Disney Parks are known for their immersive storytelling, putting guests in the middle of the story through the use of art, design, and…well…Imagineering. While we guests are usually laser-focused on what is happening around us (or sometimes on our phones) while at the parks, let’s take a few minutes to appreciate the methods of conveyance that get us from Frontierland to Neverland (and back again).
In part one of this two-part series, we’ll celebrate our favorite railway-based and waterway-based vehicles in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened, keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Enjoy!
Riding the Rails
No Disney Park is truly complete without a train. Walt Disney himself had a lifelong passion for trains, stemming from his earliest days in Marceline, Missouri (in fact, Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World has a fantastic collection of Walt’s railroad memories).
The Iconic Railroad
Both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom offer guests the opportunity to take a “grand circle tour” of the park. Along the way, guests enjoy sneak peeks of the attractions awaiting within the park, as well as a bit of history narrated during the journey. Guests wanting to dig a little deeper can explore the Main Street train stations themselves, which are dripping with Walt Disney and railroad history.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Trains
If the railroad tours aren’t exciting enough, try taking a trip on “the wildest ride in the wilderness.” Don’t let the bright, classically stylish look of the train cars fool you. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad thrusts guests through an old, abandoned (and maybe even haunted) mining town, careening around mountainsides, diving beneath the surface, and rushing through what’s left of that old mining town (in Disneyland, guests travel through Rainbow Ridge, while in Magic Kingdom, they visit the town of Tumbleweed). Big Thunder Mountain ranks as my favorite coaster in either of the American “castle” parks.
For smaller adventurers, the Casey Jr. Circus Train may be just right. The adorable locomotive that once carried Dumbo to circus locations far and wide still travels around Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Cars
Casey Jr. isn’t the only train traveling through Fantasyland. In Magic Kingdom, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train takes guests in and out of the dwarfs mine, giving a glimpse into a day in the life of those seven hard-working friends of Snow White. The attraction combines the thrill of a family coaster with the relaxation of a dark ride.
The engineering of the ride allows the mine car vehicles to “tilt” and simulate the out-of-control swaying a true runaway mine car would experience.
The Monorail – Disney’s Highway in the Sky
Let’s move on to a different type of train – the one Walt Disney proudly added to Disneyland in his 1959 Tomorrowland expansion. The Disney-Alweg Monorail made its first official run on June 14, 1959, carrying none other than U.S. vice president Richard Nixon and his family, and it has been carrying guests skyward ever since. The Disneyland Monorail started out as a simple attraction looping around Tomorrowland, but it was expanded in 1961 to provide guest transportation to the brand new Disneyland Hotel.
Over in Walt Disney World, the Monorail serves a true transportation need, connecting guests from Magic Kingdom to several Disney deluxe resorts. The WDW Monorail system was expanded in 1982 to add transportation between the Magic Kingdom and the newly added EPCOT portion of the resort.
While the WDW Monorail is first and foremost a means of local transportation, many guests make a point to ride it simply for the experience as an attraction. Many adults use the Magic Kingdom Monorail loop as a means to visit the resorts around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney has even offered official “Highway in the Sky Dine Around” experiences for guests.
The Monorail has transcended beyond its scope of whimsical futuristic transportation, and has become an iconic symbol of Walt Disney World, spawning a whole cottage industry of merchandise.
On the Water
Let’s take the “land” out of Disneyland and explore some of the famous water options Disney fans have come to love.
Sailing the Rivers of America
Both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom have their own versions of the Rivers of America, and each one includes a stately steamship ready to take guests back to the 1800s. In Disneyland guests board the S.S. Mark Twain, while Magic Kingdom guests ride the Liberty Belle. Both steamers sound their charming bells when leaving the dock, and take guests on a 10-15 minute tour by Frontierland. Disneyland guests can also enjoy the added bonus of watching some of their favorite characters ride by on the Mark Twain during the Fantasmic nighttime spectacular.
While not quite as well-known as the Mark Twain, Disneyland’s Sailing Ship Columbia takes guests through those same waters. The Columbia is a full-scale replica of Columbia Rediviva – the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe.
For fans of 19th century America, both of these seaward vessels hit the sentimental spot.
Floating on the Floridian Lagoons
Much like how Walt Disney World turned Disneyland’s Monorail into a true mode of transportation, so too did WDW combine pleasure with purpose when navigating the swampy waters of Florida.
Guests arriving to Magic Kingdom by car have the opportunity to ride one of three giant ferry boats, which can fit up to 600 guests each. Unlike Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Belle, the three ferry boats provide functional transportation, while offering a taste of old America thanks to the theming of the ships. Trivia Tidbit: The three Magic Kingdom ferries are named for Disney Legends Richard Irvine, Admiral Joe Fowler, and General Joe Potter.
Aside from the giant ferries, many smaller water taxis swim about Walt Disney World. These water taxis serve much smaller crowds, and transport guests around the Magic Kingdom area resorts, the Disney Springs area resorts, and the EPCOT area resorts. Besides being a functional and efficient mode of transportation, these water taxis offer an intimate experience of their own, where guests can ease into their day in the morning, or wind down at night. And if you time it right, you may even get to watch fireworks from your boat!
Jungle Cruise Riverboats
The “World Famous” Jungle Cruise is one of the most endearing attractions in all Disney Parks. But it’s not just because of the sights and sounds guests see and hear along the river, or the corny jokes of the cruise skippers. Part of the charm of this attraction comes from the boat we sit in while we tour the rivers of the world. With names like Congo Connie and Nile Nellie, each boat has its own unique personality.
The Jungle Cruise riverboats may not offer the most comfortable seats in the parks, but the classic canvas cover, oversized steering wheel, and center console motor make these watercraft a one-of-a-kind park experience. As a lifelong Bostonian and baseball fan, I can best compare the Jungle Cruise Riverboats to sitting in Fenway Park – uncomfortable as heck, but a valued part of the experience.
Have you ever wanted to try driving your car right off the shore and into the blue waters? That’s exactly what the Boathouse Amphicars offer adventurous guests. These vintage-looking cars drive on land and enter the water seamlessly at the end of a loading ramp, taking guests on a captain-guided, 25-minute tour of the landmarks of Disney Springs. This unique trip through the waters of Disney Springs costs a little extra, but the experience is truly one-of-a-kind.
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Our last water-based entry to this list doesn’t just float – it “dives.” Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is the latest iteration in a series of submarine-themed attractions in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. It began as a generic submarine voyage in Disneyland, was themed to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Magic Kingdom, and now only resides in Disneyland, themed to Finding Nemo.
The submarines make this list because of the unique look and guest experience they provide, but truth be told, many guests also quite dislike this attraction, specifically because of the vehicles themselves. The space inside the submarine is rather small compared to the number of guests allowed inside, and the entry/exit for the subs is limited and narrow. Between the two restrictions, claustrophobia gets the best of some guests, and this attraction is a hard pass for many.
Thank you for riding with us. If this is your final destination, please remove your seatbelt and exit safely to the left. However, if you’d like to stay on board for part two in this series, we’ll take flight and let our imaginations soar as we celebrate the rest of our favorite Disney Parks ride vehicles.
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