Monday, July 31, 2006

Elemental Losses: Air


The sudden closure of Disneyland’s famous Skyway became the stuff of urban legend almost immediately after it closed in 1994. For 38 years it had carried guests between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland high above the air in gleaming colorful buckets. And then, suddenly and without so much as a press release, it was gone.

For the Disney faithful it just didn’t make sense. How could an attraction that had become such a staple of the Disneyland experience be shut down so unceremoniously; every last pylon uprooted and carried away in the dark of a single night.

It must have been because the attraction had become too litiginous they figured. Only a few months earlier a 30 year old man had fallen from one of the cabins and suffered severe neck and back injuries. Certainly Disney was right to assume that any additional accidents might tarnish the company name and ultimately the guest experience.

But for those more willing to face the darker side of Disney the truth could be found in the spreadsheets and pie charts floating around the executive offices of Disney Enterprises well before the accident. Cost cutters had dismissed the attraction as too little bang for the buck, with staffing expenses, maintenance costs and necessary safety upgrades demanding more capital than they felt appropriate. Randle Charles’ fortuitous fall from the Skyway became the perfect smokescreen for the purely economic decision that quickly followed.

Eventually Randle’s lawsuit was dismissed. Seems the 30 year old nutball had jumped, not fallen, and had he stayed inside his cabin the Skyway would have enjoyed a perfect safety record.

If Disney executives were waiting for another bogus excuse to shutter Walt Disney World’s Skyway they only had to wait five more years. In February of 1999 65 year old custodial host Raymond Barlow was accidentally scooped up and dropped 40 feet from a moving gondola when cast members started up the ride in the morning without checking the exit platform. Nine months later and The Magic Kingdom saw the last of its own Skyway; Disney executives smiling all the way to the bank.

And so the magical flights through mountains, past rocket ships and over lands of fantasy came to an end and all because the top Disney brass merely wanted to save some money.

The Disney Guest, they figured, just wasn’t worth it.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

"[i]Certainly Disney was right to assume that any additional accidents might tarnish the company name and ultimately the guest experience.[/i]"

*coughMission:Spacecough*

The Polsons said...

THANK YOU for this. I never got to ride the skyway, and I have always wished I could have. Partially to soothe my sore feet! Hubby has some photos from when he was a kid, and for a while at least they had one of the buckets in the pin trading place in Tomorrowland so at least I got to see one. Could we appeal to Lassiter to bring them back...?? That would be SO great!

April said...

I went to Disneyland in 1987 and I don't remember the Skyway. However, many attractions were closed due to the construction of Splash Mtn. Do you happen to know if the Skyway was closed then? (It would seem odd to me if it was, given that Splash Mtn isn't near Fantasyland or Tomorrowland)

April
http://www.meretrice.com

Aaron said...

The Skyway was one of the attractions that linked Disney's separate quadrants into a truly "Magic Kingdom."

Taking you from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland, by way of the Matterhorn, the ride connected the park into a whole. As a very young child, I remember loving the Skyway because it provided me with a glimpse into a ride I could look forward to riding once I was tall enough.

The skyway wasn't just a ride or intra-park transportation system -- it was brilliant self-promotion.

A. Dimond said...

Didn't it also expose the dirty roofs, unthemed backsides, and industrial-looking ducts of show buildings from above? Not to mention adding all the escapist visual charm of your average telephone wire to the view from below? And with lines typically over 45 minutes, wasn't walking easier on your feet 99% of the time? I enjoyed it too, and it's always sad when we lose a piece of a Disney park, but I don't think they took it down out of spite, or even necessarily cheapness. They weighed the pros and cons and, I think, made a tough (and for once a decent) call.

Xavier said...

I was always kind of surprised/disturb by the skyway in the Disney parks. Here in Europe, it's just for sky resort...

Like what A. Dimond said, I always imagine (I was already removed when I visited both US resorts) it would spoil the immersive experience of the various lands. I love the illusion of Disney Theme Parks, and being in Fantasyland with sky bucket above my head would be very disruptive. Not to mention nowdays too much people would spit below...

I never miss it here in Disneyland Paris but I would love a People Mover! ;-)

Incredibles said...

a. diamond, I couldn't agree with you more! A fun ride? Definitely. From a guest's view on the ground, a ride that takes you up and away. From the guest's view in the air, a ride that allows you to leave the Disney escapism and see the back side of the buildings, or even worse, the outside world. True, to a child, it wouldn't matter; they would love it regardless. But sometimes, tough calls need to be made.

Why do people feel as if things should never change at the parks, even though Walt himself said the parks would never be finished?! If he was still alive and had made this call, no one would have questioned it. Period.

