The Dolphin Hotels in Disney World—A Discounted Epcot Resort Option
I just checked out of the Dolphin Hotel in Walt Disney World. Marcela and I were concluding our Florida trip and meeting her family in Walt Disney World for a couple of days. We had no intention of going to the parks; however, I really wanted to stay in a nice hotel with a great pool in an attractive area. Although I like the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort (great rooms, excellent staff, nice pool), the Hyatt Place Orlando/Convention Center (great newer hotel with a clear business orientation very close to many other convention center hotels) and the Springhill Suites at SeaWorld (another nice new hotel with an excellent breakfast), each of those hotels are in areas that really leave a lot to be desired. In fact, the International Drive area near the Orange County Convention Center is one of the tackiest anywhere in the USA (crap store, chain restaurant, crap hotel, massive traffic). Unless your attending a convention or get the deal of a lifetime, avoid this area at all costs.
The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel–Ask For a Balcony Room Overlooking EPCOT
I stayed here last year with my buddy Bob at the beginning of our golf trip (we spent the rest of the week at the wonderful Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort near Disney Springs) and came away unimpressed with anything but the location. I really wanted Marcela to experience some of the Disney magic without breaking the bank (The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa would have been nice but $600 a night seems crazy to me). So we opted to stay at the Dolphin Hotel for two nights using SPG Starpoints for one night (10,000 points) and paying for one night with my AAA discount ($148 a night plus the $25 resort fee and $18 for self parking). When we checked in we asked the charming young front desk clerk to see if she could upgrade us to a balcony room facing Disney’s Boardwalk and EPCOT (those rooms have an awesome view of Illuminations nightly fireworks show). We got lucky and scored room 5015 with two balconies for an extra $43/night for the paid night and 1,000 SPG Starpoints for the “free” night. The balconies were absolutely spectacular! Ask for them if the extra cash (or Starpoints) don’t bother you.
The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel–A Bit Frayed Around the Edges
The room itself was a bit dated with several issues that needed to be addressed. The toilet had to be fixed by maintenance because it didn’t work when we got to the room. The second balcony door could not be completely closed or locked. The sink area outside the shower/tub area was very small with a strange length-wise design. The carpets along with many other features of the room could use some serious refreshing. The lobby at the Walt Disney World Dolphin is very large and inviting with beautiful holiday decorations. The pool area and the grounds are spectacular. The boat shuttle service to EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Club is not only efficient but very fun. The food service at the Dolphin is just OK. I haven’t tried Todd English’s Blue Zoo but it consistently draws pretty mediocre reviews. The Picabu take away restaurant is just not a great option-high prices and poor presentation are never a good combination. I haven’t tried the Shula’s Steakhouse in the Dolphin but their Tampa steakhouse is excellent.
Location, Location, Location
The key draw at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel for me is the fantastic location on Disney’s Boardwalk. Disney’s Boardwalk area is comprised of the following
attractions: 1) Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club hotels (gorgeous hotels with a spectacular pool for the kids with very steep prices), 2) the International Gateway entrance to EPCOT, 3) Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Disney’s Boardwalk Villas (check out my article Best Orlando Timeshare Rental Deals from $43 a Night to learn how to score discounted rooms at the Boardwalk Villas), 4) Disney’s Boardwalk retail/dining area and 5) the Swan and Dolphin hotels. The entire Boardwalk area is fun and beautiful.
Disney Boardwalk–Eat, Drink and be Merry
We spent both nights on the Boardwalk. The first night we took a very short walk to the fun (but expensive) dueling piano bar, Jellyrolls (see a full review of Jellyrolls in my article Five Great Spots for Orlando Nightlife Near Disney World). The next day we stopped by Seashore Sweets because I needed an ice cream fix. I ordered a scoop of Strawberry and a scoop of Vanilla in a dish. The serving was more than generous and, at less than $5, the ice cream at Seashore Sweets might be the most delicious value at Disney World.
That night we decided to have dinner at the very cute and very expensive, Flying Fish Cafe. The Flying Fish Cafe gets two thumbs up for quality; however, the value proposition here is pretty poor. We started with a couple of drinks. Knob Creek on the rocks for me (a very nice pour) and a delicious Manhattan for Marcela. Then we had some fantastic appetizers Yellowfin Tuna Tartare and Crispy Tempura Tuna-Vegetable Sushi Roll ($19) which was not only delicious but came with a generous portion of tuna. The Chef’s Special Thunder Appetizer ($14) is essentially an awkwardly named beet salad with Vermont Goat cheese, spiced pecans, Citrus Supremes and a Pecan vinaigrette. Despite the silly name this dish presented a spectacular combination of flavors. Marcela’s little round face was smiling more and more with each bite. The entrees were expensive and disappointing. My Flying Fish Café Idaho Potato wrapped Red Snapper ($40) was small and just ok. The 5 oz. of fish was cooked properly but the reduction has no zip and little flavor. Marcela’s Grilled Hokkaido Scallops ($40) were better than the snapper but similarly unimpressive. At these prices, you had better deliver. My suggestion here—go for appetizers and skip the entrée’s entirely. The appetizers were much more flavorful with decent sized portions and lower prices.