On Property but Off Property? Our Stay at the Swan and Dolphin
Our 2021 Review of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin
When HAOE agents travel to Disney and Universal, we make it a point to visit not only our favorite resort hotels, but also to try and tour new ones, so we can give our clients the best information possible.
I just returned from a too-short, school's-out trip down to Walt Disney World, where we hit all four parks in four days and stayed at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel.
Let’s talk about what we loved, what we didn’t, and what we wish we had known about the Swan and Dolphin hotels at Walt Disney World.
About the Swan and Dolphin at Walt Disney World
Are the Swan and Dolphin on property or not? Well, technically, the answer is . . . both! While not officially Disney hotels, these two properties are located smack-dab in the Epcot resort area, between the Beach and Yacht Club resorts and the Boardwalk area. Both the Swan (Westin) and Dolphin (Sheraton) fall under the Marriott umbrella. They also have many of the benefits of official WDW resorts.
What We Loved
Location, location, location: Swan and Dolphin are super close to parks and to some of our favorite Disney resort areas! We loved the convenience of hopping on the FriendShip boats or taking a quick stroll to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. As the Boardwalk attractions slowly reopen (games are now active again!), families will love the short walk to the bakery, ice cream shop, and spots like the Abracadabar.
We could see the Tower of Terror from our standard room window!
On our last full day, we took a stroll over to the Beach Club for a mobile-ordered breakfast from the Beach Club Marketplace. After grabbing a couple additional souvenirs, we took our Mickey waffles to some outside tables and had a lovely, leisurely breakfast. If we had snagged a Beaches and Cream reservation (no luck there), the proximity would have been an added bonus!
The pools: The Swan and Dolphin share the Grotto Pool, among a few other, more traditional pools. The Grotto Pool features bridges, rock work, and (most importantly) a water slide. We added a day to our vacation after four FULL days in the parks to let the kids (okay, and the parents) relax, swim, and rest up for the long drive home. The kids made great use of the water slide, and we all enjoyed the Sunday afternoon DJ. The adults loved mobile-ordering drinks and lunch from our beach chairs: each chair has a QR code and a number to guide the pool staff to you; it was so easy it was almost dangerous, ha!
Cheers to mobile-ordering frozen drinks!
Garden Grove and other Dining: In the “before times,” Garden Grove offered a fun character breakfast on weekends. While that’s not currently happening, it’s still a great option to get your fix of Mickey waffles and deilcious breakfast. Seating at Garden Grove is currently first-come, first served, so show up early and get your name on the list.
The Swan and Dolphin had plenty of great food options, from quick service and grab-and-go to fine dining. During our stay, we had a great hot breakfast of sandwiches and, you guessed it, Mickey waffles, at Java, as well as pizza from Picabu in the Dolphin, and lunches from Cabana, the Grotto pool bar. The resorts also have fine dining options like Shula's Steakhouse and Todd English's Bluezoo.
Service: The service was so friendly! Everyone was very helpful and positive, from the moment we checked in until we drove away five days later.
Comfort: while both under the Marriott umbrella, the Dolphin is a Sheraton property and the Swan is a Westin, which has a “heavenly bed” program. Our beds at the Swan were indeed heavenly, and we are already researching getting a Westin bed of our own! Additionally, we loved that we could actually get the thermostat cold, unlike so many hotels that let you think you’re turning the temperature down yet never really get any cooler.
These beds were so comfy after long days in the parks. Creepy sleep mask not required! :)
Transportation options: as we discussed briefly when talking about the convenient location, the Swan and Dolphin are on the FriendShip Boat water taxi route (along with Beach and Yacht Club and the Boardwalk) to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Both parks are also within walking distance, along pleasant pathways. Finally, the Swan and Dolphin have bus service to Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs. More on this in a moment . . .
Boats depart from a dock right between the Swan and Dolphin.
What We Wish We Had Known
Which hotel to choose: The two hotels share a lot of amenities (like the Grotto pool), but it’s important to know which amenities are the most important to you when you decide which one to book. For example:
Laundry rooms are in the Dolphin. Laundry is no one’s favorite part of a trip, but think about whether you want to schlep a hamper or suitcase of your kids’ sweaty Disney t-shirts across the courtyard area to do laundry.
The Dolphin’s beds are full-size, while the Swan’s are queen. I have a son who’s now taller than I am, who also sleeps like a cartoon character having a nightmare, and full-size is not going to work for whoever ends up sharing with him. However, the extra floor space that the Dolphin’s full-size beds afford means that they allow an additional (rollaway) bed and can accommodate a family of five.
Theming Level: The Swan was beautifully appointed (and it smelled great, too!), but you won’t find Mickeys, hidden or otherwise, everywhere. If you are hoping for an immersive, Disney-fied hotel, the Swan might not be the place for you. However, they do have a gift shop packed full of Disney souvenirs, including ones currently for sale in the parks! And we were happy to see a Star Wars backdrop near the elevators.
Parking and resort fees can add up. Parking was $29 per day, and it’s assessed at check-in, so it’s not necessarily included in your package or hotel quote. That’s more expensive than Disney’s Deluxe hotels, but it does include free parking at Disney parks (just show your room key and your reservation in your MDE app). The resort fee of $35/day can also add up quickly, but it does cover daily bottles of Dasani water, Swan paddleboat checkouts, and activities like water aerobics classes.
Transportation: To review, the Swan and Dolphin are on the FriendShip Boat water taxi route with the Yacht and Beach Club resorts; however, they share their own set of bus transportation, separate from Disney’s buses. We took the boat to Epcot and back and found it pleasant, convenient and quick.
On our Hollywood Studios day, we opted for the walking path, which was great for getting in a little early and hitting Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway before park opening, but a late Oga’s reservation had us leaving 45 minutes after park closing, and that meant that we missed the last boat. The kids (okay, and the adults) were exhausted from opening and closing the park in a 100+-degree heat index, and we really did not want to walk back. Luckily we spotted a taxi cab and delightedly paid $4.80 plus tip to be driven back to the Swan.
The buses to Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom were quick and convenient; however, unlike Disney buses, the Swan’s Magic Kingdom shuttle lets you out at the Ticketing and Transportation Center (TTC), which means you’ll need to take the additional step of the monorail or the ferry boat to reach the entry gates. We didn't mind this at all (in fact, we got to see the Electrical Water Pageant on our ferry ride back, which was a lovely end to the day), but it is something to keep in mind.
Monorail fun at park opening; view from the ferry at park closing.
The buses to and from Disney Springs were probably our least favorite experience, but only because we had to wait 20-30 minutes for each ride. All in all, not a bad option for free transportation and not having to drive and park anywhere.
Marriott Bonvoy Benefits: while we love that we (and our clients) can earn Bonvoy points while staying at either of these properties, we don’t necessarily recommend redeeming points on your stays at these hotels. Both the Swan and the Dolphin are category 6 properties, meaning they require some of the highest amounts of points to stay there. Both hotels’ rates are often reasonable enough that it made more sense for us to pay the rack rate for our stay, and just enjoy accruing more points to use elsewhere.
Would we stay again?
Overall, we were thrilled with our stay at the Swan and would stay again in a heartbeat! We’re so glad we checked it out and can wholeheartedly recommend it to clients and friends.
Happiest Adventures on Earth is happy to offer you a quote for the Swan or Dolphin resorts, either as part of a Walt Disney World package, booked separately with park tickets, or all by themselves! We are a Marriott preferred agency, and can work with you and your memberships/Bonvoy points, to see if the Swan and Dolphin are the right choice for you. Email us at HappiestAdventuresOnEarth@gmail.com, or fill out our form for a quick, no-obligation quote!