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Disney fans know that where you stay can be an important part of the theme park experience. Two of the more iconic hotels in the Florida resort area, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, may puzzle some travelers: The buildings look similar enough in color and design that they could be confused for one hotel, but the two have several differences. When it comes to Disney Swan versus Dolphin, it’s important to know what benefits they share and what sets them apart.
This guide can help you make the best of your stay at the Disney World Swan or Dolphin, no matter which hotel you choose.
Shared services at the Disney Swan and Dolphin
Though the Swan and Dolphin hotels are managed by two Marriott Bonvoy brands, in some ways they function as one resort property. Many services and amenities are shared between the two, providing guests with more value during their stay.
One item to note is that neither hotel is an official Disney resort hotel, and Disney Magic Bands do not work as room keys.
The hotels are located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, with the Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom parks nearby. From both properties, guests can use free transportation to Disney parks, including boat or bus transfers as well as pedestrian options.
The hotels are next to the Disney BoardWalk, which puts plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options at your doorstep.
Guests of either hotel can access services at both properties, including use of the spa, pools, restaurants and child care.
The Mandara Spa pampers guests with its lengthy roster of massage and beauty treatments, and fitness enthusiasts have their choice of three health centers with a variety of exercise classes.
Six pools are available for guest use, with a lap pool, a white sand beach, private cabanas and whirlpools featured. Other activities include basketball, pingpong tables, watercraft rentals and a playground.
There are a variety of dining options, totaling 22 on-site restaurants and lounges. No matter what you’re looking for — a fine-dining experience, a casual family meal or a cocktail in the lounge — you’ll be sure to find something that pleases your palate.
If you want to redeem points for a stay, the amount needed varies by night because Marriott Bonvoy has ditched award charts in a shift to the dynamic pricing model. Elite status members can still take advantage of eligible perks, which can include benefits like complimentary breakfast or potential room upgrades for top-tier members.
For those paying cash, special rates and discounts are available to Florida residents, older people and Walt Disney World passholders.
When staying at either of these hotels, guests receive free parking at the theme parks. However, both hotels charge a daily $35 resort fee, which covers amenities like staff-led fitness classes, boat rentals and in-room internet.
» Learn more: How to budget for a family trip to Disney
Walt Disney World Swan
You’ll be able to identify this hotel from the two 56-foot-tall swans positioned atop the building. The Swan is the smaller property, and it operates under the Westin brand. A popular benefit for guests is early access to the parks; they can stay later, too.
The hotel boasts the expected Westin amenities, which focus heavily on wellness. The experience begins with the brand’s white tea scent wafting through public areas. Throughout the hotel, everything showcases Westin touches from menus with healthier items to guest rooms with white tea-scented toiletries and Heavenly Showers.
Rooms follow Westin’s redesign model with Heavenly Beds boasting pillow-top mattresses and soft duvets. There’s even a Sleep Well menu featuring meals and snacks meant to promote rest.
Guests have the option of selecting a room with one king bed, two queen beds or a king bed with a sofa bed. Some of the rooms have balconies. Larger rooms can accommodate up to two adults and two children.
Unlike at Disney properties, the Swan doesn't have much of a Disney theme, which for some can be a respite after a day in the parks.
Many of the amenities at the Swan, such as pools, spa services and restaurants, are shared with guests of the Dolphin.
That said, there are plentiful dining options in the Swan, including Kimonos for sushi and karaoke, Il Mulino New York Trattoria for Italian and a casual poolside grill, among others.
» Learn more: Best Disney World hotels to book with points
What makes it different?
Compared with the Dolphin, the Swan has a more upscale, adult-oriented vibe. It’s also smaller, with about half as many rooms, making it easier to navigate. For some families, this can be important.
All Swan double-bed rooms come with two queen beds, while the Dolphin provides full mattresses. However, rooms at the Swan accommodate only four people, as opposed to five at the Dolphin.
