Walt Disney World will once again be closing the Skyliner, with the gondola system going down for refurbishment next year. In this post, we’ll cover dates and details, plus our recommended resort alternatives during the closure, and other recent transportation changes at Walt Disney World.
This routine maintenance to the “Most Magical Flight on Earth” affects all of the Skyliner routes and resorts. These gondolas service two Walt Disney World theme parks (Hollywood Studios and Epcot) plus four resorts (Art of Animation & Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, plus Riviera Resort & Caribbean Beach again) via 5 stations.
The last time Walt Disney World did maintenance to the Skyliner at about the same time this year, one line went down at a time. This time around, Disney and Doppelmayr will be doing all three lines simultaneously. This is presumably for the sake of increased efficiency or consolidating cancellations into one smaller window.
During the Skyliner refurbishment, Walt Disney World will offer bus service between the impacted hotels and the parks. Hopefully, this means increased frequency, as our past experience using and testing bus routes between the Skyliner resorts and parks left a lot to be desired.
Before we get to the recommended resort alternatives and other commentary, let’s start with the details of the Skyliner refurbishment, per the correspondence sent out by Walt Disney World…
In order to maintain the highest quality standards, Walt Disney World must conduct refurbishments from time to time. To help guests plan for vacations early next year, Disney is sharing that all lines of the Disney Skyliner will be closed for routine maintenance from January 22 until January 29, 2023.
Bus transportation will be available at all Disney Skyliner Resorts throughout the planned closure so guests can reach their desired destinations across Walt Disney World.
Looking forward to early 2024, we’d expect a similar closure during the exact same week.
This year, the Skyliner went down from January 23-28, so it seems safe to assume history will repeat itself and this will be an annual thing for some or all routes during the last full week of January, which tends to be a slow time at Walt Disney World. Plan accordingly.
To each their own, but our recommendation would be to not stay in a Skyliner resort during the refurbishment. The reason for this is quite simple: all of the Skyliner resorts have a significant pricing premium due to the gondola service.
While you might think it’s impossible to quantify what each amenity actually contributes to the rack rates at each resort, this is not simply conjecture on our part (except with Disney’s Riviera Resort). All of the other hotels pre-date the Skyliner, so it’s entirely possible to track their pricing both before and after the Skyliner.
Every single hotel has gone up in price since 2019. This is true both in terms of rack rates and when it comes to effective pricing after discounts. However, not all resorts have gone up by equal increments.
Two of the biggest ‘offenders’ in all of Walt Disney World in terms of percentage cost increases are Pop Century and Caribbean Beach. This is particularly pronounced at Caribbean Beach, which went from being one of Walt Disney World’s more aggressively discounted resorts to one that seldom offers significant savings (excepting the infamous Pirate Rooms, of course).
In fairness, it’s possible that this is not entirely attributable to the Skyliner. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort also had a massive reimagining prior to the Skyliner’s debut, which likely was not fully reflected in its pricing by late 2019.
Moreover, the addition of Disney’s Riviera Resort–while arguably adding visual blight and reducing the seclusion and ambiance at Caribbean Beach–expanded the slate of Barefoot Bay amenities and added both Signature and character dining within walking distance. We consider this a mixed bag, but from a practical perspective, it’s a huge win for guests. (Which is how most people who aren’t hardcore fans evaluate resorts.)
In any case, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World during this timeframe, we would recommend staying elsewhere. The obvious alternative is Coronado Springs, which itself saw a similar reimagining and expansion a few years ago. That Moderate Resort added the Deluxe-caliber Gran Destino Tower to its grounds, bringing many of the same improved amenities that Caribbean Beach saw added with Riviera Resort.
The biggest downside of Coronado Springs is the all-bus transportation, and one of the few reasons we hesitate to recommend that Moderate Resort to those reliant upon Disney to get around. (Those with their own vehicle, rental cars, or who will use Uber or Lyft should strongly consider it.) That disadvantage obviously still exists, but during that timeframe it’ll exist at Caribbean Beach, too.
In most other regards, Coronado Springs surpasses Caribbean Beach at this point. Where it really matters for most guests looking at the Moderate Resort tier–pricing–Coronado usually wins handily thanks to better discount availability.
As for the Value Resorts, the obvious alternatives are the All Stars. Music would probably be our go-to no matter what you’re considering at Pop Century or Art of Animation, as it’s the most recently updated and has family suites. Again, this is all bus transportation, but that’ll be the case with Pop and AoA that week, too.
The one wild card with the All Stars is that late January might have some group bookings for ESPN Wide World of Sports youth events. They typically do not occur that early in the winter and Music is less likely to host those groups than All Star Sports, so you should be fine.
Another option is upgrading to one of the Moderate Resorts. Discounted rates at one of the Port Orleans Resorts or Coronado Springs often aren’t much more expensive than the Little Mermaid rooms or Pop Century.
In other Skyliner news, Walt Disney World updated the My Disney Experience app to include a “Transportation” tile last week that’s supposed to contain useful information.
The one detail that would be useful for the Skyliner is its operating status. The gondolas go down during storms, which happen often during the afternoon (and sometimes evening) this time of year.
We’ve learned to plan around this for the most part, checking radars in weather apps and planning accordingly with regard to transportation. However, those aren’t always accurate. Even if they were, sometimes it isn’t possible to “beat” the storm to the Skyliner.
The real problem is that there’s no great way of knowing whether the Skyliner has gone down (unless you see lightning) or is back up and running without physically walking to the Skyliner station. Sometimes there are Cast Members in the parks alerting guests heading towards International Gateway that the Skyliner isn’t operating, but they’re not always there–or they’re still there after it’s back up.
Anyway, our hope was that the transportation tile would address this, making it easier to ascertain the Skyliner status. It does not.
You’ll see one pop-up at the beginning that says: “Important Update: Disney Skyliner and Friendship Boats may be unavailable during periods of severe weather. Service will resume as soon as possible. Thank you!”
This isn’t really an “important update” so much as it’s standard operating procedure for the Skyliners for the last ~3 years and for the FriendShip boats for the last…I dunno…few decades.
The pop-up happens the first time you use this feature, regardless of the weather. It could be blue skies and smooth sailing and that “important update” would still appear. There’s absolutely no real time info about any form of transportation. Unless you want to learn the basics, this feature isn’t particularly useful. Here’s hoping it evolves over time.
Ultimately, we still absolutely love the gondolas and would choose one of the Skyliner resorts over their counterparts just about any time of year…except when it’s down for refurbishment or more likely to be impacted by storm season. Even the latter doesn’t make it a non-starter (the monorail also isn’t 100% reliable!), it just makes awareness of the weather more important.
For those who visit Walt Disney World regularly throughout or during different months of the year, our ideal times to stay at Skyliner resorts are November through May. Obviously, minus that one week in January. As a matter of personal preference, we’d probably also remove the holiday season. Not because there’s any issue with the Skyliner then–to the contrary, that crisp breeze feels even nicer–but because none of the Skyliner resorts get decked out for Christmas all that impressively.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Would you pay premium pricing to stay at Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation, or Riviera Resort while the Skyline is closed for refurbishment? Are you a fan of the gondolas, or do you prefer a different ‘type’ of resort? Have you used the Skyliners at Walt Disney World recently? What has been the good, bad, or ugly for you? Any issues with Skyliner downtime during storm season? What about buses as alternatives from those resorts? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!