Disney themepark lover said...

According to your sentiment, the root of all evil is MBAs, spreadsheets, and actually being interested in the profitability of a product. Well did you ever think about Disney wouldn't exist without the business-savvy management that has grown it into a worldwide brand?

Manangement and profit-seeking is not bad, it is necessary and without it Disney would not exist.

There is lot of great art at street vendors all across the world, but they never achieve the scale of Disney not because their art is inferior, but because they don't have the BUSINESS ACUMEN to grow the way that Disney did.

Business and profit-seeking is good, without it Disney would not exist. Stop badmouthing profits and spreadsheets in every one of your posts.

Anonymous said...

I never rode it.. I'm glad I didn't. I would have been heartbroken to see the dumpsters, the smoking princesses, and the rusty garden sheds behind Fantasyland. Not to mention the ladders and ductwork on the Fantasyland roofs.

Magic is a fragile thing to a little girl. Just seeing through an access door to the west parking lot behind the Emporium absolutely crushed me when I was eight or nine.

Robert E Wilson said...

As a ride, the skyway was okay. What I miss about it was observing it from the ground. It was really cool how it went right through the Matterhorn. I wonder if people visiting Disneyland for the first time wonder what the two big holes in the center of the Matterhorn are for.

Potor said...

I’ll always miss the skyway. It was one of the few quiet places in the park where you could just sit and unwind. And maybe snuggle up to your date. :)

Brian said...

I always loved the skyway at WDW. I can understand the reasoning for getting rid of it, but it was still a nice way to relax. Most theme parks used to have similar rides and all that I know of have gotten rid of them.

FixWhatsBroke said...

"Smiling all the way to the bank" and other such rhetoric aside, I've always been suspect of the thinking behind this particular decision as well.

If an attraction is packed that means you've done part of your job right. You've got a hit, not a flop! Not something that needs to be closed! That was such the sting in this particular case in that the Skyway's popularity wasn't fading out or embarrassingly outdated. It was just simply canned and taken away after one staged incident by a con.

The main reason everyone loves Peter Pan is because it's a flying attraction. Its packed because there's nothing else like it. "Capacity" isn't a reason to close; you don't see Peter Pan closing due to its limited capacity and maddening lines. Flying is an imagineering motherlode.

When the attraction's capacity doesn't work, don't throw the attraction out. Fix the capacity.
Too expensive to maintain? Don't throw the attraction out. Make it cheaper to maintain.
Not safe enough? Don't throw the attraction out. Make it safer.

Engineering is one half of Imagineering. The challenge is to make these great ideas WORK. The glory is in doing so, not in giving up to "capacity", maintenance or compromising safety.

The idea of a Skyway over Disneyland was not what was broken. The Skyway's imagineering was. You don't fix it by removing it. You fix it by increasing capacity, cleaning/theming the rooftops, and creating access for the handicapped.

Cleaning rooftops and tidiness backstage should be regularly being done anyway. As to theming rooftops and actually hiding the backstage: for me, seeing backstage in this case was part of the show. Figuring out how big an attraction was - and where it lay in relation to another - or where you'd been was wondrous. ("Look, that's where we were!" or even "There's Grandpa and Julie!") The music-box charm of Disneyland showed through when from above it became more clear how cleverly packed everything was in the park. A macroscope of sorts. Rising above the din and into the breezes and "out of the park" was a great break as well.

And beyond that, taking additional time to theme or hide those backstage areas within the park as well is yet another great opportunity to promote just how devoted to show an organization like Disney can be. An opportunity to shine. Like how Fantasmic's spectacle piggybacks on the already themed Rivers of America - the same space used twice.

Misstep:
Unique experience of flying over Disneyland has been lost.

Perceived no-no:
The company and imagineers were too cheap or just gave up to fix safety/capacity/handicapped accessibility/show theming issues.

Teneble Practical Solutions:
Use turntable ski-gondola loading and unloading.

Double up line runs. Oscillate them up and down as they travel to provide uncluttered views.

Double capacity by having it also touch down in Main Street as Edwardian balloons.

Double capacity again by extending it into Frontierland as Civil War balloons over the Grand Canyon, the American Northwest (Sasquatch and Coastal Natives) to have another landing in Critter Country.

Double capacity yet again by extending it out of the park from Main Street across the entrance plaza and into Disney's Adventure as Vernian flying machines to land by Discovery Bay and the Hyperion airship hanger.

That another "relic" - the subs - that was taken away in the same era for purportedly many the same reasons is coming back is encouraging - and only makes the Skyway removal even more suspect. It's great to see the rethinking rethought. Here's to continuing the trend upward.

the bird fam said...

