REVIEW: The Disney Skyliner Gondola System is a Really Fun and Terribly Frightening New Way to Get Around Walt Disney World
So, I finally rode on the Disney Skyliner gondola system. After all of the speculation, the worry, the people who told me it would be air-conditioned and that I was wrong, today marked my very first trip aboard Walt Disney World’s “Most Magical Flight on Earth” (as the on-board narration calls it.) We took one ride on each line of the system and I’ve compiled my thoughts below for you:
The character decals on the gondolas turned out to be a pretty bad idea. While they are awfully cute from the outside, they ruin the views from inside and any chance of taking cool pictures or video of the breathtaking views. Just watch the video below to see what I mean. You can view what it’s like to board and ride along each line in our video post here.
This review won’t be all negative, and honestly, I think there are a lot of positives to the Skyliner, too. The views, when not obscured, are mostly great. An aerial view of Epcot from behind World Showcase filled me with child-like glee. Seeing Spaceship Earth across the World Showcase lagoon brought back memories of old television specials and vacation planning videos which showed similar views recorded from a helicopter. Mind you, you do see some stuff that you probably shouldn’t, and the mostly un-themed, very green show building for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Epcot is the greatest oversight of them all. You come very close to it, almost passing over it in fact. It really kills the sense of immersion, especially since you’re disembarking moments later and might be taking a short jaunt to the Parisian pavilion within minutes.
Flying over roadways, lakes, and more evokes the magic of the monorail at times, while bringing back some nostalgic memories of the Skyway that once soared over The Magic Kingdom. Those similarities do come with the same problems the Skyway presented, though. If you are afraid of heights, I can’t imagine a scenario where you will be OK riding this. It gets quite high above the ground at some points, and the glass surroundings offer you nowhere to hide from the outside view. If you are prone to motion-sickness, you may want to think twice about riding for prolonged periods. They are gondolas hanging from a wire, so they do sway in the wind and the exit and reentry at stations can be a bit rough. Those who are claustrophobic might also find issue being sealed in a glass box in the sky. While they were not pairing groups today, it would be idiotic to think that there will never be a line long enough for Disney cast members to pack up to 10 guests inside one of these gondolas. They pack buses, boats, and monorails full of guests, why would this be any different?
The gondolas stay in motion while loading, but at a slow-enough speed where I think guests of nearly any age will be able to board with ease. The benches inside are comfortable, but the decision to have them facing inwards is a strange one considering how much Disney has advertised the views from inside. Instead, you’ll awkwardly face the folks across from you, with your only view not obscured coming from side windows or the smaller glass portals on the doors. A center bench with seating on both sides would have sat just as many guests and solved this view issue.
A cast member preview doesn’t offer the best idea of how long or short lines will be at the stations on a typical day, but the intersection of guests at the hub at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be interesting to watch. Every line converges here and there are small queues ready to hold guests at each line. The gondolas also continually load like the Peoplemover or any Omnimover-style ride, but that also means the entire line stops if something goes wrong (guest standing up, fails to load in time, etc.). Wheelchairs, ECVs and such load at special platforms that then merge onto the existing lines, so there will be no hold-up there, nor rush for these guests with special needs to get onboard quickly.
The audio spiels inside each gondola are pretty annoying. Why do we need a constant “musical ding” to tell us that the announcer has something to say when it’s going to be that constant? Can’t we just hear it the once before she begins her initial announcements? Otherwise, the spiel is a nice touch, giving facts and quick tips along the way, in very similar style to the Walt Disney World Monorail.
In the video, you can hear some wind noise, and that’s because the passive ventilation system works… for the most part. The motion of the gondolas and the many open vents provide more than enough cooling power for a 78-degree day. That being said, the one time we stopped for about 20 seconds and when we slowly passed through the turn station at Disney’s Boardwalk, it got pretty hot. I don’t mean it just got warm, it got awfully muggy and noticeably harder to breathe. Today is not one of the hotter days Orlando will experience throughout the year, and it is undoubtedly going to lead to issues if the system stops for any lengthy amount of time with guests onboard. If this thing stops for any length of time over a few minutes on a day hotter and more humid than today, I think Disney is in for some serious trouble. Our short stop on the way back to Hollywood Studios in direct sunlight was scary, and there was only three of us in the cabin, to boot. I am genuinely afraid of getting stuck in one of these in July, and that is not some anti-Disney rhetoric created just to spite current management (because I’m sure someone will claim that it is and that when they stopped it was perfectly cool in their gondola.) An immobile glass box in the sky in Central Florida is going to get warm. I’m not sure how it couldn’t.
All in all, if you don’t have the aforementioned phobias, the Disney Skyliner is fun and a really cool way to see Walt Disney World. If it keeps at full speed, it’s a fast way to get around, too. It undoubtedly increases the value of staying at Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and the soon-to-open Riviera Resort, offering an alternative to the mostly unreliable Disney World bus system.
Unlike the buses, it is also more of an attraction, at times feeling a special as riding monorails or various watercraft around the Vacation Kingdom of the World. If it can keep cool, the Disney Skyliner is sure to become a guest favorite for decades to come. Well, as long as you don’t mind the heights…