We’re heading out to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort & Gondola Station for a timely update on the progress of what the company is calling “the dawn of a new era in Walt Disney World transportation.” Personally, I think the toilet paper could probably use an upgrade before we get all high and mighty about a supposedly futuristic mode of transportation that isn’t far off from what I’ve been able to ride at the Washington State Fair since I was six, but, as usual, I was not polled before these capital expenditures were approved. “Non-air-conditioned flying trapeze boxes of death opening during the hottest month of the year with transportation times equal to or longer than the same trip would take on a bus, or Charmin?” It’s a tough one…
Just three days ago, Disney announced that the Skyliner gondola system would officially open on September 29th, or exactly one month after the world ends on August 29th for the opening of (a part of) Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Here in Florida, we continue to act like the sky is falling over the opening of one galaxy-based ride that already debuted months ago somewhere else. Imagine. Florida. Wanting attention? It’s inconceivable.
Given the lack of interest in Disneyland’s version of the same Land, and what appears to be record low summer crowds out on the west coast, it’s possible that Star Wars isn’t the pull that it was even five years ago. The fact that Disney won’t officially operate the Skyliner during the first month that Galaxy’s Edge is open seems to indicate that unprecedented crowds are not expected. Instead, Disney is eyeing a fall opening for the usual October bump in attendance.
Certainly, the first few days after Galaxy’s Edge opens will be bananas. Will that mean proof of success? Or will it mean proof of Disney’s operational ineptness despite being in the theme park business almost as long as I’ve been able to ride a gondola at the Washington State Fair? Why not both? People waited 2+ hours just to enter Toy Story Land on day one before there was never a wait to enter the Land again. Pandora saw hour-plus waits to enter the Land during opening day weekend before there was never a wait to enter the Land there again, either. Add Labor Day Weekend crowds and the ability for some people to travel, and we’re looking at a busy few days from August 29th through September 3rd.
But at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if September remains relatively quiet with Parks that “feel” even less crowded than usual given the incredible extensions in both regular operation hours and Extra Magic Hours that we’re going to see from September 1st through November 2nd. Nobody thought that the opening of Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland was going to be a treat, but it ended up being one of the least crowded days of the last 10+ years. Florida is never that lucky, of course, but with another set of fall discounts coming out just days ago and very few people traveling to the great state of California to build a $200 lightsaber and stand inside Oga’s Cantina for exactly 45 minutes, it’s possible that the people will stay home when it comes to Walt Disney World in September as well.
Please stay home.
Back to the diagram above, Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts will share a gondola station that you’ll find on the bridge that connects the two Values.
If you’re boarding the Skyliner there, then you’ll first travel to the station at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, where you’ll need to exit the cabin and then get on at least one different gondola for the trip to either Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot.
As Blog Mickey first reported, these are the expected travel times between the various gondola stations:
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach to Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 5-6 minutes
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort to Disney’s Pop Century Resort or Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: under 6 minutes
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort to Disney’s Riviera Resort: 5 minutes
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort to International Gateway at Epcot: 15 minutes
- Disney’s Riviera Resort to International Gateway at Epcot: 9 minutes
Based on these numbers, it looks like the trip from the Art of Animation/Pop Century to Epcot will take about 20 minutes and the trip to Hollywood Studios will take about 12 minutes, plus the wait to board the initial gondola cabin and potentially, the wait to board a second or third dawn-of-a-new-era-death-wagon if you’re headed to the International Gateway at Epcot.
Spending 20+ minutes in a non-air-conditioned flying cage sounds like it could be the plot for a sequel to The Hurt Locker, but I would guess that the reality will be somewhat more comfortable.
Officially, the gondolas will hold up to ten people each.
It “feels” like this may be a bit of a stretch, unless we are talking about non-bloggers.
With the number of us milling about these days, having nothing else to do than ride the gondolas all day and take priority FastPass+ experiences away from tourists who will never have another opportunity to experience the ride, it seems like we’re destined to have at least three bloggers per cabin for the first 7-8 months of operation. That means nobody else will probably be able to ride during that period.
The transportation times don’t strike me as being particularly attractive either.
It only takes about 15 minutes for the bus to travel from Art of Animation to Epcot, and less to Hollywood Studios.
Even if we ignore the transfer time at Caribbean Beach Resort and potentially the Riviera Resort for those headed to Epcot, adding even more time to the trip, potentially in a less-comfortable atmosphere, it doesn’t sound particularly positive.
Fortunately, we do see a new set of restrooms opening up near the station.
You could use them for a little privacy as you try to amp yourself up enough to willingly enter one of the claustrophobia closets, or it might be a good opportunity to film some vlogs.
Whether or not the Skyliner is more convenient than the current bus service will also boil down to where in the resorts your room is located.
The gondola station shared by the two resorts, and where you’ll load and unload, is just about as far away from the resorts’ main lobbies as possible.
If you’ve ever walked from the back of the Little Mermaid section of the Art of Animation to the main lobby/bus stop, then you know just how large these resorts are.
Particularly when you can’t swim.
