Last summer, Ella and I treated ourselves to a luxurious stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and I’m finally writing this review to tell you all about it!
We did something kind of different during that summer vacation – we spent half of our Disney vacation at the Yacht Club and half at the Swan. It was really interesting to experience the two side-by-side and I think it allows me to really compare the two experiences authentically without time blurring the details.
I decided to stay at the Swan because we had a preferred rate as Starwood members and the cost of the hotel was on par with Disney’s moderate or value resort offerings while being in the Epcot Circle – a Deluxe location. Typically, the hotel costs about $280/night but if you have a Starwood account you can apply points to bring that price down significantly.
If you want a Deluxe experience without the hefty price tag, or you dislike the theming of Disney’s cheaper Value resorts, the Swan or the Dolphin resorts are amazing, beautiful resorts that offer convenience and luxury.
The Best Parts of The Swan Resort
First and foremost, this is a beautiful hotel. It’s not Disney-themed which was a bit disappointing for us, but it was clean, bright and had luxurious details. It’s definitely nicer than any Value resorts in that respect – and I found it a lot nicer than the Yacht Club (which reminded me of a dingy old study).
The “Grotto” pool complex was amazing – composed of 5 different pools with a waterslide and waterfall set just off of the beach. It was absolutely beautiful and impeccably maintained and definitely the star of the hotel for our vacation.
One downside however was that they close the pool whenever lightning warnings occur, and if you’re travelling during the summer that can mean frequent closures with Orlando being the world capital for lightning strikes.
The Garden Grove restaurant offered amazing buffets and two character meals a day. This is seriously the most underrated character meal and the easiest character meal reservation to get! They don’t take reservations for breakfast which made me nervous, but during our summertime stay I never saw the restaurant crowded or with a full waiting area.
There are a 10 other restaurants on property with serious foodie cred (Blue Zoo is a can’t miss for seafood lovers and Kimono was a unexpectedly delicious surprise) and The Fountain, a fun vintage-themed ice cream shoppe that is a 5 minute walk from the always crowded Beaches and Cream Soda Shoppe over at the Beach Club Resort.
If it’s your birthday or first time at the hotel, they will treat you to either a sundae or an alcoholic drink which is a nice treat and there are a couple of lounge/cabana-style restaurants around the pool area, but they were never open when we were out there which could have been due to the frequent summer storms or just time of day.
The location of the hotels to the Disney parks is amazing. You can walk to Epcot in 10-15 minutes (I’m walking with a 5 year old so it may take you less time), Disney’s Boardwalk in 5 minutes, or take a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios. There is also free direct busing to all of the parks, as the hotel benefits from Disney’s free shuttle services.
While the hotel lacks Disney theming, you are still within the Disney bubble and get many of the Disney perks that aren’t available to those who stay off Disney-property such as extra magic hours, free shuttles to the parks, free parking at the parks, etc. The on-site character dining was also a great perk and not something you can expect to find at other similarly-priced Disney resorts.
Also, the bridge connecting the two hotels lights up and plays music at night which became a favorite nightly tradition for Ella. No matter how exhausted she was, she couldn’t pass up a chance to have a magical dance party on the bridge.
In addition to character meals, you can rent tandem bicycles, Swan paddle boats (though the thought terrifies me knowing there are alligators beneath the boats), play on the white sand beach, watch movies on the Beach, indulge in the spa or Dolphin Club (pictured below, provides on-site childcare – which is free for two hours if you dine on site).
Where it Falls Short
For the most part, the hotel service was courteous and what you’d expect at a 4-star resort (and really, I’ve stayed at college dorms for cheap vacations so I’m not too picky), but I had two unfortunate customer service experiences – which I describe a little further below. It’s hard for any company to beat Disney at the hospitality game, but I often had to wait on hold for more than 10 minutes to reach a customer service/front desk clerk (it was faster to drag my 5 year old down to the lobby to get what we needed) and I often found the concierge desk empty (and the front desk clerks weren’t as knowledgable about hotel events or Disney planning which made that truly inconvenient given the nature of that role).
Added Fees & Charges
So first off, if you stay at a Disney property you get free transportation from the airport. This is not available to those staying at the Swan and Dolphin so that adds about $60-100 to your stay depending on your party size.
Next, is the resort fee of $25/day and several other small fees that Disney doesn’t tack on – like a $5+/parcel fee to receive packages to the business centre. Parking is $20-28/day while it’s included at most Disney resorts. These were just the fees we encountered but there may be more depending on the services you are looking for. Interestingly, it was free to send our bags over to the Yacht Club for the remainder of our vacation.
I do have to address two specific issues we encountered – one before we arrived and the second during our stay.
The first issue was that while booking our reservation with Starwood, I was told that ordering groceries to the hotel would not be a problem – and further that the concierge could order and have the groceries delivered for me. As a mom to a daughter with allergies and sensory issues, this was huge – and it’s important to know that all Disney-owned resorts allow grocery delivery.
Not so with the Swan or Dolphin. When I went to place the order about a week later, I was told that I was misinformed and they would not be able to even let me receive groceries at the hotel – let alone have the concierge pick them up. I had to spend HOURS trying to hold them accountable, since this was promised to me at the time of booking. I was bounced back and forth a few times before a specialist took over my complaint. He had to work hard to get the resort to agree to a delivery, and the compromise they worked out was that the resort would pick up groceries and charge his department a fee for it. The hotel made it out to be a huge inconvenience and favor – when I still was paying for all of the groceries and was more than willing to arrange with an outside service, had they allowed it. This issue took almost 3 months to resolve, which was ridiculous – and even when we arrived I was treated like I had made a crazy diva-style request.
The second issue was when Ella accidentally broke a glass in our room late at night. I called immediately to ask for a clean-up and did the best I could to remove the big shards and cover the carpet with a towel until someone could arrive… waited over an hour and called again because we were heading to bed soon. Still nothing.
The next morning I called down and waited again before finally going out into the hall and searching for someone from housekeeping. Maria immediately cleaned it up and was really mad that no one had followed through and suggested that I let the front desk know. The front desk clerk was equally horrified and immediately applied a credit to our hotel stay – which was unexpected and much appreciated. I do think the clean-up issue was a miscommunication, and the way that the feedback was handled was perfect – but I would have a different opinion if one of us did get cut on the glass during that 16-hour period of time.
Swan and Dolphin Hotel Review
Overall, I really enjoyed our visit and do plan to visit the Swan or Dolphin again – Ella can’t wait to return to their Grotto! However, after perusing several review sites while writing this post I have learned that our complaints about the customer service and the understaffing were common and there is no excuse for poor customer service at the happiest place on Earth.
If a Deluxe resort is out of your budget but you still want a luxurious hotel stay within the Disney property, the Swan or Dolphin hotels are the perfect choice. Be sure to take advantage of the amazing food offerings, free childcare (with meal purchase), character meals, free Disney transportation to the parks and that pool!
If the Swan and Dolphin are still a little pricey for you, consider becoming a Starwood member and saving up your points or watching for promotions, or check out our next choice for moderately-priced Disney vacations: Port Orleans Riverside.
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