There are several hotel options near Epcot at Walt Disney World, including two third party options–the Swan & Dolpin–that present an intriguing alternative to official resorts. In this post, we’ll compare those to Disney’s Beach Club Resort, which we previously dubbed the best of the official Crescent Lake options.
For many Walt Disney World fans, we know choosing a third party hotel is a non-starter. Part of the Walt Disney World experience is staying in the “Disney Bubble,” and there’s no doubt that it’s not quite the same at the Swan & Dolphin. Even as partners with Walt Disney World that offer some on-site perks, they’re Marriott hotels that have plenty of differences from Disney-owned hotels.
However, as on-site hotels that are within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s impossible to ignore them. Especially given that they have their own distinct styles and aren’t just generic hotels that you could find anywhere in the United States…
A quick note before we start: this post picks up our comparison series after a brief hiatus, which was “caused” by announcements of construction projects at Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Springs Resort…right as we were putting the finishing touches on a comparison of those two resorts that is now somewhat obsolete. Before we trash that completely, we’re wondering if there’s any interest in such a comparison focusing on the resorts during construction. We’ve had a lot of questions about staying at these two in the next couple of years, and a modified comparison could be a good way to address those questions.
With that aside out of the way, let’s get to the comparison of the Swan & Dolphin and Beach Club. As with our previous Walt Disney World ‘versus’ posts, we use 6 elements of two different resorts to determine which is “the best.”
Theme: Beach Club – For a lot of Disney fans, this is the threshold issue that’s difficult to get past. Beach Club has “Disney” theming, whereas the Swan & Dolphin do not. Or so the argument goes. We’ve already covered how Beach Club has a theme resulting from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s obsession with his childhood vacations in the seaside communities of the Northeast, with Beach Club’s theme meant to recreate the seaside resort cottages scattered around New England in the early 20th Century.
However, I’d argue that the Swan & Dolphin have themes resulting from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s obsession with architect Michael Graves and his striking and unique style. Let’s call it “Gravesitecture.” Love or hate it, these hotels are probably the pinnacle of Gravesitecture, and there’s nothing else quite like them in the world. They blend postmodern and whimsical designs with contemporary design in a way that’s not thematically-rich, but arguably is not a whole lot different than Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I’d further argue that it’s very difficult to assert the Contemporary “feels” like Disney theming whereas the Swan & Dolphin do not. (Totally different than thinking the Contemporary looks nice whereas the Swan & Dolphin are ugly.)
With all of that said, when making a value judgment about theme, as we’re doing here, Beach Club wins handily. Aside from time travelers visiting from the year 1992, Gravesitecture appeals to about 2.37% of the population, and those folks probably still wear L.A. Lights and carry Walkmans. 😉
Rooms: Swan & Dolphin – Once we get past that threshold issue of theme, this becomes a much tighter race. Following a $125 million refurbishment of its 2,267 guest rooms, the Swan & Dolphin are feature sleek, modern design and excellent features. The “Heavenly” beds, in particular, are the best at Walt Disney World, and the bathrooms and furniture are similarly nice. There’s no pretense of theme beyond “modern,” but if you’re looking for quality, it’s tough to beat these guest rooms.
Beach Club likewise just finished a large refurbishment to its rooms, and scaled back their theme in the process. They are now indistinguishable from something you’d find at a trendy hotel with a beach motif anywhere, and don’t feel distinctly “Disney.” This is troubling because Disney doesn’t put the same emphasis on luxurious bedding, bathrooms, or other touches, meaning theme necessarily must be top-notch for it to hold its own against real world competitors. It does not, and as such, these new guest rooms are not as good as the Swan & Dolphin’s.
Dining: Swan & Dolphin – Both resorts have their upsides and downsides in terms of dining. The upside of the Swan & Dolphin are an impressive lineup of higher end restaurants and bars. As it does a lot of convention business and caters far less to families, the Swan & Dolphin do sophisticated and adult restaurant options really well and at more competitive price points than Disney-owned competitors. Not being on the Disney Dining Plan helps in this regard, too. On the other hand, family options and counter service dining are woefully poor at the Swan & Dolphin (The Fountain is overpriced and not that good).
Beach Club is similarly weak in terms of counter service options, with Hurricane Hanna’s being its strongest option…which isn’t really saying much. The upside to Beach Club is that it offers better mid-range and family options. In this case, we think it’s fair to include the Yacht Club restaurants, too, as we are including all restaurants at both Swan & Dolphin. Even with that in mind, Swan & Dolphin get a slight edge thanks to quantity and quality, particularly thanks to some of the top-rated restaurants in all of Orlando.
All Crescent Lake resorts should be rebuked for the district’s pathetic counter service choices. Additionally, and as we’ve mentioned before, the restaurants throughout Crescent Lake are so incredibly easy to access from one another that we don’t think dining is an outcome-determinative factor.
