Disney's Skyliner - I was wrong...

Edited: February 3, 2020, 10:03 AM

We just recently returned from a week-long trip to Walt Disney World staying completely inside the "Disney Bubble". For as many times as my wife and I (and now our son) have been to WDW, this was the first time we had visited without a car, and were completely reliant upon Disney Transportation. When selecting the resort for our stay, price is typically our driving factor, and Pop Century offers some of the most reasonably priced rates on property.

This was our third stay the the Disney value resort but the first time since Disney opened their Skyliner gondola system, and even though I had been highly critical of the system since it was announced, I approached the transportation alternative with open eyes. After a week of traveling around the WDW Resort, I can confidently say that Disney's Skyliner is the most innovative and convenient transportation system on property. We never waited more than 3 minutes to board, even in the evenings after park closing at the busy Caribbean Beach hub station. The longest ride on the system was 13 minutes to travel between EPCOT and Caribbean Beach that included multiple stops and slowdowns. The Skyliner is a breath of fresh air for guests who are frustrated with packed, infrequent bus service, and every time we queued for a bus during our trip, we lamented that there was not an option for us to take the Skyliner to our destination instead.

The system is not without its flaws, and I will stand by my initial criticism that cabins may get extremely warm on hot and humid Florida summer days. Temperatures were consistently in the 60s and low 70s during our week in Orlando, and while there was a noticeable breeze from the vents, I still worry that stuffing 10 heavy breathers into an enclosed space will make the trip somewhat uncomfortable for guests that are more heat sensitive.

Another odd observation we had throughout our experiences on the system was the uncomfortable silence with guests sharing a cabin with us. There were a few trips where we struck up conversations with our cabin-mates, but other times where we were staring blankly at each other. While the cabin contains a speaker that gives some instructions and information, there are long stretches of trips where there is no music or talking, and with the virtually silent operation of the system from inside the cabin, it can be really awkward to share a cabin with guests content in just staring silently across the cabin at you.

We eventually got used to it, but the approach from the Caribbean Beach hub station to the Pop Century/Art of Animation station is low to the ground and at such a high velocity that it feels like you're going to crash into the preceding gondola when you reach the station. We never experienced an incident while riding, but it was extremely disconcerting to come into the station at such a high rate of speed with rapid deceleration that tips the cabin at least 20-degrees as it enters the station.

My only other quibble with the Skyliner was that it was not running early enough in the morning to accommodate DHS hours. Disney continues to move DHS opening hours up to 7 AM, and if guests want to ride Rise of the Resistance, it's critical that they be in the park before the official opening time to secure a Boarding Group. However, the Skyliner did not start operating until 7:30 AM during our entire trip, so we were forced to ride a bus to the park on days that began at DHS. At least Disney was running frequent buses to DHS during the early morning hours for guests wanting to get to the park in time, but it was frustrating that we couldn't just ride the Skyliner.

I've always been a HUGE proponent of the Disney buses, and have rarely had an issue with them. This trip, we had a few hiccups here and there with the buses, but every time we were forced to take a bus (either to DHS in the morning or to DAK or MK), we wished we could take the Skyliner instead. Here's hoping the cabins don't get too hot in the summer, and Disney expands the system in the near future so that all parks and resorts can be connected using this efficient and convenient form of transportation.

Replies (7)

February 3, 2020, 1:26 PM

Good to hear you enjoyed the Skyliner. It's a great way to travel between DHS & Epcot. Mid-week, off season is generally quiet, so you wouldn't have seen it at capacity. A friend of mine works the Skyliner, and she says sometimes it's absolutely crazy, and almost every gondola they send off is full.

I always try and start a conversation, and see how it goes. Once people get to know I'm a local pass holder, they like to ask how best to do things. Main topic, as you would expect, is FP+. It's always good to get their take on the rides, as well as which park they like the best. It's a similar situation I find when you ride the train between the 2 Universal parks.

The Skyliner has yet to go thru an Orlando summer, so all bets are off until it passes that hurdle.

February 3, 2020, 1:47 PM

We were boarded a couple of times with guests that were not native English speakers, so that obviously made it very awkward in the Skyliner. Another ride, we were boarded with an older couple that kept to themselves and stared straight ahead. At least on the Hogwarts Express, you have the show element to keep you entertained during the journey so you're not forced to interact with other guests in your cabin. The Skyliner has brief announcements interspersed during your journey, but it's not constant. Just a little background MUSAK could go a long way here, even if it's broadcast at a very low volume. Luckily we had our Millennium Falcon popcorn bucket, which was a good conversation starter throughout our time at WDW, as guests (and CMs at other parks) kept asking what it was we were carrying and where we got it.

I will say that of the 12 or so individual trips we made on the Skyliner, we were only boarded with other parties about half the time. I'm sure that when the parks are more crowded, ops will be filling them to the 10-person max, but given that we had pleasant interactions with other guests in our cabin half the time, we only had that awkward silence for 4 trips.

February 3, 2020, 3:09 PM

I think Disney can make the ride more fun by giving the passengers something to do with themselves or with the fellow strangers on ride.
Here are a couple of ideas:
1. Put word puzzles, mazes and other riddles on the doors of the gondola, same concept as you may find on a cereal box.
2. Give small missions like "how many mickey mouses can you spot during your trip?", "look for gondola number that matches your birth date", etc.
3. Give topics to discuss with your fellow passengers.
4. Scan a QR code that will open up a game on the MyDisney app for everyone on the gondola to participate.

February 3, 2020, 11:29 PM

Russell, I'm glad to hear you've changed your opinion of the Skyliner after experiencing it firsthand. As I've been saying on here for some time, I really think aerial ropeways are the best form of mass transit, particularly when you're adding a system to an already developed area. They are reasonably fast, very efficient, and can pass over obstacles with minimal ground space necessary. I know there were some who tested the temperature of the Skyliner last fall and found even though it wasn't technically cooler it felt noticeably cooler than the outside air due to circulation, so hopefully the same will be true in the worst of Florida's summers. It's going to largely depend on finances, but I'm seriously considering an on-property stay the next time I visit Florida just to fully utilize the system.

February 5, 2020, 10:02 AM

We were there during Christmas week and never waited more than ten minutes for the Skyliner. I wish Disney would ditch the buses. This was a great way to travel. The buses can be frustrating!

Edited: February 18, 2020, 3:08 AM

On the topic of "unconfortable silence".
Please consider the information delivered here :
NOT talking from time to time, and keeping silence, could have therapeutic value in the USA...

February 18, 2020, 7:16 AM

It's not the silence Herwig, it's the uncomfortable silence. If two parties are boarded into the same pod, the likelihood is that they will sit on opposite sides of the cabin. Those parties will be less than 5 feet apart staring at each other for the duration of the trip, sometimes as long as 10-15 minutes (or longer if there's an extended stoppage). It's just weird to sit there and look ahead staring at a group of strangers without saying anything and without any music or background noise to mitigate the silence. It's uncomfortable to talk to the others in your party since you don't want to feel secretive in talking in front of strangers. If you're alone in the cabin, it would be a peaceful, therapeutic silence, but when sharing a cabin with others, it's just nervous, strange, and awkward.

This is after all why MUSAK was invented, and why almost all public elevators play some sort of background entertainment to break up the monotony. The Skyliner has a couple of announcements during the trip, but it's not constant, and the near silent operation of the system creates an eerie atmosphere inside the pods when you have to share the enclosed space with strangers.

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