Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Accessibility Review


View of the Swan Resort and boat dock from the Dolphin Resort

*DIS Contributors review meals, resort stays, and entertainment that they have paid for during their own vacations. They only utilize discounts and offers if they are available to the general public, such as annual passholder discounts, Tables in Wonderland, or DVC membership discounts. They receive no additional compensation for dining experiences or events, so that they may give their honest opinions about price and value.

In all of our visits to Walt Disney World, my husband and I have always stayed onsite. We love the theming, the various restaurants, the beautiful pools, the convenient access to the parks (before the pandemic we always took advantage of the morning Extra Magic Hours), and of course the accessibility for my wheelchair

After getting our COVID-19 vaccinations, we decided to make an extra trip and try out the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort for the first time. We had heard and read good things about it, including that it offers many of the perks of being on site, despite not being a fully Disney-operated resort. We had a great stay and I’m pleased to share that, overall, we found it very accessible and would stay there again on future trips.

Author at the WDW Dolphin Resort
Author Kelly Mack enjoying the fountain at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in her motorized wheelchair.

Arrival

The accessible taxicab we procured at the airport pulled us into a covered driveway at the resort. The entrance area was large and beautiful with a gorgeous fountain feature. We then entered a spacious lobby featuring another fountain with a chandelier hanging down over the splashing water. Couches placed around the circular room on a thick carpet invited a rest after our exhausting journey, but we turned left and waited in a short line to check in.

Since I’m a Marriott rewards member, I already completed a pre-check in on the app the day before. I made special requests (extra towels) and early check in (got our time of arrival almost exactly!) on the app, so all we needed to do was pick up the keys. As a matter of habit, I always double check that an accessible room with a roll-in shower has been assigned (too many times I get to the room and it’s not right, then I have to go back down and request a change). 

We dropped our bags, then went back down to find the restaurant at the pool to get some lunch. Afterwards, our next mission was to find distilled water for my CPAP machine that I use while sleeping. In all other Marriott properties I have stayed at, I’ve always found it available for purchase either at the sundries shop or the front desk. We went to every shop (and there are a few!) and even to the Swan Resort with no luck. Strangely, when we inquired at the Dolphin front desk, they gave us a card for ordering delivery from a medical supply shop.

As frequent Disney visitors, we guessed that the nearby Boardwalk Inn Resort would have distilled water in their shop. A friendly Disney store employee at the Swan Resort also confirmed this. We just happened to have dinner reservations at a Boardwalk Inn Resort restaurant, so we purchased the distilled water at their store after enjoying a delicious meal.

Room

The room was very comfortable and not dissimilar from other Marriott rooms I’ve stayed in. There was space for my wheelchair to roll, but it felt more cramped rolling by the beds than other Disney resorts we’ve stayed at. Strangely, according to the website, the Dolphin room square footage is larger, so perhaps it is the layout that provides wasted space around the door that makes the rest of the room feel more crowded.

Dolphin resort wheelchair accessible room
Dolphin resort wheelchair accessible room

The bathroom was nice and spacious with a well-designed roll-in shower. One aspect I really liked was the solid fold-down bench (instead of the fabric sling benches being put in at some Disney resorts, which I feel are unstable and uncomfortable). The shower head was also really nice, along with the thick and fluffy towels. One negative, which is not uncommon for many accessible bathrooms, was the lack of accessible hooks for hanging towels and shelving. It’s really strange that standard features like these are often stripped out of accessible rooms and we’ve never been able to figure out why.

Accessible bathroom with roll-up sink and transfer shower
Accessible bathroom with roll-up sink and transfer shower

A beautiful and unexpected feature of the room was a balcony overlooking the waterway between the Dolphin and the Swan Resorts, including a view of the Friendship ferry dock (see the top photo). We enjoyed some nice time relaxing there, including breakfast sandwiches from the coffee bar one morning. The downside was that it was not wheelchair accessible. I pulled my wheelchair up to the door and transferred (with assistance from my husband) to one of their chairs.

Another downside was that the room door was a bit difficult to operate. I’m not sure if it was just our door, but it was heavy and the handle was harder to turn and release from the lock.

Perhaps the best thing about the room was the luxurious, super-comfortable bed. It is a bit tall for transferring from a wheelchair (which is a trend I am not a huge fan of), but the layers of bedding were soft and cloud-like. I slept so well! While Disney resort beds are fine, the comfort of the Dolphin bed was next-level and really nice on my achy bones after an active day spent in the parks.

Pools

One of the terrific features of the combined Swan and Dolphin resorts are the many gorgeous pools. A series of pools arc around the lake between the two resorts. The pool on the Swan side is quieter (at least what we were told and what we saw when we visited). 

The largest pool is a huge meandering pool with a seating area in a grotto under an impressive waterfall. It was astounding!

Grotto pool at the Dolphin Resort
Grotto pool at the Dolphin Resort

Additionally, there was a large circular pool that was quieter and became our preferred spot for me to visit and do some of my aquatic exercises. Then next to the Dolphin was a more standard rectangular pool. Throughout the pool areas, whirlpools dotted the landscape and plenty of chaise lounge seating surrounded all of the pools. 

