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You might think you know all the ins and outs of the Disney resorts – and you could in fact be right. However, when it comes to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, you have to think a bit differently, so our tips are going to be a bit different. Since this hotel is a strange hybrid of Disney-hotel-but-not, you have to be prepared to plan and execute your Disney vacation in ways that you haven’t before.
The main point to remember is that Disney does not own the Dolphin. The Tishman Company own the Swan and Dolphin, and soon the new Swan Reserve, with Marriott running the hotels.
As someone who has stayed at this hotel, I have some of the best tips for your stay at the Disney Dolphin Hotel that will help you maximize your stay. You won’t even know the difference!
Disney Dolphin Tips
Tips for Planning Your Stay at the Disney Dolphin
1 – Don’t Book With Disney
I know, I know. This sounds counterintuitive – why wouldn’t I want to book my Disney trip through Disney?
In reality, plenty of people don’t do this anyway, but it is particularly true with the Disney Dolphin. The main reason for this comes back to the ownership. The Disney Dolphin is part of the Marriott family, not Disney resorts, so you should book your rooms directly through the hotel. You can book on Disney’s website, but you can only choose a standard room, and you don’t get any of the Marriott perks. Going through the Swan and Dolphin website gives you more room choice and the chance to get/use Marriott points.
2 – Use Your Membership
For once, we’re not talking about Disney Vacation Club! Since this is a Marriott, if you’re a Marriott Bonvoy member or have Marriott points, you should use those when booking. This is one of the tips will save you money as well as open the door to other benefits at the Disney Dolphin.
3 – Look for Special Deals
Since the Disney Dolphin is able to make independent choices from the Disney Company, they are able to offer special deals for particular groups. Seniors have a special rate, at least 25% off booking, as do card-carrying AAA/CAA members. Emergency personnel (nurses, doctors, firefighters, etc.) have their own rate, as do teachers and school support staff. The Disney Dolphin also shows their appreciation to our law enforcement and military through their own rates and offers, including 25% off rooms.
As a deluxe resort, those rates and discounts are no small thing, so definitely consider it if you’re one of those groups!
4 – Use an Agent or Travel Site
Now, if you don’t Marriott points, you might be looking for another way to save money on your nightly stay. It may also feel overwhelming to try to navigate these waters yourself. That’s when using a travel site or travel agency can help you out. Agencies like Off to Neverland and EZ-Dis have direct connections to Disney World, and often will book your dining reservations and other reservations in addition to your hotel stay. Travel sites like TripAdvisor can also help you score deals, so check these out before booking!
Don’t forget, these professional agents might have their own tips for your stay at the Disney Dolphin!
5 – No MagicBands
While the complimentary MagicBand is going away, Swan and Dolphin guests never enjoyed this benefit. That means that, if you do still want to use a MagicBand, it’s charging capabilities and room access will not work at the Dolphin. This is one of the downsides to being a Disney affiliate rather than an official Disney resort.
As the Magic Mobile digital park ticket becomes more prevalent, this won’t be as much of an issue, but you will still need to keep track of a conventional room key for the Dolphin. You also won’t be able to use the My Disney Experience app to open your room, although there are other features that do work at the hotel.
6 – Room Key for Parking!
Parking is also a bit different over at the Disney Dolphin. One of the best tips is to always – always – have your room key with you. Not only do you need it to access your room, but you need it to access the hotel in terms of parking. You have to swipe your key to get back in (and sometimes out) at certain parking locations around the Dolphin. This also means you should be ready with your room key when you come back to the hotel so that you can expedite coming back into the hotel.
7 – Water Park? Get a MagicBand Anyway
There are definitely some who are sold on Magic Mobile (my husband being one of them), but there are some instances when having a MagicBand definitely still comes in handy. One of those places is the water park.
If you’re going to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, because MagicBands are waterproof and have charging capabilities, you won’t have to go back to your locker or worry about your wallet around the park when you want something to eat or drink. Wear your band all day, just tap that glowing Mickey, and you’re good to go.
I personally like MagicBands anyway, because you don’t have to depend on your phone working to access your ticket or other information. However, it is especially convenient at the water parks!
