It’s the Christmas season, and you know what that means: It’s the most wonderful time of the year to visit Walt Disney World. Each winter, starting shortly after Halloween, the hard-working elves at Walt Disney World take to the streets (Main Street, U.S.A., that is) and get busy transforming the Central Florida resort into a veritable winter wonderland, not only at the theme parks but at Disney Springs and the Disney hotels, too.
Festive garlands trimmed with baubles are hung from rooflines and railings with care. Uniquely-themed Christmas trees welcome guests to resort lobbies and different corners of Disney Springs. You might even see a life-sized gingerbread display or a quaint Christmas village filled with Disney Easter eggs.
In short, it’s pure holiday magic with a generous sprinkle of pixie dust. The best part? You don’t need to spend a single cent to experience it. That’s right—unless you’re already planning on going to the Disney World theme parks, no pricey park ticket is required. Talk about a Christmas miracle!
Want to embark on your own free, festive quest around the Walt Disney World Resort during the holidays this year? Put on a Santa hat or your tackiest Christmas sweater and read on to learn how.
How to Experience the Magic of Christmas at Disney World Without a Park Ticket
Although you certainly can (and should) see Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom in all their festive glory, you don’t need to go to the theme parks to soak up some merry Christmas vibes at Disney World.
Disney Springs and the Disney resort hotels also get all dressed up for the holidays with elaborate Christmas decorations that are well worth a visit. Best of all, unless you decide to spend the night, stop for a drink or get something to eat, taking in the festive scene won’t cost you a thing.
Disney World Resort Hopping Is Always Free
Thanks to the resort hotels’ unique theming and charming design details, resort hopping has long been one of our favorite things to do at Disney World outside the theme parks. Though you can certainly pay to stay at one of the Disney resorts or enjoy a meal at one of the hotel restaurants, simply going to the resort hotels to look around is completely free—and, not to mention, a heckuva good time.
While visiting Disney World resorts is fun all year round, our absolute favorite time to visit is during the holidays when the hotels are decorated for Christmas. Although ‘yule’ find themed trimmings and trappings at each of the Disney resorts, including the value and moderate hotels, some of the best holiday decorations are at the deluxe resorts, from massive Christmas trees in the lobby to grand gingerbread displays to a sprawling Christmas village and model railway.
Customize Your Tour to Fit Your Schedule and Interests
Don’t have time for a full day of resort hopping? Or, maybe you are a Christmas tree fanatic or prefer a rustic holiday atmosphere over the fancy, festive fanfare of the Grand Floridian Resort. No worries! Think of your resort-hopping tour as a choose-your-own-adventure with a jolly twist.
To work in a bit of resort-hopping fun without too much hassle, take a break from the holiday hubbub in the parks for a quick yuletide tour of a few Disney World resorts nearby. Alternatively, those with a soft spot for sweets may want to stick to hotels with gingerbread displays. It all depends on what you’re into, where you are going to be and how much time you have to spend.
Stay for a Meal or a Seasonal Snack or Sip
Whether cozy classics worthy of Christmas dinner or seasonal sweet treats, one of the best parts of the holiday season is all the delicious food. Fortunately, you’ll find no shortage of special holiday fare at the Disney World resorts and Disney Springs.
Along with limited-time menu items at restaurants and lounges, resorts with gingerbread displays also sell holiday goodies from a booth right there in the lobby, making for an especially sweet souvenir. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas party without a boozy beverage or two.
Your Disney World Holiday Tour with a Stop at Disney Springs
The resorts are the only places you can get in the festive spirit for free at Disney World. Disney Springs is also decked out for the holidays with everything from holly jolly garlands to a forestful of Disney-inspired Christmas trees. You can even get caught in a faux snowfall if you visit during the evening. But wait, there’s more.
Parking at Disney Springs Is Complimentary
Unless you’re an annual passholder or staying at one of the Disney resorts, parking a vehicle at the theme parks doesn’t come cheap, starting at $25 per day for standard parking. Instead, if you’re hoping to keep your self-guided holiday tour as close to free as possible, you’re better off parking at Disney Springs.
Not only is there abundant free parking and plenty of festive fun to enjoy before and after your tour, but Disney Springs is also conveniently connected to every single Disney theme park, hotel and other must-see attractions by the complimentary Disney World bus system, making it an ideal jumping-off point.
Enjoy a Sleighful of Festive, Low or No-Cost Fun
While it may not host a Christmas party like Magic Kingdom or a wintry festival like Epcot, you’ll still find plenty of things to do during the holidays at Disney Springs. Whether sharing your Christmas list with Santa Claus, sinking your teeth into seasonal treats, searching for Christmas trees or taking in the merry entertainment, there’s something for everyone. You can even marvel at a magical snow flurry. (Spoiler alert: It’s soap!)