We’re used to the minimum standard at hotels where each pool has one lift for accessibility. At the Dolphin, this standard was met, and additionally, the grotto had an extra lift—one at each end. It was easy for us to try out different pools for my exercises.

All of the lifts were the water-powered type and very easy to use. At the bottom was a valve that needed to be turned on to have the water flowing, which provides the power for the lift to move up and down. At the top by the seat was a handle to turn for moving the lift up and down after removing the pin that secures the lift in place at the top. 

Circular pool with water-powered pool lift
Circular pool with water-powered pool lift

We made time for swims just about every day and found the pools to be a great way for relaxing or getting a little stretch in before bed time. Another nice detail was that the pool towels were soft and thick—no thin, scratchy towels here!

Dining

Since we are Disney restaurant fans, I admit that we didn’t eat many meals at the resort. When we arrived, we had a great poolside lunch at the Cabana Cafe. We also enjoyed some nice drinks there—the mango daiquiris and mojitos were delectable! 

We returned to the Cabana the night before departure and had another nice meal there. The menu wasn’t huge, but the burgers, tacos, and salads were delicious and (relatively) nutritious. 

As my husband has an ice cream quota to fill on our Disney trips (as many scoops as he can eat!), we visited the little shop that served fresh scoops in the back of the building next to what looked like a fun diner-type restaurant. The ice cream was excellent and we would definitely go back!

The Dolphin has several restaurants, and some of them fine dining. On a return trip we’d like to visit more of the restaurants to try out their offerings.

Transportation

One of the reasons we wanted to try out the Dolphin Resort was the proximity to two of the WDW parks. Both Epcot and Hollywood Studios are in walking (or in my case, rolling) distance. Additionally, accessible Friendship Boats travel from a dock station off the bridge in between the Dolphin and Swan Resorts to both of those parks, along with the Yacht Club and Boardwalk Inn Resorts. We ended up stopping at those two resorts to check them out and pick items up at their well-stocked sundries shops.

However, the accessibility of transportation to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom was a bit trickier. We’re early-morning people, so on the days we visited those parks, we asked about the timing and took the first buses of the day. That meant arriving about a half hour before bus departure time to wait. Even then, people were there waiting before us and we were glad we had come early in order to get a seat. 

The buses had accessible ramps and pull up seating areas for wheelchairs that were very similar to Disney bus transportation. However, they are operated by Mears on contract for the resort. 

There were a couple challenges. First, it seemed that not all of the buses lowered. This is the function where the bus deflates to lean to the side and makes the ramp less steep to climb during boarding. Second, even when the bus could lower, the ramp was very steep and difficult to climb. I had to have my husband push me from behind while boarding and spot me when coming down because it was so steep. Usually I exit forward facing, but with these buses I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t tip out of my wheelchair, so had to carefully deboard backwards.

Mears-operated shuttle to WDW parks with ramp down for wheelchair boarding
Mears-operated shuttle to WDW parks with ramp down for wheelchair boarding

Finally, while the Animal Kingdom bus dropped you at the parking lot of the park, it was in the middle of nowhere and further than the Disney resorts bus area. For Magic Kingdom, the bus drops at Ticket and Transportation so visitors then have to take either the ferry or the monorail the rest of the way. While both are fully accessible, it adds another step and time to your trip.

Another note on transportation: the Mears shuttle from the airport to the resort was not running at the time of our trip due to pandemic restrictions. Since Magical Express is only available to official WDW resorts, our remaining accessible transportation option was a Mears accessible cab. We had mixed results with the trip to the resort going very smoothly and the return trip back to the airport not going well and putting us in danger of missing our flight. With the ride share apps not offering many (if any) accessible rides, and the scarcity and extreme expense of renting a wheelchair accessible vehicle, transportation from the airport to the resort  and back can be stressful and hard to find.

Overall Experience

We had a great time at the Dolphin Resort and bonus visit to Walt Disney World! But we also had a few nit picks about our resort experience. For example, the building was awkwardly laid out and and confusing to navigate from the perspective of a wheelchair. There weren’t clear accessible routes and signage for how to get to places. We got lost getting to the pool and took longer paths than necessary. From our room location, we had to take two different elevators in two different towers to get to the right level, and the pool area was far. Once we got the handle of the layout, navigating became easier but still took a bit of time.

Night view of the beautiful Swan and Dolphin Resorts
Night view of the beautiful Swan and Dolphin resorts

Like a lot of hotels, we also had problems with the WiFi. Because my husband had to work in short spurts, this was very frustrating. He needed to get on quickly and get to work, but I had to spend time with a not-very-helpful tech support person who didn’t know where we were even staying. It worked out, but it was a lot harder than it needed to be.

Lastly, we missed the Disney theming of WDW resorts. While we’re Marriott members and enjoy staying at their properties around the world, we go to Disney for Disney. So that is an aspect we noticed. However, it was a lovely hotel, and so really that is not a complaint, just something to note.

Our stay at the Dolphin Resort was wonderful and we achieved the fun and relaxation we were looking for after a long pandemic year. We especially appreciated the great staff at the hotel as they were working really hard and delivering excellent service. We’d definitely return to the Dolphin in the future and consider it an accessibility success for our needs.


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