Top of the World at the Contemporary Resort, a History

top of the world

Top of the World at the Contemporary Resort

The Top of the World wasn’t always a Disney Vacation Club members-only lounge. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Top of the World was the premiere dining and entertainment spot in all of Walt Disney World, especially during the years when the Magic Kingdom would close at 6:00pm and there wasn’t much else to do.

Let’s take a look at Walt Disney World’s original signature dining location!

Brown leisure suits, ruffled dresses, strappy heels, shiny jumpsuits and feathered hair were all but required at the Top of the World in the 1970s. A glass-enclosed eatery on the 15th floor of the Contemporary, the Top of the World offered views that stretched 30 miles in every direction while offering the finest in dining and entertainment in Central Florida. Where else you could you enjoy Roast Duck with Orange Sauce, Veal Romanov and Rose Petal Salad while being entertained by the likes of Carol Lawrence, Jack Jones and Phyllis Diller? And no, the dining plan wasn’t offered at the time!

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A little background on the Top of the World from our favorite Disney historian, Dave Smith:

Nightclub/restaurant on the 15th floor in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World: open from October 1, 1971 until September 30, 1993. The view over the Seven Seas Lagoon toward the Magic Kingdom is spectacular. The longtime dinner show presented twice nightly was “Broadway at the Top,” with talented performers singing hit numbers from Broadway shows, and the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch was also popular. The restaurant was replaced by the California Grill in May 1995.
top of the world
Another shot from the 1977 title.
From the May, 1973 Walt Disney World News:

THE TOP OF THE WORLD, high atop the Contemporary Resort Towers, offers the finest in day and evening dining and entertainment. Delicious breakfast buffet, Monday through Saturday, 8-10:30 am. Luncheon buffet, 11:30 am-2 pm. Sunday brunch buffet, 8:30am-2:30pm.

It’s a new world after dark as the Top of the World presents two dinner/dancing shows nightly, featuring top name entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere. Seatings for dinner are at 6:30 and 9:30 pm, with shows at 8 and 11 pm. Top of the World Lounge open until 2 am. Reservations for the evening are suggested; coats for gentlemen, please.

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As you settled in for your evening meal and entertainment, your server would take your drink order. Interested in any of the following?

  • French 75 – gin, sour mix, champagne and rock candy
  • Monorail Pink – gin, pineapple and orange juice, grenadine syrup and heavy cream
  • Monorail Red – tequilla, Galliano, grenadine, lemon bar mix and pineapple juice
  • Monorail Yellow – rum, orange juice, coconut cream and pineapple juice
  • Monorail Purple – brandy, wine and grape juice

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People even ate at the Top of the World in the daytime! From the 1977 title.

 From the resources that I checked, the Top of the World might have been well-known for their salads:
  • Rose Petal Salad
  • Carrot Salad
  • Broccoli and Vegetable Salad with Curry Sauce
  • Top of the World Shrimp Salad
  • Spaghetti Salad
  • Top of the World Chicken Salad
  • Cauliflower Salad
  • Tuna Antipasto
  • Mexican Shrimp Salad
  • Ham and Rice Salad
  • Potato Salad
  • Top of the World Dressing – onion, anchovy, garlic, eggs, cider vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce

top of the world

The Summer 1978 Walt Disney World News announced that comedy groups would start appearing at the Top of the World in addition to the traditional lounge-club style of entertainment. There was also an entertainment charge of $7.50 for adults and $3.50 for children that was levied in the late 1970s.
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Entrees offered for dinner, included:

  • Swiss cheese Ramekin
  • Roast Duck and Duck Sauce
  • Duck Tambu
  • Veal Romanoff
  • Veal Verdi
  • Roasted Duck with Orange Sauce
  • Prime Rib
  • Roast Sirloin of Beef Jardiniere

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Image from the February 1982 Walt Disney World News

In 1982, Disney introduced Broadway at the Top:

 …a lively show highlighting the spectacular best of Broadway’s past 30 years. It’s a fast-paced nightclub review of Broadway musicals from the days of Cole Porter to “Chorus Line” and “Evita.” Songs, dances and dialogues pay tribute to some of the Great White Way’s memorable moments, and to the people who made them happen.

The cast includes five exciting young entertainers who take you on a musical memory tour through the “show stoppers” of the American Musical Theatre.

