2-Day Self-Guided Yuletide Tour at Disney World
Over a decade ago on our first Christmas trip to Walt Disney World together, I posed a question online about doing a Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World, since the official holiday tour wasn’t being offered during our vacation. I ended up cobbling a touring plan together myself, which we ended up using and refining on several subsequent visits before we had Annual Passes.
I was so proud of the “Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World Resorts” that I made our itinerary one of this site’s early blog posts, and have updated it literally every year since. We’ve also tweaked it several times, with new ideas, alternatives, etc. It seems like it’s now less of a strict itinerary and more “Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure” kind of thing.
Faced with another update this year thanks to the debut of the Disney Skyliner, we’ve decided to go another direction, expanding the tour to two days. In so doing, we’re going to make it less free-flowing and instead make it an actual step-by-step plan of attack for experiencing the highlights of Walt Disney World’s best resorts at Christmas, along with some delicious meals and other stuff along the way…
Start the first day of this 2-Day Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World’s Resorts by making your way to the Crescent Lake Resort Area. The easiest way to do this will be via Uber, Lyft, or Minnie Van to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn.
However, it’s also possible to get here via Skyliner by taking the Epcot line to International Gateway and walking. That’s definitely the best option if you’re staying at Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, or Riviera Resort. Alternatively, a bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios followed by a Skyliner ride to Epcot will get you there (no park admission required), albeit in a convoluted route…
BoardWalk Inn – Outside Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, there’s a moderately-sized Christmas tree in the courtyard. You’ll also see a variety of shop windows decked out for the holidays. If you’re looking to start your day out with a snack, BoardWalk Bakery is your best option. (We’re hoping the Gingerbread Man Cupcake topped with molasses mousse makes a return.) Of course, you can never go wrong with Ample Hills Creamery, too!
Inside the lobby, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn has a ton of bygone-era Victorian seaside amusement park decor, with a mix of beautiful and bizarre ornaments–pay careful attention to these as there are some fun ones. BoardWalk also displays a gingerbread display. For the last couple of years, this has been a condensed version of the promenade along the water at the resort. You’ll see edible versions of BoardWalk Bakery, Flying Fish, ESPN Club, and a ton of cute details.
Swan & Dolphin – From BoardWalk Inn, continue around Crescent Lake to the Swan & Dolphin. These hotels have some pretty impressive trees, edible creations, and other decorations, too.
The Swan & Dolphin proclaim themselves “Santa’s Favorite Resort” and offer a number of special experiences and entertainment for the holiday season. (Note: a lot of this, including meet & greets, snowfall, and the dancing light display only occurs on select evenings. If you can, walking over to the Swan & Dolphin after a weekend evening at Epcot or DHS is ideal.)
Yacht Club – Walk from there to Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. Last year, we posted Yacht Club: Walt Disney World’s Underrated Christmas Resort. The title really says it all. It’s a certain style of refined and sophisticated Christmas–think holidays in the Hamptons.
The star of the Yacht Club’s Christmas display is a meticulously crafted Christmas village featuring a working train. However, all of the decorations throughout the lobby are ornate and impressive. While you’re at Yacht Club, be sure to wander over to the convention center to see the impressive Christmas tree in there.
Beach Club – Continue to Yacht Club’s sister property, the Beach Club. Here, there are edible display the resort does have, a carousel with horses, is pretty cool, but the arguably “cooler” thing is the cool aquatic decor found throughout the resort. The ornaments are gorgeous and the color palettes look really good against the color scheme of the resort.
the carousel is pretty cool, too. This hand-crafted carousel confection, features chocolate and fondant ponies, as well as hand-crafted snowflakes, a gingerbread castle, and a bunch of other details.
Riviera Resort – On the Skyliner, you’ll get off at the first stop, rather than continuing to the hub station. Disney’s Riviera Resort celebrates the grandeur of Europe, although its Christmas decorations are relatively muted and there’s no icon tree.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to hit from the Skyliner and many infrequent visitors probably still haven’t seen Walt Disney World’s newest resort. It’s worth checking out, and grabbing some French holiday treats from the lobby cafe!
Caribbean Beach – From Disney’s Riviera Resort, you’ll walk next door to the Old Port Royale area of Caribbean Beach, which is home to the resort’s dining and shopping area, pool, and lobby–all decked out for Christmas in the Caribbean.
Thanks to its recent reimagining, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort has new Christmas decorations, including a ton of tropical-inspired garland and a moderately-sized Christmas tree. It’s a chance to experience the holidays in the islands, which seems fitting for Florida.
