Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the next stop in the Magic Kingdom area on our tour of Walt Disney World hotels at Christmas. In this post, we’ll take a look at the iconic gingerbread house, the resort’s towering icon tree, and the other elegant decorations at WDW’s flagship resort.
A visit to the Grand Floridian is a quintessential holiday-time experience, and it’s one of a few must-do stops on our Free Self-Guided Walt Disney World Yuletide Resort Tour. That Self-Guided “Yuletide Resort Tour” is what we recommend doing in the morning before attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so you don’t waste a park day of your normal tickets.
As with the other monorail loop resorts, it’s pretty easy to visit the Grand Floridian the same day you do Magic Kingdom. Whether it be before heading into the park for MVMCP, for a midday break, or after the park closes (our favorite option), it’s worth the detour thanks to its Victorian Christmas decor, grandiose tree, and that cool gingerbread house…
Generally speaking, I think Grand Floridian is overrated, and this sentiment extends to Christmas a bit. The photos are certainly going to tell a different story, which is why I’m sharing this one first, so hear me out.
These images were all shot after 11 p.m., and I still had an incredibly tough time with capturing the areas around the tree and gingerbread house devoid of people.
I’ve given up on even visiting Grand Floridian during the middle of the day at Christmas, as the crowds can be really bad. It’s without question the most popular resort during the holiday season, and I’d hazard a guess that it sees at least double the number of visitors as the next most busiest resort at Christmas. Maybe even triple.
To my knowledge, the Grand Floridian is the only resort that Walt Disney World actively markets as a Christmas ‘attraction’ (it’s always highlighted in television specials), which probably explains that.
On this note, do not drive to Grand Floridian to see this display if you’re not staying at the resort–you will be turned away. For pretty much the entire holiday season, Grand Floridian has had parking restrictions in place.
When we’ve stayed here, the parking lot has always been packed at Christmas-time, so this isn’t just an arbitrary restriction. Demand for seeing the Grand Floridian’s decorations is so high that if anyone was allowed to just show up and park, there’d be nowhere for hotel guests.
As with Wilderness Lodge, my favorite time at Grand Floridian is super late at night–in this case, after midnight. Obviously, it isn’t realistic advice to recommend everyone visit at 1 a.m. for truly serene atmosphere. However, I will share that my favorite approach is booking a night or two at the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and walking over late at night.
This is our preferred approach for a few reasons. First, as you can read in our Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Review, we think the villas are better than the main hotel. Second, by with our Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club Points, you can score a great rate.
Finally, with the villas you’re close to the action without being in the midst of the chaos. You have your own lobby with a quiet and relaxed atmosphere, and don’t have to deal with visitors.
I personally cannot imagine booking a pricey room in the main building of the Grand Floridian only to have the crowds and noise in the lobby each day. But I digress–this isn’t a sales pitch for the Villas over the hotel side of the Grand Floridian.
In fairness, Grand Floridian Resort’s popularity at Christmas-time is well-founded. The main draw is the edible and functional gingerbread house, which stands 14 feet tall in the resort’s lobby and also functions as a snack stand where you can purchase gingerbread shingles, stollen, miniature gingerbread houses, peppermint bark, cookies, beverages, and merchandise such as pins and themed mugs.
The Gingerbread House usually debuts the second week of November (before the tree, which usually goes up the third week of the month), and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. through January 1. If you’re visiting during a peak time such as right when it opens or around dinner, be prepared for a line.
The Grand Floridian gingerbread house is made using a classic Austrian gingerbread recipe by former Master Pastry Chef Erich Herbitschek, who is now honored on the sign. Master Pastry Chef Kristine Farmer now leads the resort’s pastry team, which spends over 400 hours baking the ingredients for the display, and countless more in planning and prep.
It takes an entire week to decorate the house with over 10,000 pieces of gingerbread (including but not limited to the shingles), 1,050 pounds of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 700 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of flour, and 35 pounds of spices.
There are a ton of little details, Disney touches, and the obligatory Hidden Mickeys, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s hard to believe that the Grand Floridian’s gingerbread house is now 20 years old, but the resort’s iconic holiday offerings date back even further than that.
For roughly the first decade after the hotel opened, it had a gorgeous poinsettia Christmas tree in place of the current tree. The above photo is from the Walt Disney Archives, and shows how that tree looked in 1992.
While I think it’s possible that tree might’ve looked dated by the late 1990s, I also think there’s something to be said for the unique and eye-catching style of the Grand Floridian’s poinsettia Christmas tree. It has an opulent and stylish look to it, and is a sharp departure from all of the other resort Christmas trees.
Whereas every other icon tree arguably follows the same formula of large evergreen plus oversized, thematically-appropriate ornaments, the Grand Floridian’s poinsettia tree bucks that trend completely for something radically different, original, and on-theme.
As much as I like the current tree, this poinsettia tree seems more befitting of Walt Disney World’s flagship resort. Plus, with all things 1980s making a comeback, it arguably doesn’t look dated at all anymore (if it ever did). I doubt the Grand Floridian poinsettia tree is still in the Holiday Services warehouse, but if it is…I’d sure love to see it return. What about you?
Here are some more photos of the Christmas decor at Grand Floridian:
Overall, the Victorian Christmas at Grand Floridian is resplendent. The decorations are lavish and have a dignified sensibility to them. It all feels very, well, grand. The gingerbread house is a nice, whimsical touch, and a great place to grab a snack during your Yuletide Tour. The colossal crowds that can frequently be found in the lobby are off-putting to us, but your mileage may vary on that. If you’re as averse to crowds as we are, going really late at night really showcases the resort’s exquisite holiday atmosphere.
Finally, a few plugs. First, the new edition of our free Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is now available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
What do you think of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Christmas? Would you rank this as one of the best (or the best) Walt Disney World resort at Christmas? Do the crowds and chaos put a damper on the holiday experience of the Grand Floridian for you? Would you like to see a return of the poinsettia tree? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!