Swan & Dolphin v. Beach Club
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….
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. However, even their very good pools that would rank highly as compared to most Walt Disney World resorts are far surpassed by Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts.
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 rock-work 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). There’s also potentially parking if you have a rental car, but that charge is now at both resorts. 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 Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
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.
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.)
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.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? 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!
Our family does a big Disney vacation about 2 times a year. Obviously 2020 is a little different. We do have only one child and typically 5 -6 adults so that may be why The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin is hands down our favorite resort. I am not sure when this article was written but even though Swan and Dolphin is a Marriot hotel, they are a Walt Disney World Resort and have the same benefits including character dining. Which is another thing I did not understand about this article. Though there are TONS of of upscale dining options, there are still plenty of family friendly and grab and go options. Picabu is a good grab and go option and where my niece and I would run to on our way to Hollywood Studios. The Fountain, is a place we actually look forward to. Their burgers are great plus unique and not to mention the shake and float options from the creamery they have. The Garden Grove has the character dining and the cabana bar and beach club…. lets just say anytime someone is willing to bring me a drink and nachos while I am in the pool, I am happy. I get that the pool at the Beach Club may be better if you have a lot children but if a ton of screaming children isn’t your thing (Not my thing while I am on vacation), the several pool options at Swan/Dolphin are great. They have 4 large pools, 4 whirlpools, kiddie pool, and a beach area for volley ball, building sand castles, and just laying by the water. Again, I do not know when you wrote this article or when you booked your room, but any time we start planning a trip, the rooms here are $400 + a night. We normally watch until we get closer to the day when the price starts to drop a little, get our special rates and end up at about $250/night before resort fees. I have seen the beach club easily hit the price, again depending on when you book. But I do not know why I argue that since price is a plus. LOL. Just seems that maybe all the research was not done for this comparison or maybe a lot has changed since you went. Though you mention the renovations so I assume it could not have been that long ago.
We most recently stayed at Swan & Dolphin last October and will likely stay again this September. Right now, there are nights this month when the Dolphin is $93-$130/night via Priceline Express Deals. (More info: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/tips-priceline-express-deals-disney-world-hotels/)
As you point out, there’s nothing “normal” about current circumstances and demand, and those prices are abnormally low. However, deals are pretty common in the $200 range–sometimes cheaper (especially in the off-season). All depends upon when you’re traveling! 🙂
“L.A. Lights and carry Walkmans.” Heck yes.
I have a balcony room booked at $225 a night for this September after Labor Day – which I thought was cheap. How do I get a room there for only $150 a night? Even the base rooms are at $185 a night. Thanks
Hi, can anyone tell me what the breakfasts are like at The Dolphin? Should I be packing my instant oatmeal? Thanks.
I must be in that very small percentage of people that find the decor very appealling and I love love love the outside more than the inside. But I love many things from the 70’s to early 90s. The hotel on the top of my bucket love is the Contemporary! Probably will never stay at any of them because even the values are out of my price range.
I have not stayed at the Beach Club, but was *very* disappointed in my one and only stay at the Dolphin in December 2016. Here’s my (very anecdotal) experience:
We were doing a split stay (2 nights POR, 3 nights WL, 2 nights Dolphin). I was actually very excited to stay at the Dolphin, 100% because I vividly remember driving past the Swalphin as a kid in the 90s and thinking that those two hotels were the epitome of beauty (ha!). Well, when we arrived at the Dolphin to check in, we were given a HARD sell by the front desk to upgrade to a “preferred” room. As we had full park days planned, we weren’t planning to spend a ton of time in the hotel, and so were not interested in paying an extra $30 per night. It took us about 20 minutes to convince the employee that we really weren’t interested in an upgrade, which was pretty annoying in itself. Then, when we were assigned a room, it was literally the furthest room possible from the lobby, in what felt like a dank underground hallway (in reality, it was ground floor, but it was very poorly lit and smelled moldy). The room smelled musty, the sheets felt slightly damp, and everything was dated and worn. After going through the aforementioned process at the front desk, it most definitely felt like we had been “punished” for not agreeing to the upgrade. In retrospect, we should have gone back to the front desk and asked to be moved, but we were exhausted and just crashed. It was a distinctly non-magical experience, and felt particularly stark after spending the previous 5 nights fully inside the “Disney bubble.”
We were clearly not in a refurbished room, which I’m sure are lovely, but the whole experience left a very bad taste in my mouth and we are unlikely to stay Swalphin again.
*Architecture student here.* I would argue that the pinnacle of Graves’ buildings is actually the Walt Disney Studios Building with the seven dwarfs as columns – Post Modernism at its greatest. It pains me that Post Modernism is so Gravely misunderstood by the general population.
I know there was a controversial end to the Eisner era, but he really did pick Disney back up. And I really appreciate that he saw the value in architecture.
A great battle! Price is big in S & D’s column, but… There is just “something” about being “Official Disney” during a stay! 😉
In the way of more useful tips, worth mentioning that last minute rates at S&D can be exceptional. This is espeially on dates that were formerly blocked for booking by conferences (or highly expensive as a result – $300+), but which at a late date they realised they couldn’t fill. When that happens, I’ve seen S&D for $100 or under.
