Whether you want the top hotel at Walt Disney World for your Christmas stay or are curious which have the best holiday decor, this list is for you. This ranks resorts based on how they embrace the spirit of the season via Christmas trees, garland, gingerbread displays, background music & more–everything else that enhances the ambiance and makes the holidays at these hotels special. (Updated October 16, 2022.)
As we’ve said countless times now, Christmas is our favorite time to visit (and if you haven’t, read our Ultimate Christmas Guide to Walt Disney World). We’ve visited Walt Disney World every year at Christmas for the last decade, and have stayed in nearly every hotel during the Christmas season, including all of the ones on this list. The ones we haven’t stayed at, we’ve visited.
The point is that we have some experience with all of the Walt Disney World hotels at Christmas, and we thought we’d share our favorites. While our Free Self-Guided Yuletide Tour at Walt Disney World post covers a lot of the same ground in terms of an explanation of the decor at each resort, this post balances both the beauty and the practical side of things. In other words, which resorts are best for a Christmas-time stay, not just which ones you should visit.
With that said, there really is no ‘one-size fits all’ recommendation. Some people will love the rustic charm of two of our top choices, and others will find that isn’t their cup of tea. Some people will want to be as close to Magic Kingdom as possible for its holiday offerings, and others might prefer Christmas at Animal Kingdom. This list is based on our personal preferences, so consider your own accordingly.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10+ Walt Disney World resort hotels at Christmas…
T10. Art of Animation & Pop Century Resorts – The first of two ‘sister resorts’ to make the list are Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts, which are connected thanks to Generation Gap Bridge, where the shared Skyliner station is located. That also makes it easy to access both resorts from Hollywood Studios or Epcot, should you want to do our aforementioned holiday resort tour.
Decorations at both are mostly found in its lobby. Pop Century features retro-inspired style, with items that might’ve graced houses in the 1950s. There’s also a fun Christmas background music loop. It’s a similar story at Art of Animation, albeit with character drawings and other artistic items gracing trees and displays. Two more variables that potentially provide appeal is that a lot of guests decorate their room windows (more than any other resort, in our anecdotal experience) and the Cast Members here seem to have fun with the holidays.
There are gingerbread display contests, and some fun offerings in the lobby on select nights. We certainly wouldn’t gravitate towards these two for a Christmas trip, but if your budget only allows for a Value Resort, Pop Century is a strong choice.
T10. Riviera Resort – It’s a bit of a travesty that Walt Disney World’s newest resort doesn’t rank higher during the holiday season. Part of this is simply a matter of layout. Imagineering eschewed a grand lobby for a more intimate space when designing the property. As such, there’s simply no room for an oversized icon Christmas tree. Given the cramped conditions, there really isn’t room for a life-sized edible gingerbread display, either.
However, there was ample opportunity for the holiday services team to lean into its supposed theme with charming old world ornaments and other uniquely European decor. Instead, everything is relatively nondescript and feels like a missed opportunity. It’s what you could find in any normal modern hotel in America, which feels about par for the course with Disney’s Riviera Resort.
T10. Disney’s Polynesian Resort – Speaking of squandered potential, it’s equally disappointing that the Poly doesn’t do more for Christmas. The decorations in the lobby and through some of the longhouse halls are absolutely beautiful, with flowers, warm colors, and other visual motifs representative of the fusion of the tropic and Christmas. It’s just too bad the resort’s decor package is half-hearted as compared to the top Deluxes on this list. The Polynesian also no longer does the gingerbread village that used to be found outside the monorail station.
Especially disappointing is the Polynesian’s lack of a tall, “icon” Christmas tree. Following the removal of the water feature in the lobby, there’s now enough room here for a jaw-dropping tree as the centerpiece. Yet, nothing. Instead, the resort upgraded from a small Christmas tree to a moderate sized one. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. If this resort were decorated to its full potential, it’d easily be in the top 5, especially when you consider its ease of access for both Magic Kingdom and Epcot during the holiday season.
9. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter – One of the underrated thematic gems of Walt Disney World is Port Orleans French Quarter, which is increasingly overlooked because it doesn’t have novel transportation or a fancy new tower. This is especially true at Christmas, when the resort has an added vibrance and warmth, conveyed by a slate of Mardi Gras-infused Christmas decorations.
