Swan & Dolphin Hotel Review
The Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin are on-site hotels near Epcot that are Deluxe-caliber. This resort review features room photos, thoughts on amenities at both hotels, value for money, and how these resorts compare to Disney-owned accommodations.
Reviewing the Swan and/or Dolphin is a tricky proposition. One big question is how to categorize them? They are operated by Marriott, but dubbed “Walt Disney World resorts” by virtue of their on-site location plus certain perks that are otherwise typically offered to guests of Disney-owned properties.
From a guest benefit perspective, the Swan & Dolphin are arguably treated better than most Disney-owned hotels now that Disney’s Magical Express has been retired and so long as the Disney Dining Plan remains suspended. That’s because, in addition to Early Entry, Swan & Dolphin guests are eligible for Extended Evening Hours, whereas Value and Moderate Resort guests are not.
Accordingly, I’m going to dub the Swan & Dolphin as “official unofficial Disney Resorts.” That mildly incoherent moniker accurately summarizes the arrangement here. There’s also the question of treating them as one single hotel or two distinct hotels. In terms of quality, service, and all meaningful review metrics, they are akin to the Yacht & Beach Club, except without any significant thematic differences. As such, it’s appropriate to lump them together for the purposes of this review.
As a final note before we get going, we would treat the new Swan Reserve differently. That’s located across the street from the other two hotels, is decades newer, and substantively different. As such, its pros & cons will differ. We’ve toured the Swan Reserve several times, but have yet to stay as paying guests–which we’ll do in early 2022. Until then, you can check out our Swan Reserve Room Tour for more info, thoughts, and a look around.
Turning back to the regular ‘ole Swan & Dolphin, I won’t bore you with the history of how deals Michael Eisner made gave these hotels their murky status (you can read DisneyWar for that) or the contrived, now abandoned backstory of the design choices of the hotels. Suffice to say, the Swan & Dolphin are among the most historically interesting of all the hotels at Walt Disney World, and the size and scale of the hotels has made them controversial and divisive among Disney fans.
Style is largely in the eye of the beholder, but I have to admit that I am not much of a Michael Graves (the architect for the hotels) fan. To his credit, he has a very distinct and “conversation-worthy” approach that makes many of his buildings instantly identifiable, but I’ve always found them to have a cold, impersonal look.
Today, I think most of his work for Disney looks straight out of the 1990s, but I can’t really put my finger on why. Then again, I’m not a critic of architecture and really have no idea what I’m talking about from the perspective of architecture as art–this is all merely my gut-level reaction to the design.
Regardless of all that, there are benefits of being official unofficial Disney Resorts. The two biggest of these are location and price. Aside from Shades of Green (also a hotel with an interesting history and murky status), no other hotel that isn’t Disney-owned has as good of a location as the Swan & Dolphin.
Located on Crescent Lake alongside BoardWalk Inn and Yacht & Beach Club, the Swan & Dolphin are within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With this prime piece of real estate, the Swan & Dolphin actually have a better location (in my estimation) than half of the Disney-owned hotels at Walt Disney World.
Then there’s the price. At prices often right around $250/night (including the resort fee), these rooms are substantially cheaper than their counterparts at the BoardWalk Inn and Yacht & Beach Club.
Even accounting for an excellent promotion, it would be difficult for those Disney-owned hotels to compete with the Swan & Dolphin in terms of pricing, save for maybe 4 adults staying in one room during the “Free Dining” promo (which hasn’t even been offered in over 2 years at this point). Even then, Swan & Dolphin might have the edge. For more of a thorough head to head, see our Swan & Dolphin v. Beach Club comparison.
However, being that they are not Disney-owned hotels, there’s the unfortunate side of the pricing model used by the Swan & Dolphin. Namely, the non-optional resort fee.
This is something I’ve bemoaned in previous hotel reviews, so I won’t rehash the topic here. Suffice to say, if you want to know more about why this practice should be abolished, see our Fight Back Against Hotel Resort Fees post.
Even with the irritating resort fee plus a potential charged for parking rolled into the actual “out the door” price at the Swan & Dolphin, it comes out to around $250/night many nights.
We’ve priced out the Swan & Dolphin on other occasions and found it to be more or less expensive than that, so your mileage may vary. Still, that’s less than half the cost of other Crescent Lake resorts.
