Disney World's new gondola system fails, stranding hundreds

October 5, 2019, 11:25 PM · Hundreds of Walt Disney World visitors were stranded in midair for up to three hours this evening, after the resort's new Disney Skyliner system failed Saturday night.

Disney spokespersons said that no one was injured and blamed the stoppage on an unexpected power failure downtime. (*Update: See below.). But fans shared photos on social media of several gondolas pushed up against each other in one station, hanging at odd angles and with what appeared to be broken glass under one gondola. It is unclear whether that stack-up was the cause or an effect of the system stoppage, or if anyone was on the gondolas when they made contact.

Local fire departments responded to help evacuate riders from the vehicles, which can be suspended up to 60 feet in the air as they travel between Epcot, Hollywood Studios and several area Disney hotels. The problem appeared to be on the line between Caribbean Beach and Epcot.

Many riders opened emergency packs on the gondolas to get drinking water while they awaited rescue. Disney reportedly responded with free park tickets and gift cards to guests who has been stranded.

The Disney Skyliner system opened officially late last month as part of Disney's continued efforts to ease the flow of guests around the resort - especially to and from Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot, both of which have been undergoing major expansions. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened this summer at DHS while Disney has begun a reconstruction project that will transform much of Epcot.

*Update: Disney issued the following statement Sunday evening: "We have a team diligently looking into the cause of the malfunction on the Epcot line of the Disney Skyliner. We have been in contact with the guests, many of whom were on the Skyliner for more than three hours until we were able to restart the system. We express our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and continue to work with each guest individually."

Replies (27)

October 5, 2019 at 11:44 PM

Incompetence on a huge degree. It's another collosus waste of money like 'Magic Bands' - if i remember correctly that cost nigh on a billion dollars, when essentially most of the stuff can be done on apps on your phone. I'd be curious to know how much this transport method cost.

October 6, 2019 at 12:11 AM

"The Disney Skyliner system opened officially late last month." I'm sorry but I have to say this line is a bit deceiving. The skyliner opened on September 27th. It's been nine days in operation and already the first major incident. Does not look good at all.

October 6, 2019 at 2:23 AM

Before we get a barrage of "the Skyliner is unsafe" comments, I'm going to say a few things here:

1. Gondola systems like the Skyliner have been in operation for decades without incident all over the world, and I have never heard of an incident similar to what happened tonight. I suspect it was only possible due to the amount of customization Disney requested on their system, and it likely wouldn't be too difficult to make modifications if necessary.

2. The collision occurred at low speed in one of the terminals. Based on my best guess, it appears one of the cabins became jammed for some reason (perhaps loss of power to a drive tire motor) and others quickly piled up behind due to the super close spacing of cabins. The entire system stopped immediately once the problem was detected with no injuries.

3. Once the blockage was cleared, the line was restarted and able to unload guests normally without any further incidents. This indicates that damage was likely constrained to only the affected cabin.

Is this an incident that should have occurred? No. Should it be investigated by both Disney and Doppelmayr and corrected before the Skyliner reopens? Absolutely. Does this glitch mean the entire thing is a waste of millions of dollars and must be decommissioned immediately? Absolutely not. Bizarre incidents happen on new attractions all the time, and with a highly sophisticated system there are bound to be minor issues not discovered until everything is in operation. Remember, Steel Vengeance crashed on opening day last year, and I'd consider that incident much worse than what happened here.

October 6, 2019 at 1:59 AM

Thank God for balance perspective like that of A J Hummel.

October 6, 2019 at 4:50 AM

Hear, Hear AJ!

October 6, 2019 at 5:35 AM

@AJ Hummel regarding your first point, you are wrong (simple google search).

You are more likely to get killed while driving a car or most other transportation forms (except from elevators) to get in a (fatal) accident.
That said it's bad show for Disney who already struggles to fill their hotel rooms.

October 6, 2019 at 7:09 AM

3 hours in an unmoving glass box suspended in the air in central Florida? No thanks. I'm not against them having a transportation system like this in place, the views from videos I've seen look great, but I'll stick to the buses and boats. And besides, the Most Magical Flight on Earth is first class on Singapore Air. (Not that I've ever done that myself.)

October 6, 2019 at 7:35 AM

@NCPete lol, true. And I flew coach with Singapore Air from Amsterdam to Cairo and that was even better than my first class on a dreamliner.

