Skyliner Update: Summer Storms, Station Progress, and More!

We’re back at Walt Disney World for another update on the Skyliner as construction wraps up and testing continues on a daily basis. We’ll share photos from Hollywood Studios and Epcot, plus Caribbean Beach and Riviera Resorts to check out the latest progress.

Let’s begin with the largest station, located at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. The photo above looks surreal, with ominous and stormy clouds framing the tropical and sun-lit Skyliner station. I love scenes like this–when the sun is still out in one direction and it’s illuminating a dark, stormy sky in the other direction. Weather is pretty wild stuff.

Almost immediately upon arriving at Caribbean Beach, I received a notification on my phone that rain would begin in 10 minutes. Meaning I had that much time to walk from Trinidad to Aruba to Old Port Royale, taking photos along the way. I felt something like Bill Paxton in Twister, albeit with less pointed indifference. Could I succeed in my race against the clock? Let’s find out…

First, this seems like a good time to address the Disney Skyliner gondola system and storms. As has been the case with some of Disney’s outdoor attractions or resort pools for decades, there will be a storm radius for the Skyliner and if a lightning strike occurs within that, the gondolas will cycle until they’re empty, dumping guests from the lines and not reloading until there have been X minutes since the last strike. Fear not, Disney has sophisticated weather tracking technology (you probably do too in your pocket).

In other words, no one is going to be stranded in gondolas during a storm. Even if you were, as with other gondola systems already in operation, the Disney Skyliner will be grounded. It also can operate in wind and rain, although it remains to be seen where Walt Disney World draws the line on wind, as well as the size of the lightning radius.

Again, there are hundreds of Doppelmayr gondolas in use around the world. It’s safe to assume you haven’t thought of some new concern or novel problem not previously identified by the myriad knowledgeable professionals who have been designing, building, and operating these systems in myriad climates for years.

I take some solace in knowing that this isn’t just a ‘sky is falling’ scenario among Disney fans. Tampa is currently weighing proposals for aerial transit, and locals there are similarly raising hyperbolic ‘what if’ concerns, with local media feeding into the faux-controversy. I recently heard one official in an interview snidely reply that ‘this isn’t science fiction, it’s actual, proven technology–there are hundreds of this exact model in operation across the world.’

I also found this gondola engineer’s slightly annoyed response to an interview question about the public perception of gondolas and lightning amusing: “no one would let us build these things if they couldn’t handle lightning. I mean, they must be able to handle lightning. We wouldn’t build them if they couldn’t.” (The whole interview is here.)

This isn’t to say the Skyliner will be a flawless, perfect system. Walt Disney World has unique wrinkles in terms of demand, guest demographics, and other variables. It also remains to be seen whether the Skyliner will truly be more efficient than other forms of existing transportation.

However, to treat modern gondolas as an unknown quantity, huge risk, or potential failure requires a blatant disregard for existing case studies and plenty of evidence to the contrary. It’s akin to saying, “since I have never seen the curvature of the earth, I’m going to boldly assert that it’s flat and loudly express my fears of falling off the edge.”

Back to the race against the storm…

Even before arriving at Caribbean Beach, we knew a storm was on the way. We decided to go anyway because we had just finished seeing Once Upon a Time In Hollywood at Disney Springs and it was convenient. As we arrived, things didn’t look that bad, and I assumed I had more time before the downpour.

As for the photo above, it shows the progress on the pathways around the main Skyliner station, along with what appears to be a bus stop shelter.

In terms of other commentary concerning the Caribbean Beach Resort station, there’s not a ton to say.

There’s some landscaping still to be done, but it’s otherwise nearly finished.

Oh, and the “Disney Skyliner” sign is up.

That’s new.

Looking back the other direction, since we won’t get a chance to head over there due to the storm, we can see Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.

That station has been done for months, so it’s not like we’d have anything new to show you, anyway.

Heading the exact opposite direction through Caribbean Beach, we can see some of the gondolas overhead.

Whether this is visual blight or cool kinetic energy is a matter of opinion. My personal take here is that the support pillars are a huge visual blight at Caribbean Beach, but the Skyliner cabins themselves are cool kinetic energy. I still wish this line were routed over the guest parking area behind the resort, rather than dotted among the buildings here.

Moving along to the station at Disney’s Riviera Resort.

This station will be the closest option for guests in Aruba, and guests from Caribbean Beach will be able to access it via the path in the foreground that’s under construction.

Signage is also up at the Riviera station.

Those gates and the lampposts are nice touches.

From a distance, you can see just how close Aruba and this station are to one another. (Also note the Spaceship Earth photobomb.)

There should be a loop that circles Barefoot Bay and connects the two resorts. I’m sure no DVC Members will complain about Moderate Guests coming over and using their Deluxe Amenities; we aren’t an entitled bunch or anything!

One final look at the sun-lit gondola cabins popping against the stormy sky.

Despite taking way longer than 10 minutes to capture all of these photos, I did manage to make it to Old Port Royale before the downpour started. It was a good thing, too. Even though I knew it was going to rain, I didn’t bring an umbrella, poncho, or even a camera bag. I like to live dangerously (or am just foolish).

A couple days ago, we headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We shared the substance of in-park changes in our DHS Update: Fate of Star Wars Entertainment, Summer Heat, Crowds & Construction.

There’s nothing new to say about the Skyliner here–it’s ready to go. Here are some photos, just the same:

With that last one, we start the walk to Epcot. On this particular day (as with most days this month), the feels like temperature was over 100 degrees.

It was miserable, and a really bad idea on my part. However, I wanted to get a new photo of the turn station, among other things. Here it is:

Even after the Skyliner, I think walking will likely remain the fastest way to get between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. That’s just a guess, but it’s an educated one based upon known Skyliner travel times.

Nevertheless, on a day like this, I absolutely would’ve taken the Skyliner between the two parks over walking. For all of the complaints about the lack of air-conditioning, at least in the Skyliner, I would’ve had shade and a breeze to cool me off.

At Epcot, the construction walls are partially down and have been replaced by planters that are pretty easy to see over/through.

I feared the worst with this station’s design and how it’d blend into the rest of International Gateway and World Showcase, but the nearly finished product looks pretty nice.

While it doesn’t have the same level or depth of detail as the nearby buildings, it’s really close.

Moreover, there are some nice accents like that crane mural, the textured ground, and the Paris Metro-inspired Art Nouveau entrance arcades. It fits International Gateway well.

Finally, Walt Disney World announced that the Skyliner officially debuts at the end of September. My money is still on the Disney’s Hollywood Studios line quietly opening in time for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (and we’re putting our money on it by not canceling Pop Century), but I truly have no idea.

Despite my enthusiasm for the Skyliner, I will readily concede that there are some unknowns, and I’m really curious both about guest reaction to the gondolas and how daily operations actually work. This is Walt Disney World’s biggest transportation undertaking since the 1980s. I hope it’s a colossal success–the kind that makes Disney more bullish on investing in ambitious, innovative transportation for the parks. Why anyone would be cheering for this to fail is beyond me; does anyone really want to see Walt Disney World play it safe with nothing but new buses for the rest of their lifetime?

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When do you think the Skyliner will debut? Thoughts on evacuation testing, training, or anything else that needs to be done before the system can debut? Do you expect a park closing exodus leading to long lines at the Epcot and DHS stations? Any other thoughts on the Skyliner? Will you be using it, or sticking to buses? 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!

52 Responses to “Skyliner Update: Summer Storms, Station Progress, and More!”
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