This was my first trip to the Disney World resort area where you will find the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan Hotels within the Disney parks area. Most chain hotels are located at the perimeter of the parks. The Starwood hotels are located on the same Disney Crescent Lake walking path as three Disney Vacation Club Resorts: Boardwalk, Beach Club, and Yacht Club. These five hotel resorts are situated between the two Disney parks of Epcot and Hollywood Studios and are a fantastic location for someone wanting to walk into Epcot. The two Starwood hotels give guests the option to be in the Disney Resort area without being in a Disney Hotel.
If you have never been to the Orlando Disney complex, the place is vast.
I was on a bus taking guests to Downtown Disney from the Gaylord Palms Hotel where I had been staying about five miles away. The Disney Typhoon Lagoon Water Park is across the street from the Downtown Disney complex. I am not sure how much was happening at the water park since Orlando broke a cold temperature record last weekend hitting a low of 37 degrees in the morning.
Then, we drove for miles more and passed by a couple of other Disney Hotel resorts before stopping at the Disney World parking lot. I couldn’t see any of the park rides from the bus parking lot. Then, we drove for miles more and I saw the Dolphin Hotel above the swamp brush and the bus let all of us remaining passengers off at Epcot. I had seen the iconic A-frame roof of the Dolphin Hotel from a close distance and the bus had driven farther away from it again as it circled around to Epcot.
The hotel told me it was an easy walk from the Dolphin to Epcot. But I could not see the hotel from the parking lot of Epcot. Well, it turned out I was on the wrong side of the park to get to the Dolphin hotel and to enter Epcot is around $85 after tax for a one day pass. After an hour of driving, I had seen mostly swamp brush, swamp lakes, cars on the road, and golf courses, and I wondered if $25 for a taxi would have been a better exchange for my time.
The buses are free within the resort to hop around between the various Disney parks. I took another bus to the Disney Hollywood Studios Park where I was told I could catch a five minute boat ride to the Starwood Dolphin and Swan Resorts.
Wheeling my luggage to the boat dock at Hollywood Studios, I arrived just as the boat tossed off the mooring ropes and putted away across the lake. I kicked back to catch some sun rays as the temperature was up to the 60s in what had been an unusually cold week so far. My luggage and I were first in line for the 20 minute wait before the next boat departure to the hotel.
I now know there is a path I could have walked between Hollywood Studios and the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. All I could see from the dock was more swampland. I didn’t even consider venturing out on my own.
The boat arrives as scheduled and I am ferried over the waters to the hotel. A child behind me repeatedly states for the whole ride, “Dad! It looks like we’re moving!” Seriously, like twenty times.
Welcome to Disney!
The boat passes by Disney Boardwalk villas and the Swan Hotel first. The boat dock is midway between the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. The ferry continues on from there to Epcot.
The façades of the Dolphin and Swan have a Disney type whimsical quality. The grand fountain of the Dolphin and the nearly 30-story high A-frame center building design are eye enchanting.
Just inside the ground floor revolving doors are restaurants. One is evening fine dining at Todd English’s BlueZoo restaurant featuring seafood. All-day dining is available at the Fountain with a burgers and ice cream type-menu.
Fresh Mediterranean Market down the hall past the Fountain has a breakfast buffet and a lunch menu, but closes for the day in the afternoon. The breakfast buffet at Fresh was about $22 after tax and tip. A decent value considering you can spend half that price for a mediocre and unsatisfying meal along the Boardwalk or at the hotel lobby bar which serves up fruit and bagels in the morning. Fresh restaurant offered some unique natural vitamin food drinks among all the usual stuff of pastries, eggs, bacon, sausage, and omelettes. I wish I’d written down the drink names. Sawgrass juice sticks in my mind. Colorful, tasty, blended with fruit juices to a palatable taste.
Up the escalator from the ground floor is the lobby. The lobby is open with a central fountain and lots of seating.
Both the Dolphin and Swan Hotels have convention halls attached to the hotels. A convention came into the Dolphin on my last night, but aside from the pools closing early for a private party there were no noticeable crowds. The Swan on the other hand was packed at one point when I walked through the hotel making it difficult to move through all the convention guests in the hallways.
At check-in the receptionist did an excellent job explaining the $10 hotel resort fee benefits (internet and two bottles of water daily), telling me I had an upgrade (always wonderful to hear), and sharing information about the resort and how I could use facilities and dining at the Swan if I desired and credit it to my Dolphin room. She did a really thorough job of greeting me as a guest. I rate this as a high quality aspect of the Dolphin resort for my experience. The front desk staff seemed on the ball every time I spoke with someone.
