Deciding if you should stay onsite or offsite at Disney World? Here is the ultimate compromise: The Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin hotel. Read on to find out why it is the best offsite Disney World hotel.
Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel
When can I come back? Those are my first thoughts upon first laying my eyes on this resort complex. It is beautiful, welcoming and so close to all the Disney World action. I kept telling myself that I have been missing so much by not staying here.
The Disney World Dolphin hotel is part of the Swan/Dolphin resort complex located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios in the Disney Boardwalk area. It is NOT a Disney hotel, but rather part of the Marriott/Starwood hotel collection.
What makes these hotels unique is that you can use hotel loyalty points to stay for free (or almost free – there is a resort charge) AND they give you several onsite Disney resort benefits.
The two hotels are separated by a walkway, but guests are free to use the facilities at both hotels. The Dolphin resembles more of a larger, conference hotel whereas the Swan is more intimate.
Wow. That was all I could say when we first walked into the Dolphin. The lobby was huge. Plenty of chairs and couches for relaxing, talking or enjoying a beverage from the lobby lounge. The huge chandelier in the center was gorgeous and made me think of raindrops.
We spent the day at the Magic Kingdom and took the Disney Shuttle bus to the hotel (we previously were at a different hotel). It leaves from the same area as all the other Magic Kingdom Disney shuttles do – just in front of and to the right of the park entrance. It was a quick ride since technically we are on Disney property.
At check-in, we were asked if we wanted a paid upgrade to a larger room. It would give us a living area with a couch, 2 chairs and a dining area. At $40 per night, we gladly took it (I love extra space).
The Swan/Dolphin hotels comprise 2,270 rooms. The Swan is definitely smaller compared to the vastness of the Dolphin. I also heard the double rooms at the Swan have 2 queen beds whereas the Dolphin has 2 full-size beds.
It was definitely a walk from the elevator to our room. It seemed like the corridor was never going to end. But, once we got to our room, I completely forgot about the long walk and concentrated on the room in front of me.
From the description, it looks like our room was the Dolphin Premium Studio. After walking in, a wet bar area with a dining table and chairs was on the right while the couch and relaxing chairs were straight ahead.
To the left was the bathroom, however, there was another sink outside the bathroom which definitely helped with getting ready in the morning.
I have noticed lately that most hotels have only showers now. While it’s probably easier to clean, it makes it harder for younger children and babies who may be used to taking baths. It was fine for us, however, there are times I like to lounge taking a bubble bath after walking so much.
The bedroom was through an opening in the living area (there was not a door) and had a king sized bed and plenty of space for unpacking.
We had a great view of the causeway between the Dolphin and Swan and could see the Disney friendship boats that took you to the theme parks.
To me, the extra $40 per night was well worth it for this additional space.
Seventeen restaurants. Really. You are not going to go hungry here.
Everything from a coffee cart to a diner to sushi and steak. You name, they have it. I did think the prices were expensive, but again this is Disney.
For a detailed listing and description of each, just go to the Swan/Dolphin restaurant page and browse them.
As one of the tips in How to Save Money at Disney, we took quite a bit of breakfast and snack foods with us because we flew Southwest (and took an extra suitcase!). We packed fruit cups, applesauce, granola bars, apple juice boxes, oatmeal, dried fruit and coffee/tea supplies.
We had a quick breakfast in our room with these just to tie us over for a little while. Then, after being in the park for 2 hours, we sat down for something more substantial.
I would have loved to try Garden Grove for a character meal in the Swan. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, it’s a character breakfast featuring Pluto and Goofy with Chip and Dale. Unfortunately, our flight left early Saturday morning, so we weren’t able to make it. It is also a character dinner every night of the week, but for some reason, I love the breakfast meals more, so did not plan to do this dinner.
Several times we did carry out from the Fountain Soda shop and ate in our room. Honestly, the kid’s meals were big enough for me. I don’t like to eat too much before going to bed, so this was just the right size.
The Swan/Dolphin share their amenities. The 5 pools are between the two hotels as is the beach and lagoon area where you can take (wait for it….) Swan boat rides! The grotto pool area is enhanced with waterfalls and a waterslide.