Didn't the ADA have something to do with this? A story I heard was that in order for DL to upgrade (whatever that meant) the cabins, they had to make the cabins large enough to accomodate wheel chairs and needed to add an elevator at each loading dock.

Anonymous said...

The Skyway was cool. I never noticed roofs or any other unsightly thing. The ride was a part of Disneyland that is sorely missed. Walt said Disneyland would never be complete as long as there was imagination left in the world. That didn't mean to arbitrarily remove attractions permanently. They should bring it back brand spanking new and blast the hole in the Matterhorn where it ought to be. Greg in LosAngeles

Anonymous said...

I think there are some serious exagerations here. There were no views into CM break areas from the skyway at DL or WDW, and there WERE NO smoking princesses--just some boring-looking buildings and some duct work. But that was a very small part of the trip. The great views of the park made it woth it! The few views of backstage areas were nothing compared to what can be seen from the railroad or monorail today.

The skyway was one of the favorite attractions of my whole family--parents, grandparent, kids and teens. There aren't many attractions that can claim that.

When I was four, I remember telling my mom it felt like I was flying, and I still rode the Sky Way when visiting with my friends as a teenager. I think it was the only attraction that was on my must-see list from 4 to 18.

Anonymous said...

How can you double capacity on a ride that runs with one cable??? You'd have your Edwardian ballons, civil war balloons and flying machines all over the park, not just in the areas you're talking about.

These bucket rides are all gone from parks across the US because of nitwits that "fell" or jumped out. Between the litigious state we're in and the ADA compliance issues, it wasn't worth the cost. I would of done the same.

Merlin Jones said...

>>According to your sentiment, the root of all evil is MBAs, spreadsheets, and actually being interested in the profitability of a product. Well did you ever think about Disney wouldn't exist without the business-savvy management that has grown it into a worldwide brand?Manangement and profit-seeking is not bad, it is necessary and without it Disney would not exist.There is lot of great art at street vendors all across the world, but they never achieve the scale of Disney not because their art is inferior, but because they don't have the BUSINESS ACUMEN to grow the way that Disney did.Business and profit-seeking is good, without it Disney would not exist. Stop badmouthing profits and spreadsheets in every one of your posts.<<

I don't think anyone argues that profit and business is bad... but that MBA's in their arrogance think they know how to make a profit better, have all the answers - - and increasingly fail in their myopic assumptions about the world based on templates, seminars and schemes and not the real product or consumer. They think "creatives" are unnecessary if they can be replaced by System.

It's not about the cliche "Art VS Commerce," it's about arrogance and small mindedness and ignorance and intolerance and power and control.

Art and Commerce are not mutually exclusive as Walt Disney proved many time over - - MBAs think it is - - that's the problem.

dean said...

I agree with the premise of this blog that a wonderful and classic ride such as Skyway can be eliminated for pure accounting reasons and then covered up with a smokescreen of semi-valid "reasons". Enough excuses can be drummed up to justify removing almost any attraction from a park, (I'm still wondering about the truth behind Horizons demise), but what's inportant is how these decisions affect the guest experience.

I loved riding Skyway. It provided a kinetic element to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland and for those riding it -- a unique perspective on these lands that can no longer be enjoyed. Those "pooh-poohing" Skyway have probably never had the chance to look down on spinning teacups and swooshing bobsleds. I recommend driving a few hours south to the San Diego Zoo and discover on their Skyfari what a treat such an attraction can be.

FredTheCat said...

I have to say, I certainly don't recall the view from the Skyway being any sort of show spoiler. What bothers me most about the removal of the Skyway and the PeopleMover is the loss of dynamics that went along with them.

They were colorful eye candy that really made you feel that there was something bigger going on in the sections of the park they traveled. They led the eye to the sky and without them the place just seems a little dead.

Thankfully the subs are soon to return or they too would be on the list of "dynamic things replaced by...nothing".

I don't mind rides being replaced with newer and better things, but replacing dynamics with nothingness is hardly a step in the right direction.

I did find the suggestion of a mighty-morphin-skyway/balloon/flying machine pretty funny though. ;)

-FredThe(MileLongBar)Cat

Geoff said...

I was always wondering what happened to the skyway. I have been reading this page for quite awhile and I have to agree with your ideas, and thoughts on the current Disney parks.

I used to like riding the Skyway even if it was only for a short breather for my aching feet. I have good memories of that ride, and I was very sad to see it go. The scenery was great even if it was merely looking down upon the different colours of the crowd below.

