New swan on the block: A review of the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
After multiple delays, one of the most anticipated new points hotels by Walt Disney World finally opened its doors last November. Having stayed at its elder sister properties (the Swan and the Dolphin) near Epcot, I was interested to see how the Swan Reserve stacked up.
When TPG's Summer Hull asked if I would tag along to test Disney's new Genie+ service just a week after the hotel opened, I jumped at the chance to check it out.
Despite a few minor service issues (to be expected at a newly opened hotel), I came away impressed. Given that more than 40% of the property's rooms are suites, this could be a fantastic way for Marriott elites to utilize some of their Suite Night Awards.
Here's a complete recap of my stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.
The Swan Reserve is part of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, and like both the Swan and Dolphin properties, it's classified as a Category 6 hotel. This means that a free night at the Swan Reserve ranges from 40,000 to 60,000 points, depending on whether that date is classified as off-peak (40,000), standard (50,000) or peak (60,000).
However, this is subject to change in March 2022 when Marriott removes published award charts and shifts to dynamic pricing.
When I made my reservation — just a few weeks in advance — the property was offering paid rates of $339 per night. Since I'd incur the $35 resort fee on both cash stays and those booked with points, I opted to pay for the two-night stay.
After booking my room, I logged into my Marriott account and applied two Suite Night Awards that were set to expire at the end of the year (though they were ultimately extended through June 30, 2022). During this process, I was absolutely stunned at just how many choices I had:
- Nine different suites
- One junior suite
- Five standard rooms with upgraded views
I decided to include six of the suites (five with king beds, plus the two-bedroom suite) in an effort to maximize my chances of snagging one, and sure enough, five days before arrival, I received the glorious "Your upgrade is confirmed" email showing that I had been bumped to a signature suite with a view of the pool.
As a Marriott Platinum Elite member, I wound up taking home 11,861 points from the stay, which included incidental charges across the three properties (more on that later). Based on TPG's most recent valuations, these points are worth $94.89.
I also paid for the stay with my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which earned me another 6 points per dollar spent. Unfortunately, I had already used my $300 annual Marriott credit on the card for another trip earlier in the year.
Note that on off-peak and standard dates, this could be a good spot to burn your Bonvoy Brilliant's annual free night certificate, though again, that could change once the Marriott award chart becomes a relic.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Swan and Dolphin hotels is their proximity to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The sister properties are located on either side of a Friendship boat launch that takes guests directly to either park.
Unfortunately, the Swan Reserve isn't as convenient, but it's still close.
The hotel overlooks the Swan from the other side of Epcot Resorts Boulevard, and there's a crosswalk directly outside the building that brings you to the walkway that (ultimately) takes you to the boat launch. From my tests, it should take you less than 10 minutes to get from the door of the Swan Reserve to your boat transportation to the parks, whether you skirt the southern edge of the Dolphin (the longer route) or stay to the side of the Swan (the shorter path).
If you're flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO), expect a drive of around 30 minutes, assuming minimal traffic.
Note that the resort also offers complimentary bus transportation throughout Walt Disney World Resort, so it could be a good accommodation option for visiting other parks.
I drove up to the Orlando area from my hometown of Fort Pierce. After meeting Summer for a quick planning session (and a Dole Whip) at the Polynesian Village Resort, I headed to the Swan Reserve, arriving around 7:30 p.m. I was immediately helped by the friendly valet attendant, who confirmed that I could self park for $29 per day or use valet services for $39 per day. I opted for the pricier option, though the self-parking lot isn't too far of a walk from the front door.
The main doors of the building don't actually lead to the lobby. Instead, you'll need to take the escalator (or elevator) up to the third floor, which is where you'll find the check-in desks, bar, restaurant and pool.
I was immediately helped by a friendly (and efficient) agent at the front desk, who was bursting with excitement at the fact that the hotel was finally open. As a Platinum Elite member, I was offered a choice of the following items as a welcome amenity:
- 2,500 bonus points.
- Complimentary in-room continental breakfast.
- A welcome basket.