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Even though it looks like a prom… This image appeared in the Walt Disney World: First Decade book and the 1984 Walt Disney World Pictorial Souvenir.
Sadly, there were only a few desserts mentioned in my sources:
  • Apples Supreme – graham cracker crumbs, Granny Smith apples, sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch and flour
  • Frozen Mocha Parfait
  • Brunch Apple Supreme
  • Rum Sauce (pour over blueberries or any fruit)
  • Butterscotch Sauce

I can imagine fried ice cream, flambe-style desserts and other, weirdly decadent dishes, as well.

top of the world

Image from the 1985 Steve Birnbaum’s Guide to Walt Disney World. The ears belong to Br’er Rabbit.
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This is image is attributed as the Top of the World Lounge in the 1991 Birnbaum. Apparently, this is a room off to the side of the restaurant.
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Official records state that the Top of the World closed on September 30, 1993 and re-opened as the California Grill on May 15, 1995. I don’t doubt this but I know that my wife and I ate at the Top of the World twice during a May 1994 vacation. When I found the receipt it was billed as the Concourse Grill. I remember it vividly for two reasons: we could see EPCOT ’94 as we ate and it was the first time I ever saw guacamole (yuck). Both times were for lunch, so it might have only been open for certain times.

We turn to Dave Smith, again, to learn about the California Grill:

Restaurant on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World, taking the place of the Top of the World. It opened on May 15, 1995. The restaurant features a stage kitchen with nine exhibition cooking areas, including a wood-burning pizza oven, grill and rotiserie, and three island stoves.

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Image from Christopher Finch’s The Art of Walt Disney.

The final image is probably characteristic of why the Top of the World was so beloved: the views. Glasses perched upside-down, waiting to be filled and whisked to thirsty diners, frame the view from the restaurant. A ferryboat and motorlaunch ply the lagoon in the setting Florida sun as we close the chapter on another piece of Walt Disney World history.

Did you ever get to eat at the Top of the World?

Do you have any favorite moments, stories or photos to share?


Resources used for this article:

 

8 thoughts on “Top of the World at the Contemporary Resort, a History

  1. Dear God, those drinks sound like something you’d only consume on a dare.
    Maybe the bar was running out of stuff one day, and they just threw together what was left for those cocktails.

  2. We did eat there, in 1981, I believe, with our kids, who were 8,5, and 4, and our parents. We partook of a bountiful buffet, and our 5-year-old daughter (who is now “pretty much a vegetarian”) had twelve slices of London broil. None of us remembers what anyone else ate, though we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We were staying at the Golf Resort, which is now Shades of Green.

  3. My husband and I always went to the Top of the World in the 70’s, we went every year and saw Leslie Uggams, Connie Stevens and a few others I forget their names. I ALWAYS had my favorite drink my monorail red which one of the bartenders wrote down the recipe for me. I absolutely ADORED the rug that was on the wall as you got off the elevator. I wanted it so badly and I remember talking to one of the cast members that they were going to renovate and the carpet was coming down, I wanted it so badly, when we went back the following year I had asked what happened to the carpet and they said when they took it down it completely fell apart. Well I still have my pictures. I loved going up there, the food was great, in 05 we went to the California Grill and I did not like it at all, I didn’t like the food or anything about it so I haven’t been on the 15th floor since then. Very sad when they change stuff.

  4. A little over 32 years ago I asked my wife to marry me at the top of the world. and we’re still enjoying a wonderful life together, best night ever

  5. I went to dinner here 3x during the ’70’S. Every time, it seemed to be Roger Williams. I’m not complaining, he was a wonderful entertainer and actually interacted with the guests, asking for requests after his initial set. The food was pretty good. The last time I was there, in Jan. of ’79, I met Tip O’Neill, who was the speaker of the house at the time. My friend said not to go up to him, but I did and he was the most gracious person and engaged me in conversation for a bit of time. It was a time we will not ever get back, but I am lucky to have been a part of it. The Sunday Brunch was Out of this World. The variety and volume of it could not be matched! Miss those early days, but time moves on and we have to adapt, but not forget!

  6. I was a child when my parents took me to The Top of the World restaurant. It was in the 1970s and I remember Vic Damone [sp] was the performer but I didn’t know who he was.
    What I remember the most was the Chocolate Mint mousse for dessert. I loved this although I could never finish it because of the richness. Is there a recipe for this mousse? I have tried other recipes but never matched what the Top of the World served.
    Thank you for any help in finding this dessert.

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