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 December 4, 2020.)
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 2020. During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, not all resorts are operating. Additionally, health safety protocol and rule modifications mean things are a bit different. 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 2020!
Let’s start with the bad news. Currently, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside & French Quarter Resorts are both closed (among other hotels, but those are the only two that matter for the purposes of this tour) and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort should be skipped since it’s a veritable construction zone.
Additionally, none of the resorts are doing their edible gingerbread displays this year. That means some of the stops below, like Beach Club and BoardWalk Inn, really don’t have much for Christmas and potentially should be skipped entirely. (For the sake of those daydreaming or getting a jumpstart planning Christmas 2021 trips, we aren’t removing the gingerbread details below.)
Another thing to know is that no Walt Disney World resorts are currently 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.
Finally, there are last year’s updates that came via the new Disney Skyliner gondola system, plus the debut of Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs and Disney’s Riviera Resort. Both are arguably worth checking out during the holiday season.
However, the full tour now is so long you can’t possibly finish it all in a single day. As such, we have a new 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!
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. It looks much more impressive at night, so if you have a chance to check it out after Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you might want to do that.
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.
Normally, 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. As a reminder, the gingerbread houses are not being displayed for Christmas 2020. Expect them to return next year.
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!
Continue reading about the Epcot Resorts at Christmas on Page 2