by: guide4wdw – Collin
With the recent revival of the gondola concept, we thought it would be great to take a look back at “what was.” The original Skyway was a classic day one Walt Disney World attraction and an experience that many early Disney World fans have extremely fond memories of. Despite experiencing a controversial closure, the attraction created a view of the Magic Kingdom that was truly unparalleled. For many, it was a highlight of their Disney vacation from 1971 up until it’s closure in 1999. 

(Photos – Flickr: George Thomas – Labeled For Reuse)

The attraction itself was borrowed from the Disneyland iteration and featured an extremely similar design. Both systems would carry guests in a “one-way” or “two-way” fashion to and from Fantasyland/Tomorrowland. However, opposed to the Disney World variation, Disneyland’s Skyway passed through the Matterhorn attraction throughout a good portion of it’s existence. Unfortunately, in 1994 Disneyland permanently closed this attraction citing a weakened structure along with other issues.

The Walt Disney World Skyway continued operation for quite a few years after the Disneyland iteration’s closure. For guests, this simple experience provided an aerial view of all of Fantasyland as well as a vast portion of Tomorrowland. The view from above was a thrilling experience according to guests who had the opportunity to see it first hand. Personally, the nostalgia factor for this attraction goes far beyond the history of the parks. In the early years of Walt Disney World, I had a relative visit the park who truly loved this attraction. It eventually became the memorable experience of their short time at Walt Disney World. Of course, these were the same relatives that thought Space Mountain was a casual boat ride through “space” (they were sadly mistaken). While their one day in the parks wasn’t the most pleasant after that, considering they both got horribly motion sick, they still held on to that simple memory of the Skyway from the very same day. It was something they talked about for years and they really weren’t Disney fans like many of us reading this certainly are. For them, it was a one of a kind experience that they’d never seen before! 

The attraction was certainly built as a forward thinking concept developed by WED Enterprises to truly share something “new” in the theme park realm. The early manufacturing was achieved by the Von Roll organization out of Switzerland and was the first of it’s kind in the United States when it first debut at Disneyland. Surprisingly, the Von Roll organization is still in business today (operating under a different name), while it operates in different industries. 
However, while the original manufacturer will not be developing the new system directly as it was at that time (the group Doppelmayr will be who were sold the ropeway division), this simply goes to show that no good idea ever gets truly left behind in Imagineering.The new project will without a doubt be much more advanced that the original Skyway, but Disney has promised that the new gondolas will take guests back to the original concept. The design will feature elements of the early Skyway while debuting a new name, “The Skyliner.” Of course, as with anything Disney announces, the idea has certainly faced controversy, but really should be an intriguing new addition to the Walt Disney World Resort area. 
Sadly, an unfortunate circumstance resulting in the death of a cast member occurred a short time before the Walt Disney World Skyway’s closure, but Disney stated the closure was unrelated. Today, after years of being abandoned, the former Fantasyland Skyway station has been demolished and transformed into one of the most impressive themed restrooms on property (and no that isn’t a joke, they’re really impressive!).  
Video: Disneyland’s Skyway 1992

Today, it’ll be interesting to see how the logistics of the new undertaking will unfold, but I really am looking forward to it’s debut. I never did get the chance to experience the Skyway first hand (I was 3yrs old when it closed), so the much more modern variation could be a great throwback to the early days of Walt Disney World!
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