Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your pilot on this unofficial flight through the sky.
After a five-month hiatus, Buena Vista Pictures is back in a big way with the successful releases of Thor: Ragnarok and Coco. Both of these films have been met with critical acclaim in addition to stellar box office results and show that no break can hold Disney back. And of course, we are all still waiting for the biggest release of 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Disney has done a great job revitalizing the Star Wars brand and fully immersing it in every aspect of the company. Construction for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been in full flow for nearly two years now, but this work has led to a few casualties within the parks. One of the removals that upset a lot of people was the destruction of the Fantasyland chalet that used to be a part of the Skyway. This attraction entrance had stood in the parks for over twenty years after the attraction’s closure, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back to the beginning.
Walt Disney loved transportation and was always looking for ways to showcase its progress within his park, as seen with attractions like the PeopleMover and the Monorail. One type of transportation that Walt discovered in his travels was a Sky Ride where guests could cruise across the park through the sky. Luckily for him, the Von Roll Company out of Switzerland had the exact type of design that Walt had in mind, so WED Enterprises purchased an entire Von Roll Type 101 aerial ropeway to be used within the park. It was the first of its kind in the United States, so Disneyland was truly groundbreaking in its introduction of new technologies.
The Skyway officially opened in Disneyland on June 23rd, 1956, a little less than a year after the rest of the park. It was extremely popular almost immediately because of its extremely unique way to travel across the park. The attraction cost a D-ticket to ride, and guests could either choose to travel from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland or vice versa. However, the attraction had to close for an extended period of time almost a year after its opening because of the addition of the Matterhorn to the park.
One of the coolest things about the attraction’s version in Disneyland was that guests actually got to travel through the Matterhorn. I am always a big fan of attractions interacting with each other because you get a bonus attraction out of the experience. Going through the Matterhorn, you could hear the sounds of the Yeti and screams of terrified guests, all while leisurely flying through the air, really adding to the atmosphere of the sky ride.
In my opinion, the journey through the Matterhorn is what truly set the Skyway in Disneyland apart from the other Skyways in the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland. In both of those parks, the Skyway was an opening day attraction (October 1st, 1971 and April 15th, 1983 respectively), showing that once Disney saw what it had at Disneyland, it became an essential part of the initial plans for these newer parks. While the same general idea was followed for each attraction, they each had their own twist, so it’s time to swing from rope to rope and explore each one.
I’ve already talked a lot about the one at Disneyland, but one tidbit that I haven’t mentioned yet was that cruising above the park at a higher altitude showed that Disneyland does not have quite as much greenery as the other parks. I think a lot of that has to do with it being located in an urban area, but nevertheless, the park definitely is not as secluded as full of trees as the other parks. It helps to differentiate Disneyland and shows a more selective group of shrubbery that really adds to the park’s atmosphere as opposed to being overkill, and you can see this below.
This video shows the journey from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back, giving you the best of both worlds. Never having been able to actually experience the attraction, I really loved the aerial view of the park because I still had the chance to see it in a way that I never had before.
The Magic Kingdom Skyway followed the same path as the Disneyland Skyway and similarly used a Von Roll 101. However, the ride was a little bit longer and featured a turn halfway through the journey. I had never seen direct turn like that on a sky ride or ski lift, so it certainly caught my attention. It added that extra bit of moxie to the attraction to keep guests who consistently rode the attraction in California on their toes.
I couldn’t find a roundtrip video like the one at Disneyland, so the above video will take you on a journey from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland. Not having been to Walt Disney World as often, I loved the chance to see more of the Magic Kingdom and certainly to view its vintage self in a whole new way.
Now onto the Tokyo Disneyland Skyway, which was the first to utilize the Von Roll 102 rather than the 101. The model led to Tokyo Disneyland’s version becoming the most advanced of the three, but it was actually the shortest one — so guests had the newest technology but the least amount of time to enjoy it. Most of the trip took place in Tomorrowland, at least from what I could tell from the video found below.
One other different aspect of the attraction had to do with the buckets themselves. The buckets in Tokyo Disneyland had windows, so guests couldn’t throw things at guests or fall out. One of the most popular theories about the Skyway is that it closed because someone fell out of the Skyway at Disneyland. While a man did fall out of his bucket, he later admitted to having jumped out voluntarily, so this rumor is not true as far as I know. (Plus, they could have just changed the buckets a little bit, adding windows to each one like in Tokyo.)
In terms of Disneyland, most of the blame for the closure actually goes to Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Disney Parks and Resorts were going through tough financial times with the failure of Euro Disney, so they needed to cut the operating costs of another attraction at Disneyland in order to allocate those costs to Indy. At the same time, the supports inside of the Matterhorn were starting to get old and would have required a complete overhaul of the Matterhorn to ensure the long-term safety of passengers on the Skyway. The combination of these events led to the ultimate closure of the Skyway on November 9th, 1994.
The Skyways in Tokyo Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom ended up lasting a little bit longer (November 3rd, 1998 and November 10th, 1999 respectively), but both also ended up kicking the bucket. In Tokyo, the Fantasyland station was replaced with Pooh’s Hunny Hunt — one of the first rides to utilize a trackless ride system — and the Tomorrowland station was replaced by a candy store. Over in Florida, both of stations ended up simply becoming bathrooms, with the one in Tomorrowland having a stage connected to it. In both parks, the attractions closed for the mere reason that they were getting old, and it was “time to go,” as one Disney executive put it.
Overall, I really love the idea of the Skyway and wish that I had had a chance to experience it for myself. It was such a unique way to travel across the park and not something that I have seen in any other theme park. But now, here are the clues for next week’s post.
1. This park never existed.
2. This park would have been located in California.
3. This part would have had a counterpart on the East Coast.
Thanks for reading! It was fun to revisit the Skyway, truly a one of the kind attraction.
Have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.