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Since my first daughter was born, most years we head to New York City in late November or early December to see the real Santa at Macy’s on 34th Street and partake in other holiday offerings such as ice skating in Bryant Park, seeing the over-the-top window displays, viewing the Rockefeller tree, watching the Rockettes, and visiting cousins from Connecticut. While the city is always a little nuts around the holidays, it is also a ton of fun for a young family.

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

However, this year we changed things up a bit and decided to instead visit the real Santa in Dallas before Thanksgiving (in case you didn’t know, he makes his trek up to New York City after Thanksgiving). We made this holiday switch-a-roo plan for two reasons. First, we wanted to experience all of the holiday magic that the Gaylord Texan has to offer and there just isn’t time and money to do both that and NYC in the same month. Second, we wanted to then head from Dallas to Kansas to visit grandparents on their home turf since we hadn’t done that in over a year.

Visiting grandparents in Kansas

I have seen friends’ amazing pictures from the Gaylord Texan on Facebook for years, but we hadn’t made the trip ourselves until last weekend. Let me say that if you live within a reasonable distance from Dallas and you love all things Christmas, then go ahead and pencil this trip in right now.

Because their holiday offerings are so extensive (and potentially expensive if you aren’t careful), I’m going to break my tips and review into two posts. In this first post I’ll talk about the hotel and how to book it for less, and then in the next post (which I promise to get out this week), I’ll talk about their holiday activities and how to save some money on them.

Read to go down the snow tubing at the Gaylord Texan!

The massive 4.5 acre Gaylord Texan is located in Grapevine, Texas, which is 15 – 20 minutes from Dallas and about 10 minutes from DFW airport. This resort first opened in 2004 and is now under the Marriott umbrella with 1,384 rooms and 127 suites and still growing.

Gaylord Texan

It is a huge resort located in a tourist area near a Great Wolf Lodge, Embassy Suites, and the adorable Grapevine downtown. I’m sure it is fabulous year-round, but it is extra special around the holidays with over 2 million twinkling lights and a themed holiday experience each year. This year, they featured a ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas theme in their 9 degrees indoor ICE! indoor sculpture experience.

Gaylord Texan Christmas Experience

While I think ICE! is the main draw, they also have indoor snow tubing, Cookies with Mrs. Claus, a Build-A-Bear workshop, outdoor ice skating, snowball throwing, an Elf on the Shelf breakfast, and of course the big man himself, Santa Claus. I promised not to get too far into the activities in this post, but hopefully, that gives you a flavor of why this resort is now a must-do recommendation of mine for holiday loving families!

Indoor ICE experience

Book the Gaylord Texan for Less

It will likely surprise no one that the Gaylord Texan can get very expensive around the holidays when demand is through the roof for all this holiday excitement. Standard rooms can easily go over $300 per night once you include all the taxes and fees, so this is a good time to consider using your Marriott Rewards points earned with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card or similar.

Standard rooms at the Gaylord Texan are 35,000 Marriott points per night. For our pre-Thanksgiving date we were able to get a room on a Marriott Rewards rate for about $190+, so we decided to go ahead and use cash this time and save points for another time since I can usually do better with my Marriott Rewards points than that return. In hindsight, points may have been the way to go because the cost of activities really added up, but at least we are halfway to earning a Marriott MegaBonus free night now. Another really good way to book a stay might be with a Marriott 35,000 point certificate you earn each year with cards such as the:

I highly recommend keeping an eye on the Gaylord Facebook pages if you are planning a visit as they do offer some early season discounts and flash sales.

Review of the Gaylord Texan Room

The regular check-in line was quite long when we arrived, but thankfully the Marriott Elite line was pretty short and saved us a decent amount of time.

Mommy Points Tip: Remember that The Platinum Card® from American Express offers you SPG Gold status which matches to Marriott Gold status.

During the check-in process, we were asked if we wanted an atrium view upgrade. At first I assumed this was a perk of having Marriott Gold status which does include complimentary space-available upgrades, but in this case, the hotel was not offering a complimentary view upgrade, but rather a paid view upgrade. As pretty as the atrium is with the lights, we declined the option to pay more for a different view, and frankly, it felt a little strange of a question given that Golds are technically eligible for room upgrades. I was totally fine with our room, but I would recommend they skip over asking elites if they want to pay more for a different view.

Our room was on the fourth floor and was a standard room with two queen beds, a double vanity with a separate room for the toilet and traditional tub/shower combo. It was indeed a standard room, but one that was totally adequate and comfortable for our family of four for the night. The only hitch was that one of the two elevators that served this section of the hotel was broken for the duration of our stay which led to some elevator crowding at times.

Upon request were granted a 2PM late check-out which was perfect for squeezing in an early afternoon nap for our two-year-old though housekeeping did come to the room twice before 2PM even though we had late checkout secured.

Gaylord Texan Dining and Pools

The resort itself has both an indoor and outdoor heated pool available, which is great for year-round fun! The indoor pool was much larger than expected, though the outdoor pool, while quite nice, was smaller than I would have guessed for a resort with 1,000+ rooms. However, after I left the resort I learned there is also an entire separate water park that is open during the summer that you get wristbands for when staying at the Gaylord.

Even without the holiday lights and activities, the massive Gaylord Texan atrium has tons of beautiful foliage and even its own River Walk element.

On our next visit, I hope we eat at the River Walk Cantina as it looked like a cute and festive spot for a meal.

While that restaurant looks like a lot of fun, do be aware that the Gaylord Texan is a little lacking when it comes to mid-range or budget meal options. There were a few full-service spots like the Cantina, but otherwise, for lunch, you could get a pre-made cold sandwich or wrap with chips and a drink for $15, but that was about it outside of room service or a full-service spot. That said, UberEats could be a solid backup plan if you didn’t feel like retrieving your car to leave for lunch. If you do leave the property, you can reach many different affordable options including Chick Fil A, Jason’s Deli, and more within about 10 minutes.

For dinner, we got in the car and headed to Hard Eight BBQ, a solid BBQ option that was about 10 – 15 minutes away by car. A hearty dinner for four there came to about $50, when a similar dinner would have easily been than double amount that at the Gaylord.

While we are on the topic of nearby places, my parents stayed the night at the Element DFW, about 5 – 10 minutes away, so that we could reduce expenses a bit as that property can be had for less than $100 and it would earn me a SPG stay credit since I’m going for Platinum status via a double stay bonus promo. While I didn’t stay there, they had no complaints about this property and it offers a complimentary breakfast.

When budgeting, be aware that there is a $20 resort fee and a $31 per day valet fee at the Gaylord. Self-parking is also available for $22 per day. Since Josh flew to Kansas before we did, he used their $15 transportation service to DFW which does not require reservations and leaves on the hour and half-hour.

I’m glad that we stayed at the Gaylord while enjoying their holiday offerings since we have a little one still napping, but if we didn’t have a napper still in the crew, because of all the costs involved with staying there, I don’t think I would personally do it for longer than a night given the more affordable nearby options. But for the full experience, it is worth staying at least one night and crossing your fingers that late check-out is available.

Do not expect a holiday trip to the Gaylord Texan to be an inexpensive endeavor, but the expenses for your hotel stay can be reduced if you use points, go early in the season, and/or jump on a flash sale. For a holiday-loving family, it will be money or points well spent.

Stay tuned for information on the holiday events and activities and how to save a little cash on those.

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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