Best Disney Vacation Club Resorts at Christmas
The Christmas season is the most popular time for Disney Vacation Club members to visit Walt Disney World. With all of the hotels and parks decked out for the holidays, this should come as no surprise.
It’s certainly our favorite time to visit, which is probably clear to anyone who has read our “Ultimate” Christmas Guide to Walt Disney World. There’s just so much to do and so many beautiful lights and decorations to see. (Not to get sidetracked from the point of this article; I just love Christmas at Walt Disney World!)
Here we’ll take a look at the best Disney Vacation Club resorts during the Christmas season. We’ll also include some detail as to why each of the resorts is appealing, so you can look beyond our numbers and determine which resort hotels might be best for your Christmas trip to Walt Disney World.
There really is no ‘one-size fits all’ recommendation, and it’s important to remember that even if you find the perfect Disney Vacation Club resort for your Christmas vacation, the demand at Christmas may make it difficult to book numbers one through four at the 7 month window. (If you’re primarily doing Christmas trips and one of these hotels really appeals to you, you might want to keep that in mind when choosing a home resort if you haven’t already bought into Disney Vacation Club.)
Let’s take a look at the Top 5 Disney Vacation Club Resorts at Christmas!
5. Disney’s Old Key West Resort
If you scroll down the list, you’ll notice that the Beach Club Villas didn’t make the list, but Old Key West did. Either my judgment is suspect or I forgot about Beach Club, the #1 resort in my “normal” Disney Vacation Club resort rankings, right? In actuality, I do think Beach Club is better than Old Key West Resort at Christmas. The Christmas season would be my last choice for the time of year to stay at the Beach Club Villas since it might be too cold to swim in Storm-Along Bay, but that’s not why Old Key West is #5.
Instead, it’s more for practical purposes. Along with Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, the Christmas season is one of the busiest times of year for Disney Vacation Club bookings. If your home resort isn’t listed in numbers 1-4, there’s a good chance you’re going to be choosing between Old Key West and Saratoga Springs when the 7 month window opens. For the majority of you who find yourself faced with that dilemma, I thought it would be helpful to share why I think Old Key West is the choice to make.
Saratoga Springs at Christmas, to me, feels sort of like an afterthought. I already lamented the general theming of the resort in our Saratoga Springs Review, and the Christmas decorations there seem like more of the same. It’s a lot of poinsettias, but not much else. Old Key West’s theming isn’t exactly suited to Christmas decorations, but they make lemonade out of lemons and roll with a very pretty overlay. Think Christmas Island by Jimmy Buffett. It’s basically the exact opposite of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas, but it’s still well done, and it still works. In fact, if you’re vacationing to Florida to get away from those intense Northern winters, this theme that combines the tropical spirit with Christmas may be perfect. On top of that, Old Key West is a great choice for those holiday family gatherings, as the rooms are generally larger and can accommodate more members of your family when ‘hanging out.’ (Which, I suppose, may or may not be a good thing.)
4. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas
In terms of Christmas decorations, Animal Kingdom Lodge is essentially the African version of Wilderness Lodge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since, as you will read below, Wilderness Lodge is decorated spectacularly for Christmas. In both cases, the best decorations are in the main lodge building rather than the Villas, and both have a huge tree as the main draw with tons of detailed little decorations that really take the decor to the next level. The details and design of the decorations at Animal Kingdom Lodge might even surpass Wilderness Lodge. Arguably, the prettiest Christmas tree is also at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Given that, it might seem odd that the Villas at Wilderness Lodge occupies the #1 slot and the Animal Kingdom Villas are #4 instead of #2. It’s all about ambiance. At Christmas, Wilderness Lodge’s decorations feel like an organic part of the Lodge’s experience. Almost as if they always belong there. While beautiful, I can’t say I feel the same way about Animal Kingdom Lodge’s decorations. The mood of the resort remains the same, just with Christmas decorations added to the mix. Perhaps this is all in my head, as both hotels follow the same formula, but I think the end result at Wilderness Lodge is better.
3. Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
The decorations at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn (and Villas) seem to be ever-evolving, with differences from year to year. The consistent thing is the centerpiece, which is a life-size edible display. It has been a carousel and a stationary “fireplace” in recent years. The whole lobby is thoroughly decorated, with gorgeous vintage-inspired decorations throughout it, and a large tree in the outdoor courtyard. Even though they are lacking the several-story tall trees found at the Magic Kingdom-area resorts, the atmosphere at all of the Epcot-area resorts is great at Christmas, with beautiful decorations and cool displays.
