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I like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels. I think the architecture is innovative and the resort has a lot to offer. What is to follow is an in-depth look at these hotels and why I think this resort is worthy of your consideration. However, I also know these structures bother some die-hard Disney fans, and I understand their concerns. I will cover these misgivings and some of the rumors surrounding these hotels in Part Three of this article.
To begin with, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are not owned and operated by Disney. They are owned by Tishman and MetLife and managed by the Starwood Company. The Swan operates under the Westin name and the Dolphin is associated with Sheraton. However, they do sit on Disney property (under a 99 year lease agreement) and Disney receives a share of their profits.
Unlike many of the non-Disney hotels on Hotel Plaza Blvd. (Disney property near Downtown Disney), guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin are afforded many of the same benefits as those staying at a Disney resort. These include.
• Reservations for the two hotels and their restaurants can be made through Disney
• Complimentary Walt Disney World transportation
• Complimentary parking at the theme parks
• Guaranteed park admission on busy days
• Package delivery to your room from the theme parks
• Preferred golf tee times
• Use of Extra Magic Hours
• Character meals
Disney perks NOT afforded to Swan and Dolphin guests:
• Theme park purchases cannot be charged to the room
• The Swan and Dolphin restaurants do not participate in the Disney Dining Plan. However some resturants honor Tables in Wonderland
• Disney's Magical Express
The resort was designed by noted architect Michael Graves and a new term was coined to describe its unique design, Entertainment Architecture. Michael Eisner wanted to avoid “boxy” buildings and made this clear when he selected Graves for the job.
With this directive in hand, Graves created unusual shapes, oversized graphics, and used colors not typically associated with hotels. In the end, his designed turned out complementary buildings like nothing seen before – structures befitting the magic of Walt Disney World. The Swan opened on January 13, 1990 and the Dolphin followed soon after on June 1, 1990.
Even though the Swan and Dolphin are convention hotels, the original interior design continued the exterior’s whimsical motif. Vibrant colors, a “seashore” theme, and a repeating collection of cartoonish swans and dolphins were used throughout the interior to lure vacationing families as well as conventioneers to the property. However, when the tourist market took a big hit after 9-11, this concept was no longer working and it was decided that a major refurbishment of the hotel’s interiors was needed. By September, 2006, a $60M makeover was completed and a new look was presented to the world. Gone was the cartoon atmosphere to be replaced with a contemporary, upscale look geared more toward adults than children. The resort’s interior draws heavily now on sophistication and upscale elegance.
I like the new direction the Swan and Dolphin have taken. Before, the interior motif was trying to compete with the fantasy of Disney, yet it didn’t have any “Disney” elements that guests could associate back to Walt, Mickey Mouse, or any of the company’s movies. In other words, nobody does Disney better than Disney. Now the resort caters to a different, yet important market -- experienced travelers expecting luxury and high end facilities.
Let’s start with the Swan.
The Swan is the smaller of the two resorts with 756 guest rooms. These are located in a 12-story main building and two 7-story wings. Atop the building are two 47-foot tall swan statues. Gracing the end of each wing are large, water-spouting clamshells. Note, on windy days the clamshell fountains are turned off. The swans and clamshells are built out of wood, steel, and fiberglass.
At the front of the resort is a lovely swan fountain. Also in this area are the bus pick-up area and the porte-cochère where luggage assistance and valet parking can be arranged.
Through the main doors is the lobby. To the right is the front desk, complete with a designated line for Starwood members. To the left is Cabanas, a Disney merchandise store. At one time, items sporting the Swan and Dolphin logos were available here, but this product line has been discontinued with no resumption seen for the near future.
In the center of the resort is a “crossroads” of sorts with a swan fountain as the focal point. From here you can head to the room elevators, convention facilities, or to the restaurants. Also, two outdoor courtyards can be accessed from this location. Be aware, one of these lovely patios has been designated a smoking area.
The Swan has a number of restaurants. The first, Java Bar, is open from 6:30am to 11am. This walk-up counter service eatery offers espresso, cappuccino, and a variety of coffees. In addition, pastries, bagels, and fruit are available. A number of tables and chairs are scattered around an atrium and a television is tuned to the morning news.
Just off the atrium is Il Mulino New York Trattoria. This signature restaurant is open from 5pm to 11pm and offers traditional Italian cuisine from the Abruzzi region of Italy. Founded 25 years ago in New York City by chefs Fernando and Gino Masci, Il Mulino has been voted the #1 Italian restaurant in New York City for two decades by Zagat’s. The Swan’s incarnation of this outstanding restaurant places diners in a rustic, loft-like setting. Live piano music is presented in the lounge on Fridays and Saturdays.
