I recently had the pleasure of trying out a new (for me) resort during a trip to Walt Disney World: The Swan. Last year I enjoyed a stay at The Dolphin and found it very accessible, so when researching our trip this time around, my husband and I decided we needed to try its sister hotel.
Easy Check In
We’re Marriott members and frequently stay at their properties when we travel, so I already had their app on my smartphone and could check in a couple of days in advance and give them an estimated arrival time. This meant, that the morning of arrival, when our plane landed, I received an alert that our room was already ready for us.
After our airport transportation dropped us at the entrance, we waited in a short line to pick up our keycards for the room. It was super fast and easy—within two hours of landing, we were changed into our swimsuits and heading down to the pool to find lunch.
We had booked an accessible room with a roll-in shower, which turned out to be both beautiful and comfortable. The room had a King-sized bed, which we prefer to the standard two Queens because it leaves more room for maneuvering my wheelchair.
There was a mini-fridge in the bureau under the television. A desk that was at good wheelchair height with a chair. Next to the bed was a comfortable armchair as well. Yet with all this, there was plenty of room for my wheelchair to roll.
But the best feature was the excellent luscious bed. I’d heard that the beds were super comfortable at the Swan Resort but didn’t anticipate how lovely they would be. They are plenty firm but have a cushion on top that is easy to lay on and really relaxing. I slept well every night, and it was hard to get up in the mornings!
The bathroom was spacious, and the shower was luxurious. There was a fold-down bench, and the controls were at the right height for being seated. But the best feature was the rain shower head, which felt so lovely to sit under! There was also a handheld wand that could be turned on with a switch.
The toiletries were nice, but I wish I hadn’t forgotten to bring my own shower gel as I find gripping soap difficult. However, it just meant I got to pick up some Disney shower gel at a store—so a little gift for myself. Unfortunately, the bathroom towels were really scratchy, so we ended up borrowing towels from the pool as they were much softer. Let’s just say, I didn’t expect thin scratchy towels at a Deluxe resort, so a little disappointing.
The only small complaint is that, like most other hotel roll-in showers, there was a problem with water going everywhere. In this case, the drain was good and had a nice flat metal plate (so no tripping hazard), but the shower curtain was either not long enough or placed incorrectly to keep the water in. Thankfully, placing a rolled-up towel just outside the shower kept the water at bay and was easy to clean up. As an aside, another plus was the bathroom floor was great—good traction and easy to dry. Another improvement would be a better vent in the bathroom as it would fog up easily.
Additional Room Perks
The room had a lovely balcony with a view of The Dolphin and the bridge heading to the Boardwalk Inn Resort. Unfortunately, it was not accessible as the threshold required stepping over a slide glass door casing, and the balcony was tiny. However, if you can transfer, it is a beautiful place to sit and take look at EPCOT in the distance. I made it work by pulling my wheelchair up close, putting my legs through to the balcony, and transferring to a chair on the deck, where I enjoyed the view.
Convenient amenities were just down the hall—the ice machine and a microwave. We didn’t have the chance but could have warmed up leftovers that we had kept from a delicious dinner at Il Mulino (a restaurant on the lobby level) in the microwave.
When we checked in, the person at the desk told us that housekeeping was limited and would only visit on request. However, we had service nearly every day. We wanted the trash emptied and fresh towels, so that was fine—just a little surprising after being told there would be none. If you have different preferences, perhaps it would be best to set those at check-in.
Around the Hotel
The ambiance and shopping at the hotel were lovely. Swan fountains graced the lobby, and thick carpets and comfortable furniture dotted the open areas. We tried out Il Mulino and had an incredible Italian dinner there. We also enjoyed the coffee shop every morning before heading off to the Parks. We briefly strolled through the Disney Planning Center and got some questions answered there by a knowledgeable Cast Member.
I liked the Lobby and general layout of The Swan better than the Dolphin as it was less sprawling and a bit easier to navigate. We only had to take one elevator to get to the pool, and it was just easier to find things. Of course, it probably helped that we were a little familiar with the property due to our previous stay.
Another aspect of The Swan I really enjoyed was that during our stay, it seemed generally quieter than The Dolphin, where I had been woken up in the night by people in the hallway. Although there were plenty of guests around, there was plenty of peace and quiet for our vacation.
While technically, The Swan has “only” one large and lovely pool, all of the pools at The Dolphin are easy to access with a short walk (or roll in my wheelchair). This is likely true of the neighboring Swan Reserve resort, but we didn’t try it. The Swan also has its own whirlpool. Both pools have lifts that can be used easily by guests.
The first time we used the lift, we had slight difficulty until we figured out that they left the water valve underneath the lift closed. Once we opened the valve, it remained open the entire trip, and from there, it was an easy matter of flipping the switch (after pulling the lock pin) to make the lift go down and up.
We took a swim every night, which was great for both unwinding after an active day and maintaining my strength.
The one major problem during our stay was transportation. While the bulk of the responsibility lies with Mears (the contractor that provides it), the hotel also is responsible for managing these services and ensuring they are meeting the promises made to guests.
