FREE Disney World Christmas Tour Tips

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.

"Care for a Jack & Coke?"

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!

BoardWalk Villas!!!!!!!!

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.

Your Thoughts…

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!

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74 Responses to “FREE Disney World Christmas Tour Tips”

  1. Katie says:

    We’re going to do at least pieces of the Holiday resort tour when we go in December (I’ll see how much I can talk my family into…)!

  2. Lindsay says:

    I love self-guided tours – can’t wait to try this out come the holidays. I’m signed up to review the Yuletide Fantasy & Holiday D-Lights tour, but I can’t already tell they aren’t good values. No reason to shell out all that money when you can soak up the season’s spirit on your own. Thanks for the plan (& always superior photos)!

  3. Betsy says:

    So I took the plunge this year and bought my first ever Annual Pass – I decided this is going to be my own personal “Year of a Million Dreams.” Since my husband is still working on his first 10-day no expiration pass I bought him when we got married a couple years ago, a Yuletide tour is definitely in the plans for our arrival day. I was trying to figure out the most efficient way to do the MK Resorts (WL not being on the monorail was making it difficult), so this nicely organized plan couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks! It’s our first Christmas trip and I am beyond excited.

  4. Julie says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for the great tour idea. This seems like a lovely way to spend a morning. Do you know when the resorts generally start decorating for Christmas? My husband and I will be at WDW in early November…we have tickets to MVMCP on Nov 13 and we head home on Nov 19. Will the resorts have all of their decorations up that early? Or do they generally wait until after Thanksgiving?

  5. Patricia Brown says:

    Tom, what a great “Touring Plan” for Disney Resorts. Disney truly goes all out at Christmas in decorating their resorts. I look forward every year to renewing my enjoyment of so many.

    About 10 years ago I took the official Yuletide tour. While I enjoyed it, and you do get to go a few places you might not be able to go on your own, it is much more enjoyable to set your own pace and enjoy the magic.

  6. Hannah says:

    Do you know when the resort decorations typically go up? My husband and I are going to be there November 9 – 17, but will have some family with us the 9th-12th. We really want them to see the GF gingerbread house and maybe some of the other resort trees, but not sure if they will be up by the 12th. Thanks!

    – Hannah

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I don’t know the precise date, but I know it’s usually right around Thanksgiving. Epcot and the resorts get a late start as compared to the Magic Kingdom and DHS.

  7. Chelsea says:

    My fiance Todd and I are definitely going to try this while we are at WDW the week after next. By the way, your blog is more than a little inspiration for mine. I even linked you in the first post! Thanks so much for the tips!

  8. Jarrett says:

    We have booked dining reservations at most of the resorts you mention in order to see them decorated – Animal Kingdom, Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Wilderness Lodge. We were debating cancelling the Whispering Canyon reservation due to recent bad reviews but decided to keep it just to see Wilderness Lodge decorated. And the all-you-can-drink milk shakes. We will have to make a special trip to Boardwalk Inn.

  9. Tom,

    This is awesome!!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I wouldn’t have even thought to go to half of those resorts. Now I’m thinking they are must sees.

  10. Mitzi says:

    if we aren’t staying at a resort…where can we park to do this???

    Really want to do this…tahnks!!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Officially, probably nowhere (maybe Downtown Disney). Unofficially, one of the monorail resorts…if they’ll let you into the lot.

      • Andrew says:

        If you just drive up to the gate and tell them you are staying at another resort on property and were thinking about staying at the resort you are parking at in the future and you wanted to check it out. Then once you park you are bascially in the “Disney System” and can go anywhere exccept in the parks, assuming you don’t have tickets.

      • Lannie says:

        Is the free Christmas hotel lights tour still applicable for this year 2013? The routing directions as well?

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Yes, everything remains applicable for 2013-2014.

    • Lisa says:

      We were there the 2nd weekend in November and they were just getting started putting up decorations. We went just this past Friday (Black Friday) and everything was up and GORGEOUS!! We have Seasonal passes, so we may go back down just to do this tour because we only saw the Contemporary and Grand Floridian decorations this last trip. The Contemporary Resort has a big gingerbread display with a Frozen theme and the Grand Floridian was just like the picture in this blog… very, very nice! You can park at any resort for 2 hours maximum. You can also park at the Transportation and Ticket Center for as long as you’d like and you can basically get to anyplace via the monorail, ferry, or bus… you may need to hop on one and then hop on another mode of transportation to get there, but you don’t have to worry about your vehicle or anything while you are out touring… we normally do this if we aren’t staying on a Disney property and know that we will be park hopping.

  11. Marcy Taylor says:

    Love Disney at Christmas have seen it from a lot of resorts but my favorite is fort wilderness its so relaxing and the camp grounds will blow you away with there decorationsdon’t miss them
    going again this year Marcy

  12. jimmy says:

    Would like to see Disney World Christmas lites and tress,since I hadd my left knee oprated on…thn
    Thanks,,,jimmy lewis

  13. Cheri says:

    Hi, Thanx for the great ideas! Do you happen to know when they take the decorations down? We will arrive on New Years Day.

