Monday, January 6, 2020

Disney's Best Kept Secret--The Dolphin Resort

When I first began researching Disney I knew I wanted to stay on property in a nice resort. However, as soon as I began looking at the different Disney resorts I was in sticker shock. Not only were the cost of these tiny rooms incredibly high but they also looked like they were in major need of an update. I was having a really hard time justifying a standard $700 a night room that looked like it hadn't been updated since the mid-90's. I could have stayed on property at a value or moderate resort for about half the cost of the deluxe resorts but these rooms looked like a glorified Motel 6. Sure you aren't in the room that often but that doesn't mean I don't want a nice place to stay while I'm on vacation. I figured there just had to be something better out there. There HAD to be. So I started digging and I stumbled upon a Disney resort that seemed too good to be true--The Walt Disney World Dolphin. Low and behold, it wasn't too good to be true and this has officially become our "Home" resort whenever we visit Disney.

There are a number of factors that make this resort Disney's best kept secret but the biggest is that the cost of the Dolphin is significantly less than any other Disney Deluxe resort. Not only is it so much cheaper, the rooms are updated, clean and spacious and the property itself is beautiful. The photos absolutely do not do it justice. Here are a few of my favorite things about staying at the Dolphin and why I feel it's Disney's very best bang for your buck.
First: Location, location, location. On Disney property and about a 10 minute walk from Epcot, The Dolphin is surrounded by other beautiful Disney deluxe hotels, the Beach and Yacht Club, and the Boardwalk. We absolutely love this location, especially since there are so many fun things to do on the Boardwalk and so many fantastic restaurants between these four resorts combined!
Second: The rooms. When we went to Disney the first time, having a large room was a huge priority for us. Our kids go to bed early and being on vacation doesn't change anything about that. We didn't want to put our kids to bed then hang out in the bathroom for a few hours for fear of waking them. Therefore we wanted and needed a larger room. These are hard to find at Disney without paying a pretty penny. However, the Dolphin has "premium studio" rooms and they are perfect for traveling with kids. While there is not a bedroom that you can completely shut off, there is a wall dividing the bedroom from the living area. The sofa pulls out into a bed and a crib fits in there as well. The kids went to bed and Scott and I were able to hang out in the bedroom and watch TV without disrupting them at all. There is also a small kitchen table and kitchenette in the room with two mini refrigerators and a Keurig. This last vacation they upgraded us to the Presidential Suite and it was beyond amazing. (I did a video tour of the room which you can find on my Instagram tab under Disney World). We had booked the grand suite because we wanted all 7 of us to be able to comfortably stay in a room together and the cost of the grand suite at Dolphin was literally half of the cost of the other Disney resorts. Of course The Dolphin offers standard rooms as well.
Third: Amenities. Again, when we began planning our first vacation to Disney, we really wanted to do a "rest day" aka pool day. The dolphin has a "beach" and we thought that sounded like so much fun! The boys could build sandcastles and swim in a beautiful pool. We felt like we slipped away from the busy parks and were relaxing on the beach instead! The beach also has a huge playground for the kids to play and a poolside restaurant! While we were at the pool, I struck up a conversation with the family next to us. They lived near the area and said they had stayed at every resort on Disney property but the Dolphin was their favorite simply because of the pool/beach. It really is so neat and the best of any of the Disney resort pools I've personally seen.
Fourth: Transportation. There are four different ways to get to the Disney parks from the Dolphin hotel: walk, bus, boat, vans. As I mentioned earlier, it's walking distance to Epcot. If you're going to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom, you can take the free bus transportation. There is a bus stop specifically for Dolphin guests located at the entrance of the hotel and the buses to the park are consistently running, day and night. If you are going to Hollywood Studios, the best transportation is to take the Dolphin boat. A boat dock connects to the hotel and guests can take the boat to both Hollywood Studios and also Epcot if you don't want to walk. The boat is amazing because it's very quick and really