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September 29, 2015

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts

Knock another Walt Disney World hotel off of the ol' bucket list! Our most recent stay was at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. While the Swan and Dolphin are not officially Disney resorts (they are owned and operated by Starwood), they are located on Walt Disney World property, and do include many of the same general perks and benefits. 


One of the biggest benefits to Swan and Dolphin - LOCATION! Both day and night, the property is beautiful, and landscaping is stellar. Located as a spur off Disney's Boardwalk, guests can easily walk to Epcot, Boardwalk, or the Yacht and Beach Club resorts. Disney's Hollywood Studios is also very easily navigable, thanks to boat service. 
Parking was not a high point. Self-parking is $18 per day for guests, and it's a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the drop-off driveway leading to the entryway. Buses and boats can help to navigate Walt Disney World property, but off-property jaunts will not be exceedingly convenient. 
The lobby is subdued, but very inviting. Fountains, seating areas, a gift shop, and business center are all spaciously laid out near the front entry.
Interior corridors leading to the Swan and Dolphin common areas reveal a coffee bar, dining locations, and gorgeous decor. The light fixtures throughout the building are worth taking note of. Anything on Disney property can be relied upon to pay exceptional attention to decorative theming and detail.
The Swan has two large courtyards between the main building corridors. Outdoor seating is provided within an open-air patio area encircling more of the signature fountains. 
We stayed in the Swan building. Check-in was swift and pleasant, and staff was courteous at every encounter. The room itself was much less than I expected. I did respect the bold decision to incorporate white decor with light wood accents. Considering the number of children staying on Disney property, I can imagine that this can be a nightmare, but it was appealingly elegant and added to the perception of cleanliness in the room overall. The beds and linens were very comfortable... so much so, that I had to fight the overwhelming urge to be lazy when it came time to explore the rest of the resort.
I appreciated the details of the room - ample charging power throughout, cordless phone, modern alarm clock with iPod dock. These thoughtful little conveniences were nice to see. 
The rooms came complete with a mini-fridge, a couple of waters, Starbucks coffee, and a plush robe. In-room dining menus were comparatively priced, with a respectable array of items to choose from.
The bathroom area was underwhelming compared to some moderate and luxury Disney resorts. There were two sinks with well-lit mirrors, and the most incredibly soothing shower head in existence, but something just lacked (probably in terms of space more than design). 
"Special" is what Disney guests have come to expect. While the room was not in disarray or unkempt, it simply was not at a level to justify the extravagant standard prices of the resort. Typical rates are well over $200 per night, and in comparison to Disney-owned resorts in the same price range, the Swan just didn't compare. 
The single most disappointing factor of the room we stayed in was it's specific location. We were in a wing that was undergoing construction, directly adjacent to a cleaning/storage/maintenance room. To say it was loud and disruptive is a dramatic understatement. We couldn't even distract ourselves with a worthwhile view. Our window overlooked an unattractive, industrial area of the roof. 
Dining options are diverse at the Swan. We decided on a snack at Splash - an indoor quick dining spot next to the pool. While the pizza was nothing spectacular, the price was right, and service was fast and friendly. 
Splash offers sandwiches, pizza, salads, and other "quick bites". Food trucks scattered around the property opened on erratic schedules, providing a few other convenience options. We did check out Il Mulino for dinner, but that will be covered in an separate review, coming soon.
One thing that I have always sincerely enjoyed at a Disney resort - recreation. This is one aspect that the Swan and Dolphin have equaled to Disney standards. Pool parties, family games, and the beloved "movie under the stars" are just a few of the amusements to partake in every day. Schedules are prominently displayed in the lobby, and included with check-in materials.
I'm a regular participant when a Disney resort offers campfire marshmallow roasting. Though our movie was rained out on this stay, we did notice the campfire prep taking place beforehand. Unlike other Disney resorts, the Swan charges for their marshmallows. $5 for 3 to be exact.
The outdoor beach and recreation area between the Swan and Dolphin buildings is full of fun stops to amuse any guest throughout the day. The combination of events and entertainment is easily the high point of a stay at the resort. 
Although some activities come at an additional charge, prices are reasonable on average, and these particular activities tend to be worth it. My favorite was embellished sand art - a truly original Florida souvenir!
The arcade at the Swan was more impressive than most Disney resort arcades. I especially liked the inclusion of the pool table.
Paddle boats are available to rent for about $15 per half hour, but there are some free amusements as well, including life-sized checkers and a playground.
The poolside areas host the bulk of the activities and fun zones, as well as a number of spots to lounge out while enjoying some sun or a few drinks. Be forewarned - these areas are exceptionally buggy, especially after dark. We took notice of bartenders repeatedly throwing out freshly made drinks that had attracted insects. After dark, we took in some competitive play at basketball and corn hole, where erred aim often resulted in combat with colossal roaches and the dreaded Florida palmetto bug. 
While the sheer number of pools, kiddie pools, and hot tubs seemed a bit unnecessary in one generally confined space, each of the pools were unique and well-themed. The cave-like grotto area under a waterfall was certainly the most impressive water feature. The numerous options for water play catered to swimmers, loungers, volleyball players, and even a happy pack of ducks.
Overall, the "chain of pools" region is very attractive - even if it is overkill. 
The amenity I most enjoyed was quite possibly the simplest of them all. I am a strong proponent of relaxing and soaking up the ambiance during a Disney stay - something that too many rushed and frenzied park-goers consistently fail to do. Whenever I see hammocks along the beach at a Disney resort, you better believe I'll be making my way there with a pina colada. Music is always nearby - whether live or recorded - and you just can't get a better spot for sky/star gazing and kicking back to enjoy your surroundings.  
Overall, I was just not deliriously impressed with Disney Swan. There was a consistent attempt to nickle and dime guests for every little thing that came up. While it is widely understood that a Disney stay is not cheap, it's not usually quite so stingy. Nothing seemed to be included even though a resort fee is added to the cost of a stay. I can't say that the rooms were deplorable, but they were nothing special. I've stayed in more impressive resorts for less than $100 per night in the general Disney area. If you're not truly indulging in a full-blown Disney resort, the cost is not even possible to justify. There was simply nothing that stood out as exceptional, and this is the standard of quality than the average Disney-goer comes to expect. If you're going to stay at a Disney resort - stay at a Disney resort. If not, stay just off-site and save a small fortune. The bulk of the effort that went into these resorts is what you see from the outside or common areas, unfortunately falling short in the individual guest experience.