My strategy therefore is to always book a refundable reservation off site, and switch to S&D if the net cost (including money saved through ditching the rental car) is “only” about $20/night more than the offsite alternative (threshold increases or decreases depending on how long it was since I last stayed onsite 🙂 ). The math works out in favour of S&D more often than you might think (about 50% of the time on my visits).
Great tip! While I haven’t seen Swalphin under $100 in the last several years, I can confirm having seen $120/night last minute rates already this year.
You’re right, it is more like $120. I was thinking in GBP (my most recent stay was Â£93 a night, which works out at around $120). Sorry for any misplaced optimism..! 🙂
I must be one of the few who is a real fan of Michael Graves’ architecture. I honestly think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and feel similarly of the Hotel New York in DLP.
I guess there is the discussion of whether design can substitute for theme… given that the wider resort areas (SSL, CL) themselves are not themed, I think it can. The best parallel is the much loved (by me too!) Contemporary resort. That’s visible from the magic kingdom, and it’s a welcome sight.
(On a tangentially related point, if you love the architecture of the contemporary, walk through the (very extensive) lower level conferencing facilities. They are brilliantly designed, and there are doors leading outside to internal forecourts giving you really unique views of the building.
“I must be one of the few who is a real fan of Michael Graves’ architecture. I honestly think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and feel similarly of the Hotel New York in DLP.”
Yes, you most definitely are.
I appreciate Graves architecture for its place in history, and being an interesting pursuit in the 1990s. However, I think that’s firmly the era in which it exists, and should have stayed. Interesting fodder for architecture books, but not something I’d want to experience in a hotel…in 2017.
With that said, art is subjective, and just because I (or even the vast majority) don’t like it doesn’t invalidate it. Plenty of things I don’t like that others do.
I have stayed at several disney resorts and personally love the swan and dolphin. The staff treat you like family, the rooms are great, there is transportation to the parks. We only stay there now, We love it â¤ï¸â¤ï¸
10 years ago, when first researching where to stay at Disney, Swan/Dolphin was my obvious choice… you get a Deluxe resort at Moderate prices, AND you’re right on one of the LAKES (imho, nothing beats Crescent Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon Hotels for location and convenience). S/D are very unique in this regard. BUT, I eventually chose Beach Club (and I’m so glad I did). I rented points and stayed during labor Day week, and that made the cost difference MUCH easier to bear. Stormalong Bay was a Huge hit with the kids. BUT, I must say, if S/D started offering Magical Express, I think my opinion might swing the other way.
It’s hard to argue that the Beach Club is “worth” a much higher price than the Swan/Dolphin — It’s difficult to argue that any of the on-site Disney hotels are “worth” the money compared to off-site.
But I’ll mildly disagree with a couple of your points — I don’t think location is quite a push. There is nothing closer than Epcot-Beach Club. Staying the evening at World Showcase, watching the fireworks, you can be back to Beach Club in 5-10 minutes. At the end of the day, especially with kids, there is a big difference between a 5-10 minute walk, versus a 20-30 minute walk (or slow cramped boat transportation).
Swan/Dolphin is closer to DHS — but not as close as Beach Club is to Epcot.
So if you’re spending a lot of evenings at Epcot, Beach Club has a nice advantage.
There is also something tangible/intangible about being totally within the Disney bubble, instead of partially outside. You mentioned some of the tangibles — no Magic Express, no dining plan. Putting aside the $$$ significance of those factors, there is also an intangible significance. Getting off the plane in Orlando… and already essentially being at Disney… Magic Express taking care of you, etc.. instead of arranging for your own transfers, paying additionally for them.. not yet being on your vacation.
I’m not a huge fan of the dining plan — But there are those who feel it adds to the vacation. Not just in a $$$ sense, but in the sense that it feels more all-inclusive. (and free dining for a family of 4 can bridge the gap in costs between Beach Club and Swan/Dolphin)
And the obvious pro-con — That Beach Club still “feels” more Disney…
From a value $$$ perspective, it’s hard to disagree with your conclusion.
But putting aside the money, I prefer Beach Club.
Don’t know why I thought Swan and Dolphin would be expensive, but those resort fees and parking fees would be a deal breaker for me (we usually drive down from NJ).
I would have to agree. The big difference in price would drive me to choose Swan and Dolphin. I like to go to Disney multiple times a year and if I was paying Beach Club prices every time, that wouldn’t be possible. I will say, if you rent DVC points and get a fantastic price ($12/night) you can get yourself in a Beach Club studio for $180/night. Just a thought.
We are going to WDW in November. They whole family (in-laws, extended, you name it) is going, and we have one group staying at Caribbean Beach and the other two groups are staying at Coronado Springs. I would still love a comparison post of those two resorts, even with the construction going on. We all booked back in January and the group at Caribbean Beach didn’t get the gift card offer I’ve seen you post about.
Your party at the CB should be receiving gift cards. The only peopke who arenr getting them as those who booked after the 20th wont get it