The website offers some preliminary thoughts on the Disney Skyliner, which officially opens on September 29th. The gondola system is currently testing with cast members and their friends, family, and vague blogging acquaintances. The picture above is from inside the gondola in the Riviera Resort turnaround on the way to Epcot.
Comfort is, of course, everyone’s paramount concern when it comes to the Skyliner system, given the fact that there is no air-conditioning or heating system within the individual cabins. I’m happy to impart that the temperature inside is relatively comfortable given the short transit times. In the heat, you’ll be most comfortable when there’s a natural breeze as there are plenty of vents to let in air. You can see those vents particularly well on the yellow gondola above. The glass is insulated with a reflective coating/sticker on the outside, which should help repel some of the heat.
The key to the passive ventilation system is movement, and it’s hard to say how often or for how long the system will need to cease motion for one reason or another. The system is intended to always be moving, not unlike an omnimover attraction like Spaceship Earth or Buzz Lightyear, where you board and disembark the ride vehicle when it’s in motion at a speed slower than the rest of the ride. Luckily, there are gondola cabins that sit off to the side for those who are wary or unable to board unless the cabin is stationary. Once those guests board the stationary cabin, it can easily be added to the main line with minimal interruption.
The gondolas are even with the ground at the point of disembarkation, which will ease the step off and on for most guests, but I’m not sure how things will go with wheelchairs, ECVs, strollers, and people who simply have too much stuff to move quickly on and off a moving vehicle. The system is capable of stopping to accommodate those who need extra time, but it means every single cabin on the line will also cease motion. I would imagine that once cast members see a cabin with an ECV, wheelchair, etc. that they will move the cabin off the main line. But that doesn’t account for those with unexpected delays or problems. Over the course of several trips, I stopped four or five times for periods between one and four minutes.
It’s definitely a little disconcerting being 50 or more feet off the ground, hanging in the air, for an indeterminate amount of time. Luckily, when the gondolas are stopped, they shouldn’t sway. The bottom line is that the actual temperature inside the gondolas is just about the same as it is outside, but the ventilation system makes it “feel” more comfortable. Take that movement away and you’re basically sitting in a car at a stop light outside in Florida with the window cracked. Disney will assuredly do everything that they can to keep the system moving and we’re lucky that some of those growing pains are coming during the fall instead of the summer, when temperatures cool.
But the potential for cold weather is another issue. Florida rarely “freezes,” but we are known to have a few very cold mornings (for us). You wouldn’t want to be cruising down the freeway in your automobile with your windows open at 7am with the temperature outside under 40 degrees. There will be days this winter when RealFeels drop below that and it will be interesting to see how comfortable the gondolas are given those cooler temperatures. The vents on the gondolas can (probably) be closed to trap heat, but that seems like it will present another set of problems. Of course, similar gondola systems work in the Alps or other skiing destinations, but people there are typically dressed for the slopes. I’m dressed to meet Mickey Mouse in my fisherman’s outfit whether it’s July 4th or December 25th.
No single gondola trip is longer than seven minutes without unanticipated stops. That also means that you’ll need to disembark your gondola and get on a new one at each stop in your journey.
If you’re staying at the Pop Century or Art of Animation resorts, and going to Epcot, then you’ll first need to walk to the station on the bridge in the middle of the two resorts, which could easily take ten minutes from the far reaches of the Little Mermaid buildings at Art, or 90s buildings at Pop. Then you’d need to wait for the gondola and take it to the Caribbean Beach Resort Hub. There, you’ll need to disembark your gondola, find the next gondola boarding area, behind everyone else who arrived there before you from other locations, and wait to board another gondola. Then it’s off towards the Riviera Resort.
Here’s the map that was distributed during the preview:
Caribbean Beach Resort guests can apparently board using the Riviera station beginning September 29th, which may mean that all guests will need to disembark at that time and then board a third gondola to Epcot.
Caribbean Beach Resort is the Hub of the system and every guest heading anywhere other than from the Riviera Resort to Epcot will pass through here.
The two gondola stations, one near Riviera and the other closer to Jamaica, are relatively inconvenient for most guests at Caribbean Beach:
That’s probably why the Riviera station is opening even if Riviera is not. You’d have to expect that Disney will be running another set of internal buses to take guests to the gondola station. But buses will also continue to service the main entrances of Epcot and Hollywood Studios. If you were originally planning on going to the Studios, would you let that bus pass without getting on, only to wait for an internal bus to the gondola station, followed by more waiting there?
