Walt Disney and Urban Gondolas

Post by Gondola Project

This is a guest post by Billy Beasley.

Walt Disney. Just the sound of his name evokes thoughts of Mickey Mouse, animation, and the sprawling theme parks that bear his name. But Disney wasn’t just an animator, he was a master urban planner.

EPCOT Model – Disney’s Future City. Image from WikiTravel.

Disney orchestrated everything when it came to his parks from perception of buildings to the flow of traffic to even the distance between trash cans – he thought of it all. Walt Disney was a dreamer, always pushing to innovate and to push the limits of what was possible. He was also captivated by the future, constantly thinking about what it would look like. In some areas of his theme parks that he dubbed Tomorrowland, he built attractions and features that he believed would be a part of future urban cities. He even built a prototype city model which was to be completely developed and owned by Disney and be a literal living blueprint for future metropolises. Although this massive plan was never built, a model is on display at Disney World. In fact, the E.P.C.O.T. park (the proposed name for the city) evolved into this style and design. Being so captivated by the future, Disney imagined what future transportation methods would be and one of the many solutions he envisioned was the gondola.

Skyway Gondola, first cable car system in Walt Disney Resorts. Image from Wikipedia.

After looking around the world at ski resorts with thoughts of buying one, he noticed how efficient gondola lifts were. So when building his Disneyland park, he added a gondola to connect two parts of the park. Disney envisioned gondolas as futuristic transport and his park was a perfect place to showcase this relatively new and unknown technology. The Skyway Gondola was a four passenger monocable gondola designed by VonRoll, a classic type 101 skyride. This gondola was the first Von Roll gondola in the United States and it even went through another attraction, a smaller model of the Matterhorn mountain.

Disneyland Skyway

Disneyland Skyway from another angle. Image by Flickr user Phil Aaronson.

However, this backfired on Disney when other theme parks noticed the gondola and purchased a system of their own to serve as an attraction, not a model for futuristic transportation. Soon, VonRoll type 101 skyrides were popping up in amusement parks everywhere like the San Diego Zoo and in Sea World San Diego. Even Disney themselves used gondolas as attraction at their Disney World and Tokyo Disney Land parks. Soon after, the idea of urban gondolas disappeared into the depths of the amusement parks until its recent resurgence.

Skyway to Tomorrowland - Magic Kingdom, WDW 1999

Skyway at Tomorrowland – Magic Kingdom. Image by Flickr user Halfpintpixie.

Skyway at Tokyo Disneyland. Image by Flickr user Michael.

Today, all of the Skyway gondolas at the three Disney Parks are closed for various reasons. The old gondolas were becoming too much of a cost to maintain and by removing the system, Disney was able to open up land for new attractions. These classic gondolas were landmarks for the industry, helping to introduce the American public to a new form of transportation while staying at the cutting edge of technology.

While unfortunately these gondolas are gone, one aerial ropeway system remains and that is the chairlift at Disney World’s Blizzard Beach (a ski resort themed water park).

Blizzard Beach Summit Plummet and Chairlift

Blizzard Beach Chairlift. Image by Flickr User Marcus.

Walt Disney, under all of the Mickey Mouse paraphernalia and publicity, was a visionary man and a great urban planner, one that many cities would be delighted to have working for them today. After a recent visit to Disney World with my family, the attention to detail is apparent and although he rarely receives credit for it, Disney excelled in the area of urban design.

The addition of Walt Disney’s name to the urban gondola movement is one that could help give credibility to it as well as introduce urban gondolas to hundreds of more people. Years after the Skyway gondolas, Walt Disney’s prediction is finally being fulfilled and the technology that he helped to pioneer in his parks is coming to fruition in the cities of today.


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  1. Shame that all of the gondola systems are all shut down cause they do look quite fun. Ironic how his initial intentions of introducing new transport seems to have had a complete opposite effect -- all Disney did for future transit modes (think monorail and gondola) was to stunt and/or infantilize it to the point where people can only associate with them in an amusement park. So maybe with the shutdown of all these old dangly 1950s gondolas, people can now truly take CPT technology seriously...
  2. Matt the Engineer
    I didn't realize they were shut down. Shows the last time I was at Disneyland... (1982!).
  3. Only time I went to Disneyland was after the gondola ride was shut down. It'd be cool if they installed a 3S, just to showcase the latest CPT technology - and perhaps so that Tomorrowland, doesn't become Yesterdayland.

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