Who is the fairest of them all? Comparing Marriott’s Dolphin, Swan and Swan Reserve Disney resorts
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If you’ve decided to go to Disney World — congratulations! Deciding to take a trip to the “Most Magical Place on Earth” is the easy part, but picking among the hundreds of hotels in the Orlando area to figure out where to stay can be a bit tricky.
There are trade-offs involved with each choice. Do you stay on Disney property and likely spend more money to enjoy all the Disney-specific perks, access and theming that come with that convenience? Or, do you conserve cash and stay off-property but trade away some of the “magic” and logistical benefits?
Fortunately, there is a great middle-of-the-road solution for those who like to redeem or earn Marriott Bonvoy points on their Disney vacation.
The Walt Disney World Swan, Dolphin and new Swan Reserve hotels are located on Disney property, have access to many of the same perks as full Disney resorts and provide the added option of using (or earning) Marriott hotel points instead of cash to cover the stay.
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Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve basics
The Disney Swan and Dolphin resorts adjacent to Disney’s BoardWalk are massive juggernauts, offering a combined 2,270 hotel rooms on 87 acres of lakefront property in Disney’s Epcot and Hollywood Studios area.
Meanwhile, the new Swan Reserve resort sits about one-fifth of a mile away from its sister properties across Epcot Resorts Boulevard. It is a smaller property with 349 rooms, 151 of which are suites.
The three hotels share most amenities — for example, you can stay at Swan Reserve but charge meals from Swan’s restaurants to your room — but operate as separate properties.
The Swan and Dolphin both opened in 1990 but have undergone hefty renovations in recent years, though some parts of the properties feel fresher than others. The Swan Reserve is by the far the newest of the three, having just opened in late 2021.
In Disney circles, you will often hear these resorts referred to as Disney deluxe resorts but at moderate resort prices.
As long as you are OK with the lack of Disney theming and the absence of a few Disney resort perks, you’ll likely enjoy staying at one of these properties, as the rooms are at least on par with most Disney deluxe rooms.
Of the three, which hotel should you choose? We’re here to help.
Related: Guide to visiting Walt Disney World
When it comes to a Walt Disney World Resort vacation, nothing is close to everything. After all, Disney World is the size of San Francisco. That said, you can’t get a more central location than the Swan and Dolphin. Epcot and Hollywood Studios are within a 15-minute walk or 20-minute boat ride from both properties.
You are also just a bridge away from Disney’s BoardWalk, where you’ll find everything from shops and restaurants to live music, surrey bike rentals and an arcade.
Just across the street from the Swan sits Disney’s Fantasia Fairways Miniature Golf Course, which can be a fun, affordable activity on a day when you need a break from the theme parks.
The Swan Reserve is a little farther from Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the boardwalk, making it slightly less convenient.
To reach other parts of Disney, including the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs, from these resorts, you’ll need to take the complimentary bus to stops by the entrances.
For the Magic Kingdom, you’ll be dropped off at the Ticketing and Transportation Center, where you’ll then need to hop on the monorail to get to the park. This is in contrast to Disney’s own bus system that goes straight to the Magic Kingdom.
These three properties cost the same number of points per night in the Marriott system as Category 6 properties, which range from 40,000-60,000 Marriott points per night.
However, the cash rates of the three are often a bit different, with the pricing hierarchy usually going from Dolphin (Sheraton) to Swan (Westin) to Swan Reserve (Autograph Collection). However, the Swan and Swan Reserve sometimes trade places for the priciest position.
Room rates during the offseason start around $170 per night at the Dolphin, $220 per night at the Swan and $250 per night at the Swan Reserve.
Prices for standard rooms typically fall between $250 and $350 per night during the peak season, though rates may fluctuate depending on demand and event schedules. It’s not uncommon to see peak season rates exceed $600 per night at times.
There are special rates available for teachers, nurses and military personnel, as well as annual pass holders and Florida residents. When you book, you’ll also be eligible for 25% off of a second connecting room.
The annual free night award certificate (worth up to 50,000 Marriott points) that comes with the Marriot Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card can also be used to cover the cost of a night at any of these resorts on standard and off-peak dates. If you need more Marriott points, you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio thanks to cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the American Express® Gold Card.
