My good friend, Katy, has a three year old daughter (featured here), and their family loves traveling the world as much as mine. Since (sadly) I can’t visit every location or hotel, from time to time she shares some of her experience traveling (often using miles and points) at some locations I haven’t yet had the chance to visit. This time her family went to Disney World and stayed at the Bay Lake Towers I have been drooling over for a while now. They also got to utilize the MyMagic+ bands that I have yet to try out. She was nice enough to share her experience at Bay Lake Towers, with the MyMagic+ bands, and a few other Disney family travel tips based on their recent trip.
Recently, my whole family was fortunate to take a week long summer vacation to Disney World at the beginning of June. We had six adults, an eight year old, a four and a half year old, and an almost four year old. Needless to say, it was an interesting, fun (and very tiring) trip!
We stayed at Disney World’s Bay Lake Tower and Contemporary Tower Resort which are within a ten minute walk to the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. It is actually faster to walk to the entrance than to take the monorail. If you want to take the monorail back it is the first stop, so not a long ride at all.
We were staying at this property on points that were being used by my parents who are members of the Disney Vacation Club. My parents stayed in a Deluxe Studio with a standard view while the rest of us stayed in a Two Bedroom Villa with a theme park view. Throughout the year the prices for a two-bedroom villa go from $990 to $1200/night if you are outright paying with cash. The highest price per night is from mid-December to the first of January where the prices range from $1400 to $1600. The Deluxe Studio with standard view prices range from $440 to $630 with the highest prices bring from mid-December to the first of January. Though some like to “rent” other peoples timeshare points and stay at Disney villas without paying the cash rates.
Deluxe Studio with Standard View: This room type had a small bathroom and small galley kitchen off of the hallway as you enter the room. You could not cook but there was a coffee maker and refrigerator. My parent’s room had two queen size beds, though I’m not sure if there are other bed configurations offered in this room type. There was a desk and desk chair, but not much else. It was pretty small, so a family would be cramped in here if there were more than two or three in your family. It also would not be conducive to anyone who wanted to save money by cooking in their room.
Two Bedroom Villa with Theme Park View: Two bedrooms with three full baths, each with a bathtub, a living area, and kitchen area. The master bedroom (which contains a king size bed) had a soaking tub, a large vanity area and a separate area for the toilet and shower.
The extra bath was located in the entrance area and had a shower/bath combination plus a vanity and toilet.
There was a large fully equipped kitchen with an island that included two bar chairs, a stove with four burners, a microwave, and a good sized refrigerator.
The living room contained sitting chairs as well as a couch and a chaise that made out into a bed. We ended up moving the chaise into our master bedroom and my daughter and I slept in the bed while my husband slept on that. You know, romantic family vacations!
The two bedroom villa was perfectly comfortable for our group of my family of three, and my four other family members (two adults + two children). My mom and dad hung out in our room rather than their cramped room and it was still very roomy.
Local dining options:
- Contemporary Grounds – located in lobby of Contemporary Tower
- Contempo Café – located in Contemporary Tower, 4th Floor – we ate here a few times for a quick meal. Something for everyone.
- California Grill – located Contemporary Tower, 15th Floor
- Chef Mickeys – located Contemporary Tower, 4th Floor - have breakfast with the characters. Recommend making a reservation.
- The Wave…of American Flavors – Located at Contemporary Tower, 1st Floor - We enjoyed this restaurant but it was a little pricey and the options were very limited. It also has a nice lounge for the adults.
- Outer Rim – located Contemporary Tower, 4th Floor
- Top of the World Lounge – located at Bay Lake Tower, 16th Floor (take specific elevator to get to top)
- The Sand Bar – near the Contemporary pool
- Cove Bar – near the Bay Lake pool
There are great gift shops located in the Contemporary Resort on 4th Floor; the walkway from Bay Lake Tower takes you directly there:
- Bayview Gifts (BVG)
- Fantasia Market – sells every day items you might need once you get to the resort
- Each resort has a pool. We tried out both the Bay Lake Tower pool and Contemporary Tower pool only because there was an “unscheduled maintenance issue” at the Bay Lake Tower pool, if you know what I mean.
