We’ll take the Skyliner from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot to see what we can expect at the International Gateway (IG) entrance at Park open. I wrote a preliminary review last week introducing what to expect from the new transportation system, along with some tips on how to best utilize it. I followed that up with a look at the Skyliner operating schedule over the next few months, and what it may mean for the future of the Studios’ Extra Magic Hours schedule and the potential for extended operating hours at a Park that now plays host to the Star Wars franchise. As we transfer from Hollywood Studios to the Caribbean Beach Resort, and then to the Riviera Resort and Epcot, I’ll add some updated thoughts on how things are going up in the calamitous cupboards in the sky. We’ll also check out some new park hopping opportunities that the Skyliner introduces and some alternative transportation options and touring strategies should the gondola system be down in the morning. Then we’ll see how things go entering Epcot with the potential for 25,000+ more people using the World Showcase entrance/exit in the Skyliner age with guests from Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation coming this way.
Hollywood Studios continues to open at 6am for Extra Extra Magic Hours, which means the Studios’ Skyliner station opens at 5:45am, along with the line that connects the Park to Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation. Above is the scene outside the Studios on Thursday, October 3rd, at 7:21am. That’s a little less than half of the way through the three-hour set of Extra Extra Magic Hours, and almost two hours after the Skyliner initially came online. Very few people are headed into the Studios, which is part of why our plan to ride Smugglers Run just before the Park opens to everyone at 9am works so well.
In November, this is the current Skyliner schedule, heading into and (more importantly) out of Hollywood Studios:
This is also the time that the Pop Century/Art of Animation and Caribbean Beach sections of the Skyliner begin operation.
Here’s the November Skyliner schedule for Epcot, where the service comes online one hour before the first eligible guests may enter the Park:
Epcot typically opens at 9am with one 8am morning Extra Magic Hour each week. The fact that the Studios’ line opens no later than 7am means that it’s possible to transfer to the Caribbean Beach Resort hub in plenty of time to catch the first Epcot gondola of the day. Theoretically, that means you could take the bus from any of the other Disney resorts to Hollywood Studios, and get on the Skyliner there, and then use it to transfer to the International Gateway entrance at Epcot. This does not make a tremendous amount of logistical sense at the moment, unless you were planning on starting the day with breakfast at the Boulangerie in France. Later in the day, you might also elect to take the bus to the Studios and then board the Skyliner over to Epcot or one of the resorts that it services, either just for fun, or if you’re planning on starting your day at Epcot in the World Showcase.
I’m not expecting the new Ratatouille ride, which opens in the France Pavilion in the summer of next year, to be a huge priority, but those entering from the IG will have a tremendous advantage there over those entering from the main entrance due to the Gateway’s close proximity to France. We’ll see how things shake out there come June 2k20 or so.
Potentially, you could also use the Skyliner to Park Hop to Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, or Disney Springs, instead of using the buses at the Studios. Here’s the signage outside the Skyliner station at Caribbean Beach:
At the Studios, the Skyliner station is conveniently located much closer to the exit than the buses, and unless you’re leaving immediately after Fantasmic! and/or the nighttime fireworks/laser show, the wait to board should be less than five minutes. Buses also don’t go from the Parks to Disney Springs until after 4pm, so if you’re planning on heading there earlier in the day, you could also connect on the Skyliner to Caribbean Beach, and then transfer to a bus there earlier in the day. It may change, but buses at Caribbean Beach to the Parks typically arrive more often and are less crowded than those you’ll find at the Studios. It’s something to consider, particularly if you’re looking for an excuse to try the Skyliner out. There’s also something a little cathartic about heading away from Hollywood Studios, no matter what your plans might be.
Boarding the Skyliner at Hollywood Studios is easy and the station is probably also closer than the boat. If you’re staying at the Beach or Yacht Club Resorts, you might even consider taking the gondolas over over to the International Gateway and then walking to your resort from there. We’ve got a lot of transfer options.
You can pull up the sunrise and sunset times in a variety of places, including here on almanac.com.
On this particular morning, the sunrise was scheduled for 7:20am, and this picture was taken nine minutes later, at 7:29am.
