When most of the general public thinks about Walt Disney World they probably envision the Magic Kingdom area, with the monorail whisking guests from their resorts to the park, but veterans know that Crescent Lake, which is home to the Epcot resorts, is an incredible destination as well. The views are universally wonderful and all of the hotels in this area provide easy access to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but they all have their own unique qualities that might lead you to select one over another. Read on to find the best Epcot resort for your next trip!
Let’s start with some basics: the Epcot resorts include Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Dolphin at Walt Disney World, and Swan at Walt Disney World. The chart below provides an overview of some of the nuts and bolts of these resorts. Note that while the Yacht & Beach Clubs are technically two separate hotels, they share amenities with one another, are physically connected to each other, and are functionally the same resort for many purposes. Even the themes are similar — the Yacht Club is more nautical and the Beach Club is more, well, beach-y, but walking around them, you’d be forgiven for not appreciating that they are technically different hotels — indeed, they are designed to seamlessly blend together. While they are not physically connected, the same is true of the Swan & Dolphin resorts, so much so that they are commonly referred to collectively as the Swolphin.
Accordingly, for the purposes of comparing amenities, we’re going to treat each of those sister properties like they are one resort. There’s no point in pretending that the Beach Club doesn’t have a fitness center, for example, when you have access to one that is intended for both resorts to use but that happens to be 10 yards on the opposite side of an arbitrary line dividing the two resorts. To the extent that there are differences between the experience of staying at one resort compared to the other, however, they will be be discussed below.
|Yacht & Beach Club||Swan & Dolphin||Boardwalk|
|Theme||Late 1800s New England||Modern||Early 1900s Boardwalk|
|Rating||✮✮✮✮ (of 5)||✮✮✮✮ (of 5)||✮✮✮✮ (of 5)|
|Room Score||89/90 of 100||90/90 of 100||89 of 100|
|Spa||Yes @ Yacht||Yes @ Dolphin||No|
|Fitness Center||Yes @ Yacht||Yes @ Dolphin||Yes|
|Arcade||Yes @ Yacht||Yes @ Dolphin||Yes|
|Pets||Yes @ Yacht||No||No|
|DVC Villas||Yes @ Beach||No||Yes|
By far one of the primary benefits of all of the Epcot resorts is that two theme parks are close enough to walk. While all of the Crescent Lake resorts provide easy access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, some are slightly closer than others. Here’s a chart that shows the distance from the lobby of each of the resorts to the turnstiles at Epcot and the Studios.
|Distance to Epcot’s Int’l Gateway||Distance to Hollywood Studios|
|Yacht Club||.4 miles||1.06 miles|
|Beach Club||.34 miles||1.22 miles|
|Swan||.61 miles||.91 miles|
|Dolphin||.69 miles||.99 miles|
|Boardwalk||.38 miles||.75 miles|
Again, these are from the lobby of these resorts. These are large properties, and depending upon what room you get, you could be quite a bit closer or further away from something, but it should still give you a decent sense of where things are with respect to each other.
For those at the Swolphin, I have long wondered whether it was faster to walk along the Boardwalk or in front of Yacht and Beach Club to get to Epcot and by virtue of researching this article, I now know that it is faster to take the Boardwalk route, but just barely — about .03 miles less walking. With that said, if you are staying at the Dolphin and happen to staying on the east side of the resort and can exit the resort on the path that puts you close to the Yacht Club, it will be a little faster to simply continue in front of the Yacht Club.
One other transportation tip: in addition to walking from place to place, there are Friendship Boats that travel between the parks and all the resorts. Starting at Epcot’s International Gateway, the water shuttle will take you to Boardwalk, then Yacht & Beach Club, then Swolphin, then Hollywood Studios. The boat docks for Boardwalk and Swolphin are very close to one another, however — slightly over a quarter of a mile — so if you don’t mind walking a little bit, you can shave some time off of your ride by getting off early and walking. This is particularly useful when returning from Hollywood Studios to Boardwalk; the walk from the Swolphin back to Boardwalk is going to be much faster than waiting for the boat to reload at Swolphin, travel to and load and unload at the Yacht & Beach Club, and then travel to and unload at the Boardwalk.
