Evaluating the Future of Disney Transportation
Fourteen months ago, the Disney Skyliner opened to the public. This retro gondola service took Disney fans back to the future.
When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, the Skyway transferred guests between popular themed lands.
Over time, the attraction grew less popular, and Disney eventually closed it at the end of 1999.
Nobody expected a gondola system at Walt Disney World during the 21st century, but here we are!
Remarkably, that’s not even the most significant recent change. That one involves a third-party.
So, this seems like the right time to evaluate the future of Disney transportation.
Significance of the Disney Skyliner
At the time, the new form of transportation had opened only a few weeks before then, and it had already experienced a serious incident.
Still, Disney executives seemed undeterred, expressing confidence that the gondola system would revolutionize Walt Disney World.
Park officials had plenty of cause for optimism. Yes, dozens of people had gotten stranded for hours atop the Disney Skyliner.
Even so, Disney strategists understood the myriad benefits of this new form of transportation.
On the one hand, the Disney Skyliner maximizes guest efficiency.
People are no longer bound to the standard behavior of waiting in line for buses and boats.
Instead, Disney visitors can walk directly onto a gondola and head straight to their preferred location.
Current stations reside at several Disney resorts plus Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
The gondola feels like an attraction because, well, they once were. They entertained guests for nearly 30 years before shutting down.
Despite the entertainment value, they provide an essential service, though. They carry guests from one place to another at a minimal expense to Disney.
That’s the other strength of this project. A gondola transportation system qualifies as cheap compared to other options.
Buses require gas and maintenance to utilize, just like boats. And expanding the monorail system has proven cost-prohibitive.
Contrast that to gondolas, which cost anywhere from $3 million to $12 million per mile.
For a minimal investment, Disney can add stations across the campus. And that was the plan until the pandemic ruined everything.
The company’s now too cash-poor to expand the line at the moment. Still, it’ll happen one day soon.
The Even Newer Form of Transportation
The Walt Disney Company has played heavily in several recent stories. So, you may have missed a vital one.
The company has finally officially agreed to a new service, one MickeyBlog has discussed for a while.
In May of 2018, a long-anticipated Florida project finally debuted.
A company named Brightline became the first privately owned and operated intercity passenger railroad in the United States in decades.
In late 2014, the company had broken ground on a light rail system that connected Miami and West Palm Beach.
Guests could ride a train for the 75 miles between the two cities. The train required about 70 minutes of travel time, for which guests paid about $20.
In exchange, people didn’t have to drive their cars while traveling across the state.
Since then, Brightline has introduced a Fort Lauderdale stop and has planned six other stations in Florida.
Presuming all goes well – and the pandemic means that’s not guaranteed – people in Florida can travel to Aventura, Boca Raton, Jacksonville, Tampa, and…Orlando.
That last one caused a record scratch sound for Disney fans when Brightline announced it. In truth, it was a seismic event in the theme park industry.
When Universal Orlando Resort announced its plans for Universal’s Epic Adventure, the CEO (!) campaigned for a Brightline station near the park.
Like the rest of us, this individual understands what a game-changer a high-speed rail system is to the connected parts of Florida.
Obviously, the tourist destinations come with the most dramatic appeal.
People who live or visit Florida could ostensibly bounce from spot to spot during a weeklong trip.
And that’s where Disney comes in…
The Latest Headline
This past week, Disney confirmed what has long been rumored. It’ll receive a Brightline station.
Thanks to this addition, guests may ride the train from other parts of Florida straight to this station.
For a while now, the debate has involved where Disney would want the station.
Brightline will foot the bill for construction, of course, but they wouldn’t do anything without Disney’s consent/advice.
Nobody understands the mind of the vacationer better than Disney. So, we’d all been in wait-and-see mode since 2018.
Well, we just learned that Brightline will build the station in the place that makes the most sense.
Neither company chose to reveal a precise location. Here’s the applicable quote about the matter:
“(The) proposed location would be in close proximity to Walt Disney World Resort’s four theme parks, two water parks and more than 25 hotels.”
Brightline had previously confirmed that it will add an extensive station at Orlando International Airport (MCO).
You can connect the dots here to understand the future of Disney vacations.
Park planners want guests to exit airplanes at MCO and head to a train that will transport them to Disney Springs.
From there, I presume Disney will run a fleet of buses to official resorts, even more than they use at the moment.
This would cut down on the current demand for Magical Express buses, at least theoretically. I’m jumping the gun to speculate about the service’s future.
Questions about Brightline and Disney
The optimal solution would eliminate buses entirely. Disney would extend its gondola system to Disney Springs and all resorts.
That way, guests could take the train to Disney Springs and then ride the gondola to their next destination.
This sounds good on paper, but it comes with a few drawbacks. For example, many guests travel with carry-ons and other luggage.
I struggle to envision someone willingly dragging that onto a train and then a bus/gondola.
In fact, guests aren’t even supposed to bring luggage on buses. I also cannot remember ever noticing someone with luggage on the Skyliner.
Then, there’s the question of cost. Magical Express remains free to the customer, but Disney pays a pretty penny to provide maximum guest satisfaction.
A Brightline ride would probably cost $5-$10 per person, which adds up for larger families. And it’s certainly more than the current price of free for everyone.
So, this situation isn’t as cut-and-dried as it sounds like. Disney and Brightline still have several questions to answer.
One of them is basic, too. Will this station have any impact at all on Magical Express, or did I just get ahead of myself?
When Should We Expect the Station?
Then, there’s the timeline discussion. Before the pandemic, Brightline had indicated that the MCO station would need 30 months to complete.
That would have meant a target date at the start of 2022, possibly even sooner.
That’s probably out the window now, but the end of 2022 remains a distinct possibility.
The current presumption is that the Disney Springs station will start quickly and be ready within 6-12 months of the one at MCO.
We’re talking about many changes in Disney transportation by the middle of 2023, which is closer than you think!
Of course, that’s the out-of-state traveler’s perspective. For Floridians, this announcement sums up tidily.
One day in the not-too-distant future, people in several metropolitan/vacation areas of Florida can take a train to Disney Springs.
This part of the equation is full of win for them and for Disney.
For $20 or so, guests can ride the morning train and reach the Disney campus in an hour or two.
Friends, Florida claims a population of 21.5 million. The high-speed railway will connect many of them directly to Walt Disney World for a nominal fee.
You can already appreciate how enticing this proposition is to park officials.
A year ago, the future of Walt Disney World transportation looked like it was in the sky…and it still is to a degree.
But Brightline has just brought high-speed rail transportation to the forefront of the conversation. It’s gonna be an interesting couple of years, folks.