Review: The Swan and Dolphin at Walt Disney World
By Dave Shute
OVERVIEW: THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
These two adjacent Epcot resorts, connected by a covered walkway, were intended for the convention business, built by Tishman after a billion-dollar lawsuit, and designed by Michael Graves among toaster dreams.
Currently managed by sister Starwood flags Westin and Sheraton respectively, but after the Starwood merger Marriott properties, the 758 room Swan and 1,509 room Dolphin feature a great location for an Epcot-centered trip, great dining for adults and so-so dining for kids, a strong pool complex, adequate rooms, so-so convenience, interesting interior spaces, garish exteriors, and weak kid appeal.
Compared to the other Epcot resorts–the Beach Club and Villas, the Yacht Club, and the BoardWalk Inn and Villas–prices are usually quite nice, even after you pay for parking and a resort fee–neither of which the Disney resorts charge for.
The Swan and Dolphin share more Disney hotel perks than the Four Seasons or Shades of Green, most importantly including 60 day access to FastPass+. The two hotels are also eligible for Extra Magic Hours, and full integrated into the Disney World transport system. They are excluded from the Disney Dining Plan and from Disney’s Magical Express.
I rank resorts on this site for first time family visitors who may never return first based on visual kid appeal, and second on convenience for a trip focused primarily on the Magic Kingdom and secondarily on Epcot.
None of the Epcot resorts have strong visual kid appeal compared to the best alternatives, and none is particularly convenient to the Magic Kingdom. Among the Epcot resorts, the Swan and Dolphin are particularly weak on visual kid appeal, and no more (or less) convenient to the Magic Kingdom.
Standard rooms are in general weaker than those at the Disney Epcot resorts, particularly at the Dolphin, which offers full beds.
However, for a trip more focused on Epcot–or one aimed at deluxe-ish accommodations at the lowest price–the Swan and Dolphin, and particularly the Swan with its queen beds, are well worth considering. Having 60 day access to FastPass+ makes them distinctive among the non-Disney resorts, and while they are less convenient to Epcot than the Disney Epcot resorts, the difference is not huge.
There’s no great source of price info for rooms at these, but all of my visits and test bookings have shown the least expensive rooms at the Swan and Dolphin typically available for 50-75% of what the Disney Epcot resorts would cost. Discounts are common, and there’s a broader range of discounts possibly available (e.g. for teachers) than you’ll find at the Disney-owned resorts.
This page presents an overview of the Swan and Dolphin. The full review contains the following pages:
- Overview of the Swan and Dolphin (this page)
- Photo Tour of an Un-refurbed Swan Room
- Photo Tour of an Refurbed Swan Room
- Photo Tour of a Dolphin Room
- Amenities and Dining at the Swan and Dolphin
- The Pools at the Swan and Dolphin
OVERALL LOOK AND FEEL OF THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN
The Swan and Dolphin were designed to serve massive conventions while at the same time to look very distinctive and entertaining.
Here’s what Jim Korkis says in our book, The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit:
There’s more from Jim on Graves and the Swan and Dolphin here.
The hotels certainly ended up looking quite different.
The Swan has the proportions of a stretched toaster, with swans on top…
…and the Dolphin has odd-looking dolphins on the sides, peaking to a pyramid. (The highest floors of the pyramid are just for show–they are shelled, and don’t have rooms.)
The public spaces inside are much more broadly appealing. The Swan has a number of warmly-detailed and inviting spaces, including some nice private-feeling exterior courtyards that I failed to photograph adequately even by my low standards.
Here’s some other shots of the interior of the Swan:
Note the starry sky in the second shot.
The Dolphin public spaces are larger, grander, and frankly, a little harder to navigate, spread as they are over the first and third floors. A lobby refurb will be happening in the Dolphin for the next several years.
In sum, there’s a lot of exterior design that will strike adults as either playful or silly, but that comes across to kids as monumental rather than welcoming. The interior spaces have their charms, but there’s nothing about them that shouts “Disney World.” You could be anywhere.
ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN
Standard rooms at the Swan and Dolphin are similarly-sized (the bedroom area dimensions are almost identical) but have key amenity differences that in almost every case will push family visitors towards the Swan.
Dolphin rooms, at ~360 square feet, are about 20 square feet larger than Swan rooms. Most of the difference comes from 8 inches of extra width, which is not material to the livability of the space.
The bedroom space at both the Dolphin and the Swan is comparable to that at the smallest Disney deluxe resort rooms–the Wilderness and Animal Kingdom Lodges–and is smaller than that at the Disney moderates.
