The Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

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On this trip, in Orlando we stayed at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel for the first time. This was easily the best hotel experience we've had at Walt Disney World (WDW). The other Disney hotels are crap, as far as I'm concerned. We've even stayed before at the Grand Floridian, supposedly the best hotel in WDW, but aside from the public areas, it's just a glorified Motel 6 with crappy sheets, dirty rooms, and nothing to offer.

However, the key is that the Swan is not managed by Disney; it's a Westin and managed mostly independently (apparently, employees need to abide by Disney personal appearance rules (e.g. no facial hair, no piercings, etc.) but not much else. As a result, it meets the higher standard you can expect from Westin, including the Heavenly Beds with feather pillows (big, big difference from most hotel beds).

The restaurants were also mostly great. In particular, we loved Pallio, their Italian place. Michelle had an insane pasta dish (the name of which escapes me) with little wonton-like pouches filled with farm cheese and black truffles in a rich wine sauce, and my grouper was amazing. More important, their bartender, Chris, is easily the best bartender I've ever encountered. The martinis and Manhattans I had were perfectly balanced and chilled with just the right amount of ice chips floating across the top.

Across the river at the Dolphin, Todd English's bluezoo was also very good, although frankly the hype was so high that it was almost impossible to meet expectations. (Do try the clam chowder and the clam flatbread though. Both were great.)

One note: avoid the restaurant Fresh at the Dolphin. The food wasn't "made-to-order" as advertised. It was just an expensive buffet.

In any case, I have no reservation recommending the Swan if you're visiting WDW. It's a solid hotel, and it's on the Disney transportation system, which is a huge convenience. I don't think you can beat the combination.

(Note, if you're visiting Universal Studios, I'd recommend the Portofino Bay Hotel. It was quite nice and had cool suites for families with kids. I've also heard the Hard Rock is good, and it's even closer to the park.

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