For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Magic Kingdom Skyway



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 yourfirstvisit.net.

MAGIC KINGDOM SKYWAY

By Jim Korkis

While Walt Disney World guests have been enjoying the gondola lift system called the Disney Skyliner since it opened in September 2019, Disney fans like myself who are older than they would like to admit clearly remember another such system that operated in the Magic Kingdom.

The Magic Kingdom Skyway was an opening day attraction at Walt Disney World in 1971 that closed in 1999.

Built by Von Roll of Bern, Switzerland, who had provided similar sky rides for over 100 amusement venues, it offered one-way transportation to Fantasyland or Tomorrowland so it was billed as two separate attractions. No round trips were allowed.

Each colorful, open-aired gondola could hold four adults or roughly 700 pounds. Two guests faced forward and two faced backward as the gondolas lifted up and rocked back and forth on overhead cables for less than five minutes.

The gondolas traveled above the main area of Fantasyland and the crystal clear 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction lagoon while providing a wonderful photo opportunity before the vehicles made a sharp right turn near the Tomorrowland Speedway. The journey continued with the gondolas passing Space Mountain before touching down at the Tomorrowland Station.

Guests could even enjoy distant views of the Contemporary Resort, Splash Mountain, and the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Pinocchio’s Village Haus was designed so that the view looking down from the gondolas mimicked the opening overhead shot of Gepetto’s village from the animated feature.

In February 1999, a park custodian at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was killed when the skyway started up expectedly while he was cleaning one of its platforms. Raymond Barlow, 65, was sweeping off a narrow skyway platform inaccessible to park guests an hour after the park’s 9:00 A.M. opening when other cast members, unaware of his presence, started up the ride.

Barlow, startled by the approaching gondola, grabbed onto it and tried to climb inside and fell forty feet into a flower bed, hitting a tree on the way down, and died. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later ruled that the area in which Barlow had been working violated federal safety codes and fined Walt Disney World $4,500 for a “serious” violation of safety standards

The last day of operation for the attraction was in November 1999, because the cost of operating and maintaining the attraction was high in relation to its hourly capacity as well as the need to upgrade it for disabled access and structural repairs. There were also increasing concerns about liability with guests rocking the gondolas, spitting and throwing things out of them onto the guests walking below.

“It’s part of our ongoing efforts to phase out some of the older attractions and introduce new things to keep our parks exciting for our new and repeat visitors,” Walt Disney World spokesman Diane Ledder told the media. “It’s just something whose time has come.”

When the Fantasyland Station closed, the pylons and wires were removed from the park, but some of the equipment remained in the building. The Bavarian-style Alpine building that featured a large clock still reflected the village theme of the area. The front area was used for stroller parking.

The station was eventually removed and replaced by the Tangled Restrooms as well as a wider path to Liberty Square.

The Tomorrowland Station was two stories high with a waterfall on one side. When it closed, the top half of the building and the waterfall were eventually removed and a bathroom was installed on the ground floor.

The DisneyStyle store at Disney Springs has a blue Skyway gondola hanging from the ceiling just above the Mad Tea Party teacup photo-op.

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Thanks, Jim! And 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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