Note that the Epcot resorts allow you to walk or boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, but you’ll be relying upon Disney’s bus service for free transportation to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Generally speaking, the Swolphin resorts share a bus, the Yacht & Beach Club share a bus, and the Boardwalk has its own bus, but this can change depending upon need.
Here’s the good news: all three of these resort complexes are highly rated. Here’s how they rank according to our staff and readers:
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Dolphin at Walt Disney World
- Swan at Walt Disney World
We’re really splitting hairs here, though — all five resorts get a four-star ranking collectively, and the rooms all scored either 90 or 89 out of a hundred. It’s not like there are mammoth differences in the quality of the experience you can expect. With that being the case, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them, and your decision is probably going to be driven by personal preference as much as anything.
Moreover, they are all physically close enough to each other that you can take advantage of many of the benefits of these resorts regardless of which one you choose to stay at (though, notably, not the pools — those are for guests of that particular resort only). For example, if you’re staying at Boardwalk but want to do a spa treatment, it’s very easy to book an appointment at Yacht Club or Dolphin and walk or boat over. If you’re staying at the Swan but want to rent a surrey bike or play some midway games, just walk over to Boardwalk and do it.
That said, there are a few reasons to consider one over another:
Yacht & Beach Clubs — Stormalong Bay
For many kids visiting Disney (and even some adults), the time spent hanging out at the pool is as important as anything they do at the parks. If pool time is the main attraction, the Yacht & Beach Clubs are going to hold a lot of appeal for you. It is generally recognized that the main pool complex shared by these resorts, known as Stormalong Bay, is the best pool on Disney property, and it is a huge part of the draw. It features a lazy river, a large pirate ship slide, a zero-entry pool with a sand bottom, grotto whirlpools, and a fantastic design.
Does it matter which resort you pick? Personally, the experience is similar enough for me at the two properties that I tend to favor whichever one happens to be cheaper. In my personal experience, that tends to be the Yacht Club, but it obviously depends upon availability when you’re looking to go. In a vacuum, however, I tend to gravitate to the Beach Club, because I like that it’s a bit closer to Epcot. Ultimately, however, I don’t find there to be a big enough difference to strongly recommend one over the other — they are both among the best resorts on Disney property.
One other notable difference: the Yacht Club is dog friendly, the Beach Club is not, so if you’re bringing your dog, it’s going to have to be the Yacht Club (and you’re going to need to pay the extra $50/night pet cleaning fee). As a matter of fact, the Yacht Club is the only one of the Epcot resorts that permits pets.
- TouringPlansTV: Yacht & Beach Clubs
- SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We LOVE Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts
Boardwalk Inn — Great Entertainment
More than any other Crescent Lake resort, the Boardwalk Inn has an energy that really takes off at night. There are midway-style carnival games, street performers, surrey bikes (which is sort of like a little four-person buggy that you power by pedaling), and more to make the area feel very lively.
There are several restaurants lining your walk down the wooden boardwalk that gives the resort its name. This includes everything from fine dining at Flying Fish Cafe, to some of the better Italian at Trattoria al Forno, to ESPN Club to catch the game, to even more casual options like Big River Grille and Brewing Works. Quick-service options, including the Boardwalk Bakery provide options for a quick bite on the go, and Ample Hills Creamery provides a sweet splurge.