Once you get inside those doors, getting past those domineering exteriors and frustrating pricing, there’s actually a lot to like about the Swan & Dolphin. For us, this starts with Marriott.
We are Marriott Bonvoy Members, have stayed at many of the chain’s other hotels, and have found it to be a solid brand with quality service. We are big fans of Disney, but don’t think hotel management is one of the company’s strong suits. In this regard, Marriott has the edge.
Another area where the Swan & Dolphin are strong is dining. We have not eaten at every restaurant in both hotels, but the lineup is pretty staggering, and everywhere I have dined has been solid. (We’re big fans of Todd English’s Bluezoo.)
From Shula’s Steakhouse to Il Mulino to Kimonos to Bluezoo to Garden Grove and more, these hotels have some of the best dining on property. While some of these restaurants can be pricey, I feel like their value is usually slightly better than other on-site locations.
For all of my comments about the design choices in these hotels, I have to say that I don’t mind the interiors quite so much. They still are far from my favorite, but I generally think they are “fine.”
It’s really only the exteriors that get me riled up, and even those do have some redeeming features. If you’re big on theme, these hotels probably aren’t going to be for you, unless you consider postmodern design an ample substitute.
In this regard, the Swan & Dolphin are sort of like the Contemporary–modern design but in settings and with locations that distinguish them from ordinary modern luxury hotels. Rather this is a benefit or drawback depends upon your perspective.
For those wondering, if they were eligible, they would have been #6 or #7 on my Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort Rankings, due to being comparable to the Contemporary in style and location, gaining points on value, but losing points on theme.
Then there are the rooms. What you think of these rooms will largely be dictated by when you last stayed. My first visit to one of the rooms in the Dolphin was several years ago, and it was dated and, frankly, in horrible condition. I was actually a bit taken aback, as I had heard this hotel recommended by many friends, and I started to wonder if said friends were actually blind.
The Swan & Dolphin just wrapped up a $150 million, three-year renovation which included a redesign of all guest rooms, complete transformation of the Dolphin lobby and renovation of all meeting space, which finished its final phase late last year.
This time, I stayed in a refurbished room at the Swan (all of which were finished at the time of my stay) and it was excellent.
Excuse the photo quality here; I made the mistake of opening my blinds when taking the photos, which really messed up the white balance. You might want to look at the room photos on the Swan & Dolphin website, as my shots manage to have too much blue and too much yellow/orange.
What they’ve done with the new rooms is really nice, from the style to the quality of the carpet, furniture, and bedding. Normally, I stay away from the PR copy that hotel websites use, but in this case, they hit the nail on the head with their description of the bedding: “Heavenly Bed, featuring a pillow-top mattress, a white goose-down comforter, and four overstuffed pillows. You don’t just sleep in it, you lose yourself in it!”
Yeah, that’s about right. In my experience, this was hands down the best bed I’ve “lost myself in” thus far at Walt Disney World.
The bathrooms are also really nice, with great lighting in the mirrors, plus sinks both outside and inside the shower room.
The shower is a nice walk-in with decent water pressure.
Beyond the guest rooms, there are a whole host of other amenities at the Swan & Dolphin, from the pools to health club, tennis courts, jogging trails, spa, game room, watercraft rentals, art gallery, and more.
Even by Deluxe Resort standards, it’s a pretty solid lineup, and when adding the excellent dining to the equation, the Swan & Dolphin are very competitive with other Deluxes in this regard.
Since first publishing this review, we’ve stayed in the Presidential Suite at the Dolphin, which was far and away the coolest hotel room we’ve had at Walt Disney World.
If pools are your thing, the Swan & Dolphin are for you. They have approximately 37 different pools (okay, 5) with everything from award-winning lap pools to a beautiful grotto pool with rockwork and a waterfall that overlooks a white sand beach. There are poolside restaurants, kiddie pools, whirlpools, and more.
I didn’t test any of the pools during my visit for this review, but I went back and was able to take a dip in the grotto pool during a more recent stay. Wow. I think this is by far the best of the bunch. The Swan & Dolphin are right up there with Yacht & Beach Club for the crown of best pools at Walt Disney World.