8 – Spending Time Away – No View
One of my top tips always is not to spend money on something you don’t use, and that is particularly true at the Disney Dolphin. Within the room categories, you have two views – Resort View and No View. Resort view rooms give you an unobstructed view of the Swan and Dolphin areas, or the lake and the BoardWalk beyond. No view rooms most likely face the parking lot or have design elements that somewhat block your window.
If you’re not spending a ton of time hanging out in the room, who cares what you see from it? I totally get why you might pay the deluxe dollars for this hotel location, but save the money where you can! Don’t pay extra for something you’ll barely notice, especially if the room is just a place to sleep, shower, and change.
9 – Same Goes for Deluxe Rooms
The Disney Dolphin has three types of rooms – traditional, deluxe, and family. While you might think you’re getting more out of a deluxe room versus a traditional one, the only real difference is that a deluxe room has a balcony and the traditional doesn’t. If you love the idea of having a balcony for your morning coffee, or to watch the fireworks in the evening, then go for it! If you couldn’t care less – don’t waste the money.
10 – Do the Math
If you know my Disney World tips, you know I always encourage guests to do the math ahead of time – and this holds true for the Dolphin. If you have a large party, that Presidential Suite might sound like a dream…by it comes at a price. $3,000 a night, to be exact. Two connecting rooms are much more economical and give you a lot of the same benefits without breaking the bank.
Don’t believe the lie that you have to spend a ton of money to have an awesome Disney vacation!
11 – Planning an Event? Disney Dolphin!
With the convention center right on sight, the Disney Dolphin is a perfect location for a company event, business meeting, or special occasion bash. The grounds are beautiful, a lovely backdrop for a wedding, especially outdoors, and the ballrooms do not disappoint. For corporate gatherings, the meeting space vary in size to accommodate your needs, as well as having state of the art technology for presentations.
The convention center has its own parking, which is convenient for off-site guests. You can also book rooms at the resort for all attending your event, rolling work and play all into one, or just keeping the celebration going! The Mandara Spa also does incredible wedding packages, which will make your day just that little bit more special.
12 – Plan Your Week
As the Disney Dolphin is smack in the middle of the Epcot area, this gives you a lot of access to parks and entertainment in the area. With that in mind, you’ll want to know what you want to do, and what days you want to do it. With the current park pass system, knowing which days will be park days (and which park you’ll be in) is important. As more people are comfortable travelling, we’re going to see more of these days maxing out, so get that park pass early!
Also, try not to plan too many park days in a row. A day off in between will do you a world of good! An advantage to being so central is that you can be flexible on those days off. If you’re not a hyper-planner, having down days gives you the chance to get that go with the flow feel you might crave in a vacation.
13 – Make Reservations
Along with the previous tips, you really want to make sure you book your must-do Disney Dolphin experiences in advance. With the BoardWalk so close, I wouldn’t be surprised if you want to have dinner at Trattoria al Forno or breakfast at the Ale and Compass. However, many of these restaurants over in the BoardWalk area are popular experiences, especially with on-site guests. With that in mind, don’t wait to book! Also, if you want to use the Mandara spa or salon, be sure to book in advance. Same-day appointments are limited, so don’t think you can walk-in.
We don’t want you to be overwhelmed with planning, or think you don’t have flexibility, but there are some things you do have to account for ahead of time.
14 – Plan Rainy Day Fun
The odds are likely that it will rain at least once during your trip. With that in mind, make sure you plans or activities for these days! While the pools don’t always close for rain, sthey will close for thunder, so even if you and your family like rain-swimming you need backups.
There is a dedicated Game Room at the Disney Dolphin, making it the perfect place to visit on a rainy day. You can also plan to bring cards or your own board games while you wait for things to clear up. Sometimes Camp Dolphin has activities available for kids as well, so whatever works until the sun shines again!
15 – Download the My Disney Experience App
The My Disney Experience app has become a crucial component to any Walt Disney World vacation! From purchasing tickets and making dining reservations, to obtaining a coveted Rise of the Resistance boarding pass, the app is essential. You definitely want to download this app before your trip, because there is so much you can do before you even start to pack.