Things are a little confusing at the Caribbean Beach Hub, but it’s no worse than arriving at the Transportation and Ticket Center and then trying to figure out where the Epcot monorail, Express monorail, Resort monorail, ferry boat, or walkway to the Polynesian are located during your first visit. That may or may not be a bad thing.
After your first trip through, you should be a pro. I’m disembarking the gondola that brought me to Caribbean Beach from Hollywood Studios. From here, signage up ahead is telling me that if I want to go back to Hollywood Studios, which is the last thing that I want, that I’ll need to simply head around and get back in line on the other side. If I’m heading to the Riviera Resort or Epcot, I head to the left. If I’m headed to Pop Century or Art of Animation, I’m headed to the right. That’s pretty straightforward.
This is the line to Pop/Art.
On this side is a nearly identical setup for the trip to the Riviera and Epcot with restrooms and water fountains available.
A lady in line asked if there “are bathrooms in the cabooses” and I’m not sure I’ve ever reconsidered anything more in my life pic.twitter.com/YuKBUyvfVN
— josh (@easywdw) September 23, 2019
There are no (proper) restrooms or water fountains inside the gondola cabins.
Based on my rides, these are the transit times from the moment the gondola doors close until they open at your destination:
- Pop Century/Art of Animation to the Caribbean Beach Hub: 3 minutes, 30 seconds
- Caribbean Beach Hub to Hollywood Studios, 4 minutes, 30 seconds
- Caribbean Beach Hub to Riviera Resort: 3 minutes
- Riviera Resort to Epcot: 6 minutes, 30 seconds
So if you’re heading from Pop/Art to Epcot, you’re spending a little more than 13 minutes in the air, which isn’t very long at all, particularly with three stops. From Pop/Art to the Studios, the in-air time is only about eight minutes. One nice thing about the gondola is that if you are paired with some annoying people, you’ll be in a different gondola with different annoying people in short order. The cabins travel at about 11 miles per hour, which makes for some snappy trips.
Speaking of the other people, each gondola holds up to ten guests, all of whom remain seated on one of two benches throughout the flight. Cabins with wheelchairs/scooters hold up to six guests.
There are two identical benches facing each other inside each cabin. Four adults fit comfortably on each side. The only way that they’re getting ten people in one of these is if none of them are bloggers, which is not going to happen for at least six months, or at least four of the guests are children. Our party consisted of up to two people and we were placed in a cabin with others whenever there were guests waiting to board. It’s a little awkward with the benches facing each other, not unlike the monorail, but with quarters closer to the Hogwarts Express.
With the exception of the Riviera to Epcot route, those guests sitting on the bench on the left as you enter the gondola will be facing forward during the trip, which is probably ideal. From Riviera to Epcot, sit on the right to be facing forward during the ride.
Considering the best views are straight ahead, the bench layout seems a little strange. I would guess that the weight needs to be somewhat evenly distributed on the sides for the flying metal closets of death to not swing up and over the cable, but it would make a lot of sense for both benches to be located in the center looking out. They’re probably also not located in the middle to better accommodate strollers, wheelchairs, etc.
Another issue with the views from inside is the wraps. The artwork makes it more difficult to see out.
“In real life,” the views from inside the wrapped gondolas are not nearly as bad as they look in videos or pictures, because your eyes are much better able to adjust, but they do obscure the view considerably. There are about 300 gondola cabins available and about half of them are wrapped. Disney will likely accommodate those who would prefer to fly in an unwrapped cabin, but I think everyone would appreciate it if you would not refuse to board any cabin that doesn’t have something to do with the Haunted Mansion.
I would defer to WDWMAGIC’s videos if you’d like to see the route from Epcot to Caribbean Beach, which is the most scenic.
Here’s Caribbean Beach to Hollywood Studios.
And Caribbean Beach to Pop/Art of Animation.
We’ll have to see what people think about the Skyliner traveling through Caribbean Beach. The route is probably out of necessity, but it does “feel” like it kills the beach vibe of the resort.
