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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Eastern Winds

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, it was planned that the principal means of travel from the parking center and main entrance to and from the theme park and hotels would be aboard the Walt Disney World-Alweg Monorail trains. However, during that opening month, only four monorails were operating and could not handle the capacity crowds.

Emergency trams that frequently broke down were immediately put into service to transport guests from the parking lot to the entrance as well as any water craft available, including the keel boats from Frontierland, to ferry guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the main entrance.

That included calling into service two specially built temperamental side-wheeler steamboats, “The Southern Seas” and the “Ports-O-Call” that had been built for leisurely Moonlight Cruises through the waterways or special evening charter parties.

When the Magic Kingdom closed for the night, there wasn’t much for adults to do other than the Top of the World musical show on the top floor of the Contemporary. The plan was to have some watercraft for adult evening cruises to offer guests who still wanted to do something on property. Probably the most significant such water vehicle was The Eastern Winds.

The Eastern Winds, a cocktail lounge aboard an authentic 65-foot Chinese Junk, was docked at the Polynesian Resort from 1971 to 1978. It was available for charters, and took a crew of two to operate: a pilot and a deckhand.

The ship included a galley on board for dining as well as a full wet bar. Often during charters, the crew would also include a chef, a server, a bartender as well as a cocktail waitress. The large wheel was located in the stern of the 50,000-pound boat and took 22 turns from lock to lock.

It was built in Hong Kong in 1964, and was later purchased by a Texas oil baron. Football legend Joe Namath owned it at one time as well.

As Sully Sullivan, who helped open WDW in 1971, told me, “There was a real Chinese junk out there in the lagoon and people could rent that boat and take it out for parties. I remember one of the problems was the Disney art directors wanted to paint it, but the wood was teak. You can’t paint teak because then it can’t breathe and the whole thing just rotted. It just stunk to high heavens.

“Pete Crimmings bought that boat down in Miami somewhere, I think. It was somebody’s personal playhouse and there was just a big mattress on the top deck. We had to change all that but it looked great.”

And the end? Ron Cooper and his partner Court Glanadorp were flying in a private plane over Florida and spotted the junk sitting anchored in the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney had discontinued the cruises and left it in the lagoon as a decoration because it was too much trouble to remove. Cooper made an offer to buy it and within a month, Disney accepted.

However, time and weather had taken its toll on the craft and it was in terrible shape. All the incidentals had been stripped and the varnish was off.

The ship could not be floated anywhere so a trailer had to be positioned under the craft and it was transported along the interstate with much fanfare. When it arrived at its new home, it was launched off the back of the trailer because a crane operator refused to lift it for fear of further damage.

After two years spent refurbishing the boat, it was used for pleasure cruises in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! Note that the the image is from Tikiman’s material on the early history of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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1 Diann Harris { 09.05.20 at 5:00 pm }

In June 1972, my family was picked to ride around on the Eastern Winds for publicity pictures.

2 Dave { 09.06.20 at 1:18 pm }

🙂 Diann!

3 Jessie Eller. { 02.28.21 at 8:26 pm }

I tended bar on The Eastern Winds in 1972. I worked at the hotel as a bartender.

4 Dave { 03.04.21 at 8:45 am }

Wow, Jessie!

5 Fred Threadgill { 04.04.23 at 2:38 am }

There are a couple slight issues in the story that are small but need minor updates. The issues with the tram was not that they broke down it was an issue that the original tractors that pulled the tram cars were designed for flat air ports, by using them to take guests from the main parking lot to the front entrance was they had to go up a steep hill near the Contemporary water bridge. They just didn’t have the power. Also the lakes at Disney are land locked, you could not sail the boat anywhere off Disney peoperty, it would need to leave Disney by truck no matter what shape it was in. Again minor points. Great boat, glad to hear it still lives on.

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