Skyliner Update: Shaky Start…and Smooth Sailing?
We’re back with another Skyliner gondola update from Walt Disney World! Here we have new photos, updated hours, and anecdotal observations from a slew of rides to test the system. We’ll also cover more of the fallout from the Skyliner collision that occurred a couple weeks ago.
To bring you up to speed, after 6 days of operations the Skyliner had a malfunction/accident that caused cabins to smash into one another at the Riviera Resort station, resulting in aerial evacuations after some guests had been stranded for three hours.
After another week of downtime and testing, Walt Disney World quietly resumed operations last Monday morning with modified hours. Following that, Disney released a statement offering “deepest apologies to the guests impacted by the malfunction that resulted in extended operating delays on Oct. 5.” and that “similar to ski lift systems, Disney Skyliner may slow or come to some stops during the ride.” Closures and delayed openings were also announced for last week, but that wasn’t the end of Disney’s Skyliner woes…
Following the completion of modifications to the system, it appeared to be smooth sailing for the Skyliner. Then, the 911 calls from the night of the (well just call it “unfortunate incident”) were released by the Orlando Sentinel following a public records request. The audio on these was…not great, Bob.
The most unnerving of these came from an 11-year-old Lakeland girl who was on the phone with 911 with nearly an hour, pleading for rescue assistance for her epileptic and anxious mother stuck in the Skyliner. (This was one of the cabins that subsequently received an aerial evacuation.)
Other audios reveals stranded riders crying, pleading for help, and requesting assistance for family members with health conditions or who have passed out. These paint a picture of guests who generally are, in the words of one caller, “freaking out.” At least one Skyliner guest was hospitalized after the evacuation.
It would seem that one of the main issues for those stranded was with regard to communication. Several calls complained of only automated messages that they’d be moving shortly, even after the Skyliner had been stuck for two hours. Hopefully this was an area that was addressed via further Cast Member training, as it would seem that a lot of fears could’ve been assuaged with proper human communications.
In any case, the Skyliner has now been operational for over another week, and we’ve had several chances to ride it since the unfortunate incident. (Always being sure to use the restroom before riding and filling our water bottles!)
As we’ve written before, we won’t hesitate to continue using the Skyliner. We still love it. Without exception, our experiences with it have still been flawless.
Of course, this is entirely anecdotal–we’re ridden the Skyliner less than than 1% of the total operating hours of the system since it resumed operations. Even if we logged dozens of hours on the Skyliner, that’d still be a comparatively small sample size.
And of course, one person’s anecdotal experiences of smooth sailing is meaningless to someone else who rides once and experiences a prolonged delay during the middle of a hot day. (Not that we’re saying this has happened of late–but it theoretically could.)
Our most common use case (actually…maybe our only use case?) for the Skyliner in the last week has been park hopping from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot via Caribbean Beach/Riviera Resorts.
Every single time, we’ve had a cabin all to ourselves (or all to myself, as the case may be) from DHS to Caribbean Beach, and then again from there to Epcot. Every single time, we’ve requested an uncovered cabin, and our request has been obliged. Aside from International Gateway post-fireworks, we’ve never even seen a wait time of more than 5 minutes.
The short waits could be explained by trepidation about the Skyliner, but I think it’s more likely a result of the system’s high hourly capacity coupled with the time of day we’re using it. Aside from the weekends when ‘Sunday Skyliners’ come out to joyride, lines are a rarity at any time other than park closing.
Despite media coverage, it would seem many guests either don’t care or don’t know about the Skyliner’s issues. To that point, the most common question we’ve heard guests ask about the Skyliner is whether it goes to Magic Kingdom (no joke).
Disappointingly, the Skyliner is still operating with a delayed start time. You might recall that it originally started running at 5:45 am, which was insufficient for arriving to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the start of Extra, Extra Magic Hours.
Nevertheless, the Skyliner was still pretty good if you wanted to glide in right after the first wave of guests was escorted by Stormtroopers to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. (A congested experience we recommended avoiding, anyway.)
Now, the Skyliner opens at 8 am, which is fine for regular rope drop…but worthless for Extra, Extra Magic Hours. (Obviously, anyone staying at a Skyliner resort has access to ExEMH.)
Our assumption is that these hours are the ‘new normal’ and possibly a cut due to the low utilization rate for ExEMH. Speaking of which, ExEMH remains glorious despite higher midday crowds.
Those reduced operating hours are our biggest issue with the Skyliner at this point. Of course, that’ll be a non-issue in a couple of weeks once Walt Disney World runs out the clock on Extra, Extra Magic Hours.
My other biggest complaint, and this is probably nitpicking in the grand scheme of things, is that it seems like the windows of the cabins are never cleaned. It’s already challenging enough to battle reflections and glare, now I have to find the two square inches of window that kids haven’t licked. Doesn’t Walt Disney World know bloggers need the Skyliner for construction updates?!?!?