Here we are looking in the opposite direction for just a moment, until my eyes start to burn a little. The Skyliner ride is particularly pleasant this early in the morning, with virtually nobody else around, on the ground or in the air. Even if you were planning on entering Hollywood Studios, you could take the Skyliner to Caribbean Beach, and then circle back for a round trip in all of 15 minutes, if that.
I headed up the ramp to the Skyliner at the Studios at 7:26am and was safely at the Caribbean Beach Resort just five minutes later at 7:31am. Everyone disembarks their gondola here and then makes their way to another line to board a second gondola towards their next and/or final destination. The signage will tell you exactly where to go.
Since this was a morning Extra Magic Hour day at Epcot, the Skyliner should have begun transporting guests there at 7am. But as has been the case over the last few mornings, there was a delay in getting the service up and running. So far, Pop Century/Art of Animation have seen the most problems, with an average delay of about two hours in the morning. Here on Thursday, it was already up and running by 7:30am. When the Skyliner is unavailable, Disney will run the usual buses to the front entrance of Epcot, just like if the Skyliner didn’t exist. Obviously, serious downtime is a bit of a bummer, but my expectation is that it will be less and less of an issue as time goes on. The infrastructure and systems are complicated and as Disney learns and adjusts, uptime will only improve.
I was warned that the Epcot line was down when I boarded at Hollywood Studios, which was helpful. There, buses were available to transfer guests to the main entrance, and I was also informed that I could wait about a half hour for the boat to arrive and take me over to the International Gateway if I preferred. Here at Caribbean Beach, this cast member on the right standing next to this sign is also letting guests know that if they want to get to Epcot, they’ll need to board a bus to the main entrance instead.
At Caribbean Beach, the Internal Shuttle stop is just around the corner from the station. When the Skyliner is down, buses to the affected Parks will also pick up guests there. To Disney’s credit, as I stood waiting for the Skyliner to come online, there was always a bus to Epcot waiting. It typically took a couple of minutes to depart as it waited for additional guests, but it’s always nice to be sitting comfortably in air-conditioning and knowing that you’ll have a ride.
From a touring perspective, switching around where you’ll enter Epcot may present some challenges. I’m planning on visiting the Frozen Ever After ride in the Norway Pavilion first thing, because that’s where the International Gateway holds an advantage, because it’s closer to the World Showcase entrance than the main entrance out in front of Spaceship Earth. That also means I’m planning on heading to Soarin’ immediately after, and I have a FastPass+ for Test Track to ride that in the late morning. If I was entering Epcot from the main entrance, my plan would be to ride Test Track first, followed by Soarin’ immediately after, and then plan on using FP+ at Frozen later in the day.
If you are staying at a Skyliner resort, and the service is down, and you’ve based your plan on entering Epcot through the International Gateway, then you have a few options. First, you could Uber/Lyft to the Beach Club Resort and then walk over to the International Gateway from there. The cost would be about eight dollars, and after you arrive at the Beach Club, the walk through the lobby and to the Gateway would be about five minutes. If you stop by guest services at the resort and explain what happened, then they would likely reimburse you for the cost of the trip or “make it right” in some other way. You could also take the Skyliner to Hollywood Studios, assuming that line is open, and then walk or take the boat to the International Gateway. That would likely take longer – five minutes to ride over to the Studios and then about 20 minutes to walk or boat over to the IG. Third, you could fire up the My Disney Experience app, or bring up FastPass+ availability at DisneyWorld.com, and try to switch out your Test Track FP+ for a comparable Frozen FP+. Hundreds or thousands of people are switching around their FP+ choices in the morning, so it’s likely that something desirable will become available. You could then take the bus to Epcot’s main entrance and proceed with the usual touring plan.
With the gondolas on the Epcot line cycling without issue, I decided to stick it out to see what would happen, since my plans of seeing how an ordinary International Gateway rope drop were out with so many people sent to the main entrance.
There’s a Joffrey’s stand on the walk up to the Skyliner station:
I might consider something if I could get it with a double shot of Jameson. If enough people are scared of going up in the careening cupboards of calamity, Disney may start throwing Jell-o shots or something at prospective guests for a little liquid courage. I could also hang out of one of the cabins yelling, “LOOK, IT REALLY AIN’T SO BAD” as I fall to my death.
