This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through one of my links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Special thanks to the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel for hosting me. All opinions are my own.
So you're planning a family trip to Disney World, but you're overwhelmed by all the options for places to stay. I personally find it helpful to read first-hand experiences and reviews of what a hotel is like so I can make an informed decision. I had the opportunity to stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel to facilitate a recent article I wrote for TravelPulse. I thought it would be helpful to share my experience here!
The thing you need to know about the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels is that they are on the Disney property and called a Disney resort but they are managed by Starwood. What does that mean for you? Well, a few things. It's not going to be a Disney-themed resort like the Disney-owned hotels on property. It looks and feels like a traditional hotel you could find anywhere in the world. It also means that you get some of the perks of staying at a Disney property, but not all, and you'll pay less than you would at a Disney-owned resort.
Disney Perks include reserving your FastPasses 60 days ahead of time, participating in the Extra Magic Hours at Disney Theme Parks, free transportation to and from Disney Parks, on-site character dining, a Disney Planning Booth inside the hotel, and free parking at Disney Parks.
Be aware that unlike some Disney Resorts you will have a nightly parking fee and a nightly resort fee, BUT you'll find that the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are cheaper than Disney-owned Resorts overall for nicer accommodations and amenities.
OK! I think that covers everything about the "specs" of the hotel. Let's dive into my experience, pictures, and review, shall we?
Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel Review
I found the interior of the Walt Disney World Dolphin to be beautifully designed and decorated without being pretentious. This is something I pay close attention to as a mom of young kids. You know the saying, "This is why we can't have nice things,"? I'm pretty sure that was coined by a parent of toddlers.
Anyway, if I'm going to stay somewhere with my littles, I want to make sure we're going to feel comfortable there. The last thing I want on vacation is to be playing defense against my own kids to protect expensive decor at a hotel.
This was not the case at the Dolphin hotel. The fountain in the lobby, the lighting, and the seating were all modern and exquisite, but did not scream "no kids allowed!" Quite the opposite, in fact! The Dolphin is very family friendly, and it was nice to see so many other families with little ones roaming around.
The hotel rooms are fresh and bright with contemporary décor. While some might be disappointed that the rooms are not Disney-themed, I found the blue and white color scheme and the clean lines to be incredibly calming after a long day at a busy theme park.
We stayed in a standard guest room with two double beds (Westin Heavenly Beds!). Since we had our 10-month old baby with us, we requested a crib, which was sent up immediately. There was plenty of space for the crib near the window.
For those looking for a romantic getaway, you can book a room with a king-size bed. For larger families, look into the Family Rooms which have more space for dining or relaxing so your family can spread out.
We were so fortunate to have a room with a view of the Disney Boardwalk and Epcot. The balcony was the perfect spot to sip our coffee in the morning and soak in the cool Florida morning. The kids loved watching the boats sail by, too!
One of the best parts about staying at the Dolphin Hotel is the selection of top-notch restaurants available. One of our favorite choices was Picabu, a fun quick service cafeteria-style spot to pick up whatever your family is craving. It's open 24 hours a day, so no matter how late you get back from Disney you can still make a quick stop for snacks, water, or a hearty meal. It's perfectly low key for families with young kids.
There are plenty of other outstanding signature restaurants for you foodies out there like bluezoo, a seafood restaurant, and Kimonos for sushi. But I want to let you in on a little-known spot for a character meal: the Garden Grove restaurant! They do character breakfasts on the weekends (no reservations, though) and character dinners every night. That is definitely a perk of staying on the Disney grounds!
The second morning I was there I had the opportunity to walk around and explore the grounds of the Dolphin, and that's when I really fell in love with this hotel! Everything is perfectly manicured and well-kept while still being kid-friendly.
Let's start right behind the hotel. As you walk out the back exit of the building, you run right into this magnificent fountain. My kids would have stayed there all day watching the water and begging for coins to throw into the fountain. Walk a little further back and turn around to really take in the enormity of the hotel.
As you reach the end of the walkway you have the option to turn left or right. Go left and you're a stone's throw from the Disney Boardwalk where there are fun restaurants and bars, ice cream shops, and arcade games. Turn right and you've got the entire hotel property to enjoy.
Of course, we had to stop and play at the playground behind the Dolphin, which was the perfect size for my 4- and 2-year-old. They've never played chess in their lives (I don't think they even know what chess is) but they had fun picking up the life-size pieces and rearranging them. Behind the giant chess set is a ping-pong table resting on soft white sand in the shade of the palm trees. Tell me that's not a perfect spot to hang out while your kids get their wiggles out!
Sorry. I can get a little excited about an excellent playground. Being a mom of 3 kids ages 4 and under will do that to a person.
Anyway, let's get to the most exciting part of the grounds - the pools! We were out and about by 9 a.m. and the pools were almost completely empty. Granted, it was March and a bit chilly for a swim at 70 degrees, but I wish we had brought our swimsuits anyway because all 5 pools are heated!
To me, this is where this hotel really shines. There are pools for every type of guest. Two lap pools if you want to get a workout in, a spring pool, a kiddie pool, and the grotto pool with water slides and waterfalls (our personal favorite).
Here's the thing. If you're taking a trip to Disney, you're definitely going to want to schedule in some downtime away from the parks for everyone's sanity. I promise you, even the most avid Disney fan needs a break from the crowds and the lines.
So here's what I'm thinking. Since Swan and Dolphin hotel guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at Disney, pick a day to do the early Extra Magic Hours, then return to the hotel for an afternoon of unwinding at the pools.
You can even rent poolside cabanas with water and fresh fruit if you want to make it a truly luxurious experience! Or grab some appetizers and cocktails at the Cabana Bar and Beach Club.
Ok, so I know this hotel won't necessarily be your top choice if you're visiting Disney and you want a completely immersive experience. If you want your hotel to stay on-theme with Disney, the Dolphin is probably not for you.
However, for those who want to stay on the Disney property at a more affordable rate, and who don't mind a little bit of a break from characters and themes, the Dolphin should be your top choice. You can are within walking distance of Epcot, or you can take the free boat or shuttle to any of the theme parks. You have Disney Boardwalk in your literal backyard. You get a character breakfast, Extra Magic Hours, and early Fast Pass booking. And, of course, the most beautiful grounds with perfect crystal blue pools.
At the end of the day, your Disney trip is going to be magical because you're together with the people you love. You're going to make great memories regardless of where you stay. And I truly think you'll love your time at the Dolphin if that's what you choose. I know I did - and my kids did, too!
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