Unique Dining Outside of the Parks – Part I

Sometimes when planning dining reservations for a Walt Disney World vacation people focus on restaurants in the parks.   Fortunately, there are many, many choices outside of the parks and if you plan correctly going to a dining reservation outside of the parks doesn’t have to take a lot of time out of your day.  Of if you aren’t planning to visit a park you can still have plenty of fun and even meet some Disney friends!

 Magic Kingdom Resort Area:
Grand Floridian Resort has two very unique character meal options both at the same restaurant, 1900 Park Fare.  For breakfast you can meet Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh.  For dinner you can meet up with Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine and her daughters Anastasia and Drizella.

Also at the Grand Floridian there is Victoria & Albert’s a very upscale restaurant, having an AAA Five Diamond rating since 2000.  There is also the highly coveted Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s which features 13 courses and the chef personally conversing between courses.  This is definitely a bucket list item!


Photo via Disney.com

Citricos Dining with an Imagineer is a very unique option outside of the park.  Who wouldn’t love to pick the brain of a Disney Imagineer?  This is your chance to ask questions and learn about the behind the scenes of Walt Disney World. 

Within the Wilderness Lodge you will find the Whispering Canyon Café, a buffet with some shenanigans.  If you love great food, a neat atmosphere and sassy and fun cast members you will want to make the trip to Wilderness Lodge for this family style bottomless platters!  Just be careful when you ask for ketchup or straws!

 In the Polynesian Village Resort there is a unique character meal featuring Lilo and Stitch as well at Mickey and Pluto in Hawaiian gear.  Lilo is not featured anywhere else so if you have a person who loves Lilo and Stitch this is THE place to go!

 Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is located at the Campsites at Fort Wilderness and boasts an amazing dinner show with great food, fun, vaudeville comedy, singing and dancing.  And of course Strawberry Shortcake!  There are multiple shows each day in different price categories based on your seat.  You can read Tara’s review here.

Epcot Resort Area:
Another great character meal option is at the Beach Club, Cape May Café!  This is a character meal for breakfast only and features Minnie and friends in their beach attire!  So if you are in Epcot or Hollywood Studios or staying at an Epcot are resort this is a fantastic option that isn’t as well-known as other character meals.  You can read a review right here! 


Photo via Disney.com

Beaches and Cream in the Beach Club boasts more than just ice cream.  This old-fashioned soda fountain has a full menu of burgers, salads, sandwiches, and soup.  But most people are coming for The Kitchen Sink.  This creation has scoops of 5 different types of ice creams, every topping imaginable plus a whole can of whipped cream.  You will need the whole family to finish this monster!  But beware when you order it you will cause some heads to turn since the whole restaurant will light up as this treat makes its way to your table.

 Todd English’s bluezoo located in the Dolphin Hotel is a sleeper choice.  It is a pricey dinner, so maybe for a special occasion this is a great choice.  It has won numerous awards and does awesome seafood as well as plenty of beef, chicken and pork dishes to keep everyone happy.  They even feature a pretty great kid’s menu if you are bringing the whole family.  The restaurant itself is beautiful and you will want to get dressed up for this dinner.


Photo via Disney.com

Check back soon for more  dining suggestions on the Animal Kingdom Resort area and Disney Springs!


The 411 on the Swolphin (aka as the Swan and the Dolphin)

Thanks to Starwoodhotels.com for use of the photo!

Thanks to Starwoodhotels.com for use of the photo!

So, there are two resorts on Walt Disney World’s property that are a little different than the others (like when you were little and played which one of these is not like the others?) Yes, if you were playing that game with WDW resorts the answer(s) would be the Swan and Dolphin. Why? Well, first off they are not owned by Disney, but instead they are owned by Starwood Hotels (think Westin and Sheraton, etc.) At times, the Swan and Dolphin can save you some money. They do have discounts for teachers and if you are a road warrior you can rack up Starwood points through the year and use them for free nights or upgrades. It is considered to be an Epcot Resort hotel and is located on/near the Boardwalk. Now, to be transparent, though on property, and even participate in some of the perks of being a Disney hotel, they do have some things that are different and a few extra fees. It is always confusing what is included and what is not and what are those pesky hidden fees. I am breaking it down for you and though there may be others pros and cons, these are the main ones so hope this helps.

A cute name for the two properties is the Swolphin and from here on out when I am talking about both – I am going to use it so I hope you love it too!


The Disney resort perks that you get to take advantage of while staying at the Swan and Dolphin are some big perks.

