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Walt Disney World Dolphin Review

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I just returned from a long weekend trip down to Disney World for the Marathon weekend to spectate, not run thankfully. While I was down there I split my stay between the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Walt Disney World Dolphin so I could experience both resorts and review them for you. I also like to stay at different resorts during trips because I find it fun to experience new hotels, locations and amenities.

The Swan and Dolphin are interesting resorts – you use the official Disney transportation, get access to Extra Magic Hours but don’t get access to Magical Express and you can’t use Magic Bands at the resort. It’s an odd in-between of an offsite resort and an official resort where you get all of the perks.

You also aren’t quite surrounded by the “Disney Magic” 24/7 like you would at one of the official Disney owned resorts. When actually at the Dolphin it felt like a hotel that could be anywhere but was definitely on the much nicer side.

Both the Swan and Dolphin are separate resorts though they’re just a couple hundred feet apart from each other, separated by a walkway and Crescent lake. The Dolphin, which this review is about is the much larger property with the Swan being slightly smaller.

Booking the Dolphin

The Swan and Dolphin resorts are technically Sheraton resorts that are run by the Starwood hotels brand which allows you to use Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) starpoints to book free or discounted nights. Starpoints are one of my favorite point currencies out there because of the flexibility they provide as well as the excellent value.

That’s another point that makes the Swan and Dolphin unique in that you can use points to book hotel rooms but you can’t with the Disney owned resorts. Outside of just the Magical Express service you get about all of the perks of staying at a Disney owned resort for much, much cheaper if you’re using points.

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Both the Swan and Dolphin are SPG Category 4 hotels meaning that it will cost 10,000 points or 5,000 + $75 for a free night. When I was looking to book rooms were going for right around $200/night at full cost.

Doing the math shows that if I were to use the free nights for 10,000 points I would be getting about $0.02 per point in value. With the cash and points I would be getting $0.025 in value – just slightly better.

SPG Award Chart

SPG Award Chart

I decided to opt for the cash and points since it provided a slightly better value and helps me preserve my starpoints. Instead of paying $200 a night for $400, I’ll be staying for just $150 ($75/night) for a savings of $250!

Arrival and Check-In

We were checking out of the Hilton Bonnet Creek early in the morning before heading to the parks for the day so I called up the day before to request an 8am check-in. They said they’d try their best but could not guarantee an early check in which is understandable but we were going to take the chance anyway.

Reception/Check In Area

Reception/Check In Area

We made the short drive over to the Dolphin at right around 8am and went to the check-in desk to see if we could check in. The lobby was very airy and grand, it has a huge atrium and a large dolphin fountain in the center. The first thing I noticed was how fragrant it was then the immense size of this the circular lobby.

There was not wait at the check in counters so we went right up and were informed that our room was ready to go! We got all of our paperwork, keys and parked the car which was going to run us $18/day.

I did find the layout of the resort slightly confusing. First off the place is enormous so you can easily get lost just wandering around the myriad of hallways that go off of the center lobby. There are also a few different banks of elevators which can get confusing if you don’t remember which one you’re suppose to go up.

The Huge Lobby and Dolphin Fountain

The Huge Lobby and Dolphin Fountain

Eventually we found the right set of elevators are were headed up to the 18th floor and our room – 18111.

Being an SPG member we received a slight bump in room category – we were placed on one of the the preferred guest floors which are higher up as well as a better view out the front of the resort. Our view was amazing indeed, we could see the Swan, Boardwalk,  World Showcase and Hollywood Studios all from our room.

Our view from the 18th floor of the Dolphin

Our view from the 18th floor of the Dolphin

The room was slightly smaller than I was expecting for the price that these rooms go for. Since we were upgraded to a Resort Room we had a mini-fridge, cordless phone and the “heavenly” beds which are very comfortable.

I did know this going into it but was still disappointing were the fact that the rooms only had full beds instead of queens. I would have much preferred to have queen beds in the room instead of full beds.

The heavenly (but small) beds.

The heavenly (but small) beds.