Bathrooms at the Swan have a traditional showerhead and a wand; at the Dolphin, it’s an overhead rainfall shower.
Also, the Swan pool area is much smaller than that of its neighbor. If you think you’ll be spending a lot of time poolside, it may be worth it to stay at the Dolphin so you’re closer to the action.
Walt Disney World Swan tends to have pricier rooms than those of its neighbor. Rates during busier periods, like annual or school holidays, can regularly be more expensive at the Swan.
For example, on Easter weekend, rates at the Swan tend to be about 12% higher than those at the Dolphin, coming in at $405 per night versus $358 at the Dolphin. During the summer months, the trend for Swan to be a bit higher in price than the Dolphin continues.
If you’re a Marriott Bonvoy member, you can use a Marriott co-branded credit card to earn bonus points when staying at the Swan or Dolphin.
Walt Disney World Dolphin
The two 56-foot-tall dolphin statues atop the building give away the name of this hotel, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy as a Sheraton brand. A popular benefit of staying here is the option to enjoy early access to the parks as well as advance golf tee times.
This hotel has a luxurious vibe that starts in the lobby with its numerous restaurants, bars and lounge areas. Though it’s the larger of the two hotels, not all rooms are created equally, so be wise when selecting yours.
Some rooms have no view, while others overlook the resort or provide a view of the evening fireworks displays. Opt for a room with a balcony for the best experience.
The Dolphin's rooms are a bit larger than those at the Swan, accommodating up to two adults and three children. Families will appreciate that some rooms come with a sofa bed. For those who want more space, the Dolphin offers two-bedroom suites.
» Learn more: How to purchase theme park tickets with points
Among the dining options at the Dolphin are celebrity chef-led restaurants like Todd English’s Bluezoo as well as Shula’s Steakhouse, which offers fine cuts of meat.
Guests can lounge by one of the hotel’s four pools, featuring a grotto, whirlpool, water slide and crashing waterfall. There is also a sandy beach, which guests at the Swan can access as well.
This property is home to the laundry facilities shared between the hotels as well as Camp Dolphin, which provides child care for those ages 5 to 12.
What makes it different?
The Dolphin property is twice the size of the Swan and has a livelier atmosphere with more dining options. It’s also home to most of the pools and entertainment.
Guests who select a double-bed room at the Dolphin will get two full beds rather than two queens, which reduces sleeping area but gives guests more space to move around. The rooms are also slightly larger than those at the Swan.
Families may also appreciate that rooms at the Dolphin can accommodate three children — only two children are allowed per room at the Swan.
Walt Disney World Dolphin offers a bit more in savings when compared with the Swan, perhaps because of its larger size and many on-site activities. For some people, this can be a benefit, but if you’re looking to relax, the more expensive Swan offers more peace and quiet.
» Learn more: How to travel to Orlando on points and miles
The Swan Reserve
Not to be confused with the main Swan property, the Swan Reserve is a more upscale option across the street with 349 rooms (almost half of which are suites). The hotel has a pool area with an elevated deck and fire pit plus panoramic event space on the rooftop with views of the Disney parks.
Despite a similar-sounding name, this is a separate hotel that participates in Marriott Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection brand. For those who want a quieter experience, this Lake Buena Vista property is a great option, but it should not be confused with the main Swan property.
» Learn more: Top Marriott boutique hotels you can book with points
Swan vs. Dolphin, recapped
Either of these Marriott Bonvoy properties is sure to please, but they do have nuances that travelers should understand.
The Dolphin is twice as big with more resort facilities than the Swan. Depending on your personal interests, one may offer more benefits than the other. Couples looking for less activity may prefer the Swan, while families will appreciate the variety of dining and pool options — including water slides and waterfalls — that come with a Dolphin stay.
Despite fewer resort facilities at the Swan, stays there will often cost more than those at the Dolphin.
No matter which one you visit, the free transportation to Disney parks and the ability to earn or redeem Marriott points is the icing on the cake.
Featured image courtesy of Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.
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