08 September 2007

Around the World - Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas

This week we are going to take a look at the various modes of transportation in and around Walt Disney World. We’ll look at the parking-lot trams, resort busses, boats like the Liberty Belle and the Admiral Joe Fowler, to ride systems like the omnimover, and an overly loving look at one of my favorite pieces of Walt Disney World, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (or WEDway Peoplemover for those of you old school fans like me). But today we have to start with the quintessential form of transportation. When you hear the words transportation and Walt Disney World the first thing you think of has to be the monorail.

The monorail is not original to Walt Disney World, in fact it isn’t even originally Disney (-land or otherwise). Efforts to create a new rail system for public use that was cheaper and faster, as well as more cost effective than other forms of transportation, date back to the early 1900s. Monorails have always been seen as the transportation of tomorrow, but that tomorrow has always been just a day away.

As for the influence that the monorails have on the world of Disney, that influence goes back to Walt’s fascination of transportation, specifically trains. The first monorails, the Alweg Mark Is, were installed in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland as a sightseeing tour in 1959. Over the years they were upgraded several times with the Mark IIs, Mark IIIs, and, most recently in 1987, with the Mark Vs. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 the Alweg Mark IV monorails were there, transporting guest between the resorts, the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), and the Magic Kingdom. In 1989 the first of the Bombardier Mark VIs began their tours of Walt Disney World, which aside from the resort line, now including the Grand Floridian in addition to stops at the Polynesian and Contemporary, and express line between the Magic Kingdom and TTC, now included the line to Epcot, which began in June 1982. The Mark VIs are the current monorails of Walt Disney World, though the fleet is currently undergoing minor refurbishment.

The six car trains can be distinguished from one another by their stripe along the side of each train; these stripes along the side also give the monorails their names. The current fleet at Walt Disney World is Monorail Red, Monorail Pink, Monorail Coral, Monorail Green, Monorail Lime, Monorail Blue, Monorail Purple, Monorail Yellow, Monorail Orange, Monorail Black, Monorail Silver, and Monorail Gold.

Some of my most memorable moments in the history of my Disney Life are the trips on the monorails, specifically riding in the front with the pilot, being able to see all the Magic and adventures that were in front of me. A fascination with the monorails is not limited to only myself in my family, my father has, on more than one occasion, articulated how much he wants to pilot a monorail when he retires. I don’t know if he is captivated more with monorails or the ability to interact with other guests, but I know this has been a long standing dream of his.

There are other ways to have fun with the monorails. There is a game popular amongst the alcohol imbibing youth called Drinking Around the World, in which you have a drink at every destination in Epcot’s World Showcase. My friends and I, a few years removed from such youthly enterprises, have modified this game to only include resorts with monorails stops. Though others probably have this same game/tradition, only with another label, we still call it Drinking Around the World. With the consumption of less alcohol, as well as the environment in which we are drinking, we feel a little more mature than our World Showcase brethren, though I’m not sure if that is truly the case. There are even people who get so excited about the monorails that the feel the need to take their clothes off and take pictures on them! I don’t recommend this, as many many complications could ensue from this, but, to each their own.

When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, it was the first theme park to open without a monorail station. This new tradition continued when Animal Kingdom opened in 1988. Though rumors persist of new monorail lines to various resorts and the other theme parks, I don’t look for this to be happening anytime in the near future. However, this lack of monorail stations makes from one of my favorite monorail references. A short-lived show in Disney-MGM Studios called Here Come the Muppets had an exchange in it where Kermit asked Fozzie where everyone else is, to which Fozzie replies “Oh, they’re coming on the monorail.” Kermit reports to Fozzie that the monorail doesn’t come through here as the front of a monorail crashes onto the stage. The crash is followed by Fozzie telling him that “It does now,” and Animal bellowing “MONORAIL, MONORAIL” as he disembarks.

Though the future of the monorail as a form of urban transportation is uncertain, mainly due to its commonality in the theme parks, which causes the general public to be unable to see its advantages outside of these boundaries, it continues to reinvent itself. While I would love to be able to hop on a monorail station in my backyard for a quick jaunt to Washington D.C. or to a beach, I will be happy to settle for my occasional trips around the World, so long as they are available. And, as I said in the beginning monorails have always been seen as the transportation of tomorrow, but it is unclear as to when that tomorrow will become today.

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