Resort Hopping During the Holidays Takes Some Planning
With so many different places to go, you will need to figure out some logistics before embarking on your festive quest, like where and when you should go and how you’re going to get there. Here’s what we recommend.
Timing Is Everything for Your Yuletide Disney World Resort Tour
Although decorations begin popping up in the parks right after Halloween passes—Disney World’s holiday season runs from November 8th through December 22 for 2022—Disney resorts typically aren’t fully decorated for Christmas until mid-to-late November.
Since the holiday decorations are put up by Disney’s Holiday Services and Culinary teams, it takes several days for everything to be completed. Not to mention, assembling Disney World’s popular gingerbread displays are a similarly time-intensive task. Your best bet is to plan your visit for the week of Thanksgiving or after.
Take Advantage of Free Disney Transportation
As tempting as it might be to try to drive everywhere on your tour, we highly suggest that you use Disney World transportation like buses, boats, monorails or the Disney Skyliner instead. (We get it—taking Disney is an often lengthy endeavor and time is precious when you’re on vacation, but hear us out.)
Not only are they completely free to use (except for Minnie Vans), but since resorts almost always require you to have either a hotel or dining reservation if you want to park there, they’re an easy, albeit occasionally time-consuming, way to get around. That said, we think it’s worth it.
Free Disney World Holiday Tour Ideas – Disney Springs & Disney Resort Christmas Decorations
So, where should you go on your festive quest for Disney Christmas decorations? From short-but-sweet tours perfect for a midday escape from the parks to an all-out, all-day-long adventure, there’s something for everyone visiting Disney World.
Fun-Sized & Festive Resort-Hopping Tours
Don’t have enough time for a lengthy tour? These miniature journeys are area-specific, making them convenient to slot in during a day at the park and give you a quick jolt of holly jolly spirit. Build it into a meal at a nearby resort restaurant to make the most of your trip outside the theme park.
Magic Kingdom Resort Area Monorail Tour with Optional Detour
Planning to visit the Magic Kingdom during the holidays this year? Don’t miss the resort Christmas decorations at hotels in the Magic Kingdom area, including two fairytale-level gingerbread displays. For an especially festive (though not free) evening, tour the Magic Kingdom Resort Area hotels prior to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
To start, take the Magic Kingdom Resort Monorail from the theme park’s entrance or walk across the street to the Contemporary Resort.
- Stop 1. Contemporary Resort — Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread castle themed after Disney World’s 50th anniversary and a massive, modern Christmas tree outside
- Stop 2. Polynesian Village Resort (Optional) — Tropical-themed Christmas tree
- Stop 3. Grand Floridian Resort — Life-sized, Victorian-style gingerbread house styled after the 50th anniversary and a huge Christmas tree in the lobby inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas
If you have the time, we highly recommend you also take a jolly jaunt over to the Disney World wilderness — the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness, that is. This cozy corner of the Magic Kingdom Resort Area is easily accessible by boat. Buses are offered on occasion between Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. Otherwise, you can also take the water taxi back to Magic Kingdom, then climb aboard another boat bound for the other resort.
Rustic Christmas decorations, as well as homemade creations from campers at Fort Wilderness, provide a refreshing change of pace. Simply tack on a trip before or after your yuletide tour around the Resort Monorail or when heading for dinner at Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Cafe or Trail’s End Restaurant at Fort Wilderness.
To make your visit to Fort Wilderness even more memorable, splurge on a horse-drawn sleigh ride ($75 for 25 minutes and up to four adults or two adults and three small children) or stay for an extra-special (and free!) encounter with two rascally Disney characters, Chip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long.
- Stop 4. Wilderness Lodge (Optional) — Giant, rustic-style Christmas tree
- Stop 5. Fort Wilderness Campground (Optional) — Over-the-top Christmas decorations made by campers and a holiday golf cart parade
Epcot Resort Area Walking Tour
If you’re hoping to celebrate Christmas with a little drinking and eating around the world at the International Festival of the Holidays, then this Disney resort Christmas decorations tour of the Epcot-area hotels is for you. With all the locals flocking to Epcot and World Showcase in the evenings for the festival, things can get particularly crazy in the evenings. So, consider taking your tour in the afternoon so you’re refreshed and ready for the ever-popular Candlelight Processional.
With the resorts conveniently located just a short walk from International Gateway at World Showcase in Epcot, this is the only walkable tour on our list, making it both easy to squeeze into a busy day and a festive way to keep fit while on vacation. If you’d prefer you can also take a Friendship Boat.
- Stop 1. BoardWalk Inn — Gingerbread house of the BoardWalk Deli and carnival-inspired trees
- Stop 2. Yacht Club Resort — Holiday village with model railway and a nautical Christmas tree
- Stop 3. Beach Club Resort — Life-sized gingerbread carousel inspired by the Disney Princesses and beachy Christmas trees
Hollywood Studios Resort Area Disney Skyliner Tour
For those looking for Disney Christmas vibes without the big crowds that often come with them, head slightly off the beaten path for hotels in the Hollywood Studios Resort Area. Easily accessible by the Disney Skyliner, these value and moderate resorts offer a more understated take on the holiday season without skimping on Christmas cheer.
