Walt Disney World Holiday Resort Tour

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By Jane Jones

This is my favorite time of year. I love the holiday season! This is when visitors really get to see the magic of Disney…holiday magic! The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the tree lighting on Main Street, Christmas Around the World at Epcot, the Jingle Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom…the parks offer so much to experience during the holidays. But what if you need a day off from the parks? What if you don’t have any admission days left on your ticket? What if you have some time to kill before checking in to your resort? What if you want to do something “different” during your visit? The solution is a Holiday Resort Tour!

What is a Holiday Resort Tour? It is your opportunity to see what Disney has put together in the form of decorations for the resorts. But this tour is yours to create! Let me tell you about my Holiday Resort Tour tradition in the hope that you’ll be inspired to plan your own.

Each year a group of friends and I get together on a Saturday morning to do “the tour.” As locals (not on vacation), our “real life” allows us only a few hours’ time to get away from responsibilities…a perfect amount of time to take in what the Disney resorts have in store for the holidays. We have found that the morning is the best time to tour the resorts — things are still slow with little hustle and bustle.

We always start at a resort with a food court — the moderates or value resorts are perfect. (If you are a resort guest, you obviously can start at your own hotel.) Here we have a cup of coffee and a little something light to eat to tide us over until lunch. Our trip this year first took us to Coronado Springs, where we discovered the BEST banana bread I’ve ever had! Then we were ready to walk around and enjoy the decorations. Coronado Springs, as with all the Disney resorts, is decorated in a style that is true to its theming — in this case, lots of poinsettias and rustic details, with a Southwest/Mexican flair. We were moved by the beautiful simplicity of the decorations. This was one of our favorite stops this year.

Beautiful garlands adorn the walkway at Coronado Springs

Even the fountains are decorated.

A wreath at Coronado Springs.

There are so many decoration on the tree, they deserve a close-up inspection.

Next we traveled over to the BoardWalk Inn. What an amazing lobby they have this year. Many of the resorts have large gingerbread house displays, and the BoardWalk always has an incredible offering. This year their gingerbread house stars Donald and Daisy in a life-size gazebo made of that tasty treat! Dressed in period costumes, again to complement the resort theming, our favorite ducks and the gingerbread house have the classic elegance and Americana feel of the rest of the resort. We were happy to see that you can go over to the BoardWalk Bakery and purchase a piece of gingerbread! Yum!

The BoardWalk Inn majestically welcomes us to this stop on our holiday tour.

A patriotic wreath at the BoardWalk...

…to go along with the patriotic tree.

The BoardWalk welcomes us with 2120 gingerbread pieces, 200 pounds of chocolate, 300 sugar and gum paste flowers, and of course some pixie dust and hidden Mickeys. Not a bad welcome!

Donald and Daisy in a gingerbread gazebo.

Guests can even bring home a replica gingerbread house.

If time allows, walk the BoardWalk and venture into each of the resorts. Each has their own style and special holiday magic. We didn’t do this because we only plan to visit a few resorts each year due to time (our tour plan was only 8 a.m.-1 p.m.). If you can, take in as many of the resorts as possible.

The gingerbread carrousel in the Beach Club lobby.

The huge tree at the Dolphin.

More gingerbread at the Swan.

Our next stop is always a favorite: Fort Wilderness! We park the car at the resort entrance and hop on the bus (Orange, Yellow, or Purple line) to take us to the Settlement area. The fun in this is looking out the window as you ride through the grounds. Oh, how the guests decorate for Christmas! This is homemade Disney “plussing” at its best. Campers go all out with holiday spirit: inflatables, lights…from the creative to the cheesy, it’s all here, and all amazing. Once we get to the end of the line, we hop off and take a different line back. This allows us to see different decorations. If at all possible, try this as night, too. It’s fun to see the campgrounds lit up like a Christmas tree!

A nativity near a campsite at Fort Wilderness.

Our next stop is what we consider one of the most beautiful resorts with a true Christmas feel…the Wilderness Lodge. The attention to detail is amazing, and the holiday music playing throughout the lobby makes you feel as if you are home for the holidays.

The majestic tree at the Wilderness Lodge.

Wreath at the Wilderness Lodge.

Bears in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge (no, they aren’t real).

Of course, lunch is a must on your tour! This year we decided to have soup and salad at the Kona Café (you MUST try the Kona Salad and Kona Chowder). This meant we moved on to the Polynesian. Again, take time to seek out the gingerbread house, walk through the Great Ceremonial House, and notice the decoration details. It is amazing what the Holiday Services team accomplishes each year. While staying within the resort’s theme, they are able to refresh old ideas. We are always in awe of their talent, evident at each resort.

The gingerbread longhouse at the Polynesian Resort.

A tropical holiday.

Our last stop is always the same: we end with the Grand Floridian, where we are met with white-lit reindeer. This is the perfect place to take those holiday pictures — in front of the tree or next to the life-size gingerbread house in the lobby! Elegance surrounds with a traditional holiday feel. Notice the delicate ornaments amidst the twinkling lights. This is our traditional gingerbread stop. We buy enough for stockings as well as a little snack for ourselves. My favorite is the small bag with a bite-size assortment. Others like the true gingerbread men. One friend always buys her family a gingerbread house, for which the resort is most famous. The best part is that all of these sweet treats are sold from inside the gingerbread house!

The huge gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian is actually a store.

The elegant tree at the Grand Floridian.

Reindeer stand guard at the entrance to the Grand Floridian.

Now the bigger question may be “HOW?” How do you get around to all of these resorts if you do not have a car? Simple. Use Disney transportation! Start from the resort you are staying at (or the one where you ate breakfast) and plan your route. Need help? Ask cast members and they can direct you to the many options you have to get from “here to there.” It is often easier to do a resort tour of the monorail resorts or the Epcot area resorts when you don’t have your own transportation. There’s plenty to see in either locale (or both!).

Exploring the holiday-decorated resorts really is a worthwhile way to spend a half of a day (or a whole day). We don’t spend a lot of time at each locale, just enough time to look around and snap some pictures. We missed many of the resorts this year, but will put them on our list next year. The cast members at Holiday Services spend the entire year planning for this season, so take the time to look around. You will be astounded at what they have created and you might even be able to take home a few decorating ideas yourself!

And don’t forget….be sure to get your gingerbread!

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