It is an architectural achievement. It was designed by renowned architect Michael Graves as an impressive example of so-called “entertainment architecture”.

While the Dolphin is one of the most distinctive hotels on the Walt Disney World property, it is also one of two hotels that are not managed by Disney. The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel shares a resort complex with its sister hotel, the Walt Disney World Swan, and while both were commissioned by Disney they are actually owned and operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.

The two hotels were added to the Walt Disney World landscape to capture a greater share of conventions and conference groups. The Dolphin contains extensive meeting space as well.

The Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel makes a grand statement.

The Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel makes a grand statement.

There is a wider selection of places to eat at the Swan and Dolphin Resort that at any other single resort at Walt Disney World. Whether you are looking for a quick and casual meal or a signature fine dining experience, there are many options on this property. The following restaurants are only the ones that reside in the Dolphin Hotel, but many other options can be found across the way at the Swan.

Picabu

This self-service buffet is open 24 hours a day for guests seeking breakfast or a midnight snack. Picabu (say it like “Peek-A-Boo”) serves classic American food and is one of the least expensive dining options at the Dolphin.

Shula’s Steak House

Shula’s Steak House is named and decorated in celebration of Don Shula, coach of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. This signature restaurant serves many different great cuts of steak, as well as seafood. Shula’s has been recognized by Critic’s Choice and by Wine Spectator for its steak and wine selections.

Entrance to the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel.

Entrance to the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel.

Todd English’ bluezoo (yes, it is all in lowercase lettes) boasts a menu created by celebrity chef Todd English, and an impressive wine list that has been recognized by Wine Spectator. As distinctive as the food is the bold water-inspired décor designed by architect Jeffrey Beers.

Cabana Bar & Beach Club

This poolside café sits next to the lap pool and serves a variety of contemporary American snacks and small dishes. This is also the place to visit for a cocktail as you relax by the water.

Fresh Mediterranean Market

The Market serves up breakfast and lunch in the style of a fresh buffet. Different stations around the restaurant serve everything from slow-roasted meats cooking right in front of you to fresh pastries. Smoothies or made-to-order omelets are great choices for breakfast, and there are many delicious savory choices for lunch.

The Fountain

Enjoy classic hamburgers, milk shakes or other soda fountain favorites including home-made ice cream at this casual restaurant. The menu also includes sandwiches and salads.

Lounges

As a hotel designed to accommodate large conventions and business conferences, it is not surprising that the Walt Disney World Dolphin has a number of places to relax and enjoy an adult beverage.

Lobby Court Lounge

This lounge on the second level of the Dolphin lobby serves coffee and fresh pastries throughout the day in addition to alcoholic beverages.

Shula’s Lounge

As befits the great football coach who gives his name to this steak restaurant and lounge, this spot has large televisions with a variety of sporting channels, leather chairs, and an excellent selection of beer.

Todd English’s bluezoo Lounge

This modern lounge features the same distinctive décor as the Signature Dining bluezoo restaurant. If your schedule doesn’t allow you time for dinner, the lounge is a nice way to get a taste of this notable establishment.

Grotto Pool

The Grotto Pool complex sits on the shore of Crescent Lake between the Dolphin and the Swan hotels. The pool itself is decorated with rocky caves, tropical plants, and the beautiful waterfall and grotto. There is also lovely sandy beach perfect for sunbathing or a game of beach volleyball.

While the Grotto Pool is the main draw, there is also a lap pool on the complex for guests looking to do some serious swimming. Kiddie pools for small children to wade and hot whirl pools for luxuriating on cooler days make this complex a place to enjoy for all seasons.

The architecture of the Walt Disney World Dolphin is stunning.

The architecture of the Walt Disney World Dolphin is stunning.

The Mandara Spa uses the island of Bali as inspiration for its beautiful wood-dominated décor that includes two indoor gardens. From salon services to cellulite reduction, the Spa can be a luxurious addition to your vacation. There is even a selection of just-for-teens spa services.

Health Club

The Dolphin Hotel has a health club on the first floor where resort guests can take advantage of a wide range of strength and cardiovascular training equipment from 6am to 9pm every day of the week. The club also provides locker rooms, showers, and a dry sauna.

Boutique Shopping

As a non-Disney operated hotel with many outside guests, the Dolphin has a range of shopping options available not usually found at Disney resorts.

For souvenirs, snacks, and sundries, stop into Disney Cabanas, Daisy’s Garden, Picabu (open 24 hours a day). Sugar3 sells a delicious selection of gourmet candy to satisfy any sweet tooth. For apparel, upscale shopping can be found at LaMont’s, while Cabana Beach Hut sells casual wear in addition to renting water equipment. Visit Galleria Sottil to shop for original art or jewelry, or Mandara Spa Boutique for a selection of personal  care products.

Walt Disney World Resort Benefits

Although not officially a Disney property, the Dolphin Hotel does provide guests with many of the same on-site benefits as other resorts at Disney World. In addition to the great location near Epcot, Dolphin guests can take advantage of early or late Disney park admission reserved for Disney resort guests – called Extra Magic Hours – and complimentary transportation to and from the airport and around the resort.

Pros and Cons

The Walt Disney World Dolphin has a tremendous amount to offer guests in the way of recreation, dining, and health opportunities. When combined with the restaurants, shopping, and activities at its sister Swan hotel, this deluxe hotel has a lot going for it.

The design and non-Disney atmosphere of the Dolphin may be a pro or a con for different guests. For some people, constant immersion in all things Disney is part of the experience of a Disney World vacation. Others may be relieved to have a luxurious place to retreat from the world of Disney after a day exploring the theme parks.

The Dolphin does charge a mandatory resort fee for all guests in addition to the cost of a room. Therefore, this hotel is a better deal for guests who plan to spend time enjoying all of the amenities and services here.

A Bargain If You Plan Ahead

Avoiding the convention crowds at the Dolphin is not so much a matter of where in the resort to stay, but when. When booking this hotel, selecting dates during which there is no convention on the premises can have multiple benefits.

First, convention-free times usually mean a less crowded hotel and easier access to restaurants, recreation opportunities, and rooms with great views. In addition, a large number of open rooms often leads to discounts that the Disney owned and operated hotels are not able to offer. Finally, many guests simply prefer to spend their vacation in the company of other Disney vacationers rather than business people.