Nearly 300 gondolas joined the transport fleet at the world’s most visited resort this morning, commencing an exciting new era for the U.S. ropeway scene. The milestone comes more than two years since construction began and almost 50 years from when a simpler VonRoll gondola system first opened at Walt Disney World Resort.
Crews fired up all three Skyliner lines pre-dawn, giving guests their first opportunities to skip bus rides and explore multiple parks in one day. Connecting Epcot and Hollywood Studios with four resort hotels, the system is sure to become among the most-ridden gondolas in the world.
This is the second D-Line detachable system from Doppelmayr to open in the Americas following Big Sky Resort’s Ramcharger 8 launch last December. Although the Austrian builder maintains a strong presence as maintenance contractor for the Skyliner, you won’t find the Doppelmayr name and logo prominently displayed here.
The cabins are highly customized CWA Omega IV models seating up to ten passengers. About half of them feature wraps with characters from Disney, Pixar and Marvel movie franchises.
As most of you know, there are three haul ropes which converge at a sprawling hub nicknamed Trinidad, which has its own coffee shop, restrooms and cabin parking facilities. Although modeled after a Caribbean market, the inside feels like a grand rail station with three platforms.
The Epcot line (also known as TIG for Trinidad-International Gateway) is remarkable in scale and complexity with two sharp angle stations, 26 towers and a dozen different loading/unloading zones. One mid-station rises above Buena Vista Drive for turning only while the other services a Disney Vacation Club property set to open in December called Riviera. Even though doors stay closed at one of the mid-stations, this line really showcases the technical challenges Doppelmayr overcame to meet Disney’s high standards.
A second line services Hollywood Studios and includes some of the tallest towers in the system, giving riders views over trees to the other two lines. A friendly female voice chimes in with facts and park tips at select points along the flight.
Also spectacular is the Hourglass Lake line, officially known as TPD for Trinidad-Pop/DAAR (Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.) This ride has a mellow feel as it passes over water and currently undeveloped land.
With the Skyliner, CWA, Doppelmayr and Disney have tackled two of the most difficult challenges facing urban gondolas: maintaining comfortable temperatures in tropical climates and serving passengers with a variety of special needs. The first solution is relatively simple: reflective glazing and numerous windows that open. Each cabin has an emergency kit stocked with glow sticks, ice packs and water in case of an extended delay. When cabins stop for more than a moment, announcements remind passengers to remain calm and seated.
The double loading is a technological marvel with around every 15th cabin diverting at select stations. Passengers in wheelchairs and scooters enjoy more than 90 seconds to board at a complete stop while the primary loading areas and haul rope keep on trucking. Operators see a countdown clock and cabins are precisely timed to merge back into gaps and keep everyone moving. With cabins arriving every 10 seconds, capacity is approximately 3,600 passengers per hour and direction on each line.
No detail seems to have gone unscrutinized – from evacuation boats to creative indirect lighting and exquisite landscaping. Disney Skyliner is all about the journey, not just the destinations.
Since the Skyliner services the popular new Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios, it opens as early as 5:45 am. Hours will vary with the weather and seasons. The entire network is totally free to ride just like the rest of Disney Transport, which also includes buses, watercraft, monorails and parking lot trams.
More than 50 million people are expected to visit Walt Disney World this year and a huge chunk of them are now being exposed to gondolas as a fun and efficient transport mode. People from all over the world and all walks of life were loving their flights today. As I rode over and over, I found myself in awe of the technical accomplishments and excited about what such a successful launch means for future big gondolas.