While this decor is not nearly as ambitious as New Orleans Square at Disneyland (a crazy comparison since it’s a moderate resort, not an in-park land), the scaled-back Christmas decor package accomplishes much of the same vibe quite nicely. You can also take a romantic stroll along the Sassagoula River (or carriage ride!) to check out the more bucolic decorations of Port Orleans Riverside. They’re almost as pretty, and worth seeing if you’re staying at French Quarter. Convenience to Disney Springs, which continues to improve its holiday offerings, also scores French Quarter points.
8. Contemporary Resort – The Contemporary has the tallest at Walt Disney World and a cool “life-size” edible displays inside, so if you’re approaching this checklist style, it should rank near the top. However, the tree is outside (and looks like it’s from the 1970s…but still has a certain charm to it) and the Mary Blair-inspired edible display is lacking as compared to other resorts.
Moreover, the random decorations throughout the resort are fairly underwhelming, all of which makes for a hotel that doesn’t exactly exude the holiday spirit. It does score points for a couple of reasons if you’re planning a Christmas stay, though: walking proximity to Magic Kingdom (the most Christmas-y park at Walt Disney World) and a good location for viewing the special fireworks during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on nights you’re not going to the party. This is especially true if you stay in Bay Lake Tower or otherwise have access to the Top of the World Lounge.
7. Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs – Unlike its contemporaneous counterpart, Gran Destino Tower has underpromised and overdelivered on the thematic front. That also extends to Christmas! In addition to the tried and true Christmas decorations that adorn Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and its convention center, a new overlay and lighting scheme has been introduced at Gran Destino.
One unique thing that Gran Destino Tower does is transform much of its lobby with the flick of switch (or, more likely, computer) via programmable lighting that turns much of the lobby red and green without a single decoration being installed. While it’s missing a gingerbread display, it has just about everything else, including a Christmas tree that is almost icon size. Moreover, the garland and adorning ornaments are all on-theme for the resort, and the Christmas-time ambiance is enveloping. The lobby feels like a great place to decompress during the holidays after a long day in one of the parks.
6. BoardWalk Inn – The decorations at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn seem to change every year. There used to be a life-size edible display, which was a carousel for several years, then a stationary fireplace, then a gingerbread house serving treats. More recently, it has featured a smaller village of gingerbread houses.
Beyond the centerpiece, the whole lobby is thoroughly decorated, with gorgeous vintage-inspired decorations throughout it that include a bunch of seaside and amusement park puns. There’s also a moderately-sized tree in the outdoor courtyard. Even though they are lacking the icon tree and flash of other centerpiece displays, BoardWalk Inn is an excellent resort at Christmas, and the whole here is really more than the sum of its parts. It’s easy to underestimate BoardWalk at Christmas, but the vibe is great.
5. Fort Wilderness Campground – Aside from lights around Pioneer Hall and some trees decorated here and there, Disney doesn’t do a ton for Christmas at Fort Wilderness. So why, then, does it rank so highly? The guests.
Fort Wilderness at Christmas is basically what you get after showing a bunch of parties with RVs the Osborne Lights and saying “do your best to match that!” The campers and ‘Fort Fiends’ who often spend the entire season (or a couple of weeks) wintering in Walt Disney World really go all out, and these homemade displays ooze character (and in many cases, characters like Mickey Mouse) and have a tremendous amount of charm.
We also find the natural, rustic and secluded atmosphere of Fort Wilderness to be the perfect vibe for Christmas, giving it some bonus points there. Convenience to both Magic Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge give Fort Wilderness a slight boost, too.
4. Yacht & Beach Club Resorts – While these are separate sister resorts with distinct personality at Christmas, it’s easy to lump them together since they’re basically one big resort. However, they contrasting styles between the two are quite stark. In Beach Club, you have cool, pastel-colored decorations featuring aquatic life. In Yacht Club, the style is more masculine, with darker colors and boats adorning the trees. Each is beautiful, but the point is that they don’t share a common style.