Like the Disney values (and moderate Coronado Springs), the Dolphin rooms have just one sink, and like the Disney values, Dolphin rooms have full beds. Dolphin rooms are being refurbed but will keep their full beds after the refurb.
Swan rooms completed a refurb in 2016, and are better than Dolphin rooms for most families, as they have two sinks instead of one, and queen beds instead of full beds.
Refurbed Swan rooms (above) have the same basic amenities as before the refurb–the main difference is look and feel, and the separation of the long desk/dresser/mini fridge thingy into a separate desk/table and mini-fridge/dresser thingy.
Most rooms at the Swan and Dolphin don’t have balconies.
Each hotel is designed with a predominant long wing and some shorter wings off of it. Long wing rooms don’t have balconies, but most short wing rooms do.
The upshot is a cleaner facade for such key elements as painted waves, but diminished livability for those without balconies.
In addition to the plethora of suites you’d expect at a convention hotel, there’s a bewildering variety of room classes you can buy, all with the same basic layout as the other standard rooms in the respective hotel.
The basic Swan room:
The basic Dolphin room:
The whole view thing is pretty complicated. Moreover, the absence of balconies from so many rooms at both the Swan and Dolphin makes some views frankly worth a lot less. If you have your heart set on optimizing a particular view, go ask on Dan Murphy’s Swan and Dolphin thread on disboards.com.
THE POOLS AT THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN
There’s more on the pools later in this review, but the key point is that the Swan and Dolphin share the third best pool complex at Walt Disney World (the best is the pools at Four Seasons, and second the pools shared by the Yacht and Beach Club).
What makes this pool complex special is not so much the merits of the individual pools–though the Grotto pool, artsy evening shot above, is pretty cool–but rather the sweep of pool after pool after pool. As Hegel or Marx or Lenin or Stalin or somebody once said, quantity has a quality all its own.
See the map, where the pools and beaches available to Swan and Dolphin guests are in the left center (as always on this site, click it to enlarge it).
DINING AT THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN
Perhaps because of the expense account crowd at conventions, you’ll find a wider variety of strong dining options–especially for adults–at the Swan and Dolphin than at any single other area at Walt Disney World except among the Magic Kingdom resorts.
Highlights for adults include Todd English’s bluezoo, Shula’s Steak House, and Kimonos.
While kid-appealing dining is rarer and weaker, there is (in Garden Grove) a character meal (characters only at dinner, except Saturday/Sunday where they also appear at breakfast), and, rare at Disney World, there’s a counter service offering open 24 hours, Picabu in the Dolphin.
There’s more on dining at the Swan and Dolphin later in this review.
PARK TRANSPORTATION FROM THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN
The Swan and Dolphin are fully integrated into the Epcot resorts’ transportation system.
Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are served both by boat and by walking paths.
The boat dock is between the two resorts, and the route is Studios–Swan and Dolphin–Yacht and Beach Club–BoardWalk Inn–Epcot and then back again in reverse. The walking path is over the bridge to the BoardWalk.
Whether walking or taking the boat, it takes longer to get to Epcot than from Disney’s own Epcot resorts.
The Studios are closer by boat than that park is from Disney’s own resorts, and a shorter walk than from any Disney Epcot resort except the Boardwalk Villas.
Buses serve other Disney World destinations–the Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, the water parks, and Downtown Disney. There’s a bus stop at each of the Swan and Dolphin, and buses are shared between them and often the BoardWalk Inn and Villas as well.
Curiously, Disney World asserts buses come on average every 20 minutes, while the Swan and Dolphin map indicates an average of 15 minutes between buses.
So of course I sat at a bus stop for more than a little more than an hour and got the averages during my data collection period as follows:
- Buses to Downtown Disney and Typhoon Lagoon: 10 minutes between buses
- Buses to the Animal Kingdom: 11 minutes between buses
- Buses to the Magic Kingdom: 20 minutes between buses
Your results may vary…
OVERALL TAKE ON THE DISNEY WORLD SWAN AND DOLPHIN
For an Epcot-centered trip where Disney theming, Disney’s Magical Express, and balconies don’t matter as much as the lower prices here do, the Swan can be a great choice. The Dolphin, with its full beds and only one sink, will be a less good choice for most families.
However, for first timers on a Magic Kingdom-centered trip looking for deluxe accommodations, I can’t recommend either. Too little kid appeal, and too little convenience. If you need a deluxe for such a trip but don’t want to pay the premium for a monorail resort, pick the Wilderness Lodge instead.
This review continues here.