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. It’ll take you through the resorts that are best-decorated for Christmas, plus…it’s FREE!
Back when Sarah and I didn’t have Annual Passes and we instead purchased 10-day No-Expiration Tickets that we used sparingly across multiple trips, we took what the 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’ve kept up the tradition. 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:
Take a bus from your resort to the Magic Kingdom – alternatively, if you’re staying at a Monorail resort skip this step. If you’re staying at an Epcot resort, instead start at that resort.
Take the Resort Monorail from the Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Contemporary Resort - Up until 2009, the Contemporary didn’t do a whole lot for Christmas, leading us to skip it on occasion when strapped for time. However, that has changed recently, with the addition of a huge Mickey Mouse Christmas wreath on the outside of the building, and last year, with the addition of a huge gingerbread Christmas tree! (In previous years, there has been an edible display in the Grand Canyon Concourse, often from Pinocchio, but it was never as impressive), plus a large tree outside (one of nine ‘giant’ trees on property–4 of which are located at the resorts), and smaller trees in the lobby. The Concourse edible display last year was incredibly cool, but it remains to be seen whether it was a one-time special enhancement, or if it will be a new Christmas tradition at the Contemporary.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Contemporary Resort to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – Much like the Contemporary, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort doesn’t do 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 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, and small tropically themed edible displays. We always make sure to stop at the Polynesian on our tours, but that’s partly because we love the Poly, in general!
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 – 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. 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!
Take the Resort Boat/Bus to Magic Kingdom, take the Bus to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn – This actually isn’t a hard and fast rule. We usually go with the bus system here, and take whichever bus comes quicker, the Disney’s Hollywood Studios bus or the Magic Kingdom bus. From Magic Kingdom, we take the bus again, and from Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we take the boat or we take the walking pathway. If you take the boat, get off at the Swan & Dolphin, which is the first stop (and only a 5 minute walk to BoardWalk, which is the last stop). Consider checking out the lobbies of the Swan & Dolphin if you have time. These non-Disney hotels have some pretty impressive trees and other decorations, too!
As for the substance of BoardWalk’s decorations, they’re pretty cool. There is a giant edible carousel in the lobby, which has plenty of hidden Mickeys to spot (and large not-so-hidden Daisy and Donald Ducks). While the carousel is the centerpiece, the decorations don’t stop there, as a chocolate seaside amusement park also graces the lobby, so do Christmas trees and copious amounts of garland. The already beautiful lobby really comes alive at Christmas, and the decorations perfectly fit the turn-of-the-century boardwalk theme!
Walk from Disney’s BoardWalk Inn to Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts – Disney’s Beach Club is Sarah’s favorite resort at Christmas, but not because they have any extravagant display. The one edible display the resort does have, a carousel with horses, is neat, but nothing impressive. Instead, she loves it because of the gorgeous tropically-themed Christmas trees found throughout the resort. When she first saw these trees in 2007, she instantly fell in love with them, and started assembling her own “fish” Christmas decorations so she could have a similar tree. Even though I’m not as enamored with tropically themed Christmas trees, I have to give credit where credit is due: the Beach Club’s Christmas trees are truly impressive. The ornaments are gorgeous and the color palettes look really good against the color scheme of the resort. Perhaps this is why we haven’t been all that impressed with the edible carousel here–its dark colors and poinsettia reds are a stark contrast to cool pastel colors of the rest of the resort. It really doesn’t fit the resort at all.
The Beach Club’s “sibling” resort, the Yacht Club always has a more “refined” atmosphere as opposed to the Beach Club’s playful and lighthearted feel. This is no different at Christmas, when the star of the Yacht Club’s Christmas display is a meticulously crafted Christmas village featuring a working train. Meticulous is almost an understatement for this Christmas village. I think it’s somewhat comparable to the train set in Germany at Epcot with regard to the sheer intricacy and ornateness of all the little details. Unfortunately, we haven’t visited it since I’ve had a nice DSLR to capture all of the little details, but we plan on grabbing plenty of “details” shots this year! The tree and wreaths at Yacht Club are also very neat, as they are themed with boats and other nautical items.
Bonus Resort: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Given the difficulty of reaching Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (from Yacht Club you’d have to take a bus to Animal Kingdom, then a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge, then a bus all the way back to the other side of property if your ultimate destination were Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party), we typically tour its resort offerings on the day we go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, rather than with the rest of our resort tour. That said, if you’re not visiting Animal Kingdom on your trip, you might want to give serious thought to heading over to Animal Kingdom during the resort tour (if time allows) as Animal Kingdom Lodge’s decorations are not to be missed. It has a giant lobby Christmas tree (4 of 9, the last resort tree, with the other 5 being at the 4 parks and Downtown Disney) adorned with African-inspired items, plus strands of garland throughout the lobby and very cool decorations at the resort’s restaurants. Consider heading over to Kidani Village to see some of its decorations, too!
Bonus Resort: Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground – 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!
It’s important to note that Walt Disney World Christmas decorations change yearly, and what you see described and photographed here is not necessarily what will be offered in 2014 or beyond. Some of these displays have already evolved a bit since the photos were taken! That said, regardless of any cosmetic changes to the displays, all of these resorts have been worth touring at Christmas since we’ve been visiting them, and other resorts not mentioned also offer cool Christmas decorations of their own. (Check out our Walt Disney World Hotels page for more info on every hotel at Walt Disney World.) However, due to time constraints, we only mention the creme de la creme for these Walt Disney World Christmas tour tips.
Looking for comprehensive Walt Disney World vacation tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our “Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.“
Which other Walt Disney World resort hotels do you think are worth visiting at Christmas? Which resorts have your favorite Christmas decorations? Please let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comments!