Examining the Future of the Disney Skyliner
After only a brief time in operation, the Disney Skyliner has already become an integral part of a Walt Disney World visit. Sure, this form of transportation has suffered a few *ahem* hiccups along the way, but it still seems likely to expand over the next few years. Let’s evaluate the future of the Disney Skyliner.
The Current System
The Disney Skyliner functions as an overhead gondola system similar to ones that you’d ride at ski resorts. You board a gondola capable of holding 10 passengers. It lifts you into the air and transports you to other gondola stations on the Disney campus.
Currently, you’ll find gondola stations at the International Gateway at Epcot and the main entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You’ll also have your choice of resort stations at Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and a shared location at Disney’s Pop Century Resort/Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
Right now, guests can comfortably ride around any of these five locations. Everyone at Disney can (and should) take a Skyliner from Epcot to Hollywood Studios and back. Well, guests should unless they prefer the scenic boat ride between the two parks.
When you take a boat, you must wait for it to arrive. And that could be as much as 20 minutes. A gondola ride is almost immediate since the lift system rarely stops. In the time you spend waiting on a boat ride, you could feasibly reach your destination via gondola.
The Current “Problem” with the Disney Skyliner
I can’t honestly state that the Skyliner system has operated without a hitch thus far. On one memorable night, many Disney guests found themselves stranded in the sky, awaiting rescue. The unfortunate situation forced park officials to close the gondolas for eight days of testing.
Once the Disney Skyliner came back online, it seemed more stable and reliable. Guests commented that it no longer seemed so bumpy as the trams arrived at hard turns and gondola stations. Hopefully, this issue was a one-off that proves to be beneficial long term. Imagineers learned the flaws in the system and took more than a week to address them.
Beyond that one isolated incident, what’s the other major problem with the Disney Skyliner? It’s not available everywhere! Sure, this sounds like a nitpick…and it is.
However, once you’re used to the gondola system, you can’t go back. It’s a seamless, constantly moving transportation system that carries guests from Point A to Point B quickly and efficiently. You expect Disney to carry you into the sky and drop you off at your preferred destination. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely possible yet.
The “Problem” with the Skyliner’s Current State
The Walt Disney World campus is massive. The company operates four theme parks, two water parks, two entertainment complexes, a sports complex, and more than 20 official hotels. Currently, the Disney Skyliner only covers a fraction of that territory.
Park officials knew this ahead of time. They intentionally chose a modest launch for the new transportation system, probably in case issues cropped up like the one we witnessed in early October. To an optimist, the stations that we have at the moment represent a kind of proof-of-concept for the idea. But it’s undeniably one that some would argue isn’t necessarily proven yet.
Even so, long before Disney broke ground on the Disney Skyliner, plans were already in place for future expansions. Some of them have leaked online and really were never much of a secret anyway.
Since everyone recognizes the utility of the system, people know that more stations are coming, at least as long as the current system remains reliable. For this reason, Disney will operate the stations for a year or two before confirming an expansion.
Everyone needs to make sure that the power failure that crashed the system was a one-off rather than an ongoing issue. Despite the understandable concerns, we’re already wondering what a Disney Skyliner would look like, though.
The Plan for the Disney Skyliner
The underlying purpose of the gondola system involves connectivity. Disney seeks to provide guests with a more convenient way to travel around the most popular parts of the campus. Alas, they can’t just start constructing stations willy-nilly. It’s a matter of need first and foremost.
We can tell that this statement is valid from the first rollout. Disney picked an area that has notorious transportation congestion, the All-Star Resorts area. All of these lovely hotels include thousands of rooms. The guests staying there need transportation to and from the other points of interest. So, a crowd is always present at the bus stops.
Thankfully, the Disney Skyliner vastly reduces this issue. By placing a station there, all of the guests in the area will have better vacations. Park officials have alleviated the stress of transportation timing. Anyone staying at these hotels will know when their vehicle leaves and have a good idea about when it will arrive at the intended destination.
The same statement applies to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, a gorgeous hotel area that didn’t have any direct connections to Disney theme parks. Thanks to its central location between the All-Star resorts, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, Caribbean Beach has always stood out as the perfect place to place a gondola hub. And that’s exactly what Disney did.
We can use this information to make some educated guesses about what comes next.
The Future of the Disney Skyliner
Some of the Disney Skyliner documents indicate spots for future expansion. A few of the decisions don’t make sense until you examine through the lens I just discussed.
For example, Disney wants to place a gondola station at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. No, I didn’t say Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Believe it or not, one of the images for the Disney Skyliner only shows a station at the resort. Why would Disney do this?
Well, I should state first that I don’t believe that they will. On the contrary, I think that a gondola at Animal Kingdom is inevitable. However, Disney knows that the guests at Animal Kingdom Lodge feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the Disney campus. A new gondola station would solve that problem permanently.
Plans show a station right by the hotel. It would travel past Animal Kingdom at a place where I’m confident Disney can/will construct a park station. Then, it’ll travel to another interesting location, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park.
From there, Disney would connect the new expansion with the current one at Hollywood Studios. Additionally, they will add at another highly trafficked hotel, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
Anyone staying at this hotel would need two stops to get to Hollywood Studios. The station would travel to Blizzard Beach and then the theme park. To create a direct path from the resort to the park, Disney would need to perform some conservation-unfriendly demolition, a non-starter for park officials.
Insiders suggest that this western expansion of the Disney Skyliner won’t happen next. Instead, Disney’s allegedly going the other way.
The Eastern Disney Skyliner Expansion
The next time that Disney adds to the current system, construction will occur to the east. Reports indicate that Disney will add new stations at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney Springs.
Yes, the current belief is that Disney has two additional Disney Skyliner outlets in the company’s future plans. Sometime within the next five years, Disney will (hopefully) break ground on these two stations, better connecting guests with the east side of the campus.
The rationale here is straightforward. After the parks, Disney Springs claims the title of most visited location on the Disney campus. The current bus system to and from Disney Springs has changed several times over the years, reflecting the difficulties in transporting guests to the area efficiently.
The Logic of Skyliner Expansion Plans
Yes, pragmatism drives Disney’s decision-making in building Disney Skyliner stations. The most practical place for one is undoubtedly Disney Springs. It wouldn’t require a significant addition the way that, as an example, Magic Kingdom needs to the north.
Plus, this new coverage area would naturally include Typhoon Lagoon, the most popular water park in the western hemisphere. Disney kills two birds with this particular stone. So, the plan makes a lot of sense. However, I should add that the success of the Disney Skyliner will play an integral part in its future expansion.
Let’s presume that the gondola system vastly reduces Disney’s reliance on buses. It would make sense for them to expand more quickly, possibly doing the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney Springs additions simultaneously.
Conversely, let’s allow for the possibility that guests don’t like the Disney Skyliner as much as accepted forms of transportation. In such a situation, we may never receive additional gondola stations. I think that’s somewhat unlikely, but I can’t rule it out just yet, especially in the wake of recent events.
I believe that Disney announces a Disney Springs expansion within the next 48-60 months. The only thing that would move me off of that opinion at the moment would involve further issues with maintenance or another PR nightmare similar to the one in early October.
In short, despite everything that has happened, I’m bullish on the Disney Skyliner as the future of Walt Disney World transportation and expect frequent expansions.