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The new Aloft Gainesville University Area is located in close proximity to the University of Florida’s campus in Gainesville, Florida. Built in 2018, the hotel is part of Marriott’s Aloft brand, intended to appeal to millennials. The hotels wide-open spaces and hard floors provide many benefits to wheelchair users and travelers with disabilities. But the real reason this hotel stands out is its location: just steps from some of Florida’s best museums and the UF campus.

Reservation & Room Rates

Room reservations for the Aloft Gainesville University Area hotel can be made online using the Marriott Hotels website. ADA accessible rooms are available in rooms with one or two beds — I opted for the king-size bed.

Sample room rates at the Aloft Gainesville hotel.
Screenshot of sample room rates at the Aloft Gainesville hotel.

The Aloft Gainesville hotel caters to many different types of travelers — from business travelers to college students and their families — and room rates are incredibly variable. The screenshot above shows sample room rates for a single-night stay during the month of September, 2019. They range from $114 to $345 per night, with one weekend already sold out due to the college football season. In some months, rooms are available for less than $100 per night. Prices may be higher or lower depending on the day of the week, month, level of demand and events at the university. If your travel dates are flexible, it should be easier to find lower than average rates.

Wheelchair Accessible Hotel Room

Check-in took only a few moments, and I was off to my guest room, which had a king size bed and roll-in shower.

King size bed at the Aloft Gainesville University Area hotel.
King size bed at the Aloft Gainesville University Area hotel.

The platform bed was comfortable and accessible on all sides and the mattress was 24 inches high. The platform bed’s solid base would not accommodate most patient lifts, but a clear space of approximately 10 inches height extended 6 inches from the outer edge.

Power outlets and lighting controls were place alongside the bed, and it was using these outlets that I charged my power wheelchair. Electricity in the United States is delivered at 120 volts. Travelers from outside North America may need to use a step-up power transformer to charge wheelchairs that require 220-240V. Please see the FAQ on charging a power wheelchair abroad.

Shelving built-in to the wall contained a coffee maker, complimentary bottlers of water and a safe, and was accessed via a sliding door. When sliding the door I the picture above, the other side housed a closet-like space with a lowered clothes hanging rod, portable ironing board and more.

The room also featured an accessible work desk, with a wheeled desk chair that was easy to pull out of the way. Power outlets were easily accessible in this space.

Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom

Since the hotel is brand-new, I had hoped to find an ADA compliant bathroom, but it was not to be. The accessibility may be acceptable to some and challenging for others, and the photos and descriptions provided here should help you make that determination.

Roll-in shower at Aloft Hotel in Gainesville, FL.
Roll-in shower at Aloft Hotel in Gainesville, FL.

The roll-in shower featured all if the elements required by the ADA — level entry, a wall-mounted shower seat, a handheld shower spray unit and grab bars. Unfortunately, the shower head and water controls were mounted far away from the shower seat and out of reach of most guests (myself included).

What was with reach, and which is most often not in Aloft Hotels, was the soap/shampoo dispensers, mounted on the wall where the shower head should have been attached. Check out my article on the accessibility of wall-mounted soap dispensers to see what this means for guests in other hotels.

To overcome this barrier, I wrapped the shower head around the grab bar before transferring onto the shower bench. Because it was affixed so far away, the reach of the hose was reduced. I had to be sure to to drop it, as I might to have been able to reach it on the shower floor. The ADA standards for accessible design were created to foster independence wherever possible. When the standards are not observed, life becomes a little (or a lot) more difficult for people with disabilities who require accessibility.

The sink was accessible, but I had to call to have a staff member remove the mini-refrigerator from underneath the sink. It’s an extra step, and I wish the hotel was placed in another location.

Also accessible was the bathroom toilet, which had plenty of space for a wheelchair to park directly alongside and grab bars to support individuals transferring from their wheelchairs.

Handicap accessible bathtub at Aloft Hotel in Gainesville, FL.
Handicap accessible bathtub at Aloft Hotel in Gainesville, FL.

I also had the opportunity to see an accessible room with a bathtub and was surprised to find a built-in seat (required by the ADA). Unfortunately, the parallel grab bar on the rear wall was missing and there was no grab bar on the side wall, as required. The soap/shampoo dispenser was also installed in a location difficult to reach while seated on the provided bench.

With a little more thought (and greater attention to ADA regulations), this hotel could have been a real winner. Depending on your accessibility needs and preferences, the hotel may still be a great choice.

Public Spaces, Restaurant & Bar

In the evenings, guests can wind-down and socialize on the Aloft Hotels lobby level — by taking a dip in the pool (it’s accessible with a lift), grabbing a bite to eat, or having a drink at the bar.

The space is wide-open and accessible, with plenty of places to sit and relax, and even a pool table. One thing I noticed that disappointed me, and is unfortunately all too common in the U.S., is that the lowered bar space meant to accommodate wheelchair users was actually used to store the cash register. Needless to say, I didn’t stay for a drink at the bar.

Location & Transportation

The Aloft Hotel is located on Hull Road, close to the University of Florida and a number of public transportation options. A city bus stop served by route number 33 is located just outside the hotel, while other stops served by additional route are located within a quarter-mile.

Attractions located within walking distance of the hotel include the Harn Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Curtis M. Philips Center for the Performing Arts, and the sports stadiums that are home to Gator soccer, softball and lacrosse.

Final Thoughts

Although there are a few issues with bathroom accessibility, the hotel’s location can’t be beat. For that reason, I will consider a repeat stay at the Aloft Gainesville the next time I am visiting Gainesville, Florida. Would this hotel work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured image courtesy Marriott Hotels.

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