Of course, the Marriott family of credit cards is also a great way to earn Marriott points.
Related: Which Marriott credit card is best?
Disney Dolphin basics
By far the largest of the three properties, the Dolphin is technically part of Marriott’s Sheraton brand, though it does feature some Westin elements like Westin Heavenly Beds. The Dolphin is also home to many of the complex’s amenities, such as laundry facilities, a spa, a kids club and Picabu (a cafeteria and convenience store).
The Dolphin rooms with two beds have double beds rather than the queen-size options found at the Swan and the Swan Reserve.
Those who need more space can reserve one of the Dolphin’s suites, which offer a true living room and a connected bedroom with two double beds — and yes, Marriott Platinum Elite members do sometimes luck into these upgrades when using Suite Night Awards.
Although official Disney resorts have largely done away with their kids club-style amenities, Camp Dolphin is available to kids ages 5-12 from 4-11 p.m. There are a few different packages that vary in length, and some include dinner for the kiddos.
The Dolphin’s full-service breakfast is served in the Fresh Mediterranean Market. The space actually feels fresher and livelier than the Swan’s breakfast outpost, in part because it offers a carving station and, at least in our experience, slightly better food.
A new addition to the full-service options at the Dolphin is a grab-and-go restaurant in the lobby. Open daily from 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Fuel serves coffee, eggs and sandwiches. Many items cost less than $10.
Should you wish to work off all that food (beyond all the walking you’ll do in the parks), you’ll find a fitness center with plenty of new equipment.
Overall, the property is a solid option for budget-conscious travelers.
Disney Swan basics
The Swan is a Westin-branded hotel, with traditional Westin amenities such as Heavenly Beds. It has about half the number of rooms as the Dolphin, though it is still a very large hotel.
The rooms at the Swan have been renovated in recent years and are relatively spacious for accommodation options at Disney.
Some rooms have balconies, while others may have small couches.
Outside of the main bathroom, you’ll typically find an extra sink, allowing one guest to brush their teeth, for example, while another family member showers.
Like the accommodations, the hallways are also updated, though some corners of the property still speak to a slightly different era.
The lobby area of the Swan has been redone in recent years, too, so it now houses Java, a grab-and-go dining venue.
In contrast to the lobby, breakfast at the Swan’s Garden Grove restaurant still feels like a flashback to the 1990s thanks to dated colors and architectural features.
A weekend character breakfast used to take place here, but it disappeared just before the pandemic in early 2020.
The Swan also houses a few other eateries, including Italian-inspired Il Mulino New York Trattoria and Japanese-influenced Kimonos.
Disney buses typically stop at the Swan before its sister properties, so if having a seat during the trip to the parks is important to you, you may want to stay at the Swan.
Disney Swan Reserve basics
The newest addition to this complex has all the perks of being brand-new, including modern furnishings, plenty of outlets and lots of natural light — something the other two properties lack.
TPG has a full separate review of the Swan Reserve, but suffice to say it’s a tough act to follow if you want to use Marriott points at Disney and don’t mind being a little bit farther from Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the BoardWalk.
Aside from being new, shiny and more compact, the Swan Reserve boasts more suites, giving you more upgrade options. During the three stays of TPG staffers that took place in the first few months of operation, all three resulted in upgrades to suites — two via Suite Night Awards and one via a Platinum space-available upgrade upon request.
Since all of our stays have been in suites, we can speak to those better than the property’s standard rooms.
Each suite features a true living room with a couch and small table. There’s also a bathroom that’s split into two sections, with the toilet and a sink in one area and the tub/shower and an additional sink in the other room. This makes it possible for two people to access the space at the same time while maintaining some privacy.
Marriott Platinum Elite perks don’t just help with the room type here — they can also get you free continental breakfast each morning that you can order electronically and schedule to be delivered at the time that works best for you. It’s not a particularly impressive menu of included options, but the fact that it comes to your room is much appreciated.
If you don’t want that breakfast benefit, you can instead choose 2,500 Marriott points or a complimentary amenity.
