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!
Can guest of S/D make ILL purchases at 7:00am?
My family are frequent WDW visitors and usually stay at a deluxe resort. I will be in Orlando Easter weekend a few days before a cruise and want to go to MK to hopefully check out TRON. The on site hotel prices are the highest I have ever seen them (and we have gone Xmas week) so I am considering alternatives.
Hi. Thank you for the review and all the great information on your site. I have question regarding travel to/from MK from the Swan/Dolphin……since the buses drop at the Transportation Station for MK, wouldn’t a faster route to that park be to walk over to the Boardwalk and take a Disney bus straight to MK? Just curious your thoughts on this. I have not stayed at these hotels before and have a trip coming up where I am planning on trying them. Regards.
Yes, you can absolutely walk over to the Boardwalk or Yacht Club to pick up a Disney bus direct to MK. I’ve also taken buses back from the parks to the Disney resorts and walked from there to the Swan/Dolphin if there are buses available faster for one of those. Benefits of having so many resorts packed together and walkable in the Epcot area.
Just stayed at the Swan Reserve in August and really enjoyed it. If you want an immersive Disney-themed hotel then I wouldn’t recommend the Reserve as it has a more understated design. However, after the crowds and hubbub of the parks we found this hotel to be a really lovely oasis to retreat to at the end of a long day or even for a midday swim which we did almost daily. The rooms are new and clean and bright, the staff were all really friendly and the pool is great and much less crowded than the bigger pool at the Dolphin which you can always visit if you prefer. The buses to MK, AK, and Disney Springs were all every 20 minutes and right outside the door so we used them regularly with no issues or delays. The Friendship Boats to Epcot and HS were an easy 5-6 minute walk to get to right between the Dolphin and Swan. Our only transportation delays were weather related – the boats stop running if there is a lightening risk – which seemed to happen once a day (mid-August) for about 30 mins. But they were never out of service very long and you can always walk the 15-20 minutes to each park if you don’t want to wait.
We booked our room at the Dolphin through Expedia. Is there a way to link this to our WDW app so that we get early entry?
Polly, we booked through Booking.com and were there in May. What I did was I called the Dolphin directly and they were able to give me a confirmation number that worked in MDE so we were set for the early entry. Now, we still had some issues. On our first park day they let us in for early entry but the app wouldn’t let us book Individual Lightning Lanes. We went straight to a CM umbrella and they fixed everything for us. The CM said our issues were b/c my husband and I were linked as Friends not Family ?? so perhaps Dolphin wasn’t the ILL issue but regardless she fixed it and we had no problems for the rest of the week. Hope this helps!
This is just a thank you for the review you do. They are so helpful.
Magic Bands question. Staying at the Swan, can we use magic bands to charge items throughout the park same as if staying at the Beach Club for example?
No, the Swan & Dolphin unfortunately doesn’t participate in the MagicBand functionality. So you’ll have a separate room key and cannot charge purchases to your room with the MagicBand
can we catch a mears bus from the airport to the Swan? Now that Magic express is gone?
Absolutely! They’ve always had the option of Mears shuttles from MCO and have never participated in the Magical Express to my knowledge.
Planning a trip with 2 kiddos, which hotel is closer to the Epcot and/Boardwalk? Or is the difference in distance is minimal?
The difference is pretty minimal, but the Swan is closer to the bridge over to the Boardwalk, and from there you can walk to Epcot easily. From the Dolphin, you can either cross the promenade to the Swan, then on to the Boardwalk, or walk a longer path back and forth along the waterway, to the Yacht & Beach Club and then from there to Epcot.
Can you tell me if the Swan/Dolphin qualifies for the extra evening hours and also selecting Genie plus lightening lane choices at 7:00 AM?
Yes, the Swan & Dolphin qualifies for extra evening hours and for 7 AM Genie+ lightning lane choices
how does it work with the My Disney Experience app? Do you get a disney confirmation number to put in so you can get the perks?