One major difference is that you cannot use Online Check-in. When you arrive at the hotel, you will have to go to the front desk and check-in like the typical hotel experience. However, the app still helps you with all the other aspects of your Disney trip, and the Dolphin does still connect to the app.
16 – Pack Your Sunblock!
Sun intensity in the Sunshine State is no joke. Even if you are one of those people that “don’t burn,” you will burn if you don’t put on at least some sunblock. Whether you’re at the parks, the pool, or even just walking around the resort, you will be glad that you packed (and wore!) your sunscreen. It costs a premium on property, so trust us on this one.
There also isn’t a ton of shade at the Grotto Pool or on the beach, so sunscreen is an absolute must!
17 – Want to Build a Budget? Try Gift Cards!
It can be almost impossible to set a budget while on a Disney vacation, but if you’re determined not to overspend you might want to try this out. Get a few Disney gift cards, pre-load them with a set amount, and then when it’s gone, it’s gone. You could even separate the funds out onto individual cards for particular purchases, like dining and souvenirs.
18 – Stuck in the Car? Make a Playlist!
Some of us will drive upwards of 15 total hours to get to Disney World (yes, we’re insane)! While some of that time you might want some quiet, as you get closer you get to the resort, get your family amped up with a playlist made from your Disney favorites! There are plenty of resources available, like a complete list of Disney classics to a compilation of all the Star Wars and Marvel films (if you want to add some instrumental music to the mix). Whatever will best suit your family to help pass the time and get you ready for your vacation!
Tips to Vacation like a Pro at the Disney Dolphin
19 – Driving to the Resort
Did you know there’s multiple entrances to Walt Disney World property? It might seem tempting to get off the highway at the first Disney World exit you see, but make sure you plan your route ahead of time. Staying on the highway could save you time and a headache versus trying to navigate Disney property, especially if this is your first trip. Check the maps a head of time and plan the most efficient route!
20 – Get Unpacked
Once you’re in your room, get unpacked and settled right away. This will make the rest of your trip run more smoothly, especially if you have kids. Also, if you’re waking up early for a park, you don’t want to risk tripping over a suitcase or not knowing where important items are located. Get unpacked, put everything in a place, and there will be one less potential stressor!
21 – Get the Resort Map
Using the My Disney Experience app, you can access a map of the Swan and Dolphin and the entire BoardWalk area. As an expansive resort area, the map will be useful in finding your way and exploring all this section has to offer!
22 – Tune in to the WDW Today Channel
Right on the TV in your resort, check out WDW Today Channel to find the daily schedule for the entirety of Walt Disney World. It is the first channel that pops up every time you turn on your TV, giving you the operational hours for all four parks, both water parks, and Disney Springs. You can even find the day’s weather and times for special events throughout the property!
An app version of this channel is also available, livestreaming what you would see on your TV in your resort room. Whether you want to keep on top of things throughout the day or take a piece of the magic home with you, this is a great option!
23 – Get up Early
On park days, you have to bite the bullet, set the alarm, and get up early. You can even arrange to get a wakeup call from a character through your room phone!
Here’s the reason – crowds. Plain and simple. If you want to beat the rush and beat the crowds, you have to get going in the morning. One of the number one mistakes people make is sleeping in, and then heading to the parks around 10:00 or 11:00am. By then, the busses are running, resort guests are flooding in, and the lines will start to pick up. If you get to the parks at or around rope drop (official opening), you might get ahead of some of the lines before the volume picks up.
24 – Plan of Attack
Case and point, my family has been getting there for rope drop as long as I can remember, and my husband and I continue to do the same. At the Animal Kingdom, we were the third and fourth people to get on Flight of Passage, and over at Hollywood Studios the fifth and sixth people to get on Smuggler’s Run. That same occasion we beat most of the crowds to Galaxy’s Edge, and were able to take some amazing pictures besides riding Smuggler’s Run twice.
You might be thinking, “Yeah, but I have young kids. That’s never going to work for me.”
Let me tell you, I did it as a young kid. It’s all about your priorities, and getting your group going in the morning. It can be done!
Moral of the story, sleep in on a day you don’t have an appointment with the Mouse.
