The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels have long offered the best of both worlds. Visitors receive most of the benefits of staying on-Disney property, while being able to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for their stays. Members even receive upgrades and amenities (including free breakfast) based on status. During our last trip, we were upgraded to the Presidential Suite with my Lifetime Titanium Elite status.
Well, there was a pretty drastic change last week. The Swan and Dolphin officially stopped using Disney buses for transportation to the parks and instead switched to third-party Mears Motor Coaches. Disney Transportation allowed the buses to use the bus stops closest to the theme park entrances. Now, guests will no longer utilize the Disney Bus pick-up and drop-off locations, instead they’ll need to look for the further away pick-up areas for chartered buses. The biggest impact will be for guests visiting the Magic Kingdom. Chartered buses are required to drop off guests at the Ticket and Transportation Center where guests can take the monorail to the park entrance. With current COVID procedures, this is likely at least an additional 30 minutes each way when commuting to the park. No specific reason was given for the change, but speculation is that Marriott is looking to save cash during all-time low occupancy at the resorts. The resorts will sadly be laying off 1,136 employes on November 13th.
The resorts have one of the best locations on Disney property. They are walkable to both EPCOT and Hollywood Studios and are part of the Boardwalk neighborhood. If you didn’t want to walk, the resorts did offer free “Friendship” Ferry Boats to both parks, but those boats are not currently operating during the pandemic. The resorts are offering 3rd-party busing instead. Again, walking to these parks is very doable. A nice alternative to the chartered shuttle to the Magic Kingdom is to simply walk over to the Boardwalk and take a Disney operated bus from there.
For years via Starwood Preferred Guest, redemptions at these properties were a great value at just 10,000-12,500 SPG points per night…even at times when the hotel could be charging a daily rate up to $400 USD. Both properties are currently labeled Category 6 under Marriott Bonvoy – 50,000 Bonvoy points per night for a standard reward. Using the 1:3 SPG-Marriott conversion, that’s still only 16.6K points per night which can be a very favorable redemption during the holidays and other busy periods. If you take advantage of the 5th night free benefit, that’s just 40,000 points or 13.3K under the old SPG program.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card from Chase currently has a best-ever sign-up welcome offer of five free nights after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months – providing a great way to earn a free Disney vacation. This is Chase’s highest offer ever on their Boundless Bonvoy credit card. The card has an annual fee of $95, meaning that’s essentially all you are spending for 5 free nights at the Swan & Dolphin or anywhere else you want to spend the welcome points. The free nights come in the form of five 50K certificates, each redeemable for one night for any hotel redemption of 50,000 Bonvoy points or less. If you are considering applying,the five Free Nights Award offer expires on October 29, 2020.
Update – The Friendship Ferry Boats are set to return on November 1st.
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