This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE the Walt Disney World SWAN and DOLPHIN. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century and Art of Animation), Moderate (Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs), and Deluxe (The Poly and The Contemporary). Three of the Deluxe resorts are not run by Disney, these include Shades of Green (owned and operated by the US Armed Forces) and the Swan and Dolphin. For over 25 years the Swan and Dolphin has been a part of the Starwood chain of resorts. While Starwood was bought by Marriott in September of this year, the hotels continue to be run under their respective brands (Swan being part of Westin, while the Dolphin part of Sheraton.)
Walt Disney World Swan.
Both the Swan and Dolphin are considered Disney Deluxe Resorts. While neither hotel offers the Disney Magical Express to and from the airport, or participates in the Disney Dining Plan, guests do get the normal WDW on-site ammenities including Extra Magic Hours, Disney transportation, and early access to Fast Pass+. How do the Swan and Dolphin stack up compared to the other on-site resorts? Well, today we are going to check out our favorite parts of these two incredible hotels, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – Todd English’s bluezoo
One of the most underrated restaurants on Disney property is Todd English’s bluezoo located on the ground floor of the Dolphin. The bar area is visually stunning, and sets up the unique food and drink menu perfectly. Recently we did a tongue in cheek look at a Disney Value Resort Bar Crawl, but one thing that stood out at those bars – along with many others on Disney property – is a reliance on the standard Disney bar menu. Todd English’s bluezoo is the complete opposite of that. Whether you get a Burnt Orange that arrives on fire or a Swedish Fish with its infused foam, the drinks served at bluezoo are served with creativity and flair.
The dining room of bluezoo is deceptively large. While the menu is filled with some great items (especially if you’re a seafood fan,) what shocked us was the crispy Asian pork ribs. I didn’t think anyone would come close to touching the quality of Morimoto Asia’s Hoisin sticky spare ribs, but bluezoo’s are somehow better. While many probably wouldn’t think of bluezoo as the first choice to bring your kids, there is actually a part of the menu for kid’s appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The whimsicly named “desserted island” is among the most fun at WDW.
Smoking Red Sangria. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Burnt Orange – “herradura blanco infused with brûléed orange and muddled with agave nectar, grand marnier, and orange juice. topped with a flaming orange.” (photo by Brandon Glover)
Crispy Asian pork ribs. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Desserted Island. (photo by Brandon Glover)
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View of the Epcot Resort Area
With the recent release of the 2016 Epcot Food and Wine Festival menus, I can’t help but think about my upcoming trip. The 60 day FastPass+ window is approaching quickly, and as an avid proponent of planning ahead, I’m ashamed to admit that I still haven’t fully decided on a hotel!
It’s one of the biggest dilemmas I face when planning any trip to Walt Disney World. It’s especially hard for me during the fall when visiting Epcot’s World Showcase is top priority thanks to the mouthwatering samplings at Food and Wine Festival. I’ve narrowed it down to the Epcot resort area to make walking to Epcot a breeze, but that still leaves me with five wonderful choices – Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, Dolphin, Swan, and Yacht Club.
Not one to take the resort decision lightly, I’ve carefully mapped out a comparison to help me (and hopefully some of you) pick the right Epcot resort for any Walt Disney World vacation.
All five resorts fall into the deluxe category at Disney, and with that designation comes elaborate theming. However, because Swan and Dolphin are the only two that are not owned by Disney, some may find them to be lacking that special Disney touch.
- Beach Club – It’s a New England-style resort hotel that is painted blue with white trim and adorned with typical beach décor. Think seashells and sand dollars.
- Boardwalk Inn – Modeled after a turn-of-the-century Atlantic coast boardwalk, the rooms actually sit behind a façade of neon lighted shops and restaurants along a wooden boardwalk.
- Dolphin – Words escape me when it comes to the theming of both the Swan and Dolphin, and if you’ve ever seen it for yourself, you can probably understand. Disney describes it as “deluxe accommodations inspired by Florida itself, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel juxtaposes modern architectural silhouettes alongside Renaissance flourishes—most notably, the twin stylized dolphin statues gracing its rooftop.” Now, I’m not sure what they think a dolphin is, but based on their designs, I would say that a dolphin is some combination between a goldfish and carp.
- Swan – Though very similar the Dolphin in theme and design, the Swan is outfitted with two Swans atop the building instead. At least these two actually resemble swans.
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The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.
Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!