The Boardwalk area also provides the best nightlife of the area resorts — in addition to craft cocktails at AbracadaBAR, you can find dueling piano fun at Jellyrolls, and get your dance on at the Atlantic Dance Hall. If you’re looking to be out and about after hours, your best options in the area are at Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk also provides the best location from the standpoint of getting to the parks. While the Beach Club is marginally closer to Epcot, the difference is negligible, but it is MUCH closer to the Studios. For more on the Boardwalk, check out these videos:
- TouringPlansTV: Boardwalk Inn Resort Part One
- TouringPlansTV: Boardwalk Inn Resort Dining and Amenities
For the Beach Club and Boardwalk, you have the option of staying in DVC rooms, from a suite all the way up to a two-bedroom unit at both resorts or a three-bedroom grand villa at Boardwalk. These rooms can be booked by DVC members using points or by paying cash, but a more budget-friendly option is to rent DVC points. We recommend David’s Vacation Club Rentals. (Disclaimer: When you use this link to book a DVC rental, TouringPlans gets a percentage of the sale.)
Swan & Dolphin Resorts — Great Value
By any objective standard, considering the amenities and the level of finish, the Swolphin is a very nice resort. The modern decor and the lack of “Disney-fication” at the resort is a popular source of debate, with can be either a positive or negative thing depending upon one’s perspective, but it is beyond serious dispute that the Swolphin delivers deluxe-level amenities, accommodations, and location for less — occasionally FAR less — than other Deluxe properties.
By way of example, I checked for the room rates for a random long weekend in the latter part of the summer (August 10-13), a time that’s not traditionally too terribly busy. All prices noted below exclude tax, but DO include the $32 resort fee that is charged per night at the Swolphin. I’ve included both the standard room rate for the night, and the best nightly rate for that evening considering all promotions available to the general public. Here’s what I found for the Epcot Resorts:
So here’s the deal, would I prefer to stay at the Boardwalk over the Dolphin? For me, probably so. Is it worth $139/night more? That’s a tougher call. I can stay at a resort in the same area, at a Deluxe level resort, and I have access to virtually all of the same amenities as if I stayed at Boardwalk. For over $400 savings over the course of the long weekend, it’s not a bad trade off.
It’s not just about the cost, however. Stormalong Bay may be the best pool complex on property, but the pool at the Swolphin is top notch — we rate the pool there ahead of every single pool on the monorail loop, most deluxe hotel pools, every value pool, and every pool at a moderate resort with the exception of the surprisingly good and underrated pools at the French Quarter resorts. It has a great slide, a grotto with a large waterfall, several different pools for young and old and drink servers that are a lot more forgiving about you sitting on the side of the pool with your drink than the servers at Disney hotels. It also has several exceptional restaurants, such as Todd English’s bluezoo and sushi at Kimonos.
Which resort should you choose? Technically, the Swan is a higher tier of hotel (it is considered a Westin, whereas the Dolphin is considered a Sheraton), but I personally prefer the Dolphin. The primary reason is that while they share amenities, most of the stuff that will matter to the average guest is on the Dolphin side of the property. The pool, the fitness center, the two best options to quickly grab food (the Swan doesn’t really have a real quick service option), all of that is at the Dolphin. The lobby there is recently renovated, much larger and more “grand” than that at the Swan, and features a great bar and live music in the evenings. With that said, the Swan is quite nice and has the benefit of being a lot more compact than the Dolphin, so my practice, not unlike when I’m trying to decide between the Yacht & Beach Club, is simply to go with whichever one is cheaper. Worth mentioning, while both resorts offer King beds, when you are getting a room with two beds, the Swan uses Queen beds as opposed to the Dolphin, which uses Double Beds.
It should be noted, the Swolphin is not a Disney-owned resort and there are a couple of unique aspects to staying there that you might care about. Most notably, you do not get MagicBands, and do not have the ability to charge things around Walt Disney World property back to your room the same way you could if you were staying at a Disney resort. Also, Disney’s Magical Express does not provide transportation to and from the Swolphin, so if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to cover your transportation to and from the resort. Finally, there is a resort charge of $32 per night that is charged to your room, even if you’re staying there on points; as noted above, it can still be significantly cheaper to stay there even including that charge, but make sure you’re accounting for it when budgeting your trip. Read more here for more on why you might or might not want to stay at the Swolphin.
So, when you are visiting Crescent Lake, which Epcot resort do you prefer? Any favorites or tips? Let us know in the comments!