25 – Eat Breakfast
Part of planning your morning, whether it’s a park day or not, is getting breakfast. Even if it’s just a bagel or piece of fruit, you don’t want to try to a Disney day without a bit of morning fuel. On park days, you’re going to walk upwards of ten miles over the course of the day! Even on a down day, you might be starting early with a variety of different activities, and you don’t want to be tired and cranky by lunch.
At the Dolphin, there are lots of quick places to get breakfast or coffee, like Picabu, Fuel, and Java. If you’re walking to Epcot, you can also swing into the BoardWalk Bakery for delicious baked goods and fabulous drinks, both hot and cold.
No matter what you choose, don’t skip breakfast – it’s the most important meal of the day!
26 – Walk to the Parks
If you are able, walk to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Especially the Studios, as it is about a fifteen-minute walk – Epcot definitely takes longer.
I know what you’re thinking – “Aren’t I going to spend the whole day walking?” Yes, that is true. However, walking to the parks is a great way to get ahead of the crowds and not have to depend on Disney transportation. It’s even faster than driving yourself, which would mean circling around on the roadways and going through the parking process. You can always take the bus or boat back, but to get there, definitely walk.
27 – Monorail to the Magic Kingdom
This isn’t necessarily the fastest way to get to the Magic Kingdom, but it’s a nice alternative if you don’t want to take the bus. Over by the main entrance to Epcot is the monorail station that connects to the Ticket and Transportation Center, which hooks you up with the Magic Kingdom line.
Now, you do have to be at the front entrance to Epcot to use the monorail, so again this is a bit of circuitous route. However, if you’re going to Epcot for the morning, the monorail is an ideal way to switch parks.
28 – Bus Stop is out Front
There’s only one Disney transportation bus stop at the Dolphin, located right out in front of the lobby. Just go to the left of the main entrance, right on the car loop, and you’ll find the stop. The only downside is if you’re staying a little ways from the lobby, you’ll need to make time to walk to the bus stop.
The Swan, and soon the Swan Reserve, has its own stop, so make sure when you’re coming back that you get off at the right one! Currently, the Swan and Dolphin share a bus to and from the parks, so it’s important that you pay attention to the stop.
29 – Use Your Car
Drove your own car? Use it! Since you have to pay to park at the Dolphin anyway, you might as well taken advantage of having your own vehicle. As you’re already paying the daily parking fee, you do not have to pay the fee again at the parks!
Given your location, this tip works best when going to the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, or Disney Springs. It is still faster and more convenient to walk or use the boat to get to Epcot or the Studios.
30 – Take a Break
One of the biggest mistake people make on their Disney vacation is pushing too hard. Even adults need to take a breather, so don’t be afraid to take a break. Especially if you’re at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, you are so close that you won’t lost much time travelling. The proximity of the Disney Dolphin to these parks makes it easy to get back quickly, so you won’t lose time on travel.
In the summer, Florida is hot. Everyone in your group, from toddlers to grown-ups, will be glad for the chance to go for a swim or just be in the AC for a little while. This tip is particularly useful if you’re planning to go to the park in the evening, as you can recharge a bit before a late night.
31 – Go to Disney Springs!
This is your reminder to hit the Springs while you’re in Disney! It’s so much more than just a shopping outlet, you could spend a whole day at Disney Springs and not see everything it has to offer. With several new restaurants, shops, and the recent overhaul of The World of Disney store, you’re going to want to check it out!
32 – Visit the BoardWalk
One of my favorite places to visit, whether I’m on property or not, is the Disney BoardWalk. Not only are all the resorts in the area amazing, but it’s just a fun place to be. On the BoardWalk side, there are lots of great places to eat and shops to check out. Over by the Yacht & Beach Clubs, you’ve got some of the best ice cream around and more adorable shopping locations. You can also rent boats at the Yacht Club and sail around Crescent Lake. If you’re looking for something to do on your day off, head over to the BoardWalk!
33 – Use Mobile Order on the BoardWalk
For those planning to lunch over at the BoardWalk, skip the line and order your counter service meals on your app! Whether you’re in the parks or just picking up pizza on the boardwalk, Mobile Order is an ideal way to get your food without having to wait. You also can find more customizations on the app, which helps you to get the food just the way you want it. If you’re going to the Market to grab a quick meal, particularly if you’re really grabbing and going, Mobile Order is a must.
