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 8, 2019.)
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!
We pioneered this Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World back when we didn’t have Annual Passes and pinched pennies by purchasing discount Walt Disney World park tickets that we used sparingly. To save a day on our tickets, we did this on the morning of the day we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, finishing right when we could enter Magic Kingdom for the special event…
For Christmas 2019, we’ve refreshed the Free Self-Guided Yuletide Tour once again. Thanks to the new Disney Skyliner gondola system, plus the debut and Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs and a surprising addition to Wilderness Lodge, we have even more yuletide fun for our Christmas tour this year!
However, the full tour now is so long you can’t possibly finish it all in a single day, let alone 5 hours. 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 gingerbread castles and 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.
This one is a relatively new addition, and it’s Cinderella meets Mary Blair, the artist behind the mural in the Grand Canyon Concourse and style of ‘it’s a small world’. It’s a pretty neat display, with Cinderella Castle being the highlight.
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.
In addition to this impressive Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread creation, there is 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 Polynesian Village Resort – Unfortunately, the Poly doesn’t do a ton compared to the flagship monorail resort. Maybe that’s because Christmas is representative of cold winters at the North Pole, and the Polynesian is representative of…well…the exact opposite of that.
The Polynesian lacks an “icon” Christmas tree and a large edible display, but the decorations it does have are gorgeous. These typically include lavish smaller trees with excellent tropical color schemes. We always make sure to stop at the Polynesian on our tours, but that’s partly because we love the Poly, in general.
We expect more at the Poly next year, but aren’t holding our breath. Regardless, it’s an easy stop on the monorail loop, so we recommend checking it out.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Polynesian 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 of the decorations here is unquestionably the life-sized gingerbread house. The gingerbread house is composed of staggering amounts of real ingredients, and takes months to prepare.
Oh, and it doubles as a refreshment stand where you can order gingerbread shingles and other holiday treats. The gingerbread house is actually so cool that you might overlook some of the other awesome decorations at the Grand Floridian–don’t make this mistake.
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.
Take the Resort Monorail from Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to the Magic Kingdom, take the Resort Boat/Bus to Wilderness Lodge – It’s a bit more work getting to Wilderness Lodge, but it’s sooo worth it. I think Grand Floridian at Christmas is cool, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Wilderness Lodge, in my opinion.
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?!
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.
The only problem is that they’re best viewed after dusk, and it’s likely that you’ll be doing this tour in the morning. If you are, for some reason, doing the tour at night, pencil in Fort Wilderness after Wilderness Lodge. If not, consider heading over here for dinner one night and taking a tour of the decorations!
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