- Both pools were great fun but the Bay Lake Tower pool was a little better for children because it had a zero entry area that allowed them to walk into the water. Other than that difference, both areas had slides, a toddler/baby water spray area, and a host who was doing various activities with the children. Like at the Disney water parks, there are free child life jackets to use.
- There are also cabanas that have flat screen tvs, drawers to lock up personal items, and miniature fridges with complimentary soft drinks and bottled water. Full-day or half-day rentals are available from 10am to 7pm.
- If you are staying at a resort property you can use any of the pools at any of the resorts. After eating at Cape May Cafe (which is my favorite restaurant at Disney World and is located at the Beach Club) we were planning on checking out the Beach club pool and beach, but a thunderstorm made that impossible on this trip.
The Contemporary Tower, 3rd Floor, hosts the Olympiad Fitness Center which has a ton of workout equipment if you are a glutton for punishment and feel that walking the parks for twelve hours a day didn’t quite do it for you! They also do massages and facials, but I (sadly) didn’t try those out on this trip.
The first night we got there we headed up to the roof next to the Top of the World Lounge (Floor 16 in the Bay Lake Tower) to watch the fireworks. It was perfect and you could see everything easily without being crowded like sardines at the park. Even better, once it ends you are already back “home” without having to fight the crowds to exit the park. The fireworks happened every night at 10PM.
When you arrive you will be given a sheet that explains that month’s extracurricular activities that are available from 9AM to 9PM.
For June these included:
- The Contemporary Tower offers Movie Under the Stars during certain months. Each night at 9PM, they show a different Disney movie.
- The Community Hall has various daily activities such as Character Stencil, Bead Art, and Fairy Houses/Treasure Chests.
- The pools have a host that leads pool side activities such as Goofy Bingo, Arts and Crafts, and Frisbee Toss.
- There is Beer Tasting at The Wave Lounge on Saturdays at 3PM. Reservations required.
- The Game Station in Contemporary Tower, 4th floor, has a variety of electronic games for all ages.
- Guided fishing excursions out on the lake that surrounds the back side of the resort. These are available at 7AM, 10AM, and 1:30PM daily. Reservations required.
The monorail is located in the Contemporary Tower. There is a specific elevator (if you need one) or you can take the escalator from Floor 4 to get there, then just follow the monorail signs. You pretty much can’t miss it.
The bus station is out the front doors and to the left of the Bay Lake Towers between the Bay Lake and Contemporary. If you want to visit any other park or water park other than Magic Kingdom or Epcot you will need to take one of these buses. These buses also run to various resorts. Check with the concierge or bus schedule to see what bus you will need to take since they stop at various locations.
Housekeeping only comes every few days when staying on timeshare points and they only provide new towels and rags for kitchen. Any other light housekeeping will need to be done by you.
If you have a car, I recommend buying groceries as soon as you can and then not go out again. My dad drove down (since he was in another location) and picked me up from the airport while my husband and daughter took the shuttle to get directly to the hotel. My dad and I went grocery shopping, but it took a little while to get to the store and then another 35-40 minutes to get to the resort. Be warned, none of our credit cards worked because we were not from Florida. We tried four or five different cards. I don’t know what it is about Florida this time around, but this has never happened in any other state or country while I have been traveling. We had to call Chase, Amex and Barclays to let them all know we were traveling and needed them to authorize our purchases. Weird.
Disney World implemented the MyMagic+ program and it really is a great tool and efficient. It allows you to link all your reservations (hotel accommodations, tickets and restaurants), Disney PhotoPass, and FastPass+ onto your MagicBand which you wear around your wrist like a bracelet. You wear it around the park and it gets you into the parks, the rides (if you have a FastPass + reservation), into any part of your hotel including the room and allows you to make purchases.
You just hold the Mickey Mouse face on your MagicBand up to the Mickey Mouse face on any door pad, at the FastPass entrance, the park entrance, the scanner for the any pictures they take in the park, the pad at any food kiosk, restaurant, or gift shop etc., and it automatically links to your account with all your information and lets you, in or charges those things to that account.
It helps before you go to set up a My Disney Experience account through your computer and also download the My Disney Experience app to your phone.
Through this account you can add all the other family members or friends who are also going to be joining you on your Disney vacation. Tip: Make sure they set up their own account if they are old enough. It makes it easier to make and change reservations and FastPasses this way.