Fortunately for those staying in the only standard rooms at Art of Animation, all of which are located in the Little Mermaid buildings, the gondola station may be a little closer than the bus stops.
Speaking of the bus stops, it remains to be seen whether the resorts that offer Skyliner service will continue to run buses to and from Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Some people, for whatever reason, will refuse to ride the gondolas. They might be scared of heights. They might be scared of the prospect of getting stuck high up in the air over water in the middle of an electrical storm. Or they simply may not want to be seen in perpetuity as I pan over the anxious crowd in the gondola cabin as I create one of my influential videos that I’m going to post on Twitter and hope for at least 79 views.
While you rarely hear about it, I would guess that there are some number of people who won’t ride in the monorails, either. That certainly isn’t enough for Disney to run buses from the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian to Epcot. And travel times from Epcot to the Contemporary via the monorail are among the longest of any resort/theme park combo on property. But you’ll find fewer than 850 rooms at the Polynesian, while Pop Century and Art of Animation offer nearly 5,000 combined rooms, many of which are suites housing more than four people. Considering those numbers, Disney may find it prudent to continue running buses to the theme parks that are also serviced by the Skyliner gondola system. Depending on popularity, running buses would also reduce demand on the Skyliner and the number of people waiting outside in the rain to board in July.
If the gondolas are something that you’re trying to distance yourself from, then there are obviously other resort choices. But there will certainly be a handful of very vocal Art of Animation devotees where the Lion King suites are the only rooms on property that they would ever stay in and the gondolas aren’t safe and Uber isn’t safe and taxis are too expensive and I’m not renting a car on vacation etc. There’s always Universal.
From a touring efficiency perspective, where you start your day at Epcot is important, and will be even more important with the opening of the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, which is certain to be the Park’s top priority. At Epcot, the Skyliner will drop all guests off at the International Gateway, in between the United Kingdom and France Pavilions. If you’re starting your day in World Showcase, after the majority of it opens at 11am, then you’re in business. You can meander over to the Canada Pavilion at your leisure, slam two beers for $80, and be on your way. Prior to 11am though, you’ve only got the French bakery open on that side of World Showcase, though the new Ratatouille ride will likely open with Future World at 9am, just like the Norway Pavilion and Frozen Ever After currently do.
As we know from this post, guests entering from the International Gateway, which is currently used by guests staying at the Beach Club, Yacht Club, BoardWalk, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts, are held at the top of the hill leading into World Showcase for rope drop. If you’re curious about how the current process works, particularly to Frozen Ever After first thing in the morning, then you might give that article a look. But Guardians will be even further away than Test Track. With the Skyliner in operation, guests from about 6,500 more rooms will make the International Gateway their prime entrance and exit. In case buses aren’t operating or are only operating during certain times of day, the International Gateway will be the only entrance and exit for those relying on Disney transportation that isn’t a Minnie Van from those resorts. That fact will likely cause Disney to change Epcot’s opening procedures in a big way, potentially making things a little “fairer” moving forward.
At the same time, moving the guests of three major resorts, plus the Riviera, to the International Gateway, should make things a little more manageable at the main entrance. That’s good news for those of us rolling out of bed at All-Star Sports at 7:45am who then find themselves in line for the bus at 7:46am.
Back to the gondola situation.
It’s a fascinating system.
And it will be interesting to see what’s visible from the cabins as they glide through the air over a variety of on-stage and backstage areas.
It’s not quite as bad at Art of Animation as it is at Caribbean Beach Resort, where the Skyliner “literally” flies directly over quiet pools and right next to third-story rooms, but it “feels” like there’s going to be a reduction in privacy along the route.
It will also be interesting to see if we see a reclassification of resort rooms or categories in the future. At the moment, you’ll pay more for a Preferred Room at Pop Century based on its relative location to the lobby, quick service, and bus stop. At least some of those rooms will also be further away from the Skyliner station than less-expensive accommodations.
But you’d have to think that most or all of the concerns about transportation time, comfort, efficiency, and general fear were thoroughly vetted.
For example, in the station, there’s supposed to be a mechanism where cast will be able to pull a cabin off the line temporarily for those who are a little slower to get in and out of the cabin.
It’s possible that all of the cabins will be able to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, but we’ll see what the seating situation is once the system comes online.
Strollers will also be an issue, whether they need to be folded up or not. They take up a lot of space, particularly when they’re filled with camera equipment and snacks instead of children.
We’ll continue to keep our eyes on what’s happening at Art of Animation and Pop Century as more and more of the walls around Disney’s Innovative Transportation System come down.
And hopefully none of us will ever feel the steps of the evacuation boat under our feet. Unless we need to feel that.
We’ll also get over to the stations at the International Gateway and Hollywood Studios, along with Caribbean Beach and the Riviera Resort. Above is the concept art for the Art of Animation/Pop Century station, which you’d have to think is supposed to look like some groovy waves.
Coming up immediately, we’ll take a walk around the Art of Animation resort, re-familiarize ourselves with the Landscape of Flavors, check out some merchandise, and see what else is going on.