Our “Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World Resorts” offers a Christmas itinerary for experiencing holiday highlights without using a park ticket. That’s right, this is a free way to enjoy Christmas at Walt Disney World! (Updated November 3, 2021.)
This post is a step-by-step tour you can do on your own that will take you through the hotels that are best-decorated for Christmas over the course of around a half-day or longer. Entertainment at Walt Disney World for free? It might sound too good to be true, but it’s for real!
Unfortunately, there are some modifications to this Walt Disney World Self-Guided Yuletide Tour for 2021–but thankfully, not as many as last year. We’ll cover all of the details and what you need to know here. The good news is that this tour is still very much doable for Christmas 2021!
Let’s start with the good news. Every major resort has reopened and will be putting up its decorations for Christmas 2021. This means that you can once again see Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, among other resorts. Construction has finished at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, so that one should also be back to normal.
Additionally, most of the resorts are once again doing their edible gingerbread displays this year. That means some of the stops below, like Beach Club and BoardWalk Inn, are once again relevant to this itinerary and should not be skipped. Unfortunately, there’s still one exception: Disney’s Contemporary Resort. That won’t be putting up its gingerbread display, and should be skipped as a result. Otherwise, it’s back to business as usual!
Another thing to know is that Walt Disney World resorts are not allowing visitors arriving by car without Advance Dining Reservations or Mobile Order pick-up. This actually is not really a new rule; Walt Disney World has tightened up its parking policies over the last couple of years and this is really just unofficial practice becoming official policy.
However, this only applies to guests arriving by car. If you’re traveling by bus, monorail, boat, Skyliner, or walking, there are no limitations on resort hopping. Our Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World Resorts assumes the use of Disney transportation, so this is a total non-issue for this itinerary.
For those who have multiple days outside the parks and want a longer experience, we also have a 2-Day Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World. In addition to the aforementioned locations, that will take you to Disney Springs and a few other spots outside the theme parks. As with this tour, all stops can be visited free of charge.
We’d actually recommend that tour over this one. It’s more manageable, has easier-to-follow navigation steps, and includes time at Disney Springs (which you’ll absolutely want to do, anyway).
In addition to that, we also have individual posts for every single resort in the tour. This way, you can preview how each Walt Disney World hotel decorates for Christmas, and potentially put together your own itinerary of which ones you like best. Here are the top options (links open in new tabs/windows):
Grand Floridian – The most popular and crowded resort at Christmas…but for good reason.
Wilderness Lodge– The absolute best place at Walt Disney World during the holidays. Worth a separate visit apart from this itinerary late at night to see the resort at its festive best!
Contemporary Resort– A futuristic holiday of lattes? (Note: no gingerbread display for Christmas 2021.)
Beach Club – The inspiration for one of our (future) Christmas trees.
BoardWalk Inn – Not one of the ‘elite’ Christmas resorts…but it’s improving.
Animal Kingdom Lodge– A non-traditional Christmas for many visitors, but a beautiful one, nonetheless.
Gran Destino Tower– Walt Disney World’s newest resort got into the holiday spirit this year!
For those interested in following our strategy and taking your own free self-guided Christmas tour of the resorts at Walt Disney World, here’s our plan, which assumes you’re starting out at the Magic Kingdom (take a bus from your home resort to get there).
Walk to Disney’s Contemporary Resort – There’s a pathway leading from the Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Contemporary Resort that takes about 5-10 minutes to walk. Alternatively, you can take the monorail, but it will take longer.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort features a large “icon” tree outside (one of nine ‘giant’ trees on property–4 of which are located at the resorts), and smaller trees in the lobby. The icon tree is perhaps one of the oldest trees at Walt Disney World, and has an interesting retro-futuristic style that still manages to work.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Contemporary Resort to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – Expect to spend some time at the Grand Floridian. Depending upon your favorite “version” of Christmas (do you prefer the cozy charm of a rustic Northern Christmas or the elegance of a fancy Victorian Christmas?) the decorations at the Grand Floridian just might be your favorite on property.
The highlight at Grand Floridian is the life-sized gingerbread house. The gingerbread house is composed of staggering amounts of real ingredients, and takes months to prepare. Explore the first couple of floors and the lobby, as beautiful flowers and other smaller decorations grace the resort. One thing you certainly won’t overlook is the massive Christmas tree on display in the lobby, the second of nine giant Christmas trees on property.
Walk from the Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom, take the Boat to Wilderness Lodge – With the new Grand Floridian walkway now open, this becomes much easier. Still, it’s a bit of work getting to Wilderness Lodge, but it’s sooo worth it. Grand Floridian at Christmas is cool, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Wilderness Lodge.
Probably because, as a Michigander, I prefer Christmas to have a cozy rustic charm rather than Victorian elegance and splendor. From the beautiful giant Christmas tree in the lobby (3 of 9) to the use of pine-cones and antlers in all of its decorating, Wilderness Lodge’s Christmas offerings feel like they were designed by woodland critters.
The background music played at Wilderness Lodge is incredibly relaxing, and you might find yourself inadvertently taking a nap if you stumble upon one of the hidden nooks upstairs with fireplaces and relaxing rocking chairs.
While you’re at Wilderness Lodge, make sure you walk over to the Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, too. The tree isn’t as grand, but there are a number of cool decorations there, too, and who can pass up the chance to spend some time in the Carolwood Pacific Room?!
Boat Back to Magic Kingdom, then to Fort Wilderness – If you’re really ambitious, you can also take a boat over to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Walt Disney World has some thematically-fitting decorations here that are worth seeing, but that’s not the main draw.
Rather, the real star of the show is the displays put up by long-terms guests on the campground loop. Before you dismiss this, thinking that you don’t want to see amateur decorations, give it some more thought. Some of these decorations are seriously good.