The fact that the ride was rid of merely because the penny pinchers at Disney couldn't see spending another dime is sad, and frankly insulting to the Disney consumer and fan.

-Geoff
long time disney fan and supporter

Anonymous said...

The skyway was just bad show. After the 1980 rehab the buckets would ruin the immersive experience of the European village of Fantasyland and make you feel like you were in just another "amusement park." The Matterhorn would also lose it's perspective of being a giant peak with huge buckets running through the center.

Furthermore, almost every amusment park I've been to has had a skyway. The same can't be said for gems like the People Mover and the Monorail.

Anonymous said...

Cedar Fair still has its skyway and it is one of the few parks that does. It is special to ride it seeing as so many parks have removed them.

Too bad that they WDW submarines cannot be brought back as Disneyland's are...

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Park when the skyway was removed, and the most popular story among the Cast was that it was being removed due to ADA laws (like a previous comment suggested). Supposedly the gondolas had to accept wheelchairs.

I never looked into that, and I don't know why the Skyway would be singled out to accept wheelchairs when, say, Soarin' Over California doesn't...

We also heard that was the major reason for closing the Submarine Voyage - ADA requirements that the Subs had to accomadate wheelchairs onboard.

Are the Subs going to accomodate wheelchairs when it reopens? How?

dean said...

What they do with the wheelchairs and strollers for the Skyfari at the San Diego Zoo is they simply send them ahead in another gondola. Granted they don't have the same number of guests riding Skyfari that Disneyland had for the Skyway so sending an "empty" gondola is more workable. This also only works for collapsable items.

An ADA snafu that Disneyland possibly encountered was that their stations were elevated with no ramps to them, (San Diego is either at grade or has accessible ramps). To be compliant they probably would have had to install an elevator in Tomorrowland and some sort of ramp system in Fantasyland.

Having been involved in construstion I can say firsthand that there are people out there who go looking for instances where buildings are not compliant with the ADA laws and press the issue to get them corrected...or else. I'm not saying that all people with disabilities are this way, but I got the impression from certain individuals that they see society in general as oppressors of their condition and that something is seriously owed to them.

Nonetheless, if ADA was the issue for closing Skyway, it still eventually comes down to an accounting decision to not spend the money to upgrade the attraction.

Anonymous said...

The removal of the skyway also took something from the matterhorn. If you hit a spot on the matterhorn at just the right time, it looked as if the skyway car was going to take your head off. You hit a dip that was fairly hard to spot just before you went under the skyway.

JiminyCricketFan said...

I miss the skyway. I have always felt that there were unspoken reasons for its closure. I don't know the maintenance costs, but I cannot imagine that they could be more than a roller coaster. Certainly time change and I am willing to see things change, but at Disneyland things used to change for the better not the worse.

FixWhatsBroke said...

David Koenig has published these details on the Skyway's operation and closure in his book More Mouse Tales:

Six months after the man "fell" out of the bucket, Disneyland dismantled the Skyway. Because the closure came so soon after the accident, many people mistakenly deduced that it was shut down because it was unsafe.

Disney explained that the ride just wasn't very popular any more, but the Skyway's ever-lengthy lines belied this excuse. Ridership did drop sharply that final summer, but not due to declining popularity.

To keep the cabins from backing up, Standard Operating Procedure (or "SOP") required four castmembers per station when circulating the maximum rotation of 42 cabins. Two worked unload (one receiving the full cabins and opening the door for the exiting guests, the other closing the door and throwing it around to the load position) and two load (one receiving the empty cabin and opening the door for guests to board, the other closing the door and sending it into dispatch). At 34 cabins, each station could drop the second unload position since the incoming cabins were more spaced apart. Anything below 34 cabins allowed for just one person at load and one at unload.

In the morning, Skyway would gradually build its cabin fleet. Usually at 10:00 a.m., there were 32 cabins and two castmembers. At 11:00 a.m., they put two more cabins on line and added a third ride operator. By noon, there were 42 cabins and four castmembers. The process would reverse at night.

But during the Skyway's final summer, management scheduled only three castmembers plus one to give breaks at each station, decreasing the ride's capacity from 42 to 34 cabins.

Do the math. Estimate that the Skyway ran for fifteen hours each summer day. Since it took seven minutes for a cabin to go roundtrip, a cabin saw about eight rotations an hour or about 120 roundtrips per day or 840 trips per week. In a ten-week summer, that single cabin made 8,400 roundtrips. Assume the average load one way was three passengers, or six per roundtrip. that means a single cabin carried 50,400 people a summer. If the skyway cut eight cabins all summer long, they lost a hypothetical 403,200 riders...or nineteen percent of the ridership from a 42-cabin summer.

