merchandise prices here vary from $8 for key chains to thousands of dollars for 14k gold jewelry.
You know you reached the Fantasia Gift Shop when you see either of two metal Mickey shapes situated at either end of the shop. Fantasia is definitely a shop more designed for children, carrying Disney character merchandise, Star Wars toys, and an entire wall of trading pins. You can frequently trade pins here on a board they place near the cash registers.
17. Fantasia Market
Located next door to the game room on the Grand Canyon Concourse, across from Fantasia, Fantasia Market offers a variety of reading material like newspapers and magazines. For those seeking adult beverages, there is wine and beer available, plus a multitude of refrigerated items like milk, frozen dinners, and ice cream. If you want to make some meals without the luxury of a kitchen, pick up items here for sandwiches or grab canned foods. This is the gift shop to find health and beauty items.
Are you seeking DVC merchandise? This is where you will find authentic DVC shirts, jackets, key chains, plus other items that change occasionally.
18. Check Out Chef Mickey’s
Chef Mickey’s is one of Disney World’s most popular all-you-care-to-eat buffets. As monorails zips through the building, Disney Characters like Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy mingle for photos and autographs, leading diners in songs and dancing. This would be a good time to scout out the eatery, to decide if this is where you would like to schedule dining reservations. Chef Mickey’s is more pricey than the Contempo Cafe, by almost triple or more for adults, so it’s a good idea to know what you are walking into.
19. Sit in the Outer Rim
Located just next to Chef Mickey’s, the Outer Rim offers stunning views of Bay Lake from almost floor to ceiling windows. You can enjoy specialty cocktails before—or after—dinner. A full bar menu is available, with suggested drinks including a Piña CoLAVA, Red Stag Lemonade, and a Blue “Glow-tini.” The seating is relatively comfortable, offering excellent views of the monorail and the massive Mary Blair mural, plus you are steps away from a Disney Vacation Club kiosk, should you be curious to pick up some DVC information. Bay View Gifts is just to your right.
20. Ride the Monorail
How often do you get to ride a monorail where you live? The answer for me is a big huge never. Riding the monorail is free, but it can be crowded at certain times, like when everyone is trying to escape the summer heat of mid-day or during holidays. The monorail is a lovely way to see the sights of the Seven Seas Lagoon from up in the air while you ride surrounded in air-conditioning.*
*Unfortunate note: sometimes the monorail can get a bit hot, depending on the season and crowd levels, which can be rough if you have claustrophobic tendencies.
21. Simply Take a Seat
We just mentioned the nice seating outside by the marina. Disney’s Contemporary Resort Convention Center features state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, full catering services and 115,000 square feet of event and meeting space, which won’t affect most of you in any way. But there is seating aplenty for convention breaks on the 2nd floor, just below the Grand Canyon Concourse and above the lobby area where guest check in.
Let me tell you from personal experience, having waited on our room to be ready here for over an hour, these couches are perfect for a short nap. There is Wifi available here as well, also for FREE!
22. Bathroom Break
I don’t normally mention resort bathrooms in particular, but on the second floor with the couches, you will find some really nice bathrooms. Unlike the busy upstairs bathrooms underneath the monorail loading area, this 2nd floor restroom is roomy, quiet, and especially clean. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little peace and quiet!
Disney legend Mary Blair graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles. In 1940, she went to work for Walt Disney, helping craft movies like Cinderella, Song of the South, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Blair finished a 90-foot-high mural for the Contemporary Resort in 1971, which was completed in time for the resort’s opening.
You can view the mural from all four directions on the Contemporary’s Grand Canyon Concourse level. Featuring animals, birds, flowers, and American Indian children, the mural consists of 18,000 hand-painted tiles. You will find Blair’s name on the tiles just as you enter the Contempo Cafe.
24. Hear a Concert
During the Christmas Holidays, you can hear the sounds of the season when choirs sing holiday favorites just outside of Fantasia Gift Shop. Hang out for the full concert, or just catch a tune or two as you wait for the monorail, because the songs reverberate all over the massive lobby.
27. Attend a Church Service
The Contemporary Resort has hosted religious services for Christmas Day in the Fantasia Ballroom. Catholic Mass was held at 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. and a Protestant Service at was held at 9 a.m. Our suggestion is to call Guest Services to see if they are hosting a holiday church service before you waste a trip just for this activity.
26. Lobby Cartoons
While you look at the fine detailing of the hotel lobby on the first floor, there is a television playing older Disney cartoons just for the children. If your kids are tired of walking while you resort hop and need a break, tell them to have a seat. This is also a nice child distraction area while the adults check in after a long drive or flight.
27. Locate Hidden Mickeys
So this Mickey is not exactly subtle or hidden, but you get the point. Where is this? This Mickey is found on the Contempo Cafe chairs on the Grand Canyon Concourse, just outside Chef Mickey’s buffet.
If you would like to see a list of Hidden Mickeys before you arrive, use this link to visit Hidden Mickey’s.org.
28. Gingerbread Tree
During the holidays, a 17 foot gingerbread tree is erected on the 4th floor Grand Canyon Concourse. Inspired by the art of Disney’s Mary Blair, who we just mentioned designed the large four-sided mural, the tree is created with an amazing amount of ingredients.
- 136 lbs honey
- 211 lbs flour
- 101 eggs
- 27 lbs spices
- 15 lbs sugar syrup
- 98 lbs icing
- 151 lbs of chocolate
The tree features over 2,000 gingerbread shingles, with enough space to hide a reported 15 hidden Mickeys. There are gingerbread holiday treats available for purchase, and while the merchandise can vary from year to year, you may find a five-legged Rice Krispy goat, a holiday cupcake with a hidden Mickey inside, monorail sugar cookies, gingerbread shingles, a gingerbread boy, lollypops, and holiday citrus bread.
The tree took on a “Frozen” movie theme in 2014, but when the newness of the Frozen movies wears off, they may go back to the other traditional tree.
29. Gingerbread Pin Signings
By the gingerbread tree in years past, visitors have been offered opportunities to meet the Disney chefs behind some of Walt Disney World’s best holiday gingerbread creations.
Call Guest Services to see if they are hosting this event before you waste a trip just for this activity.
We lost two free activities off our list since this article was published back in 2014, the butterfly garden and the giant Mickey shaped Christmas wreath. If these activities show up again, we’ll update out list.
You might need this information for your resort visit.
4600 North World Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Telephone: (407) 824-1000
Fax: (407) 824-3539
If you are interested in other free activities, this link contains all the freebie details.
To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.
Thanks for stopping by. If you ever walked around a Disney Deluxe resort and wished you were checking in, only to drive back to your Value Resort and be a bit financially relieved you saved your money, you just might be a Cheapskate Princess!
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