Situated midway between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios theme parks and directly across from the exciting carnival entertainment, gourmet restaurants and nightclubs near Disney's Boardwalk Inn, the Walt Disney World Dolphin (part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, a Starwood property) exudes "location, location, location!"
But the proximity to the Disney theme parks is not where the magic ends. If you want a truly magical Walt Disney World experience, there's no better place to stay than the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (and its sister property, the Walt Disney World Swan). Room amenities include Wi-Fi, make-up mirrors, two bottles of water per day (perfect for hydration when hitting the theme parks), "Shine" by Bliss bath products, and delicious Tazo tea, as well as Starbucks coffee. Special advantages include free transportation to all Disney theme parks and attractions, plus the Extra Magic Hours benefit, in which one of the four Walt Disney theme parks opens one hour early or remains open up to two hours after regular Park closing time for hotel guests. (Especially in these early days of FastPass+, where park guests are only allowed three fastpasses per day at just one theme park, those Extra Magic Hours are nearly essential to enjoying all the rides you want if you're park-hopping during the day.)
The resort was designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Michael Graves, and is topped by five-story dolphin (the fish, not the mammal) statues. (I was thrilled when I saw them, as I've long been a fan of Graves, and own several of the iconic pieces that he's designed for Target.) One of Graves' themes is water, and this is amply demonstrated with majestic fountains in several scenic locations throughout the property. The most visible fountain, located on the Crescent Lake side of the Dolphin, cascades nine stories through five seashell-shaped troughs into a 54-foot clamshell.
The expansive grounds of the Dolphin Hotel include a man-made white sand beach (complete with oversized hammocks for lazy days) and more than three acres of water fun, including a Grotto Pool with waterfalls, a water slide, lap pools, a kiddy pool, a (luxuriously warm) spring pool, and four whirlpools. There's no excuse for not relaxing!
If you're into more strenuous activities, there's also a health club that offers free weights, stationary bikes, and stair machines, plus there are miles of jogging trails surrounding the resort and the neighboring Disney properties and theme parks.
I got one of the best Swedish massages of my life (from a masseuse called "Joy"--and she truly lived up to her name) at the Dolphin Hotel's Mandara Spa. The atmosphere in the spa is one of complete tranquility. So, if you're frazzled from the frenetic pace of visiting the theme parks, take a break at the Spa and say, "Ahhhhh."
There's no need to leave the hotel complex if you're got a case of the munchies. Featuring 17 restaurants and lounges, the resort offers something for everyone, from the most passionate foodie to a guest seeking quick service before hitting the parks. (There's even a 24-hour cafeteria--Picabu.)
Down on the lower level, the Fountain serves up delicious sandwiches, custom-grilled burgers, salads, and delectable ice cream (both hand-dipped and soft-serve) treats. If you want fantastic service, ask for Blanca or Kate.
Over on the Swan side, Kimonos offers authentic Japanese sushi in an intimate atmosphere. Dark teakwood, colorful kimonos hanging on the walls, and karaoke are hallmarks of this gem. The servers are friendly (especially Myong K) and treat you like family. There are a number of gluten-free items on the menu. If you're not fond of sushi, the egg drop soup and shrimp tempura platter are both amazing.
No need to fret if you can't get reservations at a character breakfast inside the parks--Garden Grove (Swan) offers evening dinners and weekend breakfasts featuring beloved Disney characters.
If adults in the family want to get out for a good meal without the small fry, they can drop the young 'uns (ages 4-12) off at Camp Dolphin for fully-supervised programs, including arts and crafts, Disney movies, board and arcade games, and even dinner. (Cost is $10 per child, per hour.)
Besides restaurants inside the resort, there are also Disney shops, a candy store filled to the brim with retro sweets, and even an art gallery that features visiting artists.
A hotel is only as good as its staff--and members of the Dolphin's staff are fantastic, from the front desk employees at check-in to the guest services workers (a shout out to Renee) who answer the phone when guests have a question. Even the hotel engineers are friendly and helpful. You will feel like an honored guest throughout your stay. And that, in itself, is indeed magical.