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More than a year ago, I insisted on going to Disney World in December. Even though park tickets were not yet in my budget, I wanted to experience some holiday magic in the form of hotel decorations, so I hopped from lobby to lobby as I soaked up the atmosphere of as many Christmas decorations as I possibly could!

I have spent Christmas in various places around the world. I’ve gone to the German Christmas Market in Birmingham, England. I’ve seen the streets of New York City and London and Cardiff covered in festive lights. I’ve celebrated the start of Christmas season in Cincinnati’s Fountain Square by watching Santa rappel down the side of a skyscraper. I’ve witnessed the mostly-Muslim country of Indonesia fill its malls with Christmas garland. And while I dearly treasure all of these holiday memories, my favorite place to enjoy Christmas is undoubtedly at Walt Disney World.

As you can probably guess, Disney does not mess around when it comes to decorations for any occasion throughout the year, but Christmastime is when some serious magic happens. This year, even though I had an annual pass to the parks, I made sure to spend some time at the hotels, where the crowds are thinner and the decorations are more concentrated.

Though I didn’t hit my goal of seeing every hotel decked out with garland and ornaments, here are some of my favorite sights at the hotels I did have a chance to visit. If you live in the area and would like a dose of Disney magic but don’t get to the parks because of prices or crowds, I would recommend spending a day exploring the hotels at Christmas time when there’s an extra level of pixie dust to admire!

Grand Floridian

Of all the Disney resorts, Grand Floridian is my all-time favorite. I’ve never had the chance to stay here, and I doubt I ever will, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from hopping off the monorail at this stop every few weeks. The already-magnificent hotel is absolutely splendid when the decorations are up. A giant gingerbread house doubles as a stand in which cast members sell gingerbread cookies, the tree is enormous, and the decorations are perfectly Victorian-themed.

On my most recent visit–the Friday before Christmas–a group of musicians played Big Band versions of classic Disney songs, and it was just perfect!

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Boardwalk

I can’t tell you how many times I have been to Boardwalk and its neighbors in the past year. Every time I am at Epcot and need a break from the crowds, I leave by the back entrance and go for a stroll along the promenade, which takes me by Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin, and Yacht and Beach Club. Christmas decorations or not, the walk is always delightful and I enjoy seeing the resorts during the daytime as much as I do at night when the bright lights come on and lend an entirely different atmosphere.

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Yacht and Beach Club

In addition to some beautiful decorations outside, the Beach Club had an operational carousel made from gingerbread.

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The Yacht Club lobby was equally impressive with a miniature train display!

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Swan and Dolphin

The Swan doesn’t have much more than a Christmas display made from chocolate (which actually sounds pretty cool but didn’t catch my attention enough for me to even take a picture). There is a cute little gingerbread house in the lobby, but it pales in comparison to the gingerbread displays at some of the other resorts.

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The Dolphin, on the other hand, has a giant Christmas tree with a fairly big train around it. It was worth seeing, although I never feel like there’s quite as much of the “Disney touch” at Swan and Dolphin, compared to the rest of the Disney hotels.

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As I walked between the Swan and Dolphin hotels one night, the palm trees and fountains lit up, and the lights flashed and changed colors in rhythm with the Christmas music that was playing. It’s not something that’s worth going out of your way to see, especially since I’m not sure if there’s a set schedule for the seemingly-impromptu light show, but it’s a nice little treat if you happen to be walking that path at night.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge

I absolutely love the juxtaposition of the hotel lobby’s tribal decor and the Christmas tree. This resort is pretty far away from the others, but if you really want to come here to see the decorations, I recommend either doing so as part of a day at the Animal Kingdom park or making a reservation at Sanaa at the hotel so that you are not making a trip here just for a few minutes of decoration-gawking.

While you’re here, don’t forget to go downstairs to the outdoor area, where you can see some of the wildlife. Don’t worry if it’s after dark–there are night-vision binoculars to help spot the zebras, giraffes, lions, and other animals.

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Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness

I had never been to this resort at all, so I was simultaneously blown away by the detail of the resort’s rustic theme mixed with the giant Christmas tree and other lovely Christmas decor.

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As I write this, it is mid-January, and I’m still in shock that the holiday season came and went so quickly. I’m eager for a whole year of new Disney memories, and I’m hoping that wherever life takes me this year, my next Christmas involves some pixie dust!

Love, Elizabeth

Where is your favorite place to celebrate the holiday season? Have you seen decorations even more impressive than Disney’s? Tell me in the comments below!