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Enjoying the Gaylord Texan Resort for Less

November 21 2017
10 min read
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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)

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.

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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:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card
  • Marriott Rewards Business Premier Plus Credit Card

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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Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
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  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
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Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 100,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $2,000.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. And if you fly, you can receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year after you select a qualifying airline and incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at select airports and stadiums.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees