The Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotels are located Disney property, but they are owned and operated by Starwood hotels and not Disney. Because of that difference, the people who stay at the Swan or Dolphin do not get exactly the same benefits as someone who says at a Disney operated property, such as Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Art Of Animation Resort. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good choice depending on your needs.
Let’s take a look at some similarities and differences:
Similarities Between The Swan & Dolphin Vs. Disney Operated Resorts
The Swan and Dolphin get some of the same benefits as Disney operated resorts:
Extra Magic Hours
This is one of the biggest benefits of staying at a hotel on Disney property. Extra Magic Hours allow you to get into select Disney parks early or stay late on designated days. This means that the crowds are far smaller, and you get to see and do lots more.
Summary: You get the benefit of Extra Magic House at the Swan and Dolphin and also at Disney operated resorts.
If you love shop at the stores at Disney World, then you might take advantage of this service. When you purchase something at a gift shop inside the parks, Disney will deliver your purchase directly to your room. You don’t have to haul your purchases around all day. And this gives you some freedom to shop in the afternoons when the outside temperatures are hot and the stores are less crowded. There is no minimum purchase and no delivery fee. To test the service I once purchased some fudge from the Confectionary Shop on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. To the delight of my sweet tooth, it was waiting for me in my Disney hotel room that evening.
Summary: You get the benefit of package delivery at the Swan and Dolphin and also at Disney operated resorts.
On Property Transportation
From the Swan and Dolphin you can take advantage of Disney on property transportation. Specifically you can take a boat to Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios and you can take a Disney bus to the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Because of their convenient location, you can also walk to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Boardwalk. However, you still might need a car or some expensive taxi rides – see the information below about Disney’s Magical Express. You get the benefit of on property transportation at Disney operated resorts and also at the Swan and Dolphin.
Some people wonder if they will get the same high-quality Disney service at the Swan and Dolphin. Good news – the answer is yes. The hotel staff is very friendly and accommodating.
Summary: You get the benefit of high quality service at the Swan and Dolphin and also at Disney operated resorts.
Downside Differences Between The Swan & Dolphin Vs. Disney Operated Resorts
There are some benefits that are available at Disney operated resorts that are not available at the Swan and Dolphin.
This one is a little bit complicated, and it may be important if special Disney World dining is high on your list. If you stay at a Disney operated hotel, like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, you can call for dining reservations 180 days before your arrival – and (here is the important part) the reservations can be for your entire stay. However, if you stay at the Swan or Dolphin, or really any other off-property hotel too, you can only make reservations 180 days in advance – period.
For example, let’s say you are staying at the Grand Floridian. You call 180 days before you arrive, and you can book your Advanced Dining Reservations for the day you arrive, 180 days from now, but also for the second day of your vacation, 181 days from now, and the third day of your vacation, 182 days from now, etc. If you stay at the Swan and Dolphin, you can’t book for 181 days from now and 182 days from now.
Is that a big deal? It depends on how busy the Disney restaurants will be and how important specific dining locations are to you. If you child has her heart set on a very popular dining location, like the famously busy Disney character dining experience at Chef Mickey’s Café, and you are going at a very busy time, like Christmas, than this may be very important.
Summary: You do not get the benefit of making dining reservations for your entire stay 180 days in advance at the Swan and Dolphin, but you would get that benefit if you stayed at a Disney operated resort.
Disney’s Magical Express
Disney’s Magical Express is a bus service that will pick you up at the Orlando International Airport and will transport you to your Disney operated resort hotel. With this service, many people can avoid the cost of a rental car or a shuttle service, especially if they planned to stay on Disney property for their entire vacation. The service also allows you to check your luggage in at your airport of departure and then it magically appears in your hotel room. Unlike some other modes of Disney transportation, the service is generally considered to be quick and efficient. And best of all it is free. Unfortunately, it is not available if you stay at the Swan and Dolphin.
Summary: You do not get the benefit of Disney’s Magical Express at the Swan and Dolphin, but you would get that benefit if you stayed at a Disney operated resort.
This may or may not be a downside depending on your perspective. The Swan and Dolphin were designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves. They are unique and tell a great, if not obvious, story. However, they are not traditional themed buildings as you see at most Disney hotels. If you stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, you feel like you are in Mexico. If you stay at the Swan or Dolphin, you feel like you are in a different place – but not quite in the same way.
Summary: You do not get quite the same experience of traditional themeing at the Swan and Dolphin, but you would get that benefit if you stayed at a Disney operated resort.
Charging To your Room Key
If you stay at a Disney operated resort hotel, you can use your room key to charge purchases you make in the theme park. The advantage is that you only need your key to pay for meals and souvenirs in the parks, and you get a consolidated bill at the end of your stay.
Summary: You do not get the ability to charge theme park expenses to your hotel room key at the Swan and Dolphin, but you would get that benefit if you stayed at a Disney operated resort.
Upsides Differences Between The Swan & Dolphin Vs. Disney Operated Resorts
There are some advantages to staying at the Swan and Dolphin that are not necessarily available at Disney operated hotels.
While Disney charges different rates at different times of the year, they don’t generally offer discounts to different classifications of people. The Swan and Dolphin have plenty of discount options – from AAA to nurses, from seniors to military, from Florida residents to teachers. While not all discounts may be available at all times, these discounts do give you an opportunity to save some money.
Summary: You have a possibility to get discounts at the Swan and Dolphin, but you would not have that option if you stayed at a Disney operated resort.
Many Disney hotels book up completely, especially in peak seasons around summer and Christmas. The Swan and Dolphin sometimes have availability when Disney operated hotels are full.
Summary: You may be able to get a room at the Swan and Dolphin, even when a Disney operated resort is full.
I searched for room prices in late December, 2012 for the Dolphin and found a room for $234. A garden wing room at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (a Deluxe Resort) cost $530, while a room at Disney Port Orleans Resort – Riverside (a Moderate Resort) cost $244. Disney doesn’t classify the Swan and Dolphin as a Deluxe or Moderate Resort – it falls into the “other” category.
Summary: You may be able to get a room at the Swan and Dolphin at a lower cost than certain Disney operated resorts.
The Swan and Dolphin are part of the Starwood family of hotels. This means that you can earn Starwood points when you stay at these hotels, and you can also use your earned points to pay for hotel stays.
Summary: You can earn and use Starwood Preferred Guest points at the Swan and Dolphin, but Disney operated resorts don’t have a reward points program.
There are definitely pros and cons to staying at the Swan and Dolphin. Consider all these options to determine if it is the right place for your Disney World vacation.