Want to experience the Disney Magic at the holidays for free? You can! Walt Disney World Resort encompasses a number of hotels in addition to its theme parks. Each Disney hotel has its own twist on the magical pixie dust…. and they’re even more special during the holiday season with decorations, giant Christmas trees, and even seasonal holiday treats offered at some of the hotels! “But I can’t afford to stay at a Disney hotel!” you may say. No worries! There’s still a way for you to enjoy the Disney magic.
You can take a self-guided tour of the hotels and see all their amazing holiday decorations. These decorations are an attraction in themselves. It is a great way to spend the day getting in the Christmas spirit.
To get around between resorts, the parks, and Downtown Disney, you can use the Disney transportation services. The great part? IT’S TOTALLY FREE. We had a group of six people so, instead of taking two cars to each location, we used the monorail, buses, and a boat. This will be easier the more you know so you can copy what we did exactly. I created a step-by-step list at the bottom of the article to help you. Or if you are feeling brave, just wing it! Remember, all you have to do if you are confused or lost is to go up to the front desk or concierge at any resort and ask the best way to get to the next location. Disney cast members are friendly and willing to help so if you need to know where the bus/boat pick ups are, just ask.
It is best not to do this during busy times of the year (for example: marathon weekends or holidays) as you will have a hard time parking at the resorts.
So which decorations are the best? Well, it depends on what you like but I asked all six people that went this past weekend and the number one favorite of every single person was The Dolphin! I was really surprised that we all agreed.
The Dolphin hotel entrance is part of the magic. As you ride the escalator up, the giant tree is slowly revealed. The entire tree is made of beautiful white poinsettias. The ceiling is draped with white fabric and has snowflakes projected on it. The tree even has a train going around it. To top it off, the tree has special effects. The lighting changed, the clock started chiming, music started playing and then it started to snow! Snow, inside!! It was so magical. It was 2:00 PM when this happened so I would assume that this happens on the hour? Make sure you watch the clock so you are here at the correct time. It also helped that this area was empty compared to most places that we had visited so far and the tree is surrounded by seating areas for you to relax. We stopped here and ate some snacks that we brought; I definitely suggest bringing some food and beverages (Gingerbread cookies would be a great idea as you will be smelling this most of the day).
The second favorite of the group was The Yacht Club. The tree isn’t giant here like a lot of others, but the decorations on it were very exciting: compasses, binoculars, full wooden sailboats… the whole nine yards. The train set is the show stopper here: an amazing little Christmas Village with ice skaters, lots of Mickey Mouse ears and even a Frozen section.
The next favorite was the Wilderness Lodge. They have a giant tree, not to mention a beautiful lobby. The tree has these fun teepees that light up. If you haven’t been to this hotel before, make sure you check out the geyser located on the pathway after getting off the boat. It goes off every hour on the hour up until 10:00 PM each evening. As you keep walking into the hotel from the boat dock, there is a pretty cool waterfall near the back entrance by the main pool.
The Grand Floridian, Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel, is a very popular spot for Christmas decor. They have a large tree and a very large, detailed gingerbread house. Make sure to take a look at the stained glass windows in the house as they have different characters. They even have people selling treats from the other side of the house! You can buy a shingle of Gingerbread or even a limited edition Gingerbread house pin.
The Beach Club has a moving carousel made from Gingerbread!! This is very cool but was another location that had large crowds so it was hard to take pictures.
Another nice location was the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Jambo House had a giant tree and a professional photographer with props so you could get a photo in front of the tree. If you are there with an annual passholder they can use their magic band to get this photo. If not, you may want to skip this part. The neat thing about this hotel if you haven’t visited before is that there are safari animals out back! There is an awesome viewing area with giraffes, zebras and lots of other animals. Occasionally you can meet some cast members in this area who are here on a visa from Africa. They always have some cool fun facts about the animals in the safari area and may feel up to talking about their home countries as well (assuming they aren’t feeling too homesick, that is.)
A cool thing we happened upon at this resort was free marshmallow roasting! We smelled the fire so we headed over to check it out and they were giving out sticks and marshmallows. Yay! We got to Animal Kingdom Lodge around 5:00 PM, just in time to see the animals before the sunset. It was such a great way to end the day. Please note there are two sections of the AK Lodge: Jambo House and Kidani Village. When you pull into park (we told them we were coming for drinks at Victoria Falls), you want to turn left at the big sign that says Jambo. This is the section with the larger tree. If you are up for it, you can take a short walk to the Kidani Villages. They have a smaller tree, but the lobby is still very nice. There is an animal viewing area there as well.
Some of our honorable mentions:
– Boardwalk has a Gingerbread stand selling sweets, those photo things you stick your head through (do those have a name?), a fireplace with a tree on either side and a nice garland.
– Contemporary has a large Frozen gingerbread display as well as some Frozen-themed treats for sale.
– The Swan has a display made completely from chocolate. It smelled so good!
– Polynesian was the least exciting, the tree was small. I personally love anything Hawaiian and think decorations here are beautiful, but it was very underwhelming.
I have heard the moderate resorts have some nice decorations as well so don’t forget about places like the Old Key West Resort, Port Orleans, and Coronado Springs.
Step by Step Instructions:
1. Park at Polynesian – When you pull up to the resort, security will ask for your I.D. as well as why you are there; I suggest saying you are coming to see the Christmas decor and eat breakfast/lunch and let them know which restaurant. (Alternately, you can park at one of the parks for a fee or Downtown Disney for free, though that can be an unnecessary waste of time.)
2. Take the monorail to the Grand Floridian
3. Take the monorail to the Contemporary
4. Take the boat to the Wilderness Lodge (you could easily add on Fort Wilderness here)
5. Take the bus to Hollywood Studios
6. Take the boat to Swan/Dolphin (get off the bus, walk past the big Christmas tree to the left of the water for the boat dock)
7. From the Dolphin, walk to Swan
8. From the Swan, walk to the Boardwalk (there is a map near the door)
9. Continue on the Boardwalk around the lake until you get to the Beach Club
10. Walk from Beach club to the Yacht Club
11. Take a bus to Magic Kingdom (you may have to wait a little while for this bus as it is a bit farther)
12. Take the monorail back to Polynesian
13. Drive to Animal Kingdom Lodge (I don’t suggest using Disney transportation for this, it is quite far)
Annual Passholder Tip: Be sure to ask the cast members if they have transportation cards. The guys telling you where to go on the monorail and the large boat. For small boats, it would be the driver.