34 – Big Breakfasts and Parks Days Don’t Mix
I know it sounds like a great plan to do the character breakfast at Garden Grove over at the Swan before you head to Hollywood Studios, but trust me, it isn’t.
First of all, most of the breakfast reservations you’ll be able to get are a good hour or two after you would want to be in the park. Even with the earliest reservation, you’re likely to get into the parks well after 10:00am, which is a late start. Second, these wonderful, delicious, sumptuous breakfasts are going to slow you down. You’re much more likely to want to nap then hike around the Studios afterwards. Finally, if you have somewhere to be after the meal, you’re going to be tempted to rush through it. That’s not fair to you (who’s paying for it!) or your family. Slow down, enjoy yourself, and don’t plan a park day on a signature breakfast day.
35 – Don’t Overeat
In general, there is a temptation to each waaaaay too much food when you’re in Disney. I get it, there’s amazing food everywhere! When the dining plans return, the need to eat to maximize your investment is even worse. However, you’re going to regret it if you overdo it. Find simple ways to reduce your meals, like choosing a lighter option or eating at a lounge instead of a table service. For the snacks, bring your own, or choose something like an apple or granola bar instead of that massive Mickey rice crispy treat. You’ll enjoy your time so much more if you don’t gorge yourself!
36 – Spend Time at the Pool
Grotto Pool is amazing, and huge. Between the different entrances, waterfalls, fountains, and slide, you and your family will have plenty to keep you entertained. There’s even a net that spans part of the pool for water volleyball! You’re going to love spending your morning…afternoon…whole day here at the pool.
37 – Pool Day? Pack a Charger.
If you’re going to spend the day at the pool, you’ll want to throw a charger (preferably of the portable variety) in your pool bag. With the layout of the resort, some of the rooms can be far away from the pool area. If you don’t want to hike back to your room and then be without your phone while it charges, you’ll take advantage of this tip.
38 – Flip Flops!
Wear flip-flops or water shoes to the pool. Period. Trusts me – this is one of those tips you won’t want to ignore. The walkways and cement around the pools at the Disney Dolphin get hot as blazes in the summer sun. There are some pools on Disney property where this isn’t as much of an issue, but here you’re going to want them. You’ll probably even want to wear your flip-flops from your lounge chair over to the pool, the pool deck is that hot.
39 – We’ve Still Got Towels!
Frequent fliers of Disney World know that the resorts all provide towels down at the pool. Even though the Disney Dolphin isn’t part of the official family, they still have this awesome service. One difference is that you have to provide your room number to the attendant at the towel shack, and they will give you the number of towels you need. However, this minor wait is worth it to not have to lug a beach towel down to the pool with you.
40 – Free the Floaties!
Unlike the Disney resorts, you can have your floatables and rafts at the Disney Dolphin. If you flew, or didn’t want to stuff one in the car, you can rent them daily at the pool shack. Just be aware of your kiddos as they play, and be conscious of other guests.
41 – Play on the Beach…
Right next to the pool is a white-sand beach, complete with hammocks, beach volleyball, and a playground for the kids. Spend time playing in the sand, lounging in the sun, or working up a sweat in a competitive game. Don’t worry about trying to get to the beach – the Disney Dolphin brings the beach to you!
42 – …But not the Lake
We hope you enjoy the beach, but you cannot swim in the lake. Disney locked down their lake and beach access several years ago, but since the Dolphin has some autonomy, their restrictions are a bit different. However, where they are the same is on lake swimming. It’s 100% not allowed.
Not only are those lakes not the cleanest water in the world, remember the part about being in Florida. Snakes, waterfowl, and even alligators might be in the water, and you don’t want to take that risk. Trust me that lake is not worth it. The pool is much nicer.
43 – Sail a Swan
Rent a swan-shaped paddleboat and take a leisurely cruise around Crescent Lake! There’s nothing quite like seeing the resorts from the water, and you’ll have a great time maneuvering your craft under the bridges and through the waters.