As is the case with the next entry on this list, the BoardWalk Villas also score points for their location. Walking or boat distance to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the BoardWalk Villas are conveniently located for your visits to these parks. Thanks to the Osborne Lights and the Illuminations: Peace on Earth tag, we find ourselves at these parks during the holiday season quite often.
2. Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Comparatively speaking, Bay Lake Tower and the Contemporary don’t have a ton of decorations. Granted, there’s the Christmas tree outside of the Contemporary Resort (the tallest at Walt Disney World), cool “life-size” edible displays inside, and that huge Mickey wreath on the exterior windows that face the Magic Kingdom, but other than that, it isn’t exactly the Disney hotel that exudes the holiday spirit. On paper, it sounds a lot better than it actually is.
However, it’s not the #2 hotel based solely upon those decorations. There are two other big reasons. First, the Top of the World lounge. This normally does not make my list of the top places to view the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom because of the far right east perspective, but during Holiday Wishes and Fantasy in the Sky (the New Year’s Eve fireworks), it’s a pretty solid view because the perimeter bursts do a bit to help balance out the view. We highly recommend doing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party one night and then watching the fireworks up here (for free!) during a party night that you do not attend.
Second, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World the week before or after Christmas (the busiest weeks of the year), being within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom is an absolute game-changer. When we visited for New Year’s Eve and stayed at Bay Lake Tower, we got to the parks before they first opened at 7 am and stayed for a few hours doing numerous attractions with minimal waits, walked back to the hotel and napped for a bit, and then returned in the evening when things had started to die down and stayed until the park closed (2-3 am). We avoided the transportation gridlock and didn’t lose any time by leaving the park to nap. We got as much done as we would have during a mid-September “value season” visit. Now, not everyone is going to be able to rearrange their (or their kids’) sleep schedules to accommodate this strategy, but even if you’re only able to follow a very loose version of that plan, Bay Lake Tower is a great option for you. Add that to the decent decorations and the great view of the fireworks, and it should be easy to see why Bay Lake Tower managed the “surprise” of landing at #2.
1b. Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Since the Villas at the Grand Floridian is not yet open, you might be wondering whether this is a little premature. It’s not. Even if the only decoration Disney puts up at the Villas at the Grand Floridian is a sign that says: “Please Refrain From Christmas Cheer Here,” it will become one of the top Disney Vacation Club resorts for trips during the Christmas season. It’s doubtful such a sign will be the only decoration, but any actual decorations should be considered icing.
The reason for this is relatively simple: the Grand Floridian is right next door, and it’s arguably the most beautiful resort at Christmas, especially if you aren’t into the “rustic” look of Wilderness Lodge. Anyone who has been to Walt Disney World at Christmas knows the pros: the life-size gingerbread house and the massive Christmas tree. In my opinion, the Villas will actually be superior to staying at the regular Grand Floridian at Christmas. We’ve avoided the Grand Floridian at Christmas in the past because the main building is an absolute zoo during the holidays. It’s loud and filled with visitors, and I wouldn’t want to potentially get stuck staying in such a chaotic environment (I’m sure you can request a more remote building, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be accommodated). You are guaranteed not to be stuck in the main building if you stay at the Villas, so your room is away from the choas, but you’re still close enough that you can walk to it enjoy that wonderful ambiance. This is going to be a tough one to book year-round, but especially during the Christmas season!
1a. Wilderness Lodge
As I stated in our review of the hotel, Wilderness Lodge at Christmas is a masterpiece. 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.
These little touches are carried over to the Villas, where the lobby tree is much smaller but the decorative touches are just as nice. Roaring fireplaces and the most relaxing Christmas background music at Walt Disney World 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.
Until you’ve experienced it, it’s a bit difficult to explain, but 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” Christmas (no offense to you warm-weather state folks, but in terms of Christmas ambiance, snow and evergreens beat palm trees and sunshine…the rest of the year, you win). It reminds me of being back home where I grew up in Michigan, snowed in at a lodge. You’re probably going to spend more of your time here at the main hotel rather than the Villas building, but that’s not a problem since it’s only a 2 minute walk between them. 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.
