What is It Like to Stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin?

by | May 22, 2024 | EPCOT, Walt Disney World Resorts, WDW Blog

Wondering how it is to stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel? We’re sharing a first-hand account of a stay at the non-Disney owned hotel located on Disney World property.

Recently, I stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel for the first time. I was there for a conference, which was being held in the Swan and Dolphin, giving me the somewhat strange experience of being at Disney World, but for work. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are a popular choice for conferences due to the massive convention center space that is available in both hotels. They are also unique hotels in that they are on Disney World property (in the coveted EPCOT Resort area), but are not owned by Disney, but instead operated by Marriott International, Inc.

The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel

But, although I stayed for work, I’m also now completely sold on returning for a stay with my family someday for a leisure trip. I’ll be sharing some of the highlights from my stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin.

Ideal Location

Along with the Swan Reserve, these three hotels are located right off Crescent Lake and the Boardwalk area. In my opinion, this is the best area to stay in all of Disney World. Not only are you within walking distance to both EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, but you are able to take advantage of the Skyliner and boat transportation in addition to the buses. You are also right by all the dining and entertainment available on the Boardwalk, as well as Yacht and Beach Club.

Not Technically Disney

However, it is important to note that this trio of hotels are technically not Disney-owned hotels. They are in fact Marriott brand hotels (Dolphin: Sheraton, Swan: Westin, Swan Reserve: Autograph Collection). This means if you are a Marriott Bonvoy member, you can earn and redeem points for your stays.

But these hotels also provide many benefits that are typically exclusive to Disney resorts, such as early park entry and extended evening hours. So while you may not get the full Disney experience staying here, it’s pretty darn close. And even better, it’s like getting Deluxe hotel benefits and amenities while paying Moderate prices.

Rooms

Because I was staying at the Dolphin for a conference, I booked a “Run of House” rate, which means I would be assigned whatever is available upon check-in. The front desk asked if I had any preferences, and I just asked them for whatever was the best they could give me. 

She ended up putting me in a resort view room on the 11th floor, which was the highest floor my bank of elevators went to. In terms of Disney theming, you won’t find any here. But from my room, not only did I get a beautiful view of the Swan, the boat dock, and the Boardwalk, I was also able to see both the Epcot and Hollywood Studios fireworks! So whenever you’re checking in, my advice is always to be friendly and polite. You never know what amazing room you might be offered!

The hotel room itself is a typical hotel room. Mine had 2 queen beds, a small table and chairs, a TV, and drawers. My bathroom included a tub/shower combo, which is especially nice for families with little kids. There are also larger rooms and amazing suites available for bigger groups and special occasions.

The Dreaded Resort Fee

One common complaint about the Swan and Dolphin is the daily resort fee (which at the moment is $45 per day). This includes things like Wi-Fi access, paddleboat rentals, exercise classes, and movies and s’mores in the evenings. While it is annoying to see this daily charge on your hotel bill, just be sure to use the “include taxes and fees” view when booking. That way, you’ll have a more accurate expectation of your final bill and it doesn’t feel so much like a hidden or extra charge.

Dining Near and Far

The Dolphin has many great dining options, from quick service options to fine dining. Some onsite highlights include Bluezoo (seafood), Shula’s (steakhouse), Rosa Mexicano (Mexican), Picabu (cafeteria), Phins (bar), and Fuel (grab-and-go market). Overall, across the Dolphin, Swan, and Swan Reserve, there are over 20 restaurants and lounges available. Note: these hotels do not participate in the Disney Dining Plan.

However, you are still in a perfect location to enjoy dining at other Disney restaurants. So be sure to get those reservations in advance! For example, during this stay, I walked over to the Yacht Club for two mornings to eat breakfast at Cape May Cafe and Ale & Compass. Another morning, I walked over to the Epcot Skyliner station to head over to the Riviera for breakfast at Topolino’s. 

I also took a bus over to Magic Kingdom to hop on the monorail for a dinner at Kona Cafe, located in the Polynesian. Another night, we grabbed a bus to Disney Springs to dine at Morimoto’s. And finally, on the last night, we took the boat over to Hollywood Studios to jump on a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a fantastic dinner at Sanaa. 

And don’t forget all the entertainment available on the Boardwalk that is just a few minutes walk away. That means you’re steps away from a dueling piano bar, a dance hall, a margarita cart, and more!

Transportation

So, just because you stay at the Dolphin doesn’t mean you have to give up going to your favorite Disney resort restaurants. The many transportation options (boats, Skyliner, and buses) make it easy to reach your destination.

Speaking of buses, the “Swolphin” hotels are no longer serviced by official Disney buses. Now, the bus transportation is provided by Mears. While these are nice buses, they may not run as frequently as the Disney buses. And most importantly, buses from these hotels do NOT drop you off at the front gate of Magic Kingdom anymore. Instead, they drop you off at the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you have to take a boat or the monorail to Magic Kingdom.

However, to avoid this, you can just take a short walk over to either the Yacht Club or the Boardwalk Inn, and these buses will drop you off at the front gates instead. And when you’re leaving any theme park or Disney Springs, you can also take Yacht Club or Boardwalk buses back. The extra choices mean you can choose whichever bus has a shorter line or is more readily available!

Should You Stay At the Walt Disney World Dolphin?

So overall, do I recommend staying at the Dolphin? I would say absolutely. It’s not perfect, but you can’t beat this location. And in most cases, you’ll be paying much less than you would at the neighboring Yacht and Beach Club and Boardwalk Inn. Plus, if you’re a loyal Marriott guest, this gives you the opportunity to earn or redeem points, something that isn’t available at official Disney resorts.

 

Posts by David Lee

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David is a corporate operations leader by day and a travel writer by night. He is a lifelong Disney fan and a self-proclaimed Dole Whip enthusiast. There's a good chance you'll find him planning the next trip to take his family on, whether it's to Disney World, a National Park, or some remote island halfway across the world. You can follow his other passion (Disney World and travel photography) on Instagram at @smallworlddavid.
epcot-clothing_creations-shop_chiu

Authored by
David Lee

David is a corporate operations leader by day and a travel writer by night. He is a lifelong Disney fan and a self-proclaimed Dole Whip enthusiast. There's a good chance you'll find him planning the next trip to take his family on, whether it's to Disney World, a National Park, or some remote island halfway across the world. You can follow his other passion (Disney World and travel photography) on Instagram at @smallworlddavid.
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