It may be worth requesting a room at the resort on the opposite side of where the Skyliner travels. Martinique may end up being the best set of buildings with easy access to the resort’s main building and a relatively easy walk to and from the Riviera Skyliner station.
You’ll also want to double check your beach bod should you find yourself in the Aruba quiet pool. You’ll be on display to a few thousand people instead of ten or twelve. I’ve considered standing down there with a sign that says “free beer, find me.” And just hope nobody actually does.
I’m not personally of the opinion that seeing backstage areas “ruins the magic.” I know that the People’s Republic of China, the Eiffel Tower, and Benjamin Franklin don’t all share the same basic space without seeing the backside of a construction wall. But as you descend into the International Gateway at Epcot in particular, you will see the Ratatouille ride construction. Knowing this, Disney has actually hung a banner that says “Opening Summer 2020” on the back of the show building over there to the right.
I enjoyed passing by the BoardWalk area in particular, where you’ll glide right by the main building, in addition to seeing the Swan and Dolphin in the distance. All of these pictures are via phone as I didn’t want to stick out too much during the preview with a much larger camera rig. It looks 57 times better in real life. It’s really beautiful cruising along.
The Skyliner drops off guests at Epcot’s International Gateway.
Previously, this entrance/exit in between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions was used by guests staying at or visiting the BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts. Only 2,405 of those rooms are operated by Disney, with the Swan/Dolphin adding 987. Guests heading to Epcot from Hollywood Studios by foot or boat also historically used the International Gateway. Combined, Pop Century/Art of Animation/Caribbean Beach/Riviera add 6,700 rooms, or almost twice as many as the original five resorts that previously fed the Gateway.
Knowing this, Disney has expanded the bag check area at the International Gateway. I think I count eight metal detectors.
But this is it for entrance touchpoints. It looks like we’re talking about just three sets, or six total lines. Theoretically, Disney can increase capacity by adding cast members with iPads to scan tickets/MagicBands, but I could see some significant delays at rope drop if they’re only going to be scanning twelve tickets at a time. One guy in the annual passholder line didn’t even scan his finger and had to be called back to do so. He obviously then had no idea which finger or toe he used last time, bogging things down further. Despite the fact that there are only about six people waiting over there, the regular line with three times as many people moved quicker. Go figure.
Once the Skyliner opens, we’ll see how things are looking at Park open from the International Gateway.
This far down in the post, it’s worth noting that all of the resorts on the Skyliner will continue to offer bus transportation to the front entrance of both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Buses will also continue to transport guests from the front of Hollywood Studios to the front of Epcot, and vice versa. If you don’t want to, you should never have to ride in the flying glass trapezes of doom. For the sake of efficiency, the bus may continue to be the best way to go in the morning, particularly to Epcot, where the main entrance (currently) offers an advantage to Test Track and Soarin’ because guests are closer to those attractions than those who enter from the International Gateway.
Overall, the Skyliner was about what I was expecting, though I’ll admit that I thought it would be easier to enjoy some of the more scenic views. The fact that you’re sitting there, probably staring at strangers a foot away, with a tinted window above them that’s difficult to see out of, isn’t ideal from a sightseeing perspective. But the benches are relatively comfortable and the fact that nobody is standing there an inch from your knees, like you often see on the buses and monorail, is a plus. The fact that trips average fewer than 4.5 minutes means that even if I was sitting there breathing in your face while holding a heat lamp, you’d probably survive the trip.
Obviously, we can make up a worst case scenario where the gondolas are stuck for a half hour and it’s July and you’re pregnant and I’m on periscope inside the cabin talking about how we’re probably going to die unless I get five new Patreon subscribers. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of trips will go off without a hitch, just like the ferry or friendship boats or monorails(?) or buses. Heck, you can be on a Disney bus that breaks down and have to stand there on the side of the road for an hour while Disney cleans everything up and gets you on another vehicle.
As always, the website will continue to monitor the situation moving forward, but the Skyliner is a unique addition to Walt Disney World and a mode of transportation that most people will enjoy taking advantage of at some point in their trip, even if it’s just to see what it’s like. And if you don’t want to ride it, then you simply don’t have to do so. In fact, you could very easily avoid the resorts that the Skyliner services in their entirety and take the same buses that you’ve been taking for years.
There’s plenty of time to freak out in the future I’m sure.