Want to enjoy the holidays at Walt Disney World without using a day on your precious Disney World park ticket? Then take the tour we are dubbing the “Self-Guided Walt Disney World Yuletide Tour” during the Christmas season.
This post is a step-by-step tour you can do on your own that will take you through the resorts that are best-decorated for Christmas over the course of around a half-day. Half-day of entertainment at Walt Disney World for free? It might sound too good to be true, but it’s for real!
UPDATE: For those readers wanting an even more comprehensive guide to Christmas than this, we released our free Walt Disney World Christmas eBook to newsletter subscribers in November 2016. We’ve updated this eBook for Christmas 2016, and it is 85+ pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info! For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here.
Back when we didn’t have Annual Passes and we instead pinched pennies by purchasing discount Walt Disney World park tickets that we used sparingly. To save a day on our tickets, we did this Self-Guided Yuletide Tour during the morning of the day we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Not only did this prevent us from having to use valuable park tickets, but it also saved us money in not shelling out for the actual (expensive!) Yuletide Fantasy Tour or another official tour.
We had so much fun doing this that even since we’ve become Annual Passholders, we still do this tour (although sometimes over the course of multiple days). Make sure you allow at least 3-5 hours for this tour, as you’ll need all of that time to fully explore all of the resorts!
For those interested in following our strategy and taking your own free self-guided Christmas tour of the resorts at Walt Disney World, here’s our plan, which assumes you’re starting out at the Magic Kingdom (take a bus from your home resort to get there).
Walk to Disney’s Contemporary Resort – There’s a pathway leading from the Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Contemporary Resort that takes about 5-10 minutes to walk. Alternatively, you can take the monorail, but it will take longer.
This one is a relatively new addition, and it’s Frozen meets Mary Blair (the artist behind the mural in the Grand Canyon Concourse and style of ‘it’s a small world’). It’s a pretty neat display, with Elsa’s 17-foot-tall Ice Castle being the highlight.
Depending upon when you arrive at the Contemporary, we also recommend doing lunch here at Contempo Cafe. They often have excellent Christmas cupcakes and other desserts, and it’s our #1 counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World.
In addition to this impressive Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread creation, there is a large “icon” tree outside (one of nine ‘giant’ trees on property–4 of which are located at the resorts), and smaller trees in the lobby.
The icon tree is perhaps one of the oldest trees at Walt Disney World, and has an interesting retro-futuristic style that still manages to work. It looks much more impressive at night, so if you have a chance to check it out after Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you might want to do that.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Contemporary Resort to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – This year, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort isn’t doing a ton for Christmas compared to the flagship monorail resort. Maybe that’s because Christmas is representative of cold winters at the North Pole, and the Polynesian is representative of…well…the exact opposite of that. The other possibility is that the Polynesian just completed its large refurbishment, and didn’t have the budget for more this year.
The Polynesian lacks a large Christmas tree and a large edible display, but the decorations it does have are gorgeous. These typically include lavish smaller trees with excellent tropical color schemes. We always make sure to stop at the Polynesian on our tours, but that’s partly because we love the Poly, in general.
We expect more at the Poly next year, but aren’t holding our breath. Regardless, it’s an easy stop on the monorail loop, so we recommend checking it out.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Polynesian Resort to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – Expect to spend some time at the Grand Floridian. Depending upon your favorite “version” of Christmas (do you prefer the cozy charm of a rustic Northern Christmas or the elegance of a fancy Victorian Christmas?) the decorations at the Grand Floridian just might be your favorite on property.
The highlight of the decorations here is unquestionably the life-sized gingerbread house. The gingerbread house is composed of staggering amounts of real ingredients, and takes months to prepare.
Oh, and it doubles as a refreshment stand where you can order gingerbread shingles and other holiday treats. The gingerbread house is actually so cool that you might overlook some of the other awesome decorations at the Grand Floridian–don’t make this mistake.
Explore the first couple of floors and the lobby, as beautiful flowers and other smaller decorations grace the resort. One thing you certainly won’t overlook is the massive Christmas tree on display in the lobby, the second of nine giant Christmas trees on property.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to the Magic Kingdom, take the Resort Boat/Bus to Wilderness Lodge – It’s a bit more work getting to Wilderness Lodge, but it’s sooo worth it. I think Grand Floridian at Christmas is cool, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Wilderness Lodge, in my opinion.
Probably because, as a Michigander, I prefer Christmas to have a cozy rustic charm rather than Victorian elegance and splendor. From the beautiful giant Christmas tree in the lobby (3 of 9) to the use of pine-cones and antlers in all of its decorating, Wilderness Lodge’s Christmas offerings feel like they were designed by woodland critters.
The background music played at Wilderness Lodge is incredibly relaxing, and you might find yourself inadvertently taking a nap if you stumble upon one of the hidden nooks upstairs with fireplaces and relaxing rocking chairs.
While you’re at Wilderness Lodge, make sure you walk over to the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, too. The tree isn’t as grand, but there are a number of cool decorations there, too, and who can pass up the chance to spend some time in the Carolwood Pacific Room?!
If you’re really ambitious, you can also walk over to Fort Wilderness (about a 15 minute walk–you can also take a boat) on a tranquil walking trail, or catch a boat there.
Disney has its own neat decorations here that are worth seeing, but the real star of the show is the displays put up by long-terms guests on the campground loop. Before you dismiss this, thinking that you don’t want to see amateur decorations, give it some more thought. Some of these decorations are seriously good.
The only problem is that they’re best viewed after dusk, and it’s likely that you’ll be doing this tour in the morning. If you are, for some reason, doing the tour at night, pencil in Fort Wilderness after Wilderness Lodge. If not, consider heading over here for dinner one night and taking a tour of the decorations!
This is definitely the highlight of the resort tour for me, and something you definitely should not skip just because it requires an extra boat trip!
Continue reading about the Epcot Resorts at Christmas on Page 2