Thanks for this review. My family is taking a trip in May and we booked Caribbean Beach for the first half of the trip, but now that discounts for the spring came out and there was nothing for CB we are considering cancelling and booking here instead. Is the Swan and Dolphin experiencing the same occupancy levels that Disney hotels are seeing? The dates we are going are now completely sold out at CB, do you have any advice on whether we should switch now or hold on to the CB hoping for a better discount?
Sara, yes it’s true and I made this mistake even though I consider myself a fairly well-versed Disney planner. I’ve always purchased packages through MDE but for our fifth trip I wanted to stay at the Dolphin so I booked everything separately. Dumb me, I clicked purchase too quickly even though all the Terms are spelled out and they *are* non-refundable and pay up-front, your travel agent is correct. I have to read through it all again but I do believe, though non-refundable you are able to change dates if necessary. Ack, I can’t believe I did this! I have canceled two trips in the past 6 months and it’s such a nice fall back feeling. The concrete dates I’ve booked now make me feel uncomfortable to say the least!
@Sara….we stayed at Dolphin and i bought tickets from Undercover Tourist an they are refundable …BUT i kept them until last minute before we left for park reservations….once u give ticket number to reserve i dont believe they are returnable….but check out to be sure…..
Staying at the dolphin sounds very intriguing to me. However, this message from our Disney travel agent makes me hesitant to book an a non Disney resort: “If you purchase park tickets separate from the resort, the total is due in full at time of purchase and is non-refundable. When purchased as a package, everything is refundable until 30 days before travel with only a deposit of $200 due now, ”
Does anyone know if this is true? I would love to stay at the Dolphin to save $, but I’m worried that if we had to cancel for some reason ( e. G. COVID), we would be out hundreds of dollars on the park tickets.
We are staying there in June and booked thru a Disney TA. We were told everything is refundable until 30 days, then you just have to change the dates.
We just came back from staying at the Dolphin hotel and it was the least favorite hotel in our 5 trips to Disney. We’re also Bonvoy members. The pros for the hotels is location: take the boat to Hollywood Studios & Epcot. The buses, ran by Mears, does not run on the similar schedule and the drivers were not nearly as friendly and helpful as the buses at “true” Disney resorts. The trip to Magic Kingdom was a learning experience for us. The bus took us to a parking lot where we then had to ride the tram into Magic Kingdom. We were so used to being dropped off onsite and walking in. We used the Disney buses and walked from the Boardwalk resort as well – way more convenient. The staff from the front desk/bell service/housekeeping were not customer focused at all. We called the front desk and no one answered. We ended up going in person to get some service. Magic Bands do not work to open hotel doors there … which is one of the highlights of getting them for the children. I didn’t mind the hotel decor but it was not at the level of service that we’re used to at other Marriots. Will not be staying there again.
@Scott M…..i stayed at Dolphin an used the buses at Boardwalk Hotel…..short walk across bridge to get there ,,,,go to all the parks an come back same way…….was easiest an quickest way we found…..
These hotels are so appealing until I think about transportation to Magic Kingdom. Now that they have moved to Mears Shuttles, the TTC drop off location vs. the Disney bus drop off at the gates is a big downside for me. Is there a better way? I’d love to hear it!
Lizzie, they have boats, at least to Epcot and Disney Studios. You can walk over the bridge to the Boardwalk. Buses for AK and MK. We loved the transportation, as the walk from the hotel was short compared to some of the hotels where we have stayed.
Do these hotels have free bus service to the parks? If yes, do they use the same bus system? Or do they offer their own shuttles that only run occasionally?
My husband and I are Marriott Bonvoy members as well. And since my husband travels a lot for work, we’re actually Platinum Elite members. So… what would be the best way to book the hotel? Through Marriott so we can either get points for staying or use points to stay and then buy tickets and link the reservation? Or just book through Disney? Because I have the Disney Chase card, so I like the option of the 6 month interest free to pay for my vacation. Have you tried any of these options?