Oh, and remember the Swan Boats in the Magic Kingdom? Probably not unless you visited prior to 1983, but if you do, the closest you can get to taking a cruise in a swan boat at Walt Disney World these days is renting one at the Swan & Dolphin.
The Swan Boats in the Magic Kingdom are before my time, but during my next stay at the Swan or Dolphin, I’m definitely giving one of these a try. A neat novelty, for sure.
Overall, the Swan & Dolphin hotels are going to be serve a specific subset of Walt Disney World guests very well, and another subset not so well. If you are a conventioneer or someone who wants a respite from the non-stop inundation of Disney when you head back to your hotel–but without sacrificing location–these hotels are definitely for you. If you’re a family looking for something with an immersive theme or that will appeal to your kids, there are probably better options at Walt Disney World for you.
I stop short of saying “definitely” there because the Swan & Dolphin still might be good options, especially if you’re looking for a luxury experience, excellent amenities, or close proximity to the parks at a lower price point (and who knows, maybe your kids will be drawn to the “pyramids” of these hotels–I was as a child!). While the resort fees do bug me, the fact remains that prices here are significantly better than comparable Disney-owned hotels even with added costs factored in, and the amenities give virtually every Disney-owned hotel a run for its money.
Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Check out our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page, which offers quick-hit capsule reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of every Walt Disney World hotel, plus links to our reviews and photo pages for every hotel we have reviewed. Looking for comprehensive Walt Disney World vacation tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
Do you like the look of the Swan & Dolphin or are they not your style? Have you stayed the Swan or Dolphin post-refurbishment? Pre-refurbishment? Planning on staying here someday? Do you agree or disagree with our review of these hotels? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We stayed at Swan in early March for the 1st time a few months ago. We historically always try to either snag Yacht or Boardwalk but the prices were just asinine so we decided to finally try one of these two resorts. The price really can’t be beat as we paid less than for the Swan than a room at POFQ which we had booked as an alternative but ended up cancelling. As two adults without kids, we spend most of our time at Epcot and I find myself at Jellyrolls at least 2x per trip, so the location can’t be beat for the price.
We weren’t fans of the lack of Disney theming at all and felt we were in Las Vegas while actually in the hotel. Even though the rooms were recently renovated, they were still pretty standard for a nice hotel and weren’t anything I’d write home about (the bathroom was so small, but at least there were sinks in and outside of the bathroom). Since we missed the theming we’ll probably go back to trying to stay elsewhere on Crescent Lake if we can, but I still think we’d opt for Swan over staying at most moderates (except maybe Caribbean Beach which is on the Skyliner line).
Only time will tell!
I always appreciate your review. I dislike resort fees too. But… I have so far gotten my rooms discounted every adventure we take to Swan Dolphin. This August we will return if all goes well and reservations(Disney) are available.
We stay at the Swan side usually in a larger lock off family ( think 6 people or more). We ask for fireworks view and have never been disappointed. You really can see Epcot and even Hollywood studios. Always ask for a balcony too. Although this year will be different we can rent a car at this resort for one or many days. We can travel to the beach on either shore in less than 2 hours.
As far as Disney dining plan, you won’t miss it. The small breakfast places Java Bar, Picabu and a few others open early. And, its a walk in the Park to get to Epcot and Hollywood studios. Just take a boat back.
And finally, while this is not Disney ( maybe) it has great pools an easy walk to Board walk and two of the best bars (family friendly) at Yacht club and Boardwalk. Think really good fast food.
Oh boy. I’m feeling like the fates are trying to tell me to stay home! I just made 7/29 reservations YESTERDAY for Dolphin (ironically, finally finished Disney War on Sunday after trying to plow my way through those 550 pages for about 3 years….) as the last few days of a trip that’s supposed to be at Animal Kingdom (MLS coming for me there??). I didn’t have enough DVC points to book an entire week since I could only rebook my canceled May reservation using 50% of my 2020 UY. It’s almost comical the lengths I’ve had to go to get Disney to let me visit!
My mom and I stayed at the Dolphin for my birthday in October and we both really enjoyed it. The room was fine, but the location was excellent! We spent most of our time in Epcot, so we’d just hop the ferry everyday. And then she’d go back to the room and I’d keep floating across the lake to Hollywood.
We had reservations at the Swan in May, but of course those were cancelled. I’d assume the experience would be largely identical.
