Whether you’re trying to determine which hotel at Walt Disney World is the best option for your Christmas stay or just wonder which ones have the best holiday decor, this post is for you. (Plus, we heard in our recent feedback request that a lot of you like listicles…)
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…
10. Disney’s Pop Century Resort
This one is included on the list only to have representation from each tier of resort hotels at Walt Disney World. In our estimation, Pop Century is not actually better than Coronado Springs, Port Orleans Riverside, or Old Key West.
Pop Century’s decorations are mostly found in its lobby, where there is a retro-inspired style, and decorations that might’ve graced houses in the 1950s. There’s also a fun Christmas background music loop. Two more variables that potentially give Pop Century 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 Pop Century for a Christmas trip, but if you’re doing a Value Resort anyway, Pop Century is the best choice. This is especially true once you consider its transportation, and (typical) lack of Pop Warner crowds.
9. Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Given its pricing, it’s a bit 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. Equally disappointing is that the Poly 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 this year. 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.
8. Disney’s 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 Frozen-meets-Mary-Blair 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 Holiday Wishes (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. Disney’s 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. This year, it was replaced by a smaller village of gingerbread houses (like the Poly used to have) scattered amongst a veritable forest of trees. Even though it was smaller scale, the display this year was better than the last few years, when it felt like a Food & Wine booth with some gingerbread shingles glued to it.
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.
6. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
After staying here a few times in the last couple of years, we have a newfound appreciation for Port Orleans French Quarter (in fact, we should probably write a full post about that…). 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.
5. Disney’s 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.
4. Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts
While these are distinct 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. 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. (For what it’s worth, Fort Wilderness is Sarah’s #1 pick.) Convenience to both Magic Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge give Fort Wilderness a slight boost, too.
2. Disney’s 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 orchestra, 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
As we stated in our review, Wilderness Lodge is 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, and if you have the financial means, we highly recommend one of those. The style of one of those two will appeal to the vast majority of guests. 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. What do you think…are our rankings accurate?