Once everyone has set up an account, everyone needs to go into their own account to the add friends and family section and send a request to those members that they want to add. This way all your accounts are linked up and you can see each other’s plans. Also, if you need to change a FastPass+ time or reservation you can all do it from one account by selecting those members that you want to change.
I personally could not get my account to approve friend requests sent to me through my email, so I had to go into My Disney Experience account to the messages section and accept the requests that way.
It used to be that when you bought military tickets on a base (like we usually do) you had to wait until you got to the park to set up your FastPass+ and reservations with your MagicBands, but you can now do it just like if you bought normal tickets off the internet. This links explains how to do this.
Remember, if you are able, set up your My Disney Experience account first, then buy your tickets because it is honestly easier to link your tickets this way via buying through your account rather than linking later.
You are allowed three FastPass+ selections per day.
To initially set up your FastPasses follow these directions:
In your account, click the FastPass+ Selections.
Then pick which members you want to make a FastPass+ selection with you.
Pick the date and then on the next screen pick the park you want.
Pick the three activities you want.
When you initially choose the your three FastPasses (because it does make you choose your three at once) it gives you your three “best” options for times. These may not be your best options so just know that you can accept Best Option, Option A, B or C and later go back and move around the times. Just choose one for the time being. Once an option is chosen and you hit the Next button then it will have a change button by each FastPass+ selection.
To change, click the change button and then pick a new time. As you can see from the screenshot there are way more time options available than what they initially give you.
We did not have much luck changing our FastPasses once we were already at the park and had started to use them, but you can cancel all your selections and pick three again to get other fast passes for that day. Once you have selected your FastPasses, you can go in and change the selection and time for each one individually. Once you are at the parks or your Disney hotel then you can go to the Resort Lobby Concierge and get them to help you with your reservations, or you can go to one of the park kiosks.
- The Royal Table at Cinderella’s Castle…but first do the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. Make reservations as soon as you know your dates! We did the boutique and then had lunch with princesses right after at The Royal Table which is located right across from the boutique. It was a perfect combination and the girls loved it. They got to get dressed up like their favorite princesses (and maybe Elsa if you want to pay a million dollars on eBay for a dress), got their hair, nails and makeup done, then go eat and meet all the princesses! Highly recommended for the “Princess” aged crew.
- Make a FastPass reservation as soon as you can (90 days out) to meet Elsa and Anna from Frozen. My sister-in-law was smart enough to think of this 90 days out, but I did not and two weeks out there were no FastPasses available and the wait time was always 120-180 minutes long – even early in the morning! In actuality that wait time was closer to five hours said one of the people in charge. They are just reportedly only allowed to put up to 180 minutes as a wait time even if it is longer! The FastPass for this is sold out until August. Maybe you should just go meet Sven the reindeer instead.
Earning Points Going to Disney:
Finally, remember that there are ways to keep the costs down even on Disney trips. There is a post here dedicated to that topic, but here are a few ideas as well. If you don’t have it already, you can get the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® which awards 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. Those points are effectively worth $440 on travel expenses.
You can charge things to your MyMagic+ Band (which will post to your room bill) and then pay those charges with the Arrival points later on by using your Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard as your credit card of choice for the hotel bill. Another option is to buy Disney gift cards with a credit card that earns bonus points at a retailer that sells Disney gift cards. For example the Chase Freedom® earned 5x in the second quarter at Lowes where some find Disney gift cards for sale. I’ve also seen some at gas stations where the Freedom has a 5x payout in the 3rd quarter ($1,500 max).
Another option is a store like Office Max that sells Disney gift cards you can buy with your Ink Bold® Business Charge Card or Ink Plus® Business Card cards for 5x the points at office supply stores with those cards as well. Another popular option with the Disney crowd is the Target credit card that gives 5% back on all Target purchases since Target sells Disney gift cards. You can then also use those gift cards toward the hotel room bill (or virtually any other expense) at a Disney property.
We had a great trip and hope some of these tips help your family have an awesome Disney adventure, too!
Thanks to Katy and her family for taking the time to share their experience at Bay Lake Tours as well as with the new MyMagic+ Band. I hope to try it out later this year myself!
Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. As always, thank you for your support.