Down a long hallway are two more restaurants, the Garden Grove and Kimonos.
Open for breakfast and dinner year round and lunch seasonally, the Garden Grove offers buffet dining with special appearances from Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale (character appearances vary by day of the week). The tables in this establishment sit under a 25-foot oak tree positioned in the middle of a circular, two-story room. The designers were trying to capture the feel of Central Park. Twinkly lights and paper lanterns complete the mood. The atmosphere is quite lovely and is definitely the most kid-friendly restaurant at the Swan.
The buffet stations line the outer wall. Although breakfast offerings remain the same from day to day, dinner selections vary throughout the week. On one evening you’ll find BBQ while on another day you might be offered selections from the Old South.
Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 11:30am, lunch from 11:30am to 2pm, and dinner from 5pm to 9:30pm.
Kimonos is open from 5:30pm to midnight. This authentic Japanese sushi restaurant is dark and cozy and perfect for a late night get together after a day in the parks. Sit at one of the lounge tables and enjoy a cocktail or take a seat at the sushi bar and watch the chefs work their magic. Keeping with Japanese custom, a karaoke stage is available for those of you who like to sing. Kimonos was voted Top Sushi Restaurant in Central Florida by the Orlando Sentinel.
The last two eateries at the Swan are Splash Grill and Splash Terrace. Located by the lap pool, Splash Grill is a counter service spot while Splash Terrace offers table service dining al fresco. Burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and other traditional lunchtime fare is offered at both. Poolside tables offer a wonderful spot to dine when the weather is good. Both restaurants are open seasonally from 11am to 5:30pm.
I’ll discuss the main swimming area later, but the Swan has its own pool close to the hotel. Although children are welcome here, this pool is geared more toward adults with designated lanes for lap swimming. Lounge chairs line the pool’s perimeter and a cocktail bar is nearby. Towels are available here so you don’t need to bring any from your room.
When the hotel’s interior was redesigned, Michael Graves was brought back to help with the room décor. Gone are the more vibrant colors to be replaced by earth tones. However this pallet doesn’t harken back to the 1970’s but instead feels modern and contemporary. The beds back up against a rust colored wall with headboards displaying artwork by Graves. A long bureau made of light-colored wood with pale blue glass inserts lines the opposite wall. The bureau includes drawers, a mini-refrigerator, at 27” flat screen TV, and a workspace designed for laptop computers. An electrical outlet can be found on the base of the lamp and a high-speed internet connection is nearby. A comfortable chair and cocktail table are located by the window. The rooms at the Swan measure approximately 340 square feet.
When I crawled into bed I thought I had died and gone to heaven -- which is probably why Westin calls their beds, “Heavenly Beds.” I didn’t want to get up. The 13 inch pillow-top mattress sits atop an 8 ¾ inch box spring that cradles your body. The bed was extremely soft, yet firm enough to support me adequately. I don’t know how they do it. Add to this the four goose-down pillows, crisp cotton sheets, and down blanket and you’re in for a fantastic night’s sleep. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the mattresses found in the Disney hotels, but they can’t hold a candle to the Westin Heavenly Bed. I can’t say enough good about these mattresses.
The bathroom is well laid out. The first “room” features a sink and closet. The closet (with doors) contains a wall safe (big enough to hold a laptop computer), an iron and ironing board, luggage rack, and plenty of hangers. In the second “room” is another sink, toilet, and tub/shower. And the towels were extremely thick and fluffy. There is also a full length mirror on the bathroom door – a nice touch.
Here is a 1 ½ minute video of the room.
When you check into the Swan or Dolphin, you will be offered a “Resort Service Package” for $10 plus tax (per day). The package includes:
In-room high-speed internet access *
2 bottled waters
Unlimited admission to the health club
20 minutes of long distance phone calls within the continental U.S.
60 minutes of local, toll-free, and credit card access calls.
* For an additional $4.95 you can upgrade to a faster internet connection. Although I was fine with the basic service, I could see business folk wanting this.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the Dolphin Resort and the shared swimming area. And later I’ll debunk some myths and rumors.
The previous post in this blog was La Hacienda de San Angel & La Cantina de San Angel.
The next post in this blog is Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort - Part Two.