The room decor matched the rest of the hotel which was bright and airy – I liked the way the rooms looked. Our room did look a bit worn, some of the linens, corners of furniture and appliances were showing some of their age and should be touched up. I think the rooms could definitely use a refresh but it should do for this trip as we’ll just be sleeping in the room mainly.

TV/Dresser with Plentiful Storage

TV/Dresser with Plentiful Storage

The bathroom/shower area was awkward and small, perhaps the worst part of the room. The sink was separate from the shower/toilet but was on a weird angled wall and counter which made the space only able to fit one person at a time. The shower/toilet area were also very tight, you had to squeeze around the door when going in and out of the room.

The small awkward bathroom

The small awkward bathroom

The entry area had a wet bar with a standard hotel room sized fridge below. As you can see from the picture we got started right away stocking the fridge with Coronas. They do stock the coffee with Starbucks which was a nice treat, it was much better than your standard hotel coffee. Our coffee machine did like to leak every time it made coffee which was a little frustrating but I didn’t bother complaining.

Overall nothing special about the room at the Dolphin. Everything about the room was very average from the double beds, the decor and the small & awkward bathroom. It was nice being on the 18th floor facing the parks, looking at the view never got old – just wish the room had a little more to offer.

Need to stock the fridge with Corona!

Need to stock the fridge with Corona!

Eventhough the weather was very chilly I headed out to check out the pool or the “Grotto Pool” as they call it. The main pool area is towards the Dolphin side but it’s meant to be shared by both the Swan and Dolphin. Unfortunately the waterfall from the rock formations wasn’t running the day we were visiting; the pool was empty because of the cool temps.

The waterfall wasn't running today

The waterfall wasn’t running today

The pool area is broken up nicely between two standard adult/lap pools, the main grotto play pool and a hot tub area.

View of the pool from the bridge

View of the pool from the bridge

As you can see from the pictures not many people were out that day but I can see this pool getting extremely crowded in high season. It just doesn’t seem large enough to service the Dolphin let alone both the Swan and Dolphin.

The lap pool

The lap pool

There is a pool bar which looked closed as well as an activities area that has some games and toys for kids to play in the pool. The grotto pool would be a huge hit with the kids between the slide and the huge waterfall – it looked like a lot of fun.

The beach along Crescent Lake

The beach along Crescent Lake

Off next to the pool area was the white sand beach along crescent lake that also had some paddle boats and swans that you could rent for a fee. I’m not sure if you’re able to swim in the lake or not but I would avoid it, looked like there was a good amount of goose poop around.

On the first level of the resort as you head out towards the pool/beach area is a spa and fitness center. The fitness center is about what you would expect from a higher end resort – plenty of machines and some free weight, the gym was a good size.

Nice, but empty fitness center

Nice, but empty fitness center

The Dolphin does have a few restaurants on site but I didn’t get a chance to experience any of them unfortunately because all of our meals were eaten in the parks. All of them looked nice enough but I’m not able to comment on the food.

My absolute favorite thing about the Dolphin was the location, nestled in the Epcot resort area. In my opinion it’s the absolute best location to stay on property because of the easy access to Epcot, the Boardwalk, Hollywood Studios and a nice central location to everything else.

I really enjoyed being able to walk to/from Epcot and Hollywood Studios as well as being able to enjoy the restaurants and shops at the Boardwalk.

Looking Over Towards the Swan

Looking Over Towards the Swan

Overall I was very pleased with my stay at the Dolphin!

My favorite thing about the resort were the beautiful grounds, the beach/pool area and the location which can’t be beat. The few negatives I did see about the hotel was the immense size which made navigating the place sometimes a challenge. Also the rooms were not the best but the way I see it – you’re really just there to sleep so in that case it was more than adequate.

I would have a hard time paying the full price for the Dolphin which for most times of the year is around $200/night. It’s a much better value to use Starpoints to redeem for free nights or cash+points for only $75+5000 starpoints.

Do you have any questions about the Walt Disney World Dolphin? Post them into the comments and I’ll be sure to respond!

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2 comments… add one
  1. Would you recommend the Hilton Bonnet Creek?

    Reply
    1. Yes – definitely! Stay tuned for a full Bonnet Creek review coming next week.

      Reply

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