In addition to the decorations, each has an iconic draw for Christmas. Yacht Club has a giant, meticulously-crafted village through which a train runs. You could spend hours poring over the details here and still not spot the myriad hidden Mickeys, Disney references, and other Easter eggs. Then there’s the ‘edible’ carousel at Beach Club, which is always quite elaborate and a neat centerpiece. As neither resort has an ‘icon’ Christmas tree, they’re often overlooked at Christmas, but we feel the decorations here are among the most elaborate of any Walt Disney World hotel.
3. Animal Kingdom Lodge – In some ways, Animal Kingdom Lodge is the African counterpart of Wilderness Lodge. That’s a super-simplistic reduction of both resorts, but there are some undeniable parallels. Most of the year, I’d say Animal Kingdom Lodge has the edge in almost every regard. Not so at Christmas. While Wilderness Lodge captures the ambiance of Christmas perfectly, Animal Kingdom Lodge doesn’t feel transportive. It is “just” a hotel decorated for Christmas.
Still, it’s a beautiful hotel that is decorated really, really well. The huge icon tree is the centerpiece of Christmas at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and this beautifully-decorated tree is arguably the best in all of Walt Disney World. It’s easily better than the trees in each of the parks, and rivals those at Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian as best overall.
The details and design of the decorations at Animal Kingdom Lodge are also really clever, and abundant. The only thing that separates the two lodges is the “feel” of the decor, and while that’s subjective, Wilderness Lodge’s Christmas decorations feel like an organic part of the experience to me. Animal Kingdom Lodge also loses points for convenience, as it’s only truly convenient to Animal Kingdom, which is the least Christmas-y park at Walt Disney World.
2. Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – If you’re looking for an classic Victorian Christmas, you cannot go wrong with the Grand Floridian at Christmas. It is unquestionably the most elegant resort at Christmas, and if you don’t pine for the rustic look of Wilderness Lodge, the Grand Floridian might be your top choice.
Anyone who has been to Walt Disney World at Christmas knows the draw of Grand Floridian at Christmas: the life-size gingerbread house and the massive Christmas tree, adorned with beautiful decorations. Beyond that, you have lavish decor all around the resort–it feels like an incredibly upscale take on Christmas.
While the lobby is incredibly chaotic during the day with visitors coming to see what is unquestionably the biggest draw for tourists at Christmas, I really enjoy sitting in here late at night, listening to the music, and watching guests pass. (If I were booking a stay here during the Christmas season, I’d avoid the main building due to the crowds.)
1. Wilderness Lodge – The undisputed MVP of Christmas at Walt Disney World. Of course, there’s the 60-foot tree that is gorgeously decorated in the hotel’s lobby. However, the true charm of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas is its rustic ambiance, tranquil feel, and abundant smaller decorations adorning various parts of the hotel.
Roaring fireplaces and a Christmas background music so tranquil that I sometimes put it on at home to put me to sleep round out the holiday offerings, and if you sit down on one of the comfy chairs near one of these fireplaces, don’t be surprised if that relaxing background music and the crackle of the fire puts you right to sleep.
As you might imagine from my evocative language above, this is the one resort-hotel that is truly transportive at Christmas. After spending a few minutes next to the fireplace, you’ll forget you’re in balmy central Florida. It feels more like you’re in a setting that could be home to a “real” northern, woodsy Christmas.
Even when it’s 90º outside, I can sit in that lobby and imagine being back home where I grew up in Michigan, sitting by the fireplace with snow falling outside. As an added bonus, Fort Wilderness is a peaceful walk or boat ride away, and the decorations there that the RV owners put up are seriously fun.
There you have our top choices for Walt Disney World resorts at Christmas. The top two probably come as no surprise, but they’re far from the only excellent options for places to stay during the holiday season. Really, anything on this list is great at infusing seasonal spirit into your trip. If you have the financial means, we highly recommend one of those.
With that said, every resort at Walt Disney World gets decked out for Christmas to varying degrees. The other choices are no slouches, and there are definitely some good options for budget-conscious travelers or Walt Disney World veterans who want to try something new. No matter where you stay, the Christmas ambiance at Walt Disney World is infectious, and you’ll find plenty to keep you in the holiday spirit during your time in the parks.
Do you have a favorite hotel during the holiday season at Walt Disney World? Thoughts on any of the hotels on our list if you’ve stayed at them during Christmas-time? Considering one of these or a different off-site hotel? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!