When we stayed at The Dolphin, we had no transportation problems, and the service was provided by Mears. Some changes had been made since our last visit where the buses were changed from regular buses with a ramped entry (similar to the Disney resort buses) to coach buses. This may sound minor, but let me explain. The coach buses are the same as the airport transportation. It involves a complicated and time-consuming lift that comes out of the bus, is assembled, then loads only one wheelchair. Then the wheelchair must be tied down manually with four straps (not the simple and quick hooks of the regular bus). Additionally, some of the coach buses had no lift or accessibility at all.
Compared to the buses Disney uses for Park transportation that use ramps that have easy entry and tie down, the coach buses involve a time-consuming loading process. This is clunky for airport transportation but doable for a longer journey of 40 minutes or so. However, for short trips to the Park, it doubles (or more) the bus time just for the loading process. This lengthy loading time is a hindrance not only to myself but also to all the other guests eager to get to the Parks. It also makes the bus driver’s job harder because they are trying to load a wheelchair (via a complex process) while people continue to board the bus and block the aisle while he is trying to go back and forth to set things up, get me boarded, then tie down the wheelchair.
While we only needed buses for two Parks (Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom), both days were a challenge. For EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, we just walked (or, in my case, rolled) and returned on the Friendship Boats.
On the first bus trip, we arrived about 10 minutes before the first scheduled bus to Animal Kingdom. We were concerned when the bus that arrived was a coach and asked the driver as he loaded me if all the buses were like this. He thought all the AK ones were, but that Magic Kingdom would have the ramped buses. Although it took a long time to load, we still arrived in plenty of time for the Early Magic half hour available to us as guests at The Swan.
Magic Kingdom was a different story. Again, we arrived at the bus stop early to catch the first bus, but it turned into a time-consuming debacle where we missed all the Early Magic time and then some. The first bus that came was an inaccessible coach. The driver barely apologized and said to wait—what else were we to do? The second bus that arrived about 20 minutes later was also a coach, but at least it had a lift. It was already mostly full due to having picked up at The Dolphin already. It took 20 minutes to load me, and the bus continued to fill up so that even the aisle space was gone, and the driver had difficulty getting back to secure my wheelchair. The bus then took us to the Swan Reserve before Ticket and Transportation, where I had a lengthy wait in security (because of all the outside guests now arriving) before we could then take the ferry to the Park. It really exploded our morning plans and gave our day a terrible start as we purposefully like the early morning time when the Parks are cooler and less crowded. All in all, it was about a two-hour journey or a little less than the flight back home. It felt excruciatingly ridiculous.
That evening I was too exhausted, but my husband went down and spoke to the resort manager. He apologized but seemed to shift responsibility onto Mears. While that is true, the resort also needs to be holding its contractor accountable for accessibility problems. When we returned home, I wrote to Marriott to complain, and the same manager wrote back and said they were going to work with Mears on improving accessibility. I also wrote to Mears but didn’t hear anything back until I followed up a month later.
On a long phone call with my husband, the Mears representative explained the company’s plan to transition all of the resort Park transportation they provide to The Swan and Dolphin resorts to coach buses. We explained why this is problematic, and I followed up with a detailed email, but I don’t expect anything to change. I also followed up with Marriott to share these plans and ask for them to intervene in the contract to make accessibility improvements. As of this writing, I have not received a response.
As I told Marriott, problems with transportation accessibility could be a deal breaker for a return stay. We have booked again for The Dolphin later this year, but I think we should cancel. If I can’t get to the Parks in a timely manner in my wheelchair from their resorts, then what is the point in staying there? I could stay at any other Disney resort and not have these kinds of amateur transportation problems. While I very much enjoy the resorts themselves, if I can’t get to the Parks, then I’m not going to return.
To be frank, I consider this kind of transportation to be discriminatory not only because the lift buses are difficult to board, time-consuming, and break down more often (in my abundant personal experience with them), but also because they are running completely inaccessible buses. This means an extra wait for transportation for guests using wheelchairs (or more than one wheelchair since the coaches can’t fit as many) and results in inequitable transportation. Why I should have to wait longer for transportation just because I use a wheelchair doesn’t sit right with me, especially when I’m paying the same amount as everyone else for my stay.
While I hate to say it, this review is a real mixed bag. I really enjoyed the entire experience and accessibility of staying at The Swan, except for a huge deal breaker that I am not at all confident they will address. If I can’t get to the Parks without huge stress and long waits for transportation—not to mention equal access—I’m not going to return.
For wheelchair users, transportation is key to a Disney visit. WDW gets this with their completely accessible bus fleet, Skyliner, Monorail, and boats. Everything is seamlessly accessible for getting places in a wheelchair within Disney. But there are gaps, and a major one is the contract transportation provided by Mears for The Swan and Dolphin (and now Swan Reserve) resorts. Coach buses are not accessible enough (even those with lifts) nor efficient for guests in wheelchairs. And complaints should be taken seriously and acted upon swiftly if they want to restore confidence in accessibility.
Thankfully, guests with wheelchairs and other mobility devices have many resort options, and we can choose to take our valuable business elsewhere.