22 June 2010

Ply the waterways at Walt Disney World's Vacation Kingdom

The photograph below was originally going to be part of the Gazette's exploration into the construction of the Contemporary Resort Hotel (notice the unfinished building and cranes in the background) a few weeks back. However, at the last minute, I pulled it aside to talk about another, more visible, aspect of the picture.This is an unfinished Southern Seas (also known as Southern Seas I or The Seas), a steamship that moseyed around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake during the early years of Walt Disney World along with another ship named Ports O’ Call. The steamship is an Osceola-class ship and was such an integral part of the Vacation Kingdom experience that concept art for the ship could be seen in pre-opening postcards available at the Walt Disney World Preview Center. Twilight tours of the watery worlds of Walt Disney World were offered aboard these side-wheel steamboats, but their main task was to ferry guests to and from the resorts, Magic Kingdom, and the Transportation and Ticket Center until more ships, known to us now as the ferries, could be built.

The Southern Seas was assembled at Disney Central Shops and Drydock, with portions of the hull being constructed at Tampa Bay Drydock Company, between 1969 and 1971. The brilliant thing about building these two ships is that they were modeled after ship that would have been built in the latter half of the 1800s, the perfect ships to dock near Main Street U.S.A.

Unfortunately, while in drydock in 1975, the ship became half submerged. The ship was badly water damaged and finally dismantled in 1977. Several pieces of the ship would go on to be part of Southern Seas II, which would be retired from regular service after the opening of EPCOT Center and finally from all service in 1996. Other pieces, such as the bell, gauges, and steering wheel, of the original Southern Seas would find a new life at Typhoon Lagoon, the perfect resting place for a wrecked component of Walt Disney World’s history.


Unknown said...

I love how there is no ornamentation on the boat, yet. It also looks like they are ferrying around some construction supplies on the front of the boat.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Yeah, the lack of ornamentation makes this photograph pretty interesting. It feels to me like they threw a tarp over some lumber/details not yet applied for the ship, but then stuck some people on the boat (notice how some of the people on board have leisure-wear on, not work clothes) so they could snap this publicity photo.