To get started, make your way to the Disney Skyliner station just outside the entrance to Hollywood Studios. When walking between the Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts, use the Generation Gap Bridge.
- Stop 1. Caribbean Beach Resort — Vibrant, island-inspired Christmas decorations and trees with tropical flowers
- Stop 2. Art of Animation Resort — White Christmas tree, garlands and wreaths with both colorful baubles and black-and-white ornaments with sketches of Disney characters
- Stop 3. Pop Century Resort — Classic Christmas tree with retro decorations like peace signs, Rubik’s cubes, Shiny Brite ornaments and more
- Stop 4. Riviera Resort — Elegant Christmas garlands, wreaths and trees with silver and gold decorations
Animal Kingdom Resort Area Bus Tour
Previously, the Animal Kingdom Resort Area wasn’t what we’d call a can’t-miss Disney Christmas destination. However, that’s all changed thanks to the addition of a life-sized gingerbread baby giraffe and baby zebra at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
For this tiny yuletide tour, Animal Kingdom Theme Park is your base of operations, as you’ll need to return after your first stop to catch another bus to your next destination. To start, jump on a Disney bus bound for Animal Kingdom Lodge and get off at Jambo House.
- Stop 1. Animal Kingdom Lodge — African-inspired Christmas tree and a gingerbread display of a baby giraffe and baby zebra
- Stop 2. Coronado Springs Resort — Garlands and a Christmas tree with white poinsettias and jewel-toned ornament, as well as festive, red and green lighting
Disney Springs Resort Area Boat Tour
Whether you’re staying in the Disney Springs Resort Area or looking for a way to stretch out your visit to the entertainment district, consider taking a tour to see the Christmas decorations at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort. While Port Orleans’ French Quarter and Riverside might not make our list of must-see Disney resorts during the holidays, they’re still worth a visit if you’re in the area.
For an especially relaxing and romantic way to get to Port Orleans from Disney Springs, dash on over to the Marketplace boat launch and climb aboard one of the ferries. You can also opt to take a bus which, though typically quicker, is considerably less charming.
- Stop 1. Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter — Colorful Christmas tree and garlands with Mardi Gras beads and masks
- Stop 2. Port Orleans Resort – Riverside — Southern-inspired Christmas decorations with refined ornaments and magnolias
Holly Jolly, Themed Resort-Hopping Tours
If you have more flexibility in your schedule and/or are particularly passionate about Christmassy conifers or gingerbread displays, try one of these themed resort-hopping tours around the Walt Disney World Resort. These festive adventures crisscross much of Disney World and feature the best Disney resorts at Christmas.
O Christmas Trees Tour
Do you put up your Christmas tree before Thanksgiving even rolls around? Then this Disney resort Christmas tour has your name on it. Although you’ll find a Christmas tree (or two or three) at each of the Disney World hotels, these yuletide pines are worth a special holiday visit. Each is considered an ‘icon’ tree, with each reaching an impressive height of between 30 and 70 feet.
If you have the time, don’t miss the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll, which features 20, uniquely-themed trees inspired by beloved Disney movies and more. To get started, park your car at Disney Springs and take the bus to Magic Kingdom. Once there, take a boat to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to kick off your tour with our favorite Walt Disney World Christmas tree.
- Stop 1. Wilderness Lodge — Northwoods-inspired Christmas tree with glowing teepees, antlers and more in the lobby
From there, take the boat back to Magic Kingdom and jump on the Resort Monorail or walk across the street to the Contemporary Resort.
- Stop 2. Contemporary Resort — The oldest and largest Christmas tree at Disney World, towering 70 feet over the entrance to the resort
- Stop 3. Grand Floridian Resort — Massive, Victorian-inspired masterpiece themed after the 12 Days of Christmas in the lobby
Once you’re back at Magic Kingdom, take a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- Stop 4. Animal Kingdom Lodge — African-inspired Christmas tree in the lobby with wax print bows, carved animal masks, animal print ornaments and more
Believe it or not, you don’t need to enter Animal Kingdom to take a look at the theme park’s icon tree. Unlike the other parks, Animal Kingdom’s Christmas tree is located outside the main entrance, meaning you don’t need to pay for a ticket to see it.
- Stop 5. Animal Kingdom Theme Park — Winter-themed tree with animal masks, rustic stars and snowflakes, and more
If you like, the Animal Kingdom Christmas tree can be the last stop on your tour. Otherwise, if you have the time, hop on a bus heading to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort to see the hotel’s almost-iconic tree.
- Stop 6. Coronado Springs Resort — Large Christmas tree in the lobby decorated with white poinsettias and colorful ornaments