Planning your vacation to WDW? Trying to decide where to stay?
We’ve stayed at two resorts in Orlando – one official Disney hotel (Coronado Springs) and one “mostly” Disney hotel (Dolphin Hotel) – and I can attest that both are amazing, with incredible perks. I implore you… don’t discount the Swan and Dolphin Resort because it’s not “officially Disney.”
We just stayed at the Dolphin Hotel and it was AMAZING! If we head to Disney again, this is where we’ll park our tired heads. Here are 11 reasons why!
It’s On Disney Property
As I mentioned, when you’re staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort you don’t get 100% of the advantages afforded official Disney hotels, but that might be a non-issue.
Your only sacrifice? Disney’s Magical Express (but we know most of you are coming from the Southeast anyway, so you’re probably driving….if not, take a Minnie Van for a fun experience.)
Finally, you may not opt for the Disney Dining plan at the Swan or Dolphin, but for our family, it’s a non-issue.
What you DO still get?
Extra Magic Hours (yay!!! This is most important if you ask me!)
You area also eligible for FREE Disney transportation. Sure, Epcot and Hollywood Studios are only a short walk or float away, but you can also get a free ride to the other theme park lands, the water parks, and to Disney Springs.
Anther fun perk? You can still get a Magic Band! Disney’s Cabanas in the Swan and the Disney Gift Shop in the Dolphin both sell Disney’s Magic Bands for about $13. So you can link up your park tickets, FastPass+, Memory Maker or Photo Pass…and you are good to go. Now, you can’t use it to charge your credit card in the park and it doesn’t work as a room key (but the kids will never know this!)
Location, Location, Location
We’ve already mentioned that Swan and Dolphin is on Disney property, but that’s just part of the equation.
It can be found alongside the BoardWalk Resort and also near the Yacht & Beach Club ….and it’s within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.
You can also catch the water taxi. This was our favorite mode of transportation. The boat floats a triangle route between Epcot, the Swan and Dolphin, and Hollywood Studios. This means you can easily get to either of those locations from the hotel.
We took the boat a few times, but one morning we had to be at Hollywood Studios for a guided tour well before the park opened or the taxis were running. No problem! It’s an easy walk over a bridge and along the water to get to Hollywood Studios or Epcot.
Two Hotel Amenities For One Price
We’ve mentioned the Swan Hotel and the Dolphin Hotel interchangeably here; let me explain. These are two hotels within the same resort…and they play well together.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels are situated directly across from each other and are connected by a canopied walkway that leads to the boat launch we mentioned earlier.
Guess what? You get to enjoy the restaurants, bars, gift shops, amenities and everything from both hotels!
The biggest differences? I think of the Dolphin more for families because it “feels” a little more busy and fun in that hotel. You’ll also find laundry facilities, a kids club play area (no babysitting there,) and a 24-hour cafeteria with great kiddo snacks – treats and healthy options, too.
Bigger families will absolutely want to stay at the Dolphin – it’s the only option with a 5-person room.
Character Meals Without Crowds
Character meals in the park are expensive and reservations are hard to secure. Plus – the crowds! Gah!
One of our favorite meals was at Garden Grove at the Swan Hotel. We ate from the HUGE buffet, sat under a 25-foot oak tree decorated with lights and paper lanterns…and took pictures to our hearts content with Pluto and Goofy!
I can’t guarantee this will always be the case, but the servers told me it was the situation most of the time…we only had to share the characters with 3-4 other families. So there was time to BE goofy WITH Goofy…dance with Pluto…and take 140 pictures.
You can see the characters every night, and during breakfast on weekends. Make a reservation through the Disney app to guarantee a seat, but if you forget, we saw that walking up was not a problem.
A Feast For Foodies
Come Hungry! There are 12 places to find a meal at this resort, and they are all superb.
There’s the prestigious Todd English’s bluezoo restaurant serving seafood and coastal cuisine. Even if you don’t eat here, stick your head in to see the architecture. It was designed by Jeffrey Beers who is well-known in his own right, but you might know the man he studied with – Dale Chihuly.
Don Shula’s nationally acclaimed steakhouse is here, as well as award-winning Kimonos with Asian delights.
There is a Cabana Bar with super service and great meals… Fuel is where we grabbed breakfast each day… and Phins is where we liked to unwind with a drink while the boys ate one of their HUGE pretzels.
Finally, after a jump in the pool, treat yourself and the kids to something from The Fountain. Enjoy homemade ice cream and sensational malts.
Don’t miss signing up for the SPG Kids Pass program when you check in. For a flat daily rate, children ages 12 and younger can get an all-inclusive pass to children’s menus, buffets and beverages. If you have a little foodie, this is the answer!
An Amazing Pool Grotto
FIVE…I repeat FIVE pools grace this resort.
You’ll find a slide, a waterfall, a hot tub, a lap pool, a kiddo pool….something for everyone! It’s called the Pool Grotto – and it is glorious.
There is a health club, tennis courts, jogging trails, a spa, a game room, Swan boat rentals, a full art gallery (which is really cool,) a sandy beach, a playground….and much more!
You may have heard; there is a mandatory resort fee at the Swan and Dolphin. It’s currently $28 per day (NOT per person.) This ruffles feathers for some…not so much for us.
So what’s the fee for?
It covers the basics like the Health Center, unlimited calling (long distance, too) a fitness class and some scheduled pool and resort activities.
It also gives you 2 bottles of water each day (you’ll love packing those in your backpack for the parks,) enhanced internet, free use of the Swan paddle boats (do not miss this! so fun,) and a daily s’mores kit that you can use at the evening Campfire & S’mores event.
And mom (or dad) with aching feet…you get $25 off spa services of $100 or more at Mandara Spa. That’s each day…not just once. Schedule some “me time” ok???
Moderate Level Resort At Value Prices
Prices for a room at the Dolphin are in the $200 range, which is super affordable considering all the perks we’ve mentioned for you. You’ll want to keep an eye out for deals, as well. Since Disney does not own either of these resorts, they can offer discounts that are not available through Disney. Finally, don’t skip Hotels.com where we’ve seen rooms as low as $150.
You Can Be A Star
Yes, you can be a star…with Starwood Resorts! This hotel is owned by Starwood, so be sure to sign up for your Starwood points via the Starwood Preferred Guests Program…or use the points you have to book your stay!
Not familiar? Starwood points are good with any Starwood hotel including Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, St Regis, W Hotels and more. You’ll be booking a free stay in no time!!
By booking with the SPG program on their site, you can save 15% and get free internet in you room. See the website for more SPG deals.
Stay 2-3 Nights For Free
More Starwood perks…file this one under “free room!”
If you sign up for the Starwood AMEX then you can earn 25,000 points in the first 3 months. That’s if you spend $3,000 with them (easy, right?)
Last we checked, the Swan and Dolphin rooms were 10,000 points. That means that you can easily stay for 2 nights free…and if you can put another month of groceries on that card ($500 more,) then you can easily get the third night free also.
Now, these deals are always changing, rotating, getting fresh makeovers…so be sure to check the link above for the most recent deal…but the point is this: Don’t miss the opportunity to earn a free vacation with the credit card!
On-Site Car Rental
I mentioned that Disney’s Magical Express is not an option with Swan and Dolphin, but if you are flying in then consider renting a car with Alamo. They have a rental pick up and return office right on site.
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Disclosure: Thank you to the Dolphin Hotel for hosting me and my family. Our park passes were courtesy of DSMMC. Opinions here are ALWAYS our own.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.