Even if you’re unable to get your first or second choice, visiting Walt Disney World at Christmas will be a fun time. We like to go the first two weeks in December when crowds are lighter (Pop Warner football can make things a little busier, but it’s still not bad), temperatures are mild, and all of the decorations are up. If you’re not already a Disney Vacation Club member but want to stay at one of these resorts, check out our Guide to Renting Disney Vacation Club Points or if you just want to go “all in,” check out our Guide to Buying into Disney Vacation Club. If you are already a member, make sure you’re on the line with Member Services right at the 11-month window to book your home resort, and then call back first thing in the morning the day your 7-month window to try to change resorts (if your home resort isn’t where you want to stay). We’re not exaggerating the demand for Disney Vacation Club resorts at Christmas. We’ve always had to do either split stays or waitlist to get any of the top 4.
Looking for Disney trip planning tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!
Which is your favorite Disney Vacation Club at Christmas? If you haven’t stayed in any of these hotels, which would be #1 on your list for places to try? Your comments are half the fun, so if you have any thoughts on the topic, share them below!
Thank you for sharing information.
Love this article! Feb. 2019 update. I took the opportunity try for all of your recommendations! Unfortunately, I’ve just checked into renting points over the 2019 after Christmas break and it looks as though only studios at AKL and OKW are available. But, that will be okay. I’ve never been to Disney at Christmas, so am very excited to do that this year! – Siusan
Hey Tom, this article could use a few updates. Osborne Lights are mentioned in the Boardwalk section, Wishes in the BLT section, and the “future” GF villas. Cheers!
In your perpetual effort to keep things updated, 1b refers to VGF not being open
This posts reconfirms why we’re glad we bought at BLT, and we’re looking forward to staying in a 2BR MK view this December!
Dang it, I skimmed through and thought I’d updated that. Thanks! I’ll add it to my list of posts needing deeper revisions.
Your website is so horrible on a smart phone. The load times the way it scrolls the advertisements and even the layout. The menus look very strange on a smart phone and the scroll doesn’t work and sometimes the menus go on to lines. Who built this website? Goofy or dopey? For a legit blog, whoever you did your website, did a horrible job. Hope you didn’t pay too much for it
When do they begin taking everything down, both in the parks and the resorts??
Hopefully after marathon weekend??
Decorations are typically still up during Marathon Weekend.
It has been a number of years since I stayed at the Wilderness Lodge during Christmas, but I can tell you that it was amazing. The Wilderness Lodge is my only first choice for hotels. Even if someone is not staying there, I suggest that they stop by and check it out. The place is amazing. I had the pleasure of staying there right after it first opened. The special at that time was under $100 per night. I would not expect to see that happen again.
When you write about how difficult it is to get DVC reservations around Christmastime, what time frame are you referring to? Would the 1st-2nd weeks in Dec be very difficult for a DVC member wanting to book somewhere (for example The Beach Club) other than their home resort?
Does the SSR have a canal view and if so, how close is the building to it?
I’m not sure I understand the question… there are waterways all around SSR, but it doesn’t have a “canal view” class of room. Maybe I’m not understanding?
Hmmm. Is the 1st week of December that crazy with DVC rentals? I was really hoping on renting points and getting a one bdrm villa at the wilderness lodge for the first through 8th next year. I guess I’ll call David’s tomorrow and see what they say. The 11 month cutoff would be Thursday.
A quick update. Despite initial promises, David’s has not yet been able to secure my reservation. I’ve told them I’ll take either the week of 11/29-12/6 or 12/6-12-13 at BLT, VWL or AKL. They’ve assured me that I should be able to get one of these, most likely AKL and least likely BLT for the first week (which is really my first choice), but of course there are no gaurantees. We have a bigger group than we earlier anticipated so we changed to a 2 bdrm (I told them I’d take a 1 bdrm if it would be easier and they said it wouldn’t make a difference). There is plenty of availability, they just don’t have enough member points with those home resorts. I checked with DVC Rental store and it’s the same situation. I’ll update again when I have a final answer, definitely not digging the uncertainty.
Received a confirmation today that our 2 bdrm villa has been booked at VWL for the week right after Thanksgiving. Needless to say we are very relieved and super excited! I guess David’s VC signed up a new member with enough home points at VWL.
Price comes out to less than $600/night…which isn’t really bad considering it will be split 2 or 2.5 ways and can sleep 8 ppl.
Thanks for all the info on the Disney Vacation Club Tom! It’s been 20+ years since my last visit to WDW and 15+ for my wife!
We are in San Diego and always spend some time at The Grand Californian at Christmas…we book way in advance. In addition to the the awesome decor they have Christmas carolers dressed like the 1800’s, live piano & Santa in the lobby!
You forgot the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian. It is as equally deserving in my opinion of a place on your list as the Grand Californian is quite beautiful at Christmas, and quite comparable to the Wilderness Lodge and Grand Floridian.
the only place we could get to stay is Saratoga Springs. What is it like at Christmas? we have waitlisted The Grand Floridian and Animal Kingdom but there doesn’t seem much chance of moving since everything is so full. Thanks!
Can you visit the Disney Vacation Club locations even if you aren’t staying in them? My friend and I are visiting Disney World in early December, and our goal is to immerse ourselves in as many holiday decorations as possible.
Thanks for posting these photos! Is it Dec. 7 yet?
Yes, you can! Just don’t try to swim in the pool at the Beach Club. 😉
We have stayed at all of them and actually the Beach Club Villas would be #1 on my list. I was disappointed in the VWL compared to the WL main lobby. Other than the tree at the Villas I did not see much there at all. Second on my list would be AKL and Kidani, it was really nice. BWV would be 3rd. 4th would be SSR. I actually like the decorations at SSR, it was very horse themed and peppermint, which ties into Saratoga Springs, NY exactly. I think SSR is probably a misunderstood theme more than no theme at all, which is not SSR’s fault just not an area of the country I think some are familiar with.
Thanks for this posting Tom! Do you know when resort decorations go up? We’ll be down at Bay Lake Tower the second week of November, and are planning to attend MVMCP, so at least there should be that element of holiday cheer!
Keep up the great work!
Some will be up by the second week of Nov. but the resorts are not completely done property wide until right before Thanksgiving.
The decorations go up the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I know because I was woke up that morning and the whole lobby was different! It was crazy how quickly it happened overnight.
That is just what I was hoping to hear. We will be checking in on Sunday before Thanksgiving. So excited to see how beautiful the Wilderness Lodge is with the Christmas decorations. We are hoping to take our family Christmas pictures there.
Totally agree with you that the Wilderness Lodge is just perfect when it comes to Christmas decorations. The theming of the resort itself just lends itself to that Christmas theme. I said a couple of curse words under my breath while I was reading the part of not being able to get reservations during Christmas time since I am having this problem now! I had two book 2 days at Saratoga Springs and then 4 days at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was that or stay at Saratoga my whole stay and I just completely refuse!
Is it just me or did all DVC reservations for December fill up faster this? It’s been a frustrating experience booking my Food and Wine festival trip along with my Christmas trip.
Anyhow, I love AKL during Christmas. I know it doesn’t have so many decorations but I love those Christmas trees. We stay every year at AKL for Chritsmas.
It’s not just you. I tried for my home resort about 8 months out and there was nothing. then I tried for anything 7 months out and had a hard time. I had wanted to go the week after Thanksgiving but am going 2 weeks after instead. I’ll be at the Beach Club in a 1-bedroom because that was the only thing available. I even mentioned how everything was full and I found that hard to believe when I called DVC and they assured me that was the case.
Why do people not like Saratoga? We are DVC members and have stayed here. I rather enjoyed it. I will admit that a lot of it probably had to do with personal memories, it was the first time my In-laws went to Disney and we loved seeing them experience it with our children. Overall though I did not mind the property and the kids loved the pool. By no means is it my first choice in a DVC resort but I would not hesitate to stay again. We are kinda stuck on Bay Lake right now though.
I don’t hate Saratoga but I have stayed there a bunch of times already and I just don’t want to stay there. I rather stay at other DVC properties, but like I said I’m having a hard time getting exactly the days and the room I want.
Marc – what would you put behind Saratoga? My opinions on Saratoga are relative. Compared to other Disney resorts, I’m unimpressed. Compared to a lot of real world hotels, it’s still great.
As for the rest of the discussion about difficulty in securing Christmas bookings…we’ve always had trouble. We’ve had to settle for single nights at VWL before because we figured we were more likely to get our waitlist on that than on an entire stay.