Testified one Skyway operator of that final summer: 'We always had a line and rarely sent empty cabins. Even late at night.'

In actuality, the attraction was done in by a combination of factors. First, although popular, it was a comparatively low-capacity ride, even stocked with 42 cabins. The aging attraction was due for an expensive overhaul. The park was also under pressure to make the Skyway accessible to handicapped visitors, which would've been prohibitively expensive and, for a ride that shouldn't be stopped, impractical. Finally, as a general principle, whenever a new ride opens at Disneyland, an old closes. Ever profit-minded, the park won't keep adding attractions that increase operating costs without ensuring long-term increases in income. In that sense, even though the attractions are located lands away, the Skyway was replaced by Indiana Jones Adventure."


David Koenig, More Mouse Tales (Irvine, CA: Bonaventure Press, 2002), 43-44. He sources Mike DeForest on the lower ridership information from an interview he conducted.

Anonymous said...

The Disneyland skyway is sorely missed. It provided a spectacular view of the park (especially at night). It also provided the only practical access between tomorrowland and the back regions of fantasyland/frontierland during parades and fantasmic (traffic through the park has never been the same during these events).

Anonymous said...

For everyone who has never ridden the ride and are happy because they didn't have to see the backstage areas and the ductwork on building tops, I have news for you. Except for the section just after you exited the Matterhorn, where you could see the roof of the eastern part of Fantasyland, there weren't many backstage views. And unless you were someone like me who actually wanted to see backstage, you were missing out on a great deal if you spent the entire ride looking for ducts on buildings.

There was so much to see, so many rides, people, the trip through the Matterhorn, why weren't you looking at that? It was amazing. I truly miss the skyway. When your car clunked ahold of the cable and you swayed quickly forward and up, you knew you were in for some fun. And on those really crowded days, what a relief to be on the other side without having to dodge everyone.

Please bring the skyway back as part of a larger coordinated transportation system, with the People Mover as the star attraction. Don't even get me started on the PM - no PM is a true crime!

ickymouse said...

I don’t know if there's even the most remote possibility that John Lassiter would read any of these, or if anyone in Imagineering could maybe, possibly forward this to him, but if that were true, it would be my sole plea to him: Please, please, PLEASE - bring back the skyway. Make new, improved cars that guests couldn't possibly climb out of or open. It really wouldn't cost that much and is completely tangible. This was one of the most amazing attractions that Disneyland ever had. No, it wasn't themed around any Disney character, but it gave you the most breath-taking view of the park and only further propelled the magical quality it had into over-drive. Many of my favorite, cherished memories of the park were riding those fiberglass buckets from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back again. Over the Carousel in Fantasyland, through the icy caverns of the Matterhorn, over the turquoise lagoons of the Submarine voyage and especially during the old "Fantasy in the sky" fireworks show.

Amazing.

Mr. Funstuff said...

I agree that Disney should have let the Skyway buckets remain and that the loss of this ride is a shame indeed. However, I find the tone of this post is a bit strange. It reeks of propaganda. It portrays the Disney company as a snarling, handing wringing demon grinning with evil purpose as it destroys the dreams of everyone who loves Disney. It uses the word "pie charts" and "spreadsheets" as if they are swear words and too disgusting to see the value in. Does the author of this post propose that the Walt Disney Company not considering its financial welfare and make decision based on some level of analysis? It is also odd how the word "executives" is used. As if each one a faceless, soul-less, destroyer of dreams. Ridiculous. Now I'm not saying that the Disney has a track record of being 100% trustworthy to makes good decisions, in fact far from it, but anything that is written so one sided, with such intent to defame the "enemy" is misleading and inaccurate. There is a name for such one sided media: propaganda. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

If propaganda can bring back The Magic Skyway, and all things high quality to the Disney Theme Parks- I'm all for it!

BUY DISNEY PROPOGANDA BONDS!

Beth said...

I was there at the time of Mr. Barlow's death and witnessed the entire incident. It was so horribly sad, and I, actually, am glad the Sky buckets are no longer in operation. I still feel very sad when I walk down the hill from Fantasyland to Adventureland/ Liberty Square. I still think of that day...

Anonymous said...

Disneyland's not the happiest place on earth anymore! It's lost it's magical power of Disney. I'd love to see it back the way it was before. Bucket rides are the beginning. Do you also agree to bring back Country bear, America Sings, and other expensive attractions? A lot of these use animtronics and techs to fix them. these give validation to the $66.00 cost to get in, but with them gone all we get is screwed.