I’ve always enjoyed the whimsical architecture of the Dolphin, where I’ve stayed several times, and Swan. Since they are Starwood hotels, which are now Marriott-owned, that gives me great access/deals since I have a ton of status. Agree with balance of the review, especially the quality of the bedding–very comfortable.
Thanks for pointing out Starwood doesn’t exist anymore.
After 12 years of Pops , sports, and Port Orleans with our son, we found Swan and Dolphin 2 years ago and will be going again in May. The theming in DW resorts was fun as our son was growing up but as he has gotten older we gave Dolphin a try. I LOVE it here. I mean yes you pay to park but as DW was not charging for parking at the time this article was posted – they do now.
And yes there is a resort fee I could do without – I bring my own water and coffee – but, resort fees are nothing new, they are very up front about it – it was no surprise to us, and as soon as DW can work that into their pricing ( as they did parking) I am sure they will.
The food and prices are very much online with what you pay for comparable meals within the DW resorts and parks. Pricey! But thats DW – I drive so I have some things I bring for breakfast but mainly we eat in the parks.
The rooms are clean, great views (I feel the views of Epcot and the resort areas are the best theming ever) two sinks in the rooms which helps, queen beds at Swan, the gym is amazing, the pools are beautiful, and we have never had issues with the staff so for us, its been really good.
I will say the buses run slow, that has been consistent. If you have a reservation in the parks you have to allow enough time or call Lyft if you tend to run late- its about every 45 minutes so that is different then at the DW resorts (they are like every 20-25) on the plus you can walk or take the boats to HS and Epcot which is the biggest draw for me… we eat a lot at Epcot so we walk.
So for me the pro’s definitely outweigh the few cons – If you really want to have the full DW themed rooms and exteriors you might want to look at the DW held properties. If it does not matter or like myself – the kids are grown then tis might be for you – it is like Moderate to deluxe amenities for much less!
Our children gifted us a room for our 50th anniversary. When we checked in the young man at the counter asked us a few questions and I mentioned that our children got the room for us and that it was our 50th anniversary. He smiled and told us congratulations and that Disney Swan would like to upgrade our room to include a balcony and a parlor. The room was amazing. On our anniversary night our family joined us to go out to dinner. The addition of the extra room was very welcome since there were 16 of us there. The balcony overlooked the path to the Dolphin and boat ramp, beautiful. We had an amazing stay and will recommend Disney Swan to everyone. Years ago, we took our grandchildren to Disney. When I asked them what there favorite thing was, our 8 year old stated “the hotel”. I now know what he meant. Our favorite part of our anniversary trip was Disney Swan. Thank you for making our trip so special.
Worst hotel I’ve stayed at. Stayed there last month with my husband and kids and we were very disappointed. Staff was horrible, rooms were old and dirty, there was no electricity when we showed up, my card kept getting charged for things it wasn’t supposed to. I mean, I could go on and on about how bad this place was! Worst part is when I spoke with manager about charges that were made without my consent, he told me rudely, we are not in the business of taking people’s money! It was my kids first time to Disney and the Swan made it a horrible experience!!! My whole family, friends, and everyone I spoke to regarding this disaster of a place, will not be wasting our money there EVER
Amen, contact Bonvoy. It’s time this hotel had some management changes. I agree that the staff is horrible.
Recently did a last minute trip here and used Bonvoy points. Sad to say we were underwhelmed with the staff and hotel. A few business conferences going on and pool shut down for an event and a 5k race that made of much noise and bullied people out walking early to HS. Shame on you Bonvoy. I’d rather have kids running around.
My family and I stayed at the Dolphin Resort. We spent an enormous amount of money on the room, resort fees, parking fees, restaurants and bars. First, I received my travel itinerary stating that the parking would be $18/day. When I checked in I confirmed that the parking would remain $18/day and I was told yes. After I received my email receipt, I noticed that I was charged $25/day for parking.
Secondly, the last day of our stay, we arrived back at the hotel late and our room had not been cleaned. I called the front desk and they sent up fresh towels. We also had millions of ants all over the coffee bar and crawling on the baseboard of the perimeter of the room. We noticed a couple of ants in the beginning of our stay but didn’t think we would be surrounded by the entire colony of ants by our last day. We called the front desk again and they sent up the Housekeeping Manager. She spayed the bugs and wiped the coffee bar. We asked if someone could vacuum since our room hadn’t been cleaned that day (nor had it been vacuumed the entire time of our stay). She had someone come back to our room and spot vacuum. Our sheets were never changed in 5 days and the overall cleanliness of the room was far from par.
