Disney World's Swan and Dolphin remain iconic in architecture, experience

The Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin have been landmarks since they opened in 1990.
The Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin have been landmarks since they opened in 1990.
Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

If there's a more visually arresting hotel on Disney property than the Walt Disney World Swan, and its sister property, the Dolphin, I don't know of it. Since the hotels opened in 1990, they've been an architectural landmark for Lake Buena Vista, with the coral and sea green edifices rising above the pine forest, topped with gigantic art-deco style swans, shells and fish.

The triangular building housing many of the rooms at the Dolphin begs for a photo op. As an Orlando native, I've spent decades longing to stay as a guest. I finally got my chance, and the experience delivered.

The Swan and Dolphin are Marriott properties and were honored this year as Marriott Bonvoy Eastern Region Hotel of the Year for the first time, following a $150 million transformation that wrapped earlier this year and included the guestrooms, lobby areas and meetings spaces.

The hotels, which hold a whopping total of 2,270 rooms between the two (starting at $129 per night), are connected by a causeway that crosses the Disney canal, where the ferries drop off visitors on their way from Hollywood Studios to Epcot.

It's not just an extra-convenient place to stay on a Disney vacation, though; it's a luxurious one, as well. The complex spans 87 acres and includes five swimming pools, jogging trails (with a running concierge, should you desire a cardio buddy), two fitness centers, a Mandara brand spa, paddleboat rentals, a kids club, a beachside playground and a game room.

There's also little chance you'll go hungry at the Swan and Dolphin, with 17 restaurants on site ranging from fine dining at Il Mulino to casual Hawaiian beachfront eatery, the Pig and the Poke, which serves exactly that -- dishes piled with delicious roasted pork, and fresh poke atop sticky sushi rice. There's also Todd English's Bluezoo, sushi temple Kimonos and the recently renovated Shula's Steak House, the flagship restaurant for the restaurant brand.

The hotels are also home to the Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic, which over one weekend each fall fills the causeway, the Swan's pool area, beachfront and walkways with tents hosting wine brands from all over the world, as well as tastings from each of the 17 restaurants. Dates for the 2020 Classic have not yet been announced.

I stayed in one of the balcony rooms at the Swan and benefited from the tasteful upgrades like sea-glass backsplashes and rainfall showerheads in the bathroom as well as very flattering lighting from the backlit mirrors. The Heavenly Beds, a feature of Westin hotels, are extremely comfortable, and the smart TVs enable Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime log-in and binge-watching.

We spent ample time on the balcony taking pictures of Hollywood Studios to the right, where the Hollywood Hotel (which houses the Tower of Terror ride) and spires of Batuu at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge rose above the horizon. In the center, the back of Everest at Animal Kingdom was visible as was Disney's newest resort, the Riviera, which will open next month.

In the morning, we headed to the vast atrium at the Garden Grove restaurant for the character buffet brunch ($28.99 for adults, $18.99 for kids). We filled our plates with an insanely cheesy hash brown casserole and slathered Nutella sauce on the Mickey waffles while snapping pics and waving to Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, who circulated the room like the A-listers they are.

Even after almost three decades, and surpassing many of the more "themed" on-property resorts, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are excellent hotels for a Disney stay.

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