October 6, 2019 at 7:58 AM

Stuff breaks. New complicated systems break more often.

October 6, 2019 at 8:22 AM

I agree with AJ, but this was the biggest issue we have all talked about for a long time. I feel for those people who were stranded, but thank goodness it wasn’t the nightmare scenario of 2pm on a 100+ heat index Orlando afternoon .... with thunderstorms rolling in.

October 6, 2019 at 8:47 AM

Here come the "doom and gloom" negative people. They were just waiting for something bad to happen with the new Skyliner system,so that they can come out of the woodwork. It was inevitable.

October 6, 2019 at 9:51 AM

OT, if you do not believe this is a safer transportation system than cars, trains, or buses, please direct me to incidents where riders on a similar gondola system were injured or killed without being at fault in the incident. I am having a hard time finding anything.

October 6, 2019 at 10:10 AM

Jeez, Disney World just can't catch a break lately.

October 6, 2019 at 1:57 PM

Thank you AJ for some much needed perspective.

Doppelmayr also installed the cable car system in Hong Kong; Ngong Ping 360 and that system has endured it's fair share of problems during to wear and tear with the bearings.

Ngong Ping 360 which originally was outsourced to a 3rd party consortium has broken down too and during high speed testing after hours, an empty gondola came crashing down, luckily no one was hurt but that shut down the system for months resulting in the local subway system taking over operation and maintenance of the Cable Car system.

My biggest concern regarding the skyliner is they are not really intended to operate 365 days a year non stop as Ngong Ping 360 has to shut down completely 2 weeks annually for maintenance where they have to replace the bearings in the cable system.

October 6, 2019 at 1:33 PM

@AJ Hummel you said "...have been in operation for decades without incident all over the world". THAT is not true, there have been incidents although not many. As I stated these systems are safer than any other except for elevators. The fact that there aren't many incidents in the world make this one even more special.

October 6, 2019 at 7:17 PM

Glad to see some perspective from AJ as Andrew's first comment sums up the haters on how "tear it all down over one mishap" mentality that, if listened to, would mean scores of theme park attractions wouldn't exist.

October 6, 2019 at 8:44 PM

Not a fan of the gondola system to be sure...Mainly because of incidents, though few and far between, like what happened here...That being said, who am I to knock somebody for wanting to ride the thing? Like them or not, Disney made to effort to add another transportation option...The only bearing me not specifically liking the system is that I just won’t be riding it...

October 7, 2019 at 1:40 AM

@Yeowser,

you are wrong, Doppelmayr did NOT build the system in Hong Kong Ngong Ping 360, it was build by Leitner https://www.leitner-ropeways.com/en/company/references/bd17-ngong-ping-360-599/ .
You are right about the issues with the system in HK, but this was a Leitner system.

Doppelmayr has many references operating cables cars 365 days a year, like 10 urban cable cars in La Paz etc. Cable cars are one of the most reliable transportation solutions out there.

@AJ Hummel, looks like you know what you are talking. Thuumbs up.

October 7, 2019 at 2:25 AM

OT, I apologize if there was misinterpretation on my part or on yours. While there have been a small handful of incidents, the vast majority of gondola systems have never had a severe enough issue to necessitate a rope evacuation or extended unexpected downtime. My statement was not meant to imply that no incident has ever occurred, but instead that they are exceptionally rare.

Thanks to everyone for remaining level-headed here unlike many of the other fan communities. While gondola systems like the Skyliner are a bit rare in the theme park setting, they are becoming very common for urban transportation and have been a core feature of many large ski areas for decades. I seriously hope none of those vowing to never set foot on the Skyliner again are winter sports enthusiasts, because anytime you ride a detachable chairlift it's almost the exact same thing (just chairs instead of cabins). For more information on this sort of thing, I highly recommend Liftblog, which has far more authority to comment on this incident than any Disney blog on the net.