The top two items are beyond what is typically offered at Autograph Collection properties and must've been part of an opening special. I gladly accepted the in-room breakfast option, figuring it would be a quick, easy way to get some fuel for what I figured would be a long day in the park.
I was assigned suite No. 8333. Upon entering, I had one, simple thought: "Wow." I had snooped the online pictures once I knew I had been upgraded to a suite, but they didn't do it justice.
The door opened to a large, open space that was split roughly in half, with a dining area on one side and a living area on the other. Instead of offering a "standard" dining room set, the suite featured upholstered, cushioned chairs and a large functional table. Sure, eating there was an option, but with recessed power plugs along the side, it was a perfect place to work comfortably.
At one end of the table, along the wall, there was a countertop with a coffee maker, complimentary bottles of water, a minifridge and a microwave, all of which were under one of three large flat-screen televisions.
The living area featured a roomy, comfortable couch that opened into a queen-size bed, which came in handy when a friend crashed in the suite during the second night of the stay.
All of the TVs offered a standard channel lineup along with the ability to stream from popular services, though my packed agenda left me no time to take advantage of this perk.
As denoted by the accommodation type, the large windows in the suite provided an aerial view of the pool area.
The bedroom was laid out much like other hotel accommodations, with a king-size bed, drawers along the opposite wall below a flat-screen TV, a small desk and a pair of end tables, both of which were equipped with USB and standard outlets for keeping all of my devices charged.
On either side of the door leading to the bathroom, there were his-and-hers closets stocked with two thin yet perfectly serviceable robes.
The bathroom featured a wide sink area and a spacious walk-in shower, while the toilet and a second, smaller sink occupied their own separate room.
This latter feature was a thoughtful design for families or larger parties staying in the room, as it allows one guest to use the bathroom while another is showering.
Overall, the room was very spacious yet well appointed. Had I been visiting with my wife and daughter, we would've had plenty of room to spread out without driving each other crazy.
Additionally, I really liked how the muted colors and wood grains accentuated the vivid artwork, giving a feeling of understated elegance that was nevertheless welcoming at its core.
Right off the bat, it's worth noting that the property imposes a $35 daily resort charge (on both paid and award stays), which includes the following:
- Complimentary Wi-Fi (with higher-speed service for elite members).
- Use of swan paddle boats.
- Daily fitness classes.
- $30 off of spa treatments worth at least $175 each night of your stay.
I would've been entitled to free, enhanced Wi-Fi anyways as a Platinum member, and I used exactly zero of these other amenities, so be aware that you may not see any value from this mandatory fee.
Beyond this, the Swan Reserve offered some nice amenities, despite being on the smaller side when compared to its siblings.
The pool area featured an interesting curved footprint and appeared to have plenty of seating, including fire pits and a handful of cabanas you can rent for a fee. The posted hours indicated that the pool was open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., which could allow for an enjoyable late-night dip after a summer day in the parks.
Speaking of the parks, one of the major perks of staying at the Swan Reserve is that it's considered a Disney Resort, giving you access to the following:
- Early entrance to all four Disney World parks (30 minutes before normal opening times).
- Extended evening hours at select parks on certain nights.
- A one-hour jump start on individual Lightning Lane purchases (7 a.m. on the day of your park ticket).
- Complimentary bus transportation to all areas of Walt Disney World.
- Free parking at all Disney theme parks.
The early entrance came in handy for me and Summer during our Genie+ test, and if you're visiting on high-trafficked days, grabbing a Lightning Lane reservation an hour before non-resort visitors could save you a ton of time.
Note that you do need to make sure that your park tickets and reservations are synced up with your Swan Reserve stay. This wasn't (initially) the case for me, as I had booked my ticket and hotel room room separately. However, a quick stop at the Disney desk in the lobby of the resort connected them, so I was good to go.
The property also included a decent-size fitness center with a Peloton bike and chilled towels.
There were also extensive meeting rooms, including a top-floor event space that offers views of the fireworks at Epcot (you can also see them from the lobby, though the vantage point is obviously not as great).
While I'm no hotel developer, I'm actually surprised that the entire top floor was devoted to private events. It seems like a missed opportunity to not have a dining venue open to the public up there. It could close down when a group rents out the entire space, but when not in use, it could offer guests drinks with a view.