Unfortunately, we never got to use the pool. We purchased 5 day Disney passes (from Undercover Tourist) and had only left one day free which we spent at Disney Springs.
We did, however, make use of the nightly s’mores campfires. At check-in, we were given tickets for free s’mores making kits for each night of our stay. It was right on the beach at dusk and was never very crowded.
Activity list at the Dolphin/Swan:
- Mandara Spa
- Health clubs (the one at the Dolphin is open 24 hours)
- Complimentary fitness classes
- Tennis courts
- 3-mile jogging trail
- Wellness concierge
- Plush pal playtime – leave your favorite toy while you are out and receive a free report card and pictures of your plush friend on their daily adventure
- Parents night out – Enjoy 2 complimentary hours of childcare at Camp Dolphin while you dine at one of their specialty restaurants
I don’t know where people find the time to use all this! The Dolphin, though, has extensive conference facilities, so not everyone here is going to the parks.
Want to be a mermaid? Well, you can at their Mermaid Academy! Learn to swim like a mermaid or a dolphin. Costume and instructions provided. A fee applies and you need to set an appointment.
We stayed here in December and the hotel goes all out for the holidays. Their theme is ‘Santa’s favorite resort’. I plan to write a separate post just about their holiday activities and decorations. Stay tuned!
Disney World Transportation
Boat ride, anyone? Yes, you can take the Disney Friendship boats to both Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Or you can walk if you prefer.
We opted for the boats. The dock is on the causeway between the Swan and Dolphin. Boats start operating one hour before the park opens and run continuously every 20-25 minutes.
Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs along with Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach busses run from the front of each hotel every 20-25 minutes. There is clear signage telling you where the next bus is going and when to expect it.
Disney transportation was one of the highlights of staying at the Dolphin for me. I have always stayed off Disney property and never realized the convenience of not having a car. I loved taking the boats to the parks and the shuttle to the Magic Kingdom – and you get to bypass the Ticket and Transportation Center!
Offsite Disney Hotel Benefits
But, the transportation isn’t the only Disney Park benefit.
From their brochure, here is the full list:
- Extra Magic Hours – just like at Disney resorts, guests of the Dolphin/Swan can participate in extra magic hours where one park each day opens an hour early or closes two hours later.
- Fasspass+ reservations 60 days in advance. This is the only time I have been able to get a Fastpass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I was locked out the previous three times when staying offsite because they were all taken.
- Package delivery from the Parks to the hotel
- Complimentary transportation
- Advanced tee times at Disney golf courses
- On-site Disney ticketing desks
Even if paying on points, the resort fee still has to be paid. It is currently $28 plus tax per night. It includes the following:
- Unlimited access to the health club (including on-demand Peloton spin classes)
- Unlimited local, long distance and toll-free calls
- In-room wireless high-speed internet
- Two water bottles daily
- Complimentary daily fitness and recreational activities
- Complimentary Swan paddle boat rentals
- S’mores kit for each night of your stay
- $25 off a $100 purchase of spa services each day at Mandara Spa
We stayed using my SPG (now Marriott) points. It is 50,000 points per night plus the 5th night free. Applying for any of the American Express SPG cards or Chase Marriott Visa cards will help get you the required amount of points.
Cash rates are between $300-$400 per night. Compare this to Deluxe Disney resorts costing $400-$500 per night and you get away a little cheaper.
Is this the best offsite Disney World hotel?
Hands down I would stay here again in a heartbeat. I loved the proximity to the parks and the upgraded room. The Swan/Dolphin hotels do not have all the Disney paraphernalia, so if you are looking for the hotel to be ‘Disneyized’ (yes, I made that word up), this is not the one for you.
I do believe the Disney Swan and Dolphin could be the best offsite Disney World hotel. They give you some benefits of a Disney onsite resort, they are close to the parks so you don’t need a car, they have a ton of amenities and they are priced lower than a Deluxe Disney resort.
If you are looking for other places to use SPG/Marriott points, read How to Stay for Free at Disney with SPG.
Check out the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Review if you are interested in staying by Disney Springs.
So, are you a Disney onsite or offsite person? Let me know what hotel is your favorite in the comments!