DAY FIFTEEN: Burnt Orange at Todd English’s bluezoo (Walt Disney World Dolphin)
Fire and Ice: Frost-bitten rum cider and a Burnt Orange at Todd English’s bluezoo. (photo by Brandon Glover)
One of the true best kept secrets at Walt Disney World are the bars and restaurants at the Swan and Dolphin hotels. Todd English’s bluezoo at the Dolphin has hands-down the most creative menu on property, specializing in unique drinks that taste as good as they look. Today we are going to spotlight the Burnt Orange. Ingredients: Herradura blanco tequila infused with brûléed orange and muddled with agave nectar, Grand Marnier, and orange juice. Topped with a flaming orange. The brûléed orange, that is spectacularly lit aflame, contains a special sugar created by the restaurant’s pastry chef, which then becomes part of the Burnt Orange’s flavor profile when drinking. The Burnt Orange is one drink worth going out of your way to try, but it is just one of the many headliners on the bluezoo bar menu.
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So far I’ve explored the wonderful resorts of Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, and Pop Century. You may notice that none of those are in the deluxe category. The reason is that some of the deluxe resorts just don’t lend themselves to exploring. Sure, they are beautiful, luxurious, and wonderful to spend time at, but they don’t always have the meandering pathways or hidden spots that the more spread out resorts have.
I debated with myself for a while on how to overcome this problem (and yes, I often argue with myself…and win). I had a breakthrough when I thought about walking through a favorite resort of mine; Beach Club. You see, when I spend time at that particular resort, I don’t just walk around the Beach Club but instead I wander through all of the bordering Epcot area resorts.
So that’s how I’m treating this, as a walk through the Epcot resorts; Beach Club, Yacht Club, Dolphin, Swan, and the Boardwalk Inn. Please remember that combining them is an artistic choice and not laziness (an important, if indiscernible, designation).
Beach and Yacht Clubs
I am further combining these two because they share so much in common (still not laziness). Both are designed with a seaside feel, although the Yacht Club has a more stately and formal feel to it. These are both beautiful resorts with many decorative nautical items, but with very little in the way of “hidden” areas.
I am in no way saying that there aren’t lovely spots to sit, stand, or walk (I’ll take sit if you please), but most of these areas are along the well-trafficked pathway that abuts Crescent Lake. Yes it is beautiful, photogenic, and peaceful, but it is also very often full of people, which makes it feel less “private” and more “ugh…people are loud.”
C'mon, who doesn't love this view?
If you are an early riser like I am you can still stake out your spot, and there are a few very lovely spots. The pool is a free-flowing, meandering behemoth with rockwork, waterfalls, and plenty of trees. There is also a fantastic pier that juts out into the lake complete with a wonderful lighthouse. The primo spot however, is a seat on the beach (a beach? At the Beach Club? Ludicrous!).
From your vantage point on the sand you look out across the lake with vistas of the lighthouse and the exceptionally cool wreckage of a pirate ship (says the 13 year old boy that I mentally am). I suggest, rather than exploring per se, parking your rump on the beach and enjoying the relative peace of the spot.
Dolphin and Swan
As you meander further away from Epcot (This is a special case. Normally I don’t recommend walking away from World Showcase) the next resorts you come to are the Dolphin and Swan. I have combined these two again due to the shared amenities (okay, maybe now I’m getting lazy). Comparing what I described above, I’m not sure you can find resorts that are more different than the Swan/Dolphin and Beach/Yacht. The Swan and Dolphin are…uh…well, just different.
Rather than quaint and relaxing, the Swan and Dolphin are modern and angular. They are still beautiful, at least in spots, but I would consider neither of them relaxing. Luckily, the exterior areas are just as well done as you would expect at Disney deluxe resorts.
This picture breaks my personal record of "most non-living swans in one shot."
Walking the circuitous route between the two hotel buildings brings you upon the pool, beach, and several small, tree-lined spots that definitely qualify as relaxing (and many qualify as smoking areas…thanks for that Disney). Enjoying the views looking out onto the water of the beach and palm trees is always time well spent, even if there are strangely shaped modernist hotels in the way.
The final resort that you come upon on the path is the Boardwalk Inn. Aesthetically speaking, the hotel itself is not my favorite. It is a very pleasant resort in a great location and has that mix of seaside charm and high-class elegance that we all associate with the New Jersey shore (cough…moving on). Mostly what I don’t like is that super creepy clown face slide that makes it look like a spaced-out clown is spitting children into the pool.
Wow, what a nice pool and...AHH, what in Walt's name is that thing!
The main exterior area of the Boardwalk Inn is the boardwalk itself which is a great place for a stroll at any time. When it’s empty it is serene and peaceful and has a lot of benches for looking out over Crescent Lake.
When it’s busy there is so much hustle there (and even a bit of bustle) that it’s one of the best spots to people watch. With face painters, entertainers, and surrey bikes galore I could spend all day just wandering the boardwalk and making fun of people (Oops I mean…uh…yeah, making fun of. I can’t sugarcoat it).
That completes my wandering around the Epcot resorts, now I’m going to jump aboard the Friendship Boat and head to World Showcase for a beverage. How do you like the Epcot resorts and do you ever take time to wander around during your stay? I’d love to hear about all the nooks and crannies that I missed.
Thanks for reading!