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.
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.)
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–so long as you’re doing this on or after December 16, 2019, which is when this new resort debuts. Disney’s Riviera Resort promises to celebrate the grandeur of Europe–what’s unclear is whether it’ll celebrate the grandeur of Christmas in year one. (We think it’s about 50/50.)
If you do happen to visit in the 10 days the new resort is open before Christmas, we’d recommend checking it out regardless. Even if it’s in vanilla mode, at least it’ll still have that ‘new hotel’ smell. It should be cool to visit and experience–plus, the lobby cafe will almost certainly have some Parisian holiday treats!
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.