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.
It was gigantic, offered breathtaking luxury, sprawling size, brilliant design, and unbeatable views of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios–pretty much everything you could want. Even a grand piano!
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!