    Thanks Again!

  14. Cheryl says:

    Just thought I would take a moment to tell you how you saved our Christmas this year!

    We knew that we wanted to DO SOMETHING instead of exchanging gifts, but couldn’t figure out anything to fit our age range (24-74). We live 30 miles from Disney, know the craziness of the parks this time of year and have never stayed in a hotel due to our proximity (waste of $$$).

    Today, Christmas Eve, we are checking into the Art of Animation hotel, using Disney transportation through Fort Wilderness (hope to glimpse the camp lights from bus) to see the Hoop-De-Doo Review. If we’ve timed it right, we will get out at about the time of the fireworks, taking the boat across to afford a better view.

    Tomorrow, we are waking in our hotel leisurely and then following your decorations tour, stopping at the Contemporary for brunch and then hitting a movie at Downtown Disney in the HFR/3D dine-in theatre.

    If I hadn’t seen your post a few weeks back, we would be spending another year battling the crazy shoppers and then sitting at home wishing we had made some plans (3 years in a row).


    PS. If you’re there, you’ll see me with my iPad, following your route 😉

  15. janie says:

    When does this end thank you done this many times but do not know if the resorts would be still decorated on new years day

  16. Bruce says:

    Hi Tom,
    I am taking my wife to see the holiday lights this year and the tour of the resorts is something she will love. Do i need to buy a special pass to use the monrail to travel between resorts? We will be staying in one of the resorts (dont know which one yet)


  17. Joan says:

    Does anyone know how long after January 1st the resorts have their Christmas decorations up?

  18. Susanne Flanagan says:

    I’m saving and fundraising to bring my daughter Rachel who has special needs to Disney. We are hoping to go 11/11-11/20/2013 will the resorts be decorated by then? Thank you :)

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  20. Christy says:

    Are the displays open/lit all day and night at the resorts or only during certain hours? I am so looking forward to my first holiday trip to Disney!!

  21. Aldys says:

    Thank you so much for making this list, including details and photos, and facilitating the order and transportation details! We will be doing the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Wilderness Lodge combo tour as per your direct recommendations. It will take up the day while we wait for the Very Merry Christmas party. Do you have any recommendations for lunch? We don’t want to break the bank on lunch, but would enjoy an interesting or family fun place on the in the resort (outside of the parks). Thanks again! :)

  22. Audrey says:

    We are taking a day to visit the resort Christmas displays on a day we aren’t in the parks in early December. Is it possible to just drive to the resorts and park there to see each one? I wondered if it might be easier than the bus/monorail thing. If so what order would you visit them in? We hated to pay parking at the MK just to visit the resorts and we are not staying on a Disney property but have rented a house for the whole family.

  23. We want to come to Disney World the 2nd weekend in Dec. We have annual passes and are members of the Disney Vacation Club. But, we can’t find any rooms in any of the DVC resorts for 3 nights! It is so disappointing to spend so much money on points and then can’t even make reservations!

  24. didi says:

    Can we drive between the resorts or is parking limited to registered guests?

  25. jessica says:

    How early so the hotels decorate. I’m planning to go first full week in november to catch the christmas party as well.

  26. Pam says:

    Fun tour, we have a day to do just this!!
    Question – do we have to use a park ticket to get on the Magic Kingdom monorail to go to the Contemporary Resort?
    thanks for your help :)

  27. Jessica says:

    Wow! Thank you SO much for posting this! Can’t tell you how much appreciated it is. This is exactly what we will be doing on Christmas day :) How long would you say this tour is from start to finish?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Depends upon how long you linger, and whether you hit the remote locations like Animal Kingdom Lodge. I could see it taking as few as 3 hours or as many as 7.

  28. Larry says:

    Tom, Parents we visiting us here in Central Florida. Like you, we’ve had on/off years of getting Annual Passes. We were looking for something Disney-Holiday related that didn’t include buying park tickets. Touring the Disney Hotels fit that (cheap) bill. We parked at Downtown Disney then mixed up adventure with bus, boat and monorail rides to the key Disney Resorts. Can I please add, the Disney Hotel Staff at each resort were all very friendly and I’m pretty sure they knew we were not staying at the resorts. They even had complementary lemonade and cookies at each stop. We nice, reasonably priced, lunch at Kona Café in Polynesia. Still few days left before decoration come down, hope to make it back to see Animal Kingdom Lodge, which we missed. I also want to try going later at night to see if resorts have any Christmas lights.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Glad to hear that you had a good time. Hope you had a chance to get back to Animal Kingdom Lodge–it looks great this time of year (and any time, really)!