Art of Animation & Pop Century – From Old Port Royale, walk across the bridge and head towards the Caribbean Beach Skyliner hub and catch the gondola line to Pop Century/Art of Animation. We’ll warn you right now that the final two stops are the least Christmasy of the bunch and are potentially skippable.
However, we’re including Art of Animation and Pop Century here because they’re easy stops, have some fun and thematically-appropriate Christmas decor, and–perhaps most importantly–typically each serve up some fun holiday snacks.
Option 1: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Okay, it’s going to be a little like choosing your own adventure here, but that’s only because we realize Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is incredibly pricey, especially for families who might be following this itinerary precisely because they’re on a budget and want to do free things outside the Walt Disney World theme parks.
For what it’s worth, we think Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the best holiday offering at Walt Disney World, and is a splurge we make every year. To be sure, it has gotten pricier and more crowded in recent years, but we still love it and you can have a blast if you go armed with good strategy. (See our Guide to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for that.)
Option 2: Port Orleans to Disney Springs – If you aren’t doing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you’ll want to follow the advice above and take an Uber, Lyft, or Minnie Van either from Caribbean Beach or Pop Century/Art of Animation to Port Orleans Riverside and walk from there to Port Orleans French Quarter.
Both resorts feature stylized decorations to match their themes, but French Quarter is unquestionably the better of the two. It’s garland mixes in masquerade masks and a great mix of purple, pink, silver, and golds. All the while, jazzy renditions of classic Christmas music fill the lobby, making it a perfect time to stop into Scat Cat’s Club for some free gingerbread beignets!
From there, you’ll take the Sassagoula River Cruise ferry service to Disney Springs. See the first stop on day 2 for specifics on what to do at Disney Springs during the holiday season.
Speaking of which, we’ve saved the best for last, so be sure to read page two for the second day! This is a very backloaded itinerary that features the holiday highlights of Walt Disney World’s resorts on the second day, which is covered on the next page.
When do Christmas decorations at resorts typically go up?
How soon in the season do you think we could do the Yuletide tour? We’re thinking about a trip in November before Thanksgiving, and I’d hate to do the Yuletide tour only to find that the resorts aren’t fully decorated yet. We love Christmas and want to see the resorts in their full glory, but we also hope to avoid the Christmas crowds.
I would also like to know when the resorts are decked out. We are going the second week of November and would love to see some of the decorations. A start date at the beginning of the blog would be helpful.
We’re going over on Saturday to do this! Can’t wait!!!
Great ideas, especially that holiday turkey burger!!
From when do Ft Wilderness guests usually start decorating their areas?
I’m so sad that Animal Kingdom Lodge doesn’t seem to be included! I know that it is off the beaten path, but its holiday decorations are gorgeous, and you can always take advantage of the free culinary tours while there to make it really worth the trip out!
I loved AKL at Christmas! It was just a quick long weekend getaway to catch the last year of the Festival of Lights but from our short time there, I was a totally smitten kitten: the giant tree in the lobby, the garlands, the African Holiday music, and even the small tree near Boma had moving dragonflies and butterflies on it… how do they even do that??? This was my only trip to WDW during Christmas but I hope it won’t be my last 🙂
I will be in Disney Christmas week (all adults). I do not have 2 days to complete the resort stroll. I only have 6 hours on the day I leave before my flight. Any suggestions with a lunch break?
We are planning on touring the monorail resorts then the Wilderness Lodge on our departure day. We are looking forward to lunch st Geyser Point while at Wilderness Lodge.
Heck yes!! I love Geyser Point. Excellent idea – that calm view of the water and the outdoor ambiance – sounds like heaven.
Ah, the update I’ve been waiting for! My next WDW trip is exactly 2 weeks away, and it’s a “bucket-list” trip I’m taking specifically to see the Christmas stuff.
My specific itinerary will have to be a bit different, due to ADRs I made some time ago, but I think I can adapt despite the shift to a less “Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure” plan. I’ve got 3 full days there, one with Mickey’s Party in the evening, one with the Epcot Candlelight Processional, and one with dinner at Disney Springs. So I’ll adjust the days’ plans to lead up to the right destinations.
(On my arrival evening I’ve got a reservation for Hoop-Dee-Doo, not a Christmas thing but it puts me in Fort Wilderness in the evening to see the “Fort Fiends” decorations.)