I called Swan and Dolphin upon my return home to complain. I was told that I needed to call back and speak with Accounting and that my ant complaint would have to go through the Housekeeping Manager, and someone would call me back. I never received a return phone call, so I called a week later. I spoke with the Front Desk Manager and he said that he cannot adjust my bill, which really disappointed me. He offered to give me points on a Marriott Awards card that I could use for a future stay. After our experience, there is no way I would ever stay here again!
Great review, Tom, as always!
I’d just like to add there is an Alamo car rental in the Dolphin which is incredibly convenient for anyone who’s driving in from another city. We are dropping off our car there and going carless for the Disney portion of our trip (other than uber to airport of course) while staying at the Swan. Also convenient as you don’t have to leave hotel if you need to rent a car to visit other theme parks or places in the area!
Just moved out of the Dolphin due to roaches and roaches and roaches. Management wanted to move us and we denied. Now fighting to get a full nights charge back that we were charged as penalty for leaving before our expected departure. We expect better if you are Disney premises!!
Where did you see them??
I always stay at the Dolphin or Swan when I cant get a DVC reservation. I love having them as a “backup”.
I think they are both fabulous and always find them spotless.
I have a roach phobia and would pass out if I ever saw one there.
I’m shocked and devastated after reading your comments.
Its always on the top of my list as they provide the most luxurious experience to all of their guest.
The review for Swan Dolphin is always best as it provide an unforgettable experience to all of their guests during their vacations.
I think all Disney resorts now charge for parking, which is disappointing.
Regarding perks, do they have fast pass at 60 days?
Yes. On their website, it gives the full list of perks, such as free bus transportation to and from parks and Disney Springs, purchases sent to your hotel so you do not have to carry your purchases around all day, etc.
I’m starting to plan our first family trip to WDW. We are thinking end of October beginning Nov next year and I was highly concidering the Swan and Dolphin as our hotel and upgrading to the fireworks view. In your opinion would that upgrade still be worth while? Not sure what the view would be like after reading all of your construction up dates.
I want to give you a tip. Last week, we just booked the Swan through Priceline Express Deals and was able to get it for $91 a night + fees (total came to $138/nt which included all tax, resort & priceline fees). The Dolphin was about $10 less per/nt, but we went for the larger beds and extra sink at the Swan. So check Priceline out. I don’t know if those rates will be offered during your stay, but it is worth checking out. We are going during peak season so it’s possible. For the PricelIne Express Deals, just compare the number of traveler review and, % of people recommending it to the Swan or Dolphin on their website (sort by Disney Bonnet Creek), and then to double check go to http://expdealshotel.com/ and https://hotelrevealer.com/ plug in your dates and location. These two websites reveal the Price Line Express Deal hotel names so the hotel name is no longer a mystery. Doing a little homework can really save you tons. I have a lot of coworkers who are major Disney Resort fans and they stay at the Swan & Dolphin for work events. They love it because of it’s proximity to Epcot, HWS & Boardwalk. You can always split your stay up with an Offical Disney hotel and both hotels will transport your luggage at no charge. We are doing 5 nts at Swan and 5 at Wilderness. An uber from Airport to Swan is about $40 and Magical Express back to airport from the Wilderness. We found using the Swan Price Line Express Deal, it made a 10 night Deluxe Resort Disney Vacation financially possible.
Great Review. we stayed here in Aug 17 and found the Swan to be very competitive on price and my wife also got them to remove the “resorts fees”. Being so close to EPCOT (we don’t have kids) made it so easy to go to EPCOT/DHS whenever we felt like it.
We will be returning to WDW in Aug 19 and are tossing up whether to stay in deluxe (beach/poly) but find it really hard to justify the extra $$$
How did your wife get the resort fees removed, that is amazing!
What logic did your wife use to get resort fees removed
Do the offer luggage transfer to of het Disney hotels?
Has the Dolphin been renovated as well or just the Swan? Thanks for your reviews! They are such a big help!