You get to take advantage of Disney transportation. The boat that goes around the Boardwalk area resorts and drops you off at either Epcot or Hollywood Studios is a huge perk and yes, it stops at the Swolphin’s dock. Prove it? Okay see the picture above, well there is the dock and there is the Friendship boat right there. So hop on and save your feet some walking to Epcot or Hollywood Studios. Oh but if you want to walk (because you are not walking enough already at Disney) then yes, you can walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios as well. It actually may save you some time if you are in a hurry because the Friendship boats are a leisurely boat ride (leisurely = slow). Also, along with the water taxis is the Walt Disney bus system. It picks up at the Swolphin, just like any other Disney resort hotel and takes you to the parks and Downtown Disney and wherever else in the Walt Disney World area you need to go! I am going to mention here that the Magical Express does not service the Swolphin – so one type of Disney transportation that does not, but more on that later.

Extra Magic Hours – it is a go with the Swolphin! So, get up early or stay late and beat the mass crowds with all the other lucky Disney Resort guests only hours.

Complimentary Delivery of Packages – when you are a Disney Resort guest you can purchase items in the parks and have them delivered directly to your resort. No need to carry around heavy or breakable items, just fill out a quick form and they will deliver them the next day to your resort’s gift shop. This is a great perk and guests of the Swolphin get to partake as well!

Fastpass Selection Day – Yes! Just like the other Disney Resorts you get first dibs at 60 days out for fastpass selection when staying at the Swolphin! Off-site resorts have to book at 30 days and so this is a good one.

Parking-  Okay, I am reluctantly putting this in the positive. If you have your own car or a rental car and you are staying at the Swolphin you do get to park for free at any of the four theme parks. Off site guests have to pay $17.00 for parking. I am reluctant because I feel this is misleading because you do pay to park at the Swolphin, unlike the Disney Resorts and for self-parking it is $18.00 a day. So, it really is paying for parking and so let’s say that is a wash maybe.


Magical Express – Sorry this is a big one I know! No Magical Express from MCO – you are on your own and to hurt you more if you are renting a car parking fees are fairly high. This in itself is a big problem with these resorts so be careful!

Resort Fees – Not included in the quotes you find online (or when you call) is a resort fee. It is mentioned in the fine print but be aware that there is a $25.00 PER DAY resort fee that is automatically added on to your bill. Here is what it includes:

The Resort Service Package includes in-room High Speed Internet Access, 2 bottles of water daily, unlimited access to full-service health club, unlimited domestic long distance (US mainland) and local calls, tennis equipment and access to the lighted courts, seasonal pool access and recreational activities.
Parking Cost – Unlike the other Disney resorts, self parking is not free and is $18.00 per day plus tax (and $26.00 per day plus tax for valet). The per day is for registered guests, so if you are not staying there but wanted to check it out you will pay that each time you exit (so park for free at the Yacht Club and take the boat!)
Magic Bands – No magic bands are included with your Disney vacation at the Swolphin. You can purchase magic bands and they will have them linked and activated at the gift shop for you but you do have to purchase them.
Dining Plan –  You can not do the dining plan when staying at the Swolphin so if that is something you live and die for then know up front that this is not an option!

No Disney themeing – this is a Westin and a Sheraton and the resorts look like a normal

Recently renovated Swan Resort room.

Recently renovated Swan Resort room.

hotel. Now they are both nice resorts and though they were (in my opinion) needing some upkeep for the past few years, Starwood did jump on that and are about done with the Swan’s refurbishment and the Dolphins is scheduled for 2016-2017. The rooms are what you would expect from a moderate to upscale hotel room and are very clean and provide what you need.

Convention/Conference Resort –  So, though many Disney resorts are also home to conferences and conventions typically you do not feel that it takes away from the family friendly atmosphere. Both the Swan and Dolphin host a lot of conferences, meetings, trade shows, etc. and many of the people attending are out to wine and dine clients and enjoy themselves. I have both stayed at the Swolphin and recently did a walk through of both of them and it was a total different vibe. It was very loud in the lobby and it was not kids laughing it was men and women in suits and drinks having a great time. Do not get me wrong I have been there and done that and so I am not saying it is a bad thing to enjoy your networking opportunity. But, if you are wanting more family friendly it is something you might want to know ahead of time. Is it unruly? No, of course not. It just is a different vibe at night so something to think about.

Overall, there are a lot of awesome things about the Swolphin and this just touches on the

Beautiful bar and eatery at the pool at the Swan Resort. Thanks to Starwoodhotels.com for the photo.

Beautiful bar and eatery at the pool at the Swan Resort. Thanks to Starwoodhotels.com for the photo.

perks and cons of what you get and do not get compared to Disney owned resorts. So, yes, there are some awesome extras that we could talk about such as the restaurants and beach. In another article we will elaborate and maybe talk about their own Food and Wine that coincides with Epcot’s that is a fun alternate. In all honesty it has been many, many years since I was a guest at the Swolphin and so most of my opinions are from walking through the lobby and the common areas. I did a lot of research though and keep on top of it for my clients that ask – but you tell me what do you think?

Have you ever stayed at the Swolphin? What did you think of it compared to a full Disney resort? Would you go again and would you recommend it to other Disney lovers?