There are three sets of elevators for the hotel. East, West, and Central. I was in the central tower which is the A-frame portion of the hotel. There are 20 guest floors in Central. The other wings are 9 to 11 floors I think. My room was on floor 17 and I had that little heart patter as I realized my room was at the end of the hall. That is often a good sign.
The end rooms on the other side of the hall are full suites. These rooms look over a vast area of swamp brush and DisneyWorld to the west in the distance.
The room was furnished quite comfortably, only the lack of decent air conditioning was uncomfortable. I attributed it to the window sunlight heating up the room, but it turned out to be a weak AC. I didn’t report it until check-out because I was too busy to be distracted by an engineer in the room.
The fantastic thing about the Dolphin and Swan is the resort feel of being in Disney, but with far fewer kids. I don’t think I ever passed by the wonderful looking buffet at Cape May in the Disney Beach Club without hearing a child having a crying fit. And I passed by that buffet several times over three days.
My adrenaline gets going when I am in a new place and I desired a walk around the resort area. Across the bridge connecting the hotels to the Disney Boardwalk I soon came to Big River brewpub. This brewpub was slightly lower priced than the hotel ($10 brewpub burger vs. $12 hotel burger) and offered a variety of microbrew beer. The brewpub and the ESPN Zone were the most happening places daily in the afternoon on the Boardwalk.
The walkway along the Boardwalk has outside entertainers, nighttime dance clubs open at 7pm or 9pm until 2am (21 and older only), an Italian restaurant with outside pizza slices, a bakery, loads of candy options, games, and the ESPN Zone. Inside the Boardwalk Resort are additional bar lounge and dining options.
The walk around Crescent Lake from the Dolphin or Swan and back again can be done in 20 minutes without stopping or take an hour or more just walking and stopping to see people and admire the views. There are not really too many shops.
Walking to the entrance of Epcot from the Dolphin or Swan hotel takes about ten minutes.
Disney Yacht Club and Beach Club
The Disney Yacht Club and Disney Beach Club share large pool facilities. There seemed to be no identifiers for hotel guests so pretty much anyone with a bathing suit could wonder in and use the pools. I am not saying the Clampett’s drive in to use the pool for the day mainly due to the relative isolation of the place, but there appeared to be no impediment to a Starwood Hotel guest walking over and using the Disney Resort pools and vice versa. Whether it actually is allowed or not I do not know.
The entire walking path area between the five resorts makes it seem like the two Starwood Hotels are part of the Disney complex with access to much of what the Disney guests have and from what I could tell when checking hotel rates, a much lower price for the Dolphin or Swan.
The Disney Resort lakefront pools were expansive and great for kids, but the pools at the Dolphin were also substantial in size and much less crowded.
Dolphin Hotel Pools
Being on the white sand outside the Dolphin felt like a resort getaway. Kicking back in a hammock and having the Cabana bar and restaurant staff attend to your drink and food needs is certainly a lounge- away-the-day option at the hotel. I put in a good three hours during my stay at the Cabana poolside seating to drink some Stella and eat outside. The temperature was in the high 60s and low 70s most of the day.
The resident ducks at the Cabana Bar made me chuckle. This trio of ducks came around each day and they seem to live a life of luxury walking around between tables eating what is on the ground or what hotel guests feed them and then doing laps in the lap pool. Perhaps bar scraps are not a truly healthy diet, but what a place to exist. Donald Duck would be proud.
The hotel has the lobby level Mandara Spa and a ground floor fitness center with an attendant.
There are large video game rooms at both the Dolphin and the Swan. At least during my stay there seemed to be more children resident at the Swan.
All in all, these hotels feel and look like resorts. This is the kind of place you can hang out for days and feel like you have drifted away into a Disney dream. And truly you have. Disney is all around you when you stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin or Swan Starwood Hotels.
The Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan are both SPG category 4 hotel awards at 10,000 points per night. The hotel gives guests a credit of 500 points per night if maid service is refused, excluding the last night of your stay. I paid for my stay with SPG points. Getting 1,000 points back made the Premium Studio upgrade room a high value SPG award for my stay.
A guest leaves a hotel only with memories and impressions.
My memories of the Dolphin stay are fond memories and my impressions were good. I highly recommend these Starwood Hotels for the guest seeking the total Disney experience while staying in a Starwood upper-upscale environment just a little bit removed from the Disney entourage.