Barring your unfortunate demise, you can grab a drink and/or pastry without too much trouble should you desire and you can take it on the Skyliner if you so choose. A short line may occasionally develop, but waits should typically be under five minutes.
Since I had at least a minute until I would be on my way, I went for a little walk. That’s Disney’s Riviera Resort well off in the distance.
The Disney Vacation Club Resort will only add about three hundred rooms to Disney’s on-site inventory, which now numbers almost 25,000 rooms. Adding about 1,200 guests to the Skyliner on any given day is also unlikely to have much of an effect on wait times or crowding there.
The maps at the resort have been updated with the location of the Skyliner stations:
I “feel” like the map makes the resort look a little quaint, but it’s really anything but, even with the removal of some of the guest buildings to make way for the Riviera. Sprawling is the best word you could probably use to describe it. That green space in the upper right is where the Riviera will eventually be drawn in.
Here’s my version of the map:
If you’re staying at Caribbean Beach, the building that you want to be in potentially depends on your priorities. Rooms in Barbados, buildings 31, 32, and 33, and in Martinique, which spans buildings 24, 25, and 26, are all “Preferred.” These rooms will run you about $80 extra per night than Standard View rooms, which “feels” pretty absurd considering the rooms are identical to Standard View rooms in every way other than their location, which is closer to the main Old Port Royale building.
Historically, rooms in Aruba buildings 45 and 51, which are connected by a bridge across Barefoot Bay, are often closer to Old Port Royale than some of the rooms in the Preferred buildings. This Preferred designation also doesn’t take into account the location of the Skyliner stations. Amusingly, the buildings closest to the gondola stations are also typically furthest from the main building. So Barbados building 33, which would have been the least convenient Preferred building before the Skyliner, now splits the difference a bit in being closer to the Gondola Station than buildings 31 and 32.
Splitting the difference again, I think rooms in buildings 45 and 51 will continue to be your best overall bet. You’re about five minutes away from Old Port Royale, and about eight minutes away from either Skyliner station. My guess is that Disney has also increased the number of Internal Shuttles, which are Disney buses that circle the resort, stopping at each bus stop. A lot of guests are going to disembark the Skyliner and prefer to get on a bus to take them back to Trinidad or even something closer like Aruba. Because it should only take a couple of minutes for an Internal Shuttle to appear, you’ll never be more than a few minutes away from any point of interest at the resort.
Moving forward, buildings 51, 52, and 53 will also be closer to the Riviera Resort and its various restaurants and lounges. But again, a bus will come and pick you up close to just about any guest building and transfer you to the Skyliner, the Riviera, Old Port Royale, or Trinidad if you’d like to go to Spyglass Grill. If you are planning on staying at Caribbean Beach, then you may want to take into consideration which building you’d like to request, depending on where you plan on spending the most time or how you prefer to travel. Recently, we disembarked the Skyliner, boarded an Internal Shuttle, and were ordering drinks at Banana Cabana, adjacent to the Sebastian’s Bistro Restaurant at Old Port Royale, in less than ten minutes. I was a happy camper. I use “camper” literally, as I recently spent all of my money at that new Grand Floridian lounge and now live in a tent inside gondola 054.
If Skyliner access is your priority, then building 34, pictured above, is your best bet.
The station is “literally” right across the water and you can easily walk on the sidewalk next to the road over. Building 41 is also right there – you’d just have to cross a two-lane road each time you visit the Skyliner. The bus stop is right there too, which would take you to the main building in just a couple of minutes.
See this post for a look inside the rooms, including a comparison of the Pirate rooms pictured above with the standard rooms that you’ll find outside of Trinidad.
At about 7:55am, or 55 minutes after service was scheduled to begin, the Epcot line opened.
To not a whole lot of fanfare.
The theoretical capacity of the Skyliner is tremendous, with each cabin filled with six to ten people and the doors to a fresh gondola opening to new guests every 15 seconds or so.
The system, including the passive ventilation system, is predicated on the gondolas being in constant motion.
