The first thing guests should know about Swan and Dolphin is that despite being located on Walt Disney World property, they are not Walt Disney World hotels. They are Starwood hotels. While guests do get some of the benefits of staying on Disney property, the hotels lack a bit of that Disney “feel.” Guests do have access to WDW transportation to all Disney attractions, free parking at the WDW parks, and access to theme park Extra Magic Hours; however, with the full roll out of the FastPass+/ MyMagic+ campaign, it is important to note that Swan and Dolphin do not participate in the Magic Band program, so guests do not have the ability to book FastPass+ in advance. There are also no charging privileges.
The biggest draw of the resort is its comparative low price for its prime location. For those who tend to spend more time at Epcot or just enjoy the atmosphere of the Epcot resort area, the location is simply spectacular. Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Boardwalk Resort, and Yacht and Beach Club are all within walking distance. For those who prefer a leisurely cruise to a brisk walk, the Friendship Boats will take you to all of those locations.
The Dolphin has several large ballrooms and holds conventions year-round, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the most adult-oriented hotels on property. You have access to excellent dining experiences, high-end shops, and a luxurious spa. My sister-in-law decided to book a last minute pedicure at Mandara Spa during our recent trip, and she had wonderful things to say about her experience. She reports that it was well worth the price, and it was the best pedicure she’s had in years–even better than one she had at a Ritz Carlton Spa. She also appreciated their late hours. They stay open until 9pm, and she was able to book an evening appointment after we spent the day at Wide World of Sports and Downtown Disney.
We have stayed at The Dolphin twice. Our most recent stay was during Marathon Weekend, 2014. We had the pleasure of being upgraded to a King bed suite with a balcony that provided a wonderful view of the Epcot Resort Area. That is where the positives end for this recent stay.
First, let’s take a closer look at the price breakdown. The base rate at Dolphin is attractive. Add to that the fact that they typically offer discounts for teachers, nurses, military, seniors, and more, and the rate looks even better. We had a $179 per night base rate. Where Dolphin really gets you is with all its added fees.
Here is the exact breakdown from our recent invoice:
Room Charge- $179.00
Room Tax- $11.64
Resort Tax- $10.74
Resort Service Package- $17.00
Resort Service Package Tax- $1.11
Resort Tax-Resort Svc. Pkg- $1.02
Total for one night- $220.51
The “Resort Service Package” is not something that you can opt out of. What do you get for this additional $19.13 per night (adding in taxes)? Internet Access, 2 bottles of water daily, and unlimited access to resort health club facilities. You also get unlimited local and domestic calls, but since most people have decent cell phone plans these days, how many people do you think are actually availing themselves of these phone privileges per day?
Do you have a car on property? Add another $15 per night for self-parking.
Your total is still cheaper at Dolphin than it would be at it’s Deluxe Epcot Resort Area counterparts, but come across a good discount for Boardwalk or Yacht & Beach Club, and the savings gap substantially narrows.
The hidden fees don’t stop there. Picabu, a “buffeteria” nestled in the back corner of The Dolphin, adds a $2 service charge to all orders. We had some good meals here, but it’s hard not to roll your eyes and groan when you see another fee tacked onto your bill.
The rooms themselves are decent. I have no issues with the décor or the space of the actual room. I do think the bathroom is desperately in need of an update. The vanity/sink area is separate from the toilet and shower area, which is always nice, but we found the toilet/shower area to be a bit cramped and in need of a refurbishment. My sister-in-law had major issues with the temperature in her room-it always seemed stuffy. Ours felt the same when we checked in, but we were able to get it managed.
The worst part of our trip was the noise. During both of our stays at The Dolphin, I have felt that the door and walls are too thin. You can hear every little thing that happens in the hallway. The Walt Disney World Value Resorts tend to get a lot of heat for their noise levels, but we stayed at POP! Century once during a Pop Warner football event and never experienced the level of noise that we had on this recent stay at The Dolphin. The rowdy conventioneers were out in full force, partying into the wee hours of the morning. On our first night, after we finally fell asleep, the fire alarm went off at 1am! And of course that was the morning of the Minnie 10K. The next evening, the people in the room next to us actually propped their door open and had people freely coming and going. We could hear some noise through the wall, but the door being open really made things a lot worse. We reached our breaking point at 11pm and called the front desk. They said they would take care of it, but it took about another 30 minutes. Then we had to endure the loud hallway goodbyes and doors slamming shut. I almost couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth when I told my husband, “I can’t wait to check out of The Dolphin so we can hopefully get some peace and quiet at All Star Music.” (That review is for another day.)
I want to note that the pool and beach area that Swan and Dolphin share seem nice, but we were not able to take advantage of these facilities on either of our trips
All in all, there are still many pros for The Dolphin, especially if you are a party of adults willing to forgo some of the Disney “magic” and save a few bucks. I do think the pros still outweigh the cons. Just be sure to crunch the numbers and don’t forget those hidden fees. If you are a family with small children, I would would recommend looking for deals elsewhere.