  29. Olivia says:

    A great way to view some of the long-term guests’ displays at Fort Wilderness is to take a Holiday Sleigh ride that they offer! My fiance surprised me with this on our most recent trip in December 2013. We had never been to Fort Wilderness, so the whole experience was mind blowing! The displays were wonderful and very extravagant! I would recommend this for anyone to do at least once (unless you like riding in your car, but I can’t imagine it feeling the same).

    • Olivia says:

      And thank you for the great tips! We plan on going to WDW for our Honeymoon/Disneymoon this December and this sounds like a great way to slow down and relax while still enjoying the magic of Disney!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great tip about the sleigh ride. Thanks for the feedback on that!

  30. KREGG says:

    going next Chrismas looking forword to the tour next year!

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  32. Ann says:

    This is perfect! My husband and I aren’t doing a park day on arrival, and this will be a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. Thank you so much for the plan!

  33. Carol says:

    Hi could you tell me if they do anything for Easter as we are over from UK for Easter 2015 we have done Christmas last few times but going earlier in the year next year

  34. Kelly says:

    So excited to do WDW this December. Can you tell me if The Contemporary had the cool monorail Christmas tree last year. For us, this is worth a stop as my kids, well us parents also :), love the monorail. Also, we dined at CalifornianGrill two yrs ago and kids loved it. Not in our plans this time, but I am wondering if there any place to get the stunning view without dining in CG?
    Thanks for getting me even more pumped with your awesome photos!

    • Barbara says:

      We took grandparents, parents, college-age kids down to elementary age kids on a tree hunting hotel hopping experience to see all of the gingerbread houses and Christmas trees/decorations last year. It was a blast. The engineering/science buffs loved the tree at the contemporary and in general that building is a hit. If you tell them you are parking at any of the hotels and say you are dining there parking is usually free. We started earlier than our reservations so we didn’t actually park at the first place we dined.the monorail gets you to all of the primary facilities and we have kids who always want to go to animal kingdom lodge at feeding time to see the animals. Taking the bus was the easiest since we were a large family in many cars.

      The evening we always want to land at the Polynesian by the pool where they have a movie and you can see the fireworks and watch the lighted water float parade. If some of the group gets too tired and needs to rest they can lounge by the pool at the a Animal kingdom lodge and there are usually some great views of the “frozen” fireworks display. If it is cold go get a hot chocolate at the bar or if it is warm the cold lemonade is refreshing. Depending on where you pick for your meals this can be an inexpensive + relaxing fun totally Disney day that all age levels can participate and enjoy!

  35. Klyn says:

    Hi – I am so interested in doing this.

    I am wondering though if you don’t stay in a disney resort, are you allowed to ride the monorail???? Does anyone know??

  36. Frankie says:

    We are actually driving to Disney. We were wondering about the feasibility of driving from one resort to the other after we were checked out of our resort. Would this be doable, anyone know?

    • chowda says:

      I live in south florida and go up about twice a month, driving from resort to resort is definitely doable. You will want to do the three monorail hotels while being parked at just one, and then just make sure you have your driving gameplan set, I normally drive around the resorts as well, and it will be a breeze for you. When you get to each gate just tell them you are grabbing a bite to eat.

  37. Frankie says:

    see above, or could we ride transportation without going into the park?

  38. Frankie says:

    answered my own question with Google and Disney help!

  39. Keri says:

    Do you know when the resorts are decorated for Christmas? We are hoping to get to do this tour when we are there in early November. We will be attending the MVMCP.

    Thanks for sharing this with us all!

  40. Nathalie says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I’m going this weekend and will definitely try it your way.

  41. Cari says:

    I wanted to take my family on this tour and can’t wait for the adventure of your tour! My only problem is that we were not going to be staying at a Disney resort (we live local). What do you recommend for parking and riding. I don’t mind paying to park, but of course FREE is always nice. :)


  42. Susan says:

    If you are staying at the Beach Club Resort and Epcot has closed for the night, are you able to take the monorail from MK to the Epcot entrance and walk to the Beach Club?

  43. Lisa Light says:

    Thank you so much for this! Please have one for 2015 or repost!😄

  44. Kathy says:

    Hey Tom!

    I’m new to this site and LOVE it! Great tips and info…thank you!

    I’m researching a trip for December 2015 and was wondering what your thoughts were on the sleigh ride @ the Fort Wilderness Resort. Is it worth it and if so, what time of the day? I was thinking possibly around dusk to see the lights, but to be able to see the decorations as well. Your thoughts??

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We have not done that yet, but it sounds pretty awesome. Something I’d like to do in the future if time and budget allow. I would definitely do it at dusk or night if I were to do it.

  45. Aimee says:

    Hi! How long does it take to do your tour? Wondering if we can get most of it done in a morning so we can nap before MVMCP. Thanks!

  46. jimmy says:

    Great! Planning a trip and was just wondering if we are going to the Christmas party at get in at 4 to magic kingdom, we’ll probably do this exact plan. Any recommendations for breakfast/lunch along this plan?


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