A few months ago, I read a post by Tom and Sarah Bricker over at the Disney Tourist Blog. They put together a suggested itinerary for going to see the elaborate holiday decorations at various Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts – a Self-Guided Yuletide Tour. This serves as a free alternative (or addition) to the pricey official Disney holiday tours (Holiday D-Lights and Yuletide Fantasy).
Since visiting resorts doesn’t require a park ticket, Tom and Sarah used this “tour” as a fun activity to do on the morning of their Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so as not to burn a precious day on their passes. They do a great job describing their touring suggestions and previous years’ decorations. I am including a link to their tour at the bottom of this review (only because Tom’s photographs are so beautiful that you’ll never come back to read this if I give you the link now!)
Armed with our own homemade (Read: Krusteaz mix) gingerbread cookies, my sister and I set out Thursday morning to start December off in style with our own version of the Self-Guided Yuletide Tour. Unlike the Brickers, we had a car and decided to start at the Polynesian since I never have an issue parking there.
[Before the parking enforcers start in, I told each resort's parking attendant that we were there to look at the decorations. Every single one just smiled and waved us in. So there.]
Over the course of 6 hours, we managed to visit 7 of the 8 Deluxe Resorts suggested by Disney Tourist Blog. We also had lunch at the Roaring Fork over in Wilderness Lodge (which we don’t recommend, except for cupcakes.)
All of the Deluxe Resorts have a variety of trees and garlands decorated in correspondence with their respective themeing. Also, 4 of the resorts are home to one of the 9 giant trees on Walt DIsney World property. The other 5 giant trees are located in the parks and at Downtown Disney.
For 2011, here’s the run down of the Deluxe Resort decorations in the order we visited them:
- Polynesian: standard-sized trees and garlands
- Grand Floridian: 16′ gingerbread house, giant tree in lobby
- Contemporary: gingerbread tree, giant tree in front of the hotel (we did not go out to see the tree)
- Wilderness Lodge: giant tree in lobby
- Beach Club: gingerbread carousel with chocolate horses
- Yacht Club: gingerbread lighthouse (we skipped this resort) [UPDATE: Yacht Club had a minature train set with holiday village. See pictures and read about the gingerbread lighthouse debacle here.]
- BoardWalk: gingerbread gazebo (they call it a house) with Stitch and Donald Duck
- Animal Kingdom Lodge: giant tree in lobby
Our suggestions for structuring your own resort tour:
- If you have a smart phone, install a QR reader. Several (if not all) of the gingerbread creations have QR codes nearby that you can scan to see a video of how it was made. We didn’t try this, but the Disney Parks Blog did post a video of the BoardWalk’s gingerbread house.
- All 5 resorts with gingerbread creations have a shop that sells gingerbread houses, shingles or tree leaves, etc.
- In 2011, each of the shops is selling a Limited Edition Pin of their gingerbread creation.
- The Grand Floridan’s shop is actually inside their gingerbread house and offers the most merchandise.
- BoardWalk’s shop only has stollen and $35 gingerbread houses.
- Instead of houses, the Contemporary sells $60 gingerbread models of the resort complete with a little white chocolate monorail.
- The Grand Floridian has gingerbread house decorating demonstrations Monday-Saturday at 1pm. Before it starts, they offer free gingerbread samples.
- The gingerbread is made using a traditional Austrian recipe. A Cast Member told me it has a shelf life of 3 years, and I believe it. It is very thick, dry and tastes like anise (licorice).
- We highly recommend bringing your own gingerbread if you want to get into the spirit without paying $8.50 for an unsatisfying chocolate-covered shingle. Our cookies were delicious! (Plus, I got a big kick out of folks at the Grand Floridian biting into their shingles, making a face, and then complementing our decision to BYOG.)
- Don’t try to do all 8 Deluxe Resorts in one go (or maybe at all.)
- Stick with a geographic area or theme. Monorail loop resorts, Epcot resorts, giant trees or gingerbread creations.
- If you’re wanting to see all the giant trees, I’d suggest using a car if possible. They’re pretty spread out at the Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- The Polynesian is the resort to skip if you’re tight on time. While it’s my favorite resort, it doesn’t boast the same level of holiday decor as any of the other Deluxes.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge is another can miss, if only for transportation reasons. If you do go there, make sure to take the time to view the animals on the savanna, have a meal or even check out the 4pm Culinary Tour.
Timing & Photography:
- Be aware of lighting – If you’re wanting to take photos, be careful about what time you visit certain hotels. Many of the lobbies have large windows and skylights that can let in too much natural light midday. Next time, I’m going to make sure I have my polarized filter on hand.
- Avoid the crowds – Going first thing in the morning would be the best way to avoid both harsh lighting and too many people milling about. At lunch time, the Grand Floridian was swarming with people – making it hard to get a clear shot of any decorations.
- Don’t be afraid to go upstairs – The only way to get full shots of the giant trees is to lie on the ground or shoot from balconies. The best views in Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are from the 5th floor above the entrance. Non-guests can access those levels from the elevators.
- Don’t be afraid to kneel or lie on the ground - Much to my sister’s chagrin, I did that in every resort. No one cares, and you get a full shot of the tree.
- Unless you plan to hang out, it doesn’t take that long to look at decorations in any given resort. 15-30 minutes tops, including waiting for crowds to clear for a good photo. Most of your time will be waiting for transportation or driving. This can be exhausting after 3-4 hotels.
- Try working other activities in to your resort tour. Have a meal, grab a snack or plan to check out one of the guided resort tours.
- If you’re not the gingerbread sort, try checking out some of the specialty cupcakes offered at the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge or BoardWalk Bakery. We noticed that they had seasonal Peppermint Chocolate and Spiced Apple Cupcakes at the Contempo Cafe. (These are good for appeasing whoever is patiently waiting while you lie on the carpet to take photos of a tree. It worked for my sister.)
All in all, I highly recommend doing your own tour of the resorts at the holidays if you have the time. Like the Brickers did, it would be a great ticket-free way of spending the morning before Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’d also be nice paired with a morning or afternoon Yuletide Fantasy tour, which doesn’t require using a ticket day either. (I just did the Yuletide Fantasy tour yesterday, and a review is forthcoming. Spoiler: I loved it!!)
We found it a great way to get in the spirit of the season, which can be hard given Florida’s warm weather. As recent Orlando transplants, I’m sure my sister and I will make this resort tour a part of our annual holiday celebrations. She just doesn’t know it yet.
Here is the original Self-Guided (Free!) Yuletide Tour from over at the wonderful Disney Tourist Blog.
*If you want to learn more about guided Holiday Tours, be sure to check out our tour pages for Holiday D-Lights and Yuletide Fantasy. In addition to tour logistics, we’ve included links to reviews from other websites so you check out other people’s opinions on those tours.
*Agree or disagree with this review? Have any specific questions about this self-guided tour? Just let us know by posting in the comments below.