October 7, 2019 at 7:55 AM

The on-line photos clearly show the gondola exit from the Riviera resort station. What’s interesting to see is the doors are open on the blue gondola, but the 2 yellow ones behind have closed doors. Of course, the photo may have been taken after an evacuation, but then again why are the yellow doors still closed. The 3rd yellow cabin is just before the door close area. A CM stands at that exit point and wishes us a magical flight as the doors are closing, so they would be the first to know there is a problem, and by the time they hit the e-stop, which isn’t right next to them but a little way behind, the system could have allowed the gondolas to bunch up as shown in the photos. My concern about the blue gondola doors is, did it go past the door close area and they did not close ?? and did the CM notice this, then hit the e-stop, but why did the other gondolas continue on their way to exit the station.

The problem now for Disney and Doppelmayr, is how do they recreate that scenario and how then to find the glitch that caused the accident on Saturday night. Was it human error, or was a system failure ?? I’m still intrigued by the position of the blue gondola with its doors open.

I hope it’s up and running soon. My friend and I were going to Epcot on Sunday to ride it to DHS, but after the incident decided to go to Disney Springs and SeaWorld. “And you wanted me to ride that thing” …. was her first comment … LOL …. Well, yes, and it’ll be OK when it’s back up and running that’s for sure. I like the Skyliner, and will ride it again, but in my review I commented on the continual annoying audio saying sorry for the stoppage and we’ll be on our way again soon. That would have driven me nuts more than being stuck up in the air for a few hours.

October 7, 2019 at 8:47 AM

Things happen, and since no one was hurt this doesn't even appear that bad. Except for the part where people were stranded in Orlando heat without any AC. Ya know, the exact thing people were warning about ever since it was announced? There's always bound to be some delay or backup, even for something less mess than this. That is the real issue.

October 7, 2019 at 10:41 AM

Things do happen, and I think Disney needs to feel fortunate that guests were not stuck in the pods on a stifling hot Orlando afternoon. This incident highlights the biggest issue that has been hanging over this project since it was announced. I think Disney is smart working on alternative transportation systems around WDW, but I don't think aerial gondolas are the right solution here. Gondolas are great when there are large elevation changes or topography makes other forms of transportation cost prohibitive. However, WDW is generally flat, and with so many little bodies of water, it significantly hampers the ability to evacuate the system in the event of an emergency.

Who knows what caused the actual shutdown of the system, though I would presume that Disney and its contracting partners will use every available resource to track it down and correct the problem. However, the fact remains that every transportation system runs into issues like this, and anything with moving parts is subject to failure at some point. The biggest issue facing the Sweatliner is that at some point the system will fail during the heat of a summer afternoon, and Disney will need to have a better solution than a black box with some bottles of water.

October 7, 2019 at 1:13 PM

I do agree that the gondolas are a bad plan. But I don’t agree that the Magic Bands are bad. The gondolas are not air conditioned. As long as they’re moving, they should be good. But when they stop... there’s a big problem. Waiting for three (some say 4) hours can be a huge problem. Unfortunately (obviously) there are no restrooms between stations. It would be difficult to power air conditioners on the gondola system.

No system is perfect. Even buses, boats, and the monorail can have problems. The fact that no-one was seriously hurt is fantastic.

I know they don’t want to spend a huge amount of money for more monorails. And I know the busses are maxing out the system already. They need a new and better system.

I’ll still ride the Skyliner when I get there.

October 7, 2019 at 1:16 PM

While it may be true that every transportation system may have problems, this is nonetheless bad PR for Disney. Unfortunately, there is a fear factor with this type of system. Especially when people are starting to think about being stuck for hours in the hot daytime with no air conditioning. Disney needs to have a plan for evacuating the gondolas quickly, even over water, for people to trust the system. Or it must have backup, failsafe systems to get it running quickly after any conceivable incident.

October 7, 2019 at 3:44 PM

Thomas Caselli - Do you work for Disney?

October 8, 2019 at 2:26 PM

This could be chalked up to a simple malfunction and "growing pains". But, the viability of a thing is in the collective agreement that it is safe, not that it IS safe.

It will only take, in my estimation, 2-3 of these incidents in the future on very hot days to prove the failure of this system. It's not that it isn't a great idea when it's working -- it's that it's a massive fail to evacuate on a hot day, leveraging the local fire department.

No one wants to waste their vacation stuck in a hot box. There were stories of kids that had to go to the bathroom just going on the floor while they were stuck. Gross!

I agree though that it did look good on paper.

October 8, 2019 at 6:14 PM

N B: No I do not work for Disney, although I did apply for work at Walt Disney World almost 25 years ago.

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