The amenity choices were sweet treats for the kids, such as cookies or cupcakes and milk, sodas or waters; adult options like six local beers with beef jerky and pretzel crisps; and minifridge essentials like sodas, waters, cereal boxes, candy bars and nutrition bars.
An additional option, which was the one we chose, came with a bottle of wine, salami, cheese and crackers.
There are really no bad options from that lineup.
The welcome amenity selection comes from Grounds, which serves coffee, pastries, breakfast sandwiches, salads and more all day. The ham and jam sandwich with smoked ham, bacon onion jam and mustard on a pretzel bun I tried was delicious.
Additionally, the Swan Reserve houses a full-service Mediterranean restaurant called Amare and a lively lobby bar with attentive service. With so many suite options and a more elevated atmosphere, it’s no wonder we chose the Swan Reserve as our top pick.
Unless you are attending a convention (and that’s common during normal times), you are probably considering the Dolphin, the Swan and the Swan Reserve because you want Disney access and perks without the high Disney price tag. The Disney-related perks you get for staying at these hotels include:
- Transportation to the Disney parks via bus and/or boat.
- Access to parks 30 minutes early each morning, along with Disney resort guests.
- Extra evening access to the parks for two hours on select nights and at select resorts — reserved just for Disney deluxe resort guests and those at these properties.
- Free parking at the Disney World theme parks when showing a keycard.
Now that Disney has retired the free Magical Express bus, cut FastPasses and stopped providing free Magic Bands to its resort guests, the benefits that the true Disney resorts once offered have shrunk significantly. With these changes, the Dolphin, the Swan and the Swan Reserve essentially offer the same perks, including the ability to purchase individual Lightning Lane rides beginning at 7 a.m., a perk reserved just for Disney resort guests and those at the Swan/Dolphin complex. Other guests have to wait until the park opens.
Outside of the Disney-specific perks, there are several noteworthy amenities available at these properties.
Guests can swim in the five heated pools at the Dolphin and the Swan and the pool at the Swan Reserve, borrow swan paddleboats to explore Crescent Lake, run around on a playground and lounge on a white sand beach.
There are cabana rentals available by the pools, if you need a dedicated space to unwind when you’re not in the water.
Plus, you’ll find a waterslide and an arcade on-site. There are even fun daily activities (pre-pandemic) like dive-in movies, evening s’mores, live Peloton cycling classes and live entertainment, should you crave more things to do.
However, know that there is a fee for all of this fun. All three hotels charge a $35 daily resort fee. If you bring a car with you, an additional $29 self-parking fee applies per day, too.
The Disney Dolphin, Swan and Swan Reserve are all great options for staying right on the Disney World grounds while earning or redeeming Marriott points and elite status.
While prices vary depending on the time of year and what’s going on in the area, the Dolphin is sometimes a bit cheaper per night if you pay with cash and offers easy access to the complex’s Camp Dolphin kids club. The Swan can cost a little more (again, in cash) but is a little quieter and features a slightly more upscale vibe. Meanwhile, the Swan Reserve — the newest of the three — offers a swankier atmosphere but sits farther from the parks and other shared amenities.
The bathroom setups are slightly different at each property, and those looking for two beds will need to choose between the doubles at the Dolphin and the queens at the Swan or Swan Reserve.
The renovations have greatly improved the lobbies of both the Dolphin and the Swan now that they feature the extensive grab-and-go options Fuel and Java. And, of course, the Swan Reserve’s array of all-new options, including Grounds, the poolside bar and Amare, are welcome additions.
When combined with Picabu, the 24-hour cafeteria and convenience store, these new food choices improve an area that was sorely lacking dining options. With the casual eateries and the breakfast benefit for Marriott Platinum Elite members, it’s easy for a family to eat a few meals affordably outside of the Disney parks without resorting to peanut butter-covered crackers and tap water.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these three resorts, though we’re loving the newest property in the group: the Swan Reserve.
Regardless of which option you choose, though, be sure to add your reservation to My Disney Experience on Disney’s website or within Disney’s app in order to get your early and/or late park access. Remember to list each guest’s name correctly so that you minimize the chance for problems to arise when you link your reservation to your Disney account.
Additional reporting by Cindy Gossett.
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