Join me on a holiday tour of the Disney Resorts and find out what awaits you when visiting during this special time of the year. According to the Disney blog, some 150 semi-trailer truckloads of decorations have been spread all over Walt Disney World property, with holiday trees, lights, wreaths and garland creating some truly amazing holiday sights at the parks and the resorts.
Take a day off from the parks and visit some of the Disney World Resort decorations, which are simply put, attractions in their own rights. One does not have to stay on property to enjoy them all decked for the holidays. If you are staying on property, however, I feel it is important to decide what kind of atmosphere you would like for the holidays. Overall, keep in mind that the décor and atmosphere reflects the theme of the resort. Disney’s Polynesian Resort has orchids woven into the Christmas decoration, and Disney’s All-Star Movie Resort has movie reels pinned in the branches of the tree. Checking them out may help planning for a future Yuletide visit. You can easily do so using Disney transportation for most of them, having a car, of course, is even better. I visited them all using Disney transportation and here are some of my favorites:
Disney World Deluxe Resorts
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is the Grand Dame of Walt Disney World Resorts. A five-story tree dominates the lobby of the elegant resort, the orchestra plays Christmas music, and on weekends choirs perform to the delight of all visitors. The smell of gingerbread will quickly direct your steps to the main attraction, a gingerbread house made of 1,050 lbs. of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 lbs. of powdered sugar, 700 lbs. of chocolate, 800 lbs. of flour and 35 lbs. spices.
It takes the Grand Floridian bakery team more than two months to produce, cut and bake the 5,089 shingles used to decorate the Gingerbread House. Every afternoon a pastry chef demonstrates how to decorate your very own gingerbread house, and guests receive a free taste of freshly made gingerbread. Throughout the day you can buy all kinds of wonderful treats, and a recipe for gingerbread is available free of charge. The Gingerbread House, a tradition celebrating 15 years in 2013, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The resort is a must visit, but staying there over Christmas would not be for me as the hotel is very busy and the constant coming and going of guests and visitors would eventually get to me. The resort can be reached by bus, boat and monorail from the Magic Kingdom.
Disney’s Yacht Club has a nautical theme with model ships and antique navigational instruments in public areas. The Christmas decoration is very subdued, and if you are looking for a more quiet and refined resort over the holidays you won’t be disappointed. The Christmas tree in the lobby is elegantly decorated with sailing ships. Children will love the model train display with Disney characters scattered throughout one side of the winter wonderland, while the other side is a lovely seaside village to keep with the theme of the resort.
If you want a little more Yuletide décor its adjoining sister property makes up for it. Evoking seaside Victorian cottages Disney’s Beach Club is beautifully decorated not only in the lobby but also throughout the hotel. Twinkling lights altered with tropical fishes, seahorses and turtles decorate several Christmas trees in the lobby and the lounges. The big attraction of the resort is the gingerbread carousel. The fabulous five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto) and hidden Mickeys can be found on this impressive display of 2,013 pieces of gingerbread. I love the feel of the resort and the festive atmosphere. In the week before Christmas there are holiday character meet-and-greets and choirs give concerts. Santa makes a special appearance for little ones on December 24th from 5 p.m. till 9 p.m.
If you are looking for an early-20th-century Atlantic coast boardwalk feel check out Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. I was smitten by the turn-of-the-century decoration with the old-fashioned Christmas ornaments adorning the trees and the beautiful sitting area complete with a garland over the fireplace.
New this year is “Sweet Treats,” a holiday gingerbread house inspired by early century concession stands. The house features 672 scalloped shaped shingles and 90 lbs. of Salt Water Taffy. During the day it is a real shop with miniature gingerbread houses and other delights for sale.
Disney’s Yacht & Beach Clubs and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn are located at Disney’s Boardwalk and are best reached by boat from Disney Hollywood Studios. Pick one resort and walk along the Boardwalk to visit all of them.