Transportation/Location: Push – With all Crescent Lake resorts, location is one of the biggest selling points. They are all easy to stumble back to after a day of Drinking Around the World at Epcot, enjoying wine seminars during the Food and Wine Festival, or drowning your sorrows after having spent a full day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Both within walking distance to Epcot via the International Gateway and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a big deal, and a huge advantage–but it’s one shared by all of these resorts. Friendship boat service is also available from all of these resorts, to that’s another push. Unfortunately, bus service is poor at the Crescent Lake resorts, but once again, that’s a shared disadvantage.
Pools: Beach Club – Swan & Dolphin have some of the most underrated pools at Walt Disney World, but even their very good pools that would rank highly as compared to most Walt Disney World resorts are far surpassed by Stormalong Bay. We probably sound like a broken record at this point, but Stormalong Bay is the gold standard of Walt Disney World pools. This sprawling pool complex 3 acres in size with sand at the bottom, a lazy river, pleasant lounging space, and 230-foot water slide is in a league of its own. This is one of the best amenities in all of Walt Disney World.
Swan & Dolphin’s beautiful grotto pool with rockwork and a waterfall that overlooks a white sand beach is the second-best pool at the Crescent Lake resorts, and there are 4 other pools in addition to it. There are also poolside restaurants, kiddie pools, whirlpools, and more. Still, unless you are an adult who would prefer fewer kids around, this slate of pools cannot add up to Stormalong Bay.
Cost: Swan & Dolphin – If theme is the threshold issue for some Disney fans making the Swan & Dolphin a non-starter, price is the threshold issue for others making Beach Club a non-starter. On any given night of the year, rack rates at Beach Club are at least double the price of Swan & Dolphin. On many nights, that’s closer to 2.5 to 3x the cost. It would take Free Dining with 4 adults in a room at the Beach Club to begin bridging that gap, but even then, Swan & Dolphin offers better value. (With discounts, we’ve managed to book Swan & Dolphin for ~$150/night.)
Things that must be factored in if you’re considering the Swan & Dolphin are the resort fee (currently $25/day) and potentially parking (currently $20/day) if you have a rental car. Disney’s Magical Express also is not offered to Swan & Dolphin, so you’ll either be more likely to have a rental car here (thus paying that above fee) or paying for Uber to get from the airport. As regular readers of this blog know, I abhor resort fees and strongly recommend consumers fight back against them. With that said, even after factoring in all of these nickel-and-diming fees, the Swan & Dolphin are still considerably cheaper than Beach Club.
Verdict: Swan & Dolphin – I know some hardcore Disney fans are going to view this result as a betrayal. Yes, the Swan & Dolphin’s exterior is garish (counterpoint: when you’re staying inside the hotel, you see it less than those at the Beach Club with views of the Swan & Dolphin 😉 ) and it doesn’t have the same caliber of theme. For me, the difference between a ~$200/night resort (after fees) and a ~$400/night resort (after modest discounts) is too significant to ignore. (This is particularly true as someone who travels elsewhere, earning and redeeming Marriott rewards.)
For most readers who do not view this as heresy, this probably will come down to price v. theme & pool. If money is no object or if you’re one of those families of 4 traveling during Free Dining, Beach Club is a compelling option. We have made no secret of our frugality; as someone with such a perspective, my verdict shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Beyond that, for me Swan & Dolphin do a “good enough” job with some semblance of theme–or at least Walt Disney World “bubble immersion.” Staying at the Swan & Dolphin feels to me like staying at a Walt Disney World resort, and the significant amount of money saved helps me sleep easier at night. (Oh, and those Heavenly beds help, too.) This is a divisive topic among Walt Disney World fans, so your mileage may vary.
Now, I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. Here’s a poll so you can vote for your favorite of the two:
I think this will be an interesting poll to watch. My prediction is a decisive victory for Beach Club (perhaps as wide as 70/30). I think at least a moderate number of people voting in the poll don’t read the accompanying blog post, and a lot of Disney fans don’t realize there’s such a significant price difference between the two–they’ve never even considered the Swan & Dolphin because those are non-Disney hotels.
By the way, none of this is to disparage Beach Club or any of the Crescent Lake resorts. We love all of them, and when given the option to use our DVC points at Beach Club or pay out of pocket for Swan & Dolphin, we’ll pick Beach Club every time. Likewise, if money were no issue, we’d also choose Beach Club. Or, if we had kids and wanted it to be a special trip for them. Actually, the list of “exceptions” to my verdict could go on and on. (Finally, I should note that although I’ve used the word “our” at some points in this blog post, these opinions are my own–Sarah does not agree with the outcome of this comparison.)
Now that I’ve shared my take, I want to know your preference. Is money the deciding factor for you, or is theme? Does Stormalong Bay provide enough value for you to help bridge the price gap? Is there another “exception” you can think of to make Beach Club the better pick? Are we missing a key variable that could, potentially tilt the scales in Beach Club’s favor? Please give your feedback via the poll and comments below. While we hope this post is helpful in offering a head-to-head comparison of the most crucial elements of each Walt Disney World resort experience, we know it’s not definitive or the final word for every guest. In addition to reading the comments before making your own decision, we suggest supplementing this with our full review of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resorts and our Disney’s Beach Club Resort Review (the latter is a bit outdated).