Food and drink
Speaking of which, there are four different options for grabbing a bite to eat or something to drink at the Swan Reserve:
- Amare: A full-service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Tangerine: A casual poolside restaurant.
- Grounds: A grab-and-go spot for coffee, sandwiches and pastries.
- Stir: The lobby bar, which features specialty cocktails, beer, wine and light bites.
When I arrived, I still had some work to do and wasn't interested in a full dinner, so I decided to check out Stir. I ordered a martini and calamari, and both were fantastic.
However, if none of these outlets appeals to you, you can dine at the Swan or the Dolphin thanks to your room charge privileges extending across all three properties. To test this out, I walked over to the Dolphin and ordered an Old-Fashioned cocktail and the sea scallops at Todd English's Bluezoo, followed by a pumpkin pie milkshake from The Fountain — you know, for research.
Sure enough, I was able to easily add those items to my Swan Reserve bill — a seamless way to enjoy the wide variety of restaurants and lounges across the three properties.
For breakfast, I took advantage of the complimentary in-room continental option. Each morning, I could order online and select one item from each of the following three categories (for both me and a guest):
- Beverage: Regular coffee, decaf coffee, latte, cappuccino, apple juice or orange juice.
- Pastry: Plain croissant, chocolate croissant, blueberry muffin, cranberry-orange muffin (a gluten-free option), cheese danish, plain bagel, cinnamon-raisin bagel or everything bagel.
- Delighter: Fruit salad, oatmeal, Dannon mixed-berry yogurt or Chobani plain yogurt.
I was actually able to place my order ahead of time the night before and select a time for it to be delivered. Both mornings, the food arrived right on time — and the toasted bagels were even still warm.
Although the online ordering system indicated that there would be a $5 delivery fee, that didn't actually appear on my folio at checkout. And for what it's worth, I found the latte to be absolutely undrinkable, though the rest of the food and beverage options were perfectly fine.
Overall, I found the staff at the Swan Reserve to be fantastic, delivering friendly service from the moment I arrived. The bartender at Stir made a terrific martini, and I was approached twice by management to inquire about how I was enjoying my stay and dining experience. Both instances felt genuine rather than intrusive, though I was one of the only guests there at the time.
However, there were a few minor hiccups I encountered during my stay, but they were more likely growing pains of a brand-new hotel instead of true negatives of the property:
- The complimentary Wi-Fi service was supposed to extend to the Swan and Dolphin, but when I tried to log in with my room number, the Swan Reserve wasn't an option as a participating property.
- The in-room coffee maker provided creamer but no sweetener, and while this was fine for me as a "regular-coffee-with-one-cream-and-no-sugar" guy, there wasn't anything to stir said creamer into my coffee.
- My breakfast order my second morning was missing an item.
None of these issues put a major damper on my stay.
The hotel offered a number of accessible amenities, including a lift for getting guests in (and out) of the pool. While the check-in desk was located on the third floor, the elevators were situated behind the bell desk just inside the front door, making it easy to get to the lobby or your room.
That said, it's worth noting that the paths to the Swan and the Dolphin, including the boat transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, were not entirely flat. There were ramps, but guests in wheelchairs may find it difficult at times to get over to the other properties (and boats) since there are some hills to navigate. They're not steep (by any stretch), but they're worth noting.
I was looking forward to my stay at the Swan Reserve, but my expectations weren't sky-high — after all, the property had been open for less than a week when I strolled through the front doors.
Nevertheless, I had a very pleasant stay. My confirmed upgrade (using a Suite Night Award as part of Marriott's Choice Benefits program) gave me an incredibly comfortable accommodation. Given the high proportion of suites at the property, this could be a great spot to burn some SNAs. Additionally, I thought the common areas, including the pool complex and Stir (the lobby bar), were visually stunning, offering a chic yet subtle design fitting of an elevated twist on the classic Disney vacation.
Although the Swan Reserve isn't as convenient as its elder siblings, its proximity to the parks coupled with the ability to earn (or redeem) Marriott points and enjoy elite perks puts it high on my list of places to stay for my next Disney visit.