fun too. Major bonus is that you don't have to collapse your stroller, you can just roll it right onto the boat (you have to collapse it for the buses). If you're going to Hollywood Studios, the boat will take you directly there. If you're going to Epcot, it will also swing by the Boardwalk and Beach/Yacht Club hotels because their guests can take advantage of the boat transportation as well. The ride to each park via the boat is about 5 minutes. The bus to Magic Kingdom takes about 10 minutes and to Animal Kingdom about 20 minutes. Finally, you can always take the Minnie Vans which are powered through Lyft and are only accessible to guests staying at Disney resorts. We never did the Minnie Vans but we constantly saw them picking up and dropping off guests at the Dolphin.
Fifth: Disney Resort Perks. Staying at Disney resorts gets you extra perks like taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours (being able to get into the parks before anyone else), and being able to book your Fast Passes 60 days out vs 30 days like everyone else. BONUS: The Dolphin has club level rooms. Staying in a Disney Club Level room means you have the option to purchase three extra fast passes bringing your FastPass count to six! This is incredible, especially if you choose to visit Disney during a very busy time of year. The cost for extra FastPasses for a Club Level guest is $50 per person, per day AND by doing this, you get to book your FastPasses 90 days out and you are not limited to tiers which basically means you get to book a FastPass for any ride you want, any time you want. First come first serve, and Club Level guests get dibs first. We chose to do this option on our most recent trip and it was the greatest thing ever.
Finally: Extras. The Dolphin is home to Shulas, one of our very favorite restaurants at Disney. The food is incredible and it's so nice that it's right there. It also has a Disney gift shop full of goodies, including Magic Bands. If it's your first visit, you can go to the Dolphin gift shop, pick out your Magic Bands, then take them to the Disney Planning Center next to the concierge, and they will get you all set up. It takes about 0.56 seconds. Fuel is another nice perk. Fuel is inside the hotel lobby and can take care of all of your on-the-go needs. There is a barista to take care of your caffeine needs, a DIY FROYO station, sandwiches and snacks. You can also purchase bottles of wine if you need to unwind after a long day at the parks. We stopped in here every morning on our way to the bus or boat to grab cereal or a breakfast sandwich.
Okay so what's the catch? A Disney 4 star hotel at Disney value prices? All of these extra perks? How is this possible? Well, it is technically not owned by Disney. Marriot owns The Dolphin. Apparently the land was owned by Marriot before Disney and they came to a deal--Marriot prices on Disney land with Disney perks. The only thing you cannot take advantage of by staying at The Dolphin is the Magical Express bus to and from the airport (we fly allegiant so that's not an option from the Sanford Airport anyway) and you can't do the Disney Dining Plan (which isn't a good deal, don't get suckered into it).
Many Disney travel agents will try to tell you the Dolphin isn't a Disney hotel. If your travel agent is telling you this, you need a new travel agent because they don't know their Disney information very well and that is just no good, no good at all. (I have the worlds best travel agent FYI, and she's the one who informed me of the amazing Club Level perk at The Dolphin!) The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel is absolutely a Disney hotel. You wouldn't be able to take advantage of the perks at the parks if it wasn't. The only catch is that it's owned by Marriot--which means you can use your points!
I really don't know if we will ever stay anywhere but The Dolphin. I would love to try out the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, or Riviera Resort but their standard rooms are literally double the cost of the Premium Studio room at The Dolphin and when it comes down to it, more space and saving money always wins us over. We have zero complaints about the Dolphin and we love it more with each stay. I highly, highly recommend booking your next Disney World Vacation at The Dolphin hotel! If you need the worlds greatest travel agent to get you started, click HERE to my Disney agents Facebook page and she will 100% take care of every single one of your needs.
*Also want to share that I am not getting any kind of kick back at all for sharing any of this. Simply sharing this information because, like I said, I truly believe The Dolphin is Disney's best kept secret and sharing is caring!!

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