My favorite Deluxe Resort during the holidays is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The only thing missing here is the snow, but the tranquil and warm atmosphere of the lodge is as American a Christmas as you can get. The resort is gorgeously decorated and many ornaments on the trees and garlands are carved wooden figures. The four-story high main tree in the lobby has Native American-inspired decoration, and throughout the lodge you find fireplaces and rocking chairs inviting you to relax with a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of wine while admiring the decorations.
Just a boat ride away is Ft. Wilderness Campground and if you arrive at the lodge after dark and have spare time, I say go and see what the ingenuity of guests can do as they go all out and decorate their campsites for the holidays. The Wilderness Lodge and the Campgrounds are reached by bus or boat from the Magic Kingdom.
Disney World Moderate Resorts
If I would be celebrating Christmas at Walt Disney World, my vote among the medium-priced resorts would have to go to Disney’s Old Key West Resort. The resort, in soft hues of pastel colors, is part of the Disney Vacation Club and gave me the feel of a real Floridian Christmas. Holiday decoration is everywhere, at Olivia’s — the resort’s restaurant — at the store and in all public areas. The trees, garlands and wreaths are decorated with whimsical seashells, fishes and flip-flops. Holiday characters meet guests in the week before Christmas and concerts are held on select days. Santa will be visiting December 24th from 5 p.m. till 9 p.m. You can get to Old Key West by boat from Downtown Disney.
Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter & Riverside Resort offer Mardi Gras-themed holiday finery, but from both sister properties I like best the decoration at the French Quarter. The lobby is festive, and throughout the resort you find lampposts wrapped in holiday garlands, Christmas wreaths and beautiful poinsettia arrangements. The lobby has not one but four Christmas trees and the color palette is red, green and purple with lots of Fleur de Lys ornaments reminiscent of a New Orleans Christmas. Port Orleans can be easily reached by boat from Downtown Disney, and it is a short and very pleasant walk along the Sassagoula River between Riverside and French Quarters.
There are two resorts I really love visiting for their holiday decoration, but they take a little extra work by Disney transportation unless you have a car.
Hard to Get to But Worth It
The African-inspired decoration at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is not to be missed. While the decoration at Kidani Village is more low-key, make sure you see the giant, breathtaking tree in the lobby of Jambo House. Every night at 5 p.m., cast members teach children to play drums and after a little practice they march through the lobby and officially light the tree. Look for carved animal faces and ornaments made by children of guests staying at the resort. Visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge can be a bit tricky using Disney transportation, as you have to go to the Animal Kingdom Park and take a bus to the lodge. I visited after spending time at the park. Disney’s Animal Kingdom closes early, usually at 5 p.m. this time of year, and I decided to enjoy dinner at Sanaa, one of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Awash in poinsettias best describes the decoration at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. The Mexican-themed resort honors the Christmas flower everywhere. The entrance to the hotel is most beautiful with hanging baskets of white poinsettias. Christmas activities are held in the week before Christmas, and Santa is on hand in the afternoon of Dec. 24. Buses from Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios are your best bet for visiting Coronado Springs.
Disney World Value Resorts
I also visited all of the budget resorts and each and every one of them has festive decoration. While none exudes the spectacular look and feel of the moderate and deluxe resorts I believe that the decoration I found at Disney’s Art of Animation deserves an honorable mention. The resort, which is very colorful already, chose wisely white Christmas trees and white garlands and wreaths to decorate the lobby, shop and restaurant. The lobby looked like the entrance to Candy Land to me, and I really liked the ornaments with drawings of young Simba on the tree. So if you want to stay at a value resort during Christmas, I say go for Art of Animation!
If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort over Christmas, make sure to check with the concierge to see what holiday event your particular resort might be offering. Happenings can range from carolers, brass bands and country singers to Christmas cookie decorating, visits with Santa and readings of Twas The Night Before Christmas. Many hotels also offer free cookies and punch in their lobbies on Christmas Day.
I hope you enjoyed my whirlwind tour of the Disney World resort decorations during Christmas time. To you and your loved ones I am wishing a magical holiday, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Liliane Opsomer is the co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids,” a guidebook that provides detailed planning and touring tips for a family vacation. She is passionate about travel, Disney, and hobbits. Liliane also started recently her own blog.