Free Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Disney World at Christmas
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 11, 2022.)
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!
There are still minor modifications to this Walt Disney World Self-Guided Yuletide Tour for 2022. Thankfully, they’re few and far between. Almost everything is back to normal, and only minor transportation changes and a couple of cutbacks still linger. We’ll cover all of the details and what you need to know here. The good news is that this tour is entirely doable for Christmas 2022!
With one major exception, every hotel is doing its edible gingerbread display this year. On top of that, one that previously didn’t do a display has been added to the lineup, so there are the same number of displays as three years ago. For more info and timeframes, see Gingerbread Displays at Walt Disney World for Christmas 2022: Dates & Details.
In any case, the previously optional stop that you won’t want to miss this year is Animal Kingdom Lodge. This Christmas, the lobby gingerbread display will feature a Life-sized Baby Gingerbread Giraffe and Baby Zebra.
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?
- Beach Club – The inspiration for one of our (future) Christmas trees.
- Yacht Club – An underrated holiday-time gem!
- 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.
Depending upon when you arrive at the Contemporary, we also recommend doing lunch here at Contempo Cafe. They often have excellent Christmas cupcakes and other desserts, and it’s one of our favorite counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
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.
While you’re at Fort Wilderness, consider doing the Biggest & Best Value Feast at Walt Disney World. Not only is this a fantastic meal, but it’s a bargain by Disney standards at ~$10 per person.
This is definitely the highlight of the resort tour for me, and something you definitely should not skip just because it requires an extra boat trip!
Do people who are not staying on the Disney property have access to the monorail, bus and boats? I could use parking ideas. How do you make a dining reservation?
Will the hotels let us in if we are dropped on by Uber or Lyft? Obviously they would not be parking.
They may ask if you’re staying on that property. Like what was mentioned Dining reseevations or mobile order pick up will get you in. You better have a dining reservation b/c they will check!
you can park at disney springs and catch a bus to most of the resorts
Does anyone know if the hotel bars are open? We like to have a festive drink at some of the reosrts
This was alot of fun for me! Spent all day riding the Disney transportation system! From Skyliner to Monorail to the boats and buses!
I will be staying on property 2021 and dinning on property. Just wondering in a normal Christmas year, if all I wanted to do was to see all the decorations at Disney World parks and resorts, doing no rides. How many days should I figure on staying?
Where do we find the Christmas guide?
Is there an updated FREE Christmas tour for 2020? Going for first Christmas wDW trip Dec 1-11!!! This is a bucket list tour and plan on doing this tour Thank you.
We did the “tour” last year at night and had a drink at one of the bars at the resorts.
Will this be possible this year 2020- will bars be open
We decided to do the resort tour yesterday. If you are planning to eat dinner at one of the resort restaurants, you will need a reservation. Due to high crowds, we had to eat at the bar area because the restaurants were only seating people with reservations. Luckily, we were able to find a seat at the bar, but even the bars were busy.
Where is the best place or way to park for free or cheap if you don’t have an annual pass for the free tour?
We parked at Disney Springs around 8:30, and checked it out *with no crowds at all* until the buses started running – I think it was about 9:30-10:00. Most stores weren’t open, but some were. The buses don’t run to the parks from the Springs until later, but they do go to the resorts, which worked perfect for us as we started at the Contemporary. We had a GREAT time following this Yuletide tour! We spent about 12 hours and 17.000 steps, and still didn’t see everything. It was great!
We are a group of 5 ladies visiting the Parks for an early Christmas “girls trip”. We plan to do the 1 day Yuletide tour on Tuesday the 10th. We are staying off site and will have a car. Just wondering if our modified 1 day plan would work.
Drive to Disney Springs bus to Poly, or Grand Floridian. Tour the 3 Monorail Hotels. Boat from Contemporary to Wilderness. Tour Wilderness. Bus from Wilderness to Hollywood Studios. Boat to Swan/Dolphin. Tour Swan/Dolphin, Yacht/Beach Club, Boardwalk. Bus back to Disney Springs. Tour Disney Springs. Questions? Will buses be running to the hotels from Disney Springs in the morning say about 9:30am? Where would you suggest we stop for lunch along our tour along the Boardwalk area? Thanks in advance for any advice, ideas, opinions or suggestions. All are welcomed and appreciated.
When at the Boardwalk, it’s worth the time to hop over to the Swan and Dolphin as well, especially at night. The Dolphin has lights synced to music after dark. The Swan has some amazing chocolate sculptures.
Just want to emphasize how amazing Fort Wilderness campground is at Christmas! Dec. 3-18 will be our 3rd year there in our RV and every year we’ve added a little more to our site holiday decorations! We don’t use the typical blow-up decorations and have created many of the pieces ourselves. (So much fun being retired!!) We love hearing the clip-clop of the horse-drawn carriages coming through our loop and the boat whistle from the dock. We rent a golf cart (off-site vendor) and love touring the other loops. We hope to see you there – hopefully in loop 400!!
Jo Ann I am so excited to come see them right after Thanksgiving! Can you give the best advice to those of us who are not staying on property but want to come see them? What’s the best way to get on property and then get down to where the decorations are?? If we rent a golf cart, where do we do that from if it’s after dark? Thank you so much!
One small edit – previously, you used to be able to walk from Wilderness Lodge over to Ft. Wilderness, however, with the new hotel construction, you can only travel between the two by boat or bus. Hope this path closing is only temporary!
Such beautiful images – you really capture the feeling of Christmas at the Resorts!
Will you be updating this for 2019? My husband and I are taking a kid-free vacation this December and we will be going to Universal Studios, but I’m thinking of hopping over to Disney just to see some decorations without spending any money (we plan to do Disney with the kids in a couple of years maybe). Maybe even watch the fireworks from the Polynesian (I have heard you can do this, anyway. Correct me if I’m wrong!).