15 February 2011

Magic Kingdom's inland waterways

One of the earliest attractions in the Magic Kingdom took guests down the lazy waterways of Main Street U.S.A., near enough to almost touch Tomorrowland, and venturing briefly into Adventureland. This experience was in operation for just over a decade, from May of 1973 until August of 1983, and yet it is one of the most under-documented attractions from the parks. I am, of course, speaking of the Plaza Swan Boats.

The Plaza Swan Boats originally docked near the Plaza Restaurant, in what has become an outdoor seating area along edge of the canal. Once the permanent dock was built, the green roofed pavilion that can be reached by walking through the Plaza Rose Garden, the original dock was repurposed. Guests could board one of the twelve boats named after popular Disney heroines for a D-Ticket during the peak summer season, although one boat would be refurbished as a vacuum boat for cleaning the canals.A solitary image of the Plaza Swan Boats, which ran on natural gas, would provide a glimpse of grace plying the channels of the Magic Kingdom. In truth, however, these swans roamed more like odd ducks. An electrical guidance system failed early in the attractions history, calling for an alternative navigation approach. The new steering mechanism consisted of two jets, one each in the front and rear, which could be employed by their own steering wheels by the piloting Cast Member. While these jets answered the problem caused by the failings of the electrical system, they also included the addition of user error. There were many accounts of boats running ashore, crashing into support beams and even spinning in circles.

With problems ranging from popularity that could not be supported to ever-increasing maintenance costs, the herd of swans were permanently docked after the 1983 summer season. While there were flaws in the Plaza Swan Boat’s system, a scenic tour of the waterways surrounding three lands of the Magic Kingdom, especially in such a regally designed craft, would be right up there with the tours of the Walt Disney World Railroad, Peoplemover and Liberty Belle.

Oh, and speaking of glorious tours, did anyone notice the buckets of the Skyway floating by in the background?


Unknown said...

Great article. I am always doing my best to bust the myth that the Swan boats ended up in Orlando in one of the park lakes.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

I know a few went to private owners, seen a picture of one in a backyard somewhere. The best case against I've seen is on Widen Your World, with the Lake Eola boats that are pedal powered, but there is so little information to prove/disprove this type of stuff from early on.