44 – Visit The Fountain
An adorable diner on the lower level of the hotel, The Fountain is one of my favorite ice cream spots at Disney World. You can stop in for food to go or get a table and sit; come for savory food or just dessert, no judgement here!
If you want a full meal, their regular menu actually has a variety of delicious options. Get a delicious burger or hotdog, or go outside the box with a brisket sandwich. Try a refreshing Asian salmon salad or spice things up with a Buffalo chicken salad. There’s plenty of food for the kids too, with PB&J or chicken fingers for your littles.
However, the real treat is the ice cream. Their shakes are out of this world, with a few boozy concoctions for the adults. Get hand-dipped or soft serve ice cream, covered with plenty of yummy toppings! You can also build your own sundae, combining the best of what The Fountain has to offer. So go – indulge your sweet tooth.
45 – Play Mini-golf
My vacations aren’t complete without mini-golf, so this is always one of my favorite tips! Besides, right by the Disney Dolphin is Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course, two fun courses perfect for all ages. One course features intricate holes based on fun scenes from the Disney film, Fantasia, while the Fairways course is like a literal miniature golf course. Hazards, greens, and roughs all shrink down to the mini-golf scale, perfect for lovers of traditional golf.
Best part about this course is that it is within walking distance from the hotel, making it easy to access the fun!
46 – Have a Night Out
Travelling with your kids, but want an adults-only meal? Make a reservation at Camp Dolphin for your kiddos! Qualified and caring staff have plenty of fun activities planned for children ages 4-12, and can’t wait to spend time with them so you can get time for yourself. You can even register for Dinner Camp, which includes a meal for your children in the additional price.
If you choose to dine at one of the Dolphin signature restaurants, you can get two hours of childcare at Camp Dolphin free! How can you beat that?
Still have questions or concerns? Check out Camp Dolphin’s FAQ sheet.
47 – Ask About Discounts
The special rates don’t just have to happen when booking! DVC members, annual pass holders, and Disney Visa card members all have varying discounts throughout Walt Disney World. Garden Grove and The Fountain both offer discounts for DVC, while Il Mulino New York Trattoria is part of Tables in Wonderland. If you’re not sure what discounts are available to you, you can look it up ahead of time, or just ask! As someone with the Disney Visa, I always ask when we’re shopping or dining. The worst thing that happens is the Cast Member tells you no!
48 – Ride the Loop
One of my favorite day-off activities is doing the monorail loop over at the Magic Kingdom resort area. Each of the resorts on the loop – the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian – are so unique and beautiful. There’s plenty to check out, from their individual shops to different quick dining options. I mean, who wouldn’t go to the Polynesian just for a Dole Whip? If you time it right, you can also see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom in the evening.
Now, resort-to-resort transportation can be tricky, so this may call for a ride share if you don’t have your own car. Also be aware that at peak times, unless you have a dining reservation, they may not let you hang out at the resort due to the crowds. It all goes back to planning ahead!
Until Next Time!
49 – Pack the Night Before
It may be the last thing you feel like doing, particularly if you spent your last day at the park, but you’ll be glad you did in the morning. Leave out your outfit for the next day and your essentials, but get everything else ready to go. Your departure will be much smoother, and you will be less stressed, with this one big to-do item checked off your list.
50 – Have Breakfast Before You Leave
You might think it’s better to get up and moving on your departure day, especially if you have a flight to catch. However, if you plan ahead, there will be enough time for you to have a meal before you head out, and we suggest that you do. Heading away from Walt Disney World on an empty stomach not only will make your departure harder, but will most likely make your whole party miserable (especially the kids). Plenty of the counter service options at the Dolphin open by 7:00am, but if that isn’t early enough for you, consider getting some snacks the night before to hold you over until you get to the airport.
Navigate the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel like a pro with these tips! Now go relax and enjoy your vacation.
Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer
Grace is a life-long lover of all things Disney, particularly the parks at Walt Disney World. She is also an avid Disney Cruise Line enthusiast who regularly dreams of the white sands of Castaway Cay. Grace loves the fact that her Disney trips give her time to spend with her family, enjoy incredible food, and try new experiences.