With the number of guests having trouble boarding their cabins, the gondolas have stopped a lot more than intended. Even for me, as a relatively able-bodied adult, exiting the moving gondolas onto a concrete, stationary platform is a little awkward. That’s why on rides like Spaceship Earth, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Haunted Mansion, etc. the platform is also moving at the same speed, so it’s more natural to step out onto it. Just think about how long it takes some people to exit the monorails after they arrive at the station and the vehicle stops. Now imagine that the monorail doesn’t stop, nobody has ever been on one before, there’s some uncertainty as to whether or not you’ll actually have to disembark if it’s not your intended destination, and the general confusion of something so new. It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney installs some sort of instruction panels or begins handing out leaflets to guests explaining the embarkation and disembarkation processes. Of course, if you’ve made it this far into one of these posts, you’re probably ready to get up in the air. And then stop.
I will take this opportunity to correct a couple of misstatements from my previous review, as Dr. Marsh would say. The cabins actually hold ten full-size adults rather comfortably. Initially, I thought any more than eight adults in a cabin would be uncomfortable. I’ve been on 30 or 40 rides so far and probably on half of them, we end up with more than six people in the cabin. One in five rides is probably a full cabin, particularly from Caribbean Beach to Epcot. Very few rides from Pop/Art to Caribbean Beach are going to see more than a half dozen people in the cabin. If you’re wondering why I’ve ridden the Skyliner so much, it’s because they turned off my water and I have to collect the little drinking packets from the emergency kits in order to sort of bathe in my kitchen sink.
Currently, you also won’t have to disembark and re-board at the Riviera if you’re heading from Caribbean Beach to Epcot. There just isn’t enough demand at that resort to necessitate it.
Don’t be surprised if some number of people board your cabin at the Riviera as it rolls through, though. This family is headed right for us.
But I’ve enjoyed each and every one of my rides on the gondolas so far. It’s fun to pretend like you’re dying when it stops. What people have going on in their day is typically insane, so it’s entertaining to listen to a family arguing about whether they should cancel their 8am FastPass+ for Living with the Land or if they’re going to make their reservation for Be Our Guest in ten minutes when they’re headed smack dab for Hollywood Studios. There’s also a high probability that at least one person heading away from Epcot is going to be completely smashed. If by some miracle, you find pleasant companions who don’t talk to you and there aren’t any stops, then you’ve found an efficient mode of transportation. So it’s all good stuff.
I’m rocking a wrapped cabin this time, but the views remain picturesque here as we pass by Hollywood Studios at a safe distance. I usually hold out a sign that says, “Turn away while you still can.” That’s also what it says on my Uber passenger review page.
The Crescent Lake area is particularly pretty.
Pulling into the International Gateway, the construction behind France is interesting.
And we’ll have an opportunity to pass over the water leading into Epcot.
Just be ready to roll out (literally, in a lot of scenarios) as the cabin arrives at the station. The floor of the gondola will be even with the ground. You can also dive out head first, particularly if you’re coming back smashed from Epcot. People will be impressed with how aerodynamic you are. Trust me.
The Skyliner is incredibly convenient to Epcot with bag check just 150 feet or so away. The Crescent Lake area with the BoardWalk etc. is also just out of frame over on the right.
There’s bag check.
The Guest Services kiosk is off to the right. It benefits from the fact that there’s rarely a line, but it’s also outside and you won’t enjoy air-conditioning like the Guest Services building in Future World. So you might as well just get back on the Skyliner and go somewhere else.
It’s 8:14am, or 14 minutes after the morning Extra Magic Hour has gotten underway, and the bag check wait is under a minute.
Disney didn’t seem too concerned about lines to enter the Park, as only one set of tapstiles was open with two others closed.
Crowds remain so low that we couldn’t even get a good idea about what an “average” day here might look like if we tried. With things picking up next week, we may be able to get back on a day with a regular 9am open and an above average number of people waiting to see how that goes. With very few people from the main entrance heading back to Frozen Ever After first thing, even if we’re several hundred people back in line, we’ll still be fine.
In the next part, we’ll walk over to Frozen and see how the rest of the day stacks up.