The Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is unlike any other Disney Hotel. It’s literally in a class of its own; a unique situation which provides some benefits but also some potential drawbacks. Still, it is often one of our favorite hotels to stay at, and we have done so many times. This article will break down the differences between the Swan and Dolphin and all of the other Disney resorts, and will help you decide if it is the right hotel for you, too.
Get to Know the Swan and Dolphin
First, a little background. The Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is technically two hotels in one. The Swan, which boasts more suite-like rooms, and the Dolphin, which has more typical hotel rooms. They’re connected by a breezeway and share amenities between them, such as the pool, playground, and gym. All of the amenities in either building are open to guests from either side. I won’t list out the amenities here since these are clearly listed and explained on their website. Suffice it to say that they have all the amenities you would want from a vacation resort, including a lovely pool and playground area, a spa, and many restaurants.
The Swan and Dolphin is adjacent to several other Disney resorts. They all share a common lake and waterway, which connects Epcot to Hollywood Studios by boat, with stops along the way at the resorts, including the Swan and Dolphin. The Swan and Dolphin is connected to the Disney Boardwalk hotel on one side, and the Disney Yacht Club on the other. Beyond that is the Disney Beach Club, which also shares the lake and waterway. All of the hotels are visible to each other across the lake, and they form a kind of circle around it, with Epcot and Hollywood Studios on either end.
As I mentioned, you can get from the Swan and Dolphin to Epcot or Hollywood Studios by boat, which docks between the Swan and the Dolphin regularly to pick-up and unload passengers. You can also easily walk to either park from the Swan and Dolphin; it’s about a 15 minute walk to either park. To walk to Epcot, you can either follow the path around past the Yacht Club and Beach Club, or you can go the other direction along the boardwalk. They both end up at Epcot, and they’re both about the same length.
Another key thing to know about the Swan and Dolphin is that, while it is considered a Disney Resort and is on Disney property, it is owned and operated by Marriott (formerly they were Starwood hotels). The Swan and Dolphin continues to be a popular conference hotel, and it famously hosted Kristen Bell during Hurricane Irma, as she entertained guests and fellow evacuees throughout the storm.
1. You can walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
This is by far my biggest “pro” for staying at the Swan and Dolphin. Not having to drive or get on a bus at the end of the night can override a lot of potential “cons”. Particularly with a stroller in tow, since these need to be folded for the buses and are often containing at least one sleeping child by the end of the night. The walk to the parks is about 15 minutes each from the Swan and Dolphin. Boat transportation is available as well which is helpful on rainy days, but otherwise walking is usually faster and easier, especially with a stroller.
2. You can earn and use points at the Swan and Dolphin.
This is my other big “pro” for the Swan and Dolphin compared to other Disney hotels. As Marriott loyalists, this is a big deal for us. It may not be as important for you if you’re not part of their rewards program, but even if you’re not, there’s something to be said for being able to earn points period, since you cannot do so at a regular Disney Resort. I always feel better knowing the money I spend today is earning points that I can use in the future. And for us, we have Platinum Elite status with Marriott, which means perks like free buffet breakfast or character breakfast, enhanced wifi, and room upgrades to name a few. In the past we also used points to pay for our stays at the Swan and Dolphin, but after after Marriott retooled their Bonvoy rewards program it made less sense for us to do so. Those points have greater value when used elsewhere compared to just paying for a room, so now we tend to pay for rooms here when we can find a good rate (more about this in the “cons” section). Still, we love having the opportunity to stay on Disney property but also benefit from the loyalty we have to Marriott. Especially because it is the only resort in all of Disney where you can do this.
3. You get many of the same benefits that you do at any other Disney resort.
At the Swan and Dolphin, as with any other Disney resort, you get the benefit of free Disney transportation to and from the Parks and Disney Springs. So if you’re going somewhere other than Epcot or Hollywood Studios (which are both walking distance), you can hop on a free bus to anywhere you want to go. For the most part these buses are easy and efficient, and are way better than having a car on property. The Swan and Dolphin is also one of the many places you can go via a “Minnie Van”‘, which is a Lyft-operated inter-Disney taxi service, which will take you to any resort or attraction on Disney property, or to the airport (but importantly, not to any off-site hotels). Other benefits include on-site character dining opportunities, extra magic hours, and early booking for Fast Pass+ experiences. Fastpasses are free and incredibly important when it comes to popular rides or busy days at the park. It can mean the difference between waiting for hours versus waiting for minutes. All Disney guests can start reserving fastpasses 30 days before their visit, but if you are staying at a Disney hotel, including the Swan and Dolphin, you can start reserving your fastpasses 60 days before your visit. This means you have first access to the most popular rides, giving you more flexibility on your ride time, and giving you opportunities to get fastpasses which are usually all claimed by the time the 30-day window opens.