Speaking of which, the Skyliner offers some great views of progress on Disney’s Riviera Resort. Landscaping is coming along nicely and is inching closer to completion, well ahead of the resort’s mid-December 2019 debut.
In case you have skipped over our Disney’s Riviera Resort construction updates, I’m not particularly keen on the level of ambition of this resort’s design or intricacy. However, I realize my views are hardly representative of the general public, and I’ll be curious to see how this is received. Will luxury prevail over theme?
The Skyliner also offers backstage views of World Showcase at Epcot. Most notably, of progress on the France expansion and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. (We’ll have more photos of the construction progress here in our next Epcot update.)
What I really find interesting here is that World Showcase has some surprising attention to detail on the backside of its buildings. Areas that, until the Skyliner, you’d never see from within the park or literally anywhere on Walt Disney World property except the Swan & Dolphin.
Keep in mind that the Swan & Dolphin did not exist when any of this was built, which really underscores how Imagineering went the extra mile when designing World Showcase. (There’s an entire section of castle wall in Japan that you’d never see but for the Skyliner!)
Ironically enough, the one glaring exception to this is the green Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure show building. This is also the only thing built back there since the Skyliner was announced. I have no issue with this building as it’s not an issue from within the park, but the contrast is amusing.
Anyway, that wraps up this Skyliner update. We’re hopeful and optimistic that the new aerial transit system has overcome its shaky start, and things will be smooth sailing from here. Despite us really wanting the Skyliner to succeed and become a beloved form of transportation among Walt Disney World guests, we’ll continue to report the reality, good and bad. If things continue to run smoothly, we’ll turn our attention to some fun ways to leverage the Skyliner in the next few weeks. So stay tuned for that!
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What do you think of the Skyliner reopening? Are you satisfied with how Walt Disney World has handled this situation and communicated the nature of the closure with guests? Disappointed by the shorter operating hours? Will you ride the Skyliner going forward? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of the Skyliner? 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!
“Our assumption is that these hours are the ‘new normal’ and possibly a cut due to the low utilization rate for ExEMH.”
Agreed. WDW used the ‘unfortunate incident’ as an excuse to remove early hours after it became evident they were unnecessary. The distraction of ‘caution’ allowed them to make lemon-aid just for themselves lol. Skyliner wriggled out from their responsibility to honor their own schedules to the same standards they hold us.
We just got “delayed” on the Skyliner this evening (halloween) for somewhere between 12-20 minutes. Despite my reservations about riding, my sister convinced me to take both our families (5 kids) to check it out from the Pop where we were staying. Ride from pop to CB was fine. But as soon as we switched lines, left the station for Epcot and ascended to the highest height, it stopped. Kids started to get upset intermittently as the same stupid recording that there had been a delay kept playing. Finally it eeked it’s way to the riviera where we all got off. The cast members there looked bored and half-heartedly directed riders to the buses. I was appalled at the lack of “we’re sorry for the delay and inconvenience” , never mind scaring your children. When I said something to a cast member she said the signs clearly stated there could be delays. Given the gravity of the length of rescue time of the previous “incident”, I find it unacceptable to expect people to handle “delays” like they are no big deal. You are not given any idea how long you will wait, and it should be assumed being trapped in a hot box in the sky is anxiety-inducing given the prior accident. I’m just really disappointed at how Disney is handling/training their employees in this.
We have been on the Skyliner on numerous occasions October 2019 since it started up again after the incident. I have an electric scooter and had no problems getting in and out of the gondola. There was usually one waiting as 2 are in a side station so do not hold up other guests. I had to drive in, which was very stable and the cast member put chocks under the back wheels. Companions join you and you wait for a space to be made to join the main line across the cables – no problems. Cast members explain procedure and the fact there is a means of communication and some sort of emergency bag under the seat. Only problem encountered was travelling to Epcot from Hollywood Studios we got off to look round Animation and before continuing journey when they closed Skyliner due to lightening. We were parked at H.S. so had to bus back, getting soaked and squashed on a dangerously overloaded bus. Didn’t like the way scooter or me were fastened in bus. Guess if I had to be rescued from the gondola my scooter would stay behind. Agree with comments re uncovered gondolas having better views, hot day but cool inside whilst on the move.
We stayed at POP 10/20-10/24 and rode the Skyliner to and from DHS. The ride was smooth and we did not experience a wait at all each time we boarded (morning, late afternoon, and evening). Even after Fantasmic!, the Cast Members did an excellent job keeping the flow and answering any questions or concerns. My stroller was easily able to be wheeled on and off which saved the stress of trying to open and close it prior to boarding. 10 out of 10 would recommend!!
My family and I chose to stay at Caribbean Beach Resort specifically to take advantage of the Skyliner access to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Unfortunately, we were unable to use it on Oct 18th when we arrived midmorning because they did not grant access until 1pm. We had to use the old and slow bus system instead to make our FastPass time on the Frozen ride. Return trip via Skyliner (from International Gateway) was quick and easy. The next morning we were once again frustrated at not being able to use the Skyliner to go to Hollywood Studios for Extra Extra Magic hours (beginning at 6:00am) because they did not open the Skyliner until 8:00am. Return trip via Skyliner in the evening was quick and easy, though. Gondola cabin was cool despite near 90 degree temps outside. If they fix the early morning hours issues to accommodate extra magic hours, the Skyliner will be a very attractive option for the resorts serviced by the Skyliner. We rode in cabins that were wrapped and also unwrapped, but not did experience a substantial difference is visibility.
Thanks, Tom, for the update. Two thoughts come to mind:
1. Do you think WDW will take any steps to remove the covers/wraps from the cabins? Originally I thought guests would be more likely to request the “wrapped” ones with their favorite characters — but now that it’s clear the wrapping severely degrades the ability to see outside, I’d imagine more and more guests will be asking for the unwrapped versions.
2. Per cleaning the inside glass, I don’t think it’s a nitpicky thing — this should be a priority for WDW and I’m bummed to hear it hasn’t been done. But I wonder how they’d plan to accomplish this logistically. Sounds like it would take quite a while to run each car overnight through the stations and send a cleaning crew in while it’s stopped (I’d assume it’s not a “clean while you ride” situation). You’d have have the whole system staffed up, in addition to the cleaners, during that whole time period.
We stayed at CBR the week the skyliner opened (before the ‘unfortunate incident’) and rode to HS first thing one morning to make ExEMH … we were inside HS when they announced the escort to Galaxy’s Edge.
I’m wondering if you’ll be there to test this sucker out for us on New Year’s Eve, Tom! I’m planning a trip next year and even if the line for the gondolas is long I bet it would still be better than the busses! To and from Epcot!! I’m thinking Pop Century for that very reason. Last New Year’s we stayed at Pop (but sadly no gondolas) and it took us 2 hours by bus to get to Epcot and I lost track of how long to get back at the end of the night. We ended up jumping on an AOA bus at the end of the night and walking across the bridge because that line moved faster. And we waited until 1am, too! I’m guessing the gondolas, if operational and not experiencing any “unfortunate incidents” would be infinitely faster as they are continuously moving and aren’t battling the traffic on the overflowing streets. Any chance you are going to take one for the team and research and report back to us?? 🙂
Two hours to get to Epcot? Why? Was there lots of car/bus traffic? Extra stops? That is a ridiculously long amount of time even for a major holiday eve. Were any explanations given over the PA or yelled by the bus driver?
There was just a TON of traffic. We weren’t even moving most of the time. We missed a fast pass and everything! I expected traffic at the end of the night but not on the way into the park! At least not that much. I just kept telling my family to be glad we had seats:) I’m bummed it’s not a direct trip from pop to Epcot via skyliner but they has to be quicker than dealing with traffic!!
We rode it a couple of days before the accident from HS to CBR. Had originally planned to go to EPCOT just to experience the Skyliner. But there was a longish line at the CBR stop and the EPCOT line was down for some reason, so we just reversed and went back to HS. Partway there we were stopped for several minutes with just the canned “we’ve stopped and will resume shortly” announcement. Too long to be an ECV issue unless there was some complication. Definitely noticed the lack of airflow but even with temps in the low 90s and sunny it didn’t get that bad in the gondola. Of course, if we’d been stuck 3 hours our experience would have been awful.
Then we heard about people being stranded in the accident, and the Skyliner was down for the rest of our trip. So glad we took the time to ride it when we did, and happy we luckily didn’t get stranded for hours. Still can’t imagine how it could take that long to bring people back to the station and get them off the cars. Clearly either the cast don’t know what to do in such a situation or there was some problem that hasn’t been reported yet.
Smeared dirty windows in the New Skyliner ???
WDW Needs to Step Up There Game ………. YECH. ,!!
I was at Disneyworld last week and stayed at Pop Century. I rode skyliner 6 times and never had a problem. I love skyliner and wouldn’t hesitate to take it again. It took us 20 minutes to go to DHS by bus not counting waiting for the bus. The return trip on skyliner took less than half that and there was no waiting. I just walked right on and had a gondola all to myself. It’s a great way to travel. Smooth, fast, efficient.
Good know. We are going next month and also staying at POP Century. We picked that resort specifically for the Skyliner going to DHS.
If you want a wonderful game plan to take advantage of Extra, Extra Magic Hours and have fun with the Skyliner, this was my Saturday on October 5, the day of the “unfortunate incident” on the Skyliner. Rope drop Magic Kingdom (hit the major mountains and get your Starbucks), monorail it to Epcot for a late morning snack and Guiness/Baileys shake at Food/Wine, then Skyliner it to Caribbean Beach Resort for a late lunch at Banana Cabana.
I love the Skyliner and would take it any chance I could get. My friend is at WDW now and has ridden it multiple times this week while staying at CBR without incident.