The Swan, part of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, is where I stayed for three nights during the digitalNow conference in May. The hotel, is surrounded by water, and my room — newly furnished and decorated as part of a $125-million renovation — was a peaceful study in blue, gray, and sandy neutrals, set off by crisp white. The resort is situated in the center of Walt Disney World, but feels more like it’s on an island. Visitors can travel from the Swan by boat, splash in its lagoon-like swimming pools and waterfalls, or visit its tranquil Mandara Spa, also newly renovated.
The only hotel property within the park that that isn’t operated by Disney, the resort has 2,200 guest rooms and 330,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, and tends to have a high business-traveler-to-kid ratio. That might be what fuels the ambition of its food-and-beverage team, which includes Laurent Branlard (the only two-time World Pastry Team Championship winner) and
70 sommeliers, and focuses on organic and locally grown ingredients.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the quality of the food was one of the hottest topics at digitalNow. Conference breakfasts and lunch menus were imaginative and diverse, ranging from Southern barbecue to Asian noodles. Breakfast on Friday included — along with more traditional oatmeal, eggs, and bacon — toasted croque-monsieur and croque-madame sandwiches, carved turkey breast with sweet-potato puree, and butter-poached Maine lobster with polenta and wild mushrooms.
“The fact that we were eating lobster for breakfast could be a great selling point to the next group,” said digitalNow keynoter David Bell, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Maybe we make a fun little video of a bunch of us sitting around a table having espresso and lobster, and that becomes part of the living record of this event.”