Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Stay at the Swan and Dolphin

If you've been to Disney World, you've probably seen the Swan and Dolphin.  These sister resorts, located in the Epcot area, rise high between Hollywood Studios and Epcot and are a stop along the path of the Friendship boats.  The 56-foot swans and dolphins on top of the coral and aqua buildings (they actually look more like a fish to me) are easy-to-spot landmarks, even from a distance.  I've been curious about the Swan and Dolphin for quite a while, but only recently had the chance to stay there.  

In late May, our family of 5 (2 adults and 3 kids, ages 13, 10 and 4) took a last-minute trip to Disney World.  Our resort options on Disney property are already limited since many rooms can only sleep four, and our budget was tight for this trip, meaning deluxe resorts and family suites were immediately off the list.  We looked at Port Orleans-Riverside, but it was fully booked for rooms sleeping five. As a last resort (no pun intended) before booking two connecting rooms at a value resort, we called Swan and Dolphin to see if their rooms could sleep five.  We were thrilled to learn they CAN, with the addition of a rollaway bed for an extra $25 per night, and they had availability! We were also thrilled with the rate of $199 per night (this included an educator discount, but not the rollaway charge of $25 per night), making the rates pretty comparable with a moderate resort.  We were booked...just a few days before we arrived!

We quickly went to work researching the resort and learned that the Swan and Dolphin do offer perks, many of which are also offered at Disney resorts:

  • Extra Magic Hours
  • On-site transportation to and from the parks
  • Disney ticket counter in the resort
  • Disney gift shop in the resort
  • Complimentary parking at the theme parks
  • Guaranteed admission to the parks on busy days
  • Package delivery to your room from the parks
  • Character dining (available at the Garden Grove restaurant in the Swan)
  • Advance tee times
  • Complimentary shuttle service to the outlet mall
  • Full service spa
  • Health club
  • Mears Transportation desk on-site
Mears Transportation Desk at the Dolphin
However, there's also a list of perks that are not available:
  • Magical Express
  • Ability to participate in the Dining Plan
  • Ability to charge back to your room using your Key to the World Card
  • Disney Visa trip financing
  • Disney theming in the resort
  • Free resort parking
We booked our transportation to and from the airport through the resort at a total rate of $164, not including gratuity for the driver.  We were very happy with the service itself - a driver met us near the baggage carousel with a name card, handled our luggage, and was parked almost immediately outside the nearest door.  We were off the plane and in the car in no time, then headed straight for the resort in a brand-new Cadillac Escalade.  Now, while I love Magical Express, this was pretty nice.

Arriving in the Dolphin lobby.
We were booked on the Dolphin side and it took just a few minutes for us to check in.  Someone had recommended we sign up for the Starwood Reward Program to increase our chances of getting an upgrade, which we'd done.  I'm not sure if it helped, but our room was on the 11th floor and had a great water view that faced Boardwalk.  As we walked in the door, we could see Illuminations right outside our window.  Now that's a magical welcome!  

We had five days/four nights at the Dolphin and here are our impressions.

Location (+): 
The location of the Swan and Dolphin resorts is one of the resorts' major advantages.  The proximity to Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Boardwalk, and the other nearby resorts is hard to beat.  The Friendship boats stop regularly, sometimes back-to-back, and it's also a manageable walk.  Our first day, we timed how long it took us to get from our room to the front gates at Hollywood Studios and it was a mere 14 minutes, 6 minutes of which were the boat ride.  That also makes it easy to head back to the room for an afternoon rest or swim if you're so inclined.  The pathways also provide great options for runners.

The Room (+/-):
The room was 360 square feet, which in general is a bit larger than moderate resorts and smaller than deluxe.  The rollaway fit nicely next to the large window. The design was contemporary, though we did find it a bit worn and our room was definitely musty (maybe due, in part, to the fact the bathroom fan didn't work).  I'd heard about the "Heavenly Beds" here, and they were nice, but not exceptional.  The bathroom had a separate vanity area, but it was a little cramped and had just one sink.  There is plenty of drawer and closet space, as well as in-room fridge, hair dryer, iron, phone, safe, coffee maker (featuring Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea), and two free bottles of water per day.  The walls did seem a bit thin and we could often hear conversations in the hallway as other guests walked by.  In the end, the room met our needs just fine.

Cost (+): 
Our total room rate with all taxes, the $17 per night resort fee, and $25 per night rollaway charge was right around $250 per night.  This is comparable to a moderate resort on Disney property and about half the rate of nearby deluxe resorts.  For the size of the room and the location, we were happy with this amount.  (Be sure to factor in transportation charges to and from the airport into your budget and/or parking fees.)

Dining (-):
During our stay, we tried three of the dining options at the Dolphin.  The first was The Fountain, which had sandwiches, salads, and ice cream treats.  The food was fine, but not exceptional, but we walked right up without a reservation and our service was good.  

The Fountain - Children's Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

The Fountain - Children's Hot Dog
The Fountain - Children's Cheeseburger

The Fountain - Ahi Tuna Burger with Spicy Asian Slaw (photo shows half )
The second was the quick service option, Picabu.  The set-up reminded me of a cafeteria line and, again, we weren't impressed with the food, decor, or prices.  

Picabu - Menu Board
The last was the Java Bar in the lobby of the Swan, which serves Starbucks coffee.  It can be hard to find a good cup of coffee at Disney World, so this was a great way to start our day. 

I've heard such great things about the dining at the Swan and Dolphin, we must have just made some wrong choices during our stay.

We tried swimming a few times, but seemed to be cursed.  We had a difficult time finding the pools and when we did they were a bit of a hike from our room. We never did make it to the kiddie pool area.  The pools also close at 9 pm every day, so if you're accustomed to Disney resort pools that are open until midnight, be aware of the hours.

Main pool at the Dolphin
Swan paddle boats are available
Theming (-):
This is the one thing we missed the most when we stayed here - being immersed in the Disney "feel" and resort theming that you get when you stay on Disney property.  Being here felt like you were at just another hotel, but perhaps that's more appealing to some folks.

Airport Transportation (+/-):
The direct, personal service between the airport and resort was fantastic! On the other hand, we love getting in the Disney mood on the Magical Express...or crying along with the good-bye video at the end of the trip.  And you can't beat the price of the Magical Express. This one is a toss-up.

In the end, we did enjoy our stay at the Dolphin.  Although it didn't have the kid-friendly atmosphere or Disney theming we enjoy so much at other resorts, the location was fantastic and price was in our budget, so we would consider staying there again.

Learn more at: www.swandolphin.com


  1. Great information here! Even for the not so frugal traveler, it looks like a fabulous place to stay!

  2. Wow...great review Beth! You really touched on all of the questions that I had about this resort. Thanks so much for this!

  3. Excellent and informative, kind of excited to try the Swan in November and will definitely keep all your pointers in mind *o*

  4. What great information Beth, we are going to have to try it one of these trips!!