4. More comfortable rooms
While many of the regular Disney hotels have outside room doors (meaning you have a door and window that open to an outdoor walkway), the Swan and Dolphin has all inside doors and hallways, which is a pretty great feature. I’ve never been a fan of the outside doors at most of the Disney hotels; it makes me feel like I have less privacy when people are constantly walking by the window of our room. And on the ground floors especially, you can end up with a lot of foot traffic. I also find those outside rooms to be harder to keep cool, harder to darken at night time (for us this usually means rigging up towels and suitcases to block out the light), and harder to keep quiet, since outdoor guest areas and walkways are literally right outside your door. For this same reason I also prefer the room layouts at the Swan and Dolphin, with the usual window and sleeping area at the back of the room, instead of at the front. While neither layout is perfect (hotels always have such quirky bathroom configurations), I do feel like you get more room and better space at the Swan and Dolphin.
4. Mainstream amenities
On my last stay at another Disney hotel I was surprised to discover that there was no gym or fitness center at the hotel. In fact, after asking the staff about it I learned that nearly all of the Disney hotels do not have a gym. I suppose the assumption is that you’ll be active enough in the parks, and that a gym won’t be necessary. Still, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t even have the option to work out during my stay there. The Swan and Dolphin is different though, and as a more mainstream hotel it has a lot of the amenities you would expect from a high-end hotel, such as a spa, business center, and a gym. I don’t want to compare or list the amenities at the Swan and Dolphin line-by-line, but suffice it to say that if you’re expecting the “standard” amenities the Swan and Dolphin is probably going to be the best option.
1. The Swan and Dolphin is usually expensive.
For us, this is the biggest con about the Swan and Dolphin. As I mentioned earlier, it used to be a pretty good deal to stay there on points, and that’s often what we did. Now the point cost, typically 50,000 points or more per night, is way too high to justify and is far more than we’re willing to spend for a night there. The regular cost is often extremely high as well, many times greatly exceeding other moderate Disney hotels. Even the conference rate is usually high, so even when we try to combine work travel with a trip to Disney, the Swan and Dolphin cost is usually too high. On top of that there is a mandatory resort fee of $30 per night which offers no real benefit. Unfortunately we’re usually only able to stay there now if we can find a good deal, which they do occasionally offer, especially at off-peak times. We recently stayed for 4 nights on a very reasonable rate which was lower than most of the other Disney hotels. When there is a good deal available we will almost always take it, because there are so many perks that come with staying at the Swan and Dolphin, but deals like that are increasingly rare.
2. You don’t get all of the benefits that you do at a Disney hotel.
Earlier I listed the many perks that you get at Disney hotels, the Swan and Dolphin included. But, since it is not a full-fledged Disney hotel, there are some big perks that you do not get at the Swan and Dolphin, but do get at other Disney hotels. A big one is Disney’s Magical Express. While the Swan and Dolphin does offer all of the same inter-park bus services, the Magical Express, which takes you from the airport to the hotel (and picks up your luggage for you!) is not included at the Swan and Dolphin. That’s a big deal, because it leaves you needing to arrange your own transportation to and from the airport, and introduces a lot of logistical headaches and additional costs. For example, if you’re using a taxi or car service, now you find yourself needing to bring your own car seat for the ride for young children. The airport is not close to Disney World, so this is not a small hurdle to deal with.
3. Magic bands won’t work there.
One of the coolest things about staying at a Disney hotel is the way your magic band streamlines your experience. The band becomes your ticket to the park, your room key, your photopass, and your payment method the whole time you are at Disney. Unfortunately, as a Marriott property the Swan and Dolphin does not use the magic bands for keys or anything else. This means you cannot use your band to pay for anything (this option is only available to regular Disney hotel guests) and you’ll be issued a standard room key card. The Disney Dining Plans aren’t available to guests here either, nor do they include the restaurants and cafeterias at the Swan and Dolphin. Also, if you’re a passholder, you won’t get a discount here the way you do at the restaurants and shops in other Disney hotels.
4. The beds and sleeping arrangements aren’t great.
Earlier I mentioned how the room layouts were better at the Swan and Dolphin, but other aspects of the room are a little lacking at the Swan and Dolphin. For one thing, the beds are smaller (two full-sized beds, compared to the two queen-sized beds we usually get at the Port Orleans hotel). On our last stay, we tried to have our two daughters sleep together but there wasn’t enough room and our little one fell out of the bed. We ended up requesting a crib for her instead. This, too, was not ideal. Now, the hotel does provide a crib, but it is not a pack-and-play style crib, and is instead a much less desirable actual crib with inexplicable metal bars, and no mesh sides. The first few times my daughter slept in one of these cribs I was up all night 1) worried that she would sit up and hit her head on these ill-conceived metal bars, and 2) retrieving the pacifiers that fall through the bars non-stop. These cribs are smaller than pack-and-plays too, making them ok for babies but not ideal for toddlers. On our most recent stay, her favorite thing to do was bang her pacifiers on the metal bars when she woke up in the morning, yet another delightful bonus feature with the infamous metal cribs.
As you can see, there is a lot to love about the Swan and Dolphin, and some caveats to keep in mind. The Swan and Dolphin has always been a bit of a conundrum for us; we love some things about staying there while we dislike others. Ultimately for us it usually comes down to price. If we can get a good deal there then we feel the pros outweigh the cons. Have you ever stayed at the Swan and Dolphin? What did you think of it? Where is your favorite place to stay at Disney World? Let us know in the comments!