For a certain subset of Disney fans, including my son, Walt Disney World in Florida cannot be separated from all the different types of transportation one gets to experience. From the monorail to ferries across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the iconic Walt Disney World Railroad, Disney World is heaven for transportation lovers. In 2019, Disney opened its newest form of transportation, the Disney Skyliner, which has become an instant hit with guests. Not only is the Skyliner an efficient means of transportation at Disney World, it’s also a delightful experience.
In this article we’ll discuss what you need to know about the Skyliner and how you can enhance your Disney World vacation via experiences on and around the Skyliner. The Skyliner is like life: the journey is as important as the destination!
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What is the Disney Skyliner?
What exactly is the Disney Skyliner? The non-technical way to explain it is that it’s a large cable car/gondola system that suspends guests above the Walt Disney World property and transports them between various Disney destinations. Think of gondolas you might see at ski resorts but instead of traveling up a mountain you are traveling from point to point. Some Skyliners are even wrapped in decorations using Disney themed characters, making them a fun, whimsical way to get around Disney World.
The technical version? The Disney Skyliner is a gondola lift system designed by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. But really all you need to know is it’s a pretty neat way to get around Walt Disney World.
The Skyliner is also of course only one piece in the larger Disney transportation system that includes monorails, boats, and buses.
Where can the Skyliner take you at Walt Disney World?
The Skyliner connects four different points in Walt Disney World. You can ride the Skyliner to Epcot (with an optional stop en route at Disney’s Riviera Resort), Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach Resort, and Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century resorts. The latter two are serviced by the same station.
The main Skyliner station resides at Caribbean Beach Resort. From there, you can take any one of the three Skyliner services, or lines. The Art of Animation and Pop Century Line is a direct route between Caribbean Beach Resort and those two resorts which share a Skyliner station. It’s a short four minute ride one way that takes you over Hourglass Lake and ending in the middle of the lake.
The second line is the Hollywood Studios line, which takes you directly back and forth between Hollywood Studios and Caribbean Beach. It’s a five minute ride but not as picturesque since you’re mostly soaring over parking lots.
The third line, the Epcot line, is the only line with a stop. You ride from the Caribbean Beach Station over Caribbean Beach Resort itself before doing a quick stopover at Disney’s Riviera Resort, where you can get off or pick up more passengers. The Skyliner then continues on to Epcot and drops you off at the International Gateway where you enter Epcot outside of the France pavilion.
What’s riding the Skyliner like? Does it get hot? Will I get motion sick?
If you’re not afraid of heights, riding the Skyliner is absolutely lovely. The cars board steadily, so even if there is a line it moves quickly. There is a separate loading area for ECVs and wheelchairs, making things run smoothly for everyone. Each Skyliner car can take up to 10 people, so if you are in a smaller party you can expect to share a car with others. During off peak times, you can ask for a car for your party only and cast members will often accommodate. But at busy times like the end of the night Disney will be running the Skyliners at full capacity.
Once you’re in the actual car and in the skies you’ll feel mild rocking. It’s nothing to worry about although again if you’re afraid of heights it might cause a little concern. Sometimes, the Skyliner stops for one reason or another – that’s when the car rocks a little more due to the halt in momentum. Not our favorite, but again, bearable.
One concern people had about the Skyliner was the fact that it didn’t have any air conditioning, but those concerns have been alleviated after the Skyliner started operating. There are air vents at the top of each car which provide a nice airflow through the cabin, even in the summer.
Overall, the Skyliner is one of best ways to get around Walt Disney World property. The views and convenience are sure to delight young and old alike. It’s currently our favorite form of transportation at Walt Disney World.
Does the Skyliner change the value of the hotels it services?
Yes! The gravitational pull of the Skyliner has moved a lot of guests away from the monorail resorts near the Magic Kingdom to the resorts that the Skyliner services – including the deluxe resorts on Crescent Lake: Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Boardwalk Inn. And for the first time moderate and value Disney resorts have non-bus options to get to some of the theme parks. This has made Art of Animation and especially Pop Century incredibly popular.
We are regularly seeing standard rooms at both those hotels and Caribbean Beach Resort selling out before other on property hotels. So if you want to book a Skyliner hotel, you should book sooner rather than later (remember you can always make changes for free if you change your mind- 30 days in advance of your trip for package bookings and 5 days in advance for hotel-only bookings.
In addition, the Skyliner has definitely driven prices up at Pop, Art of Animation, and Caribbean Beach Resort. You can expect equivalent rooms at Pop and Art of Animation to be at least $30-$40 more per night on average than any of the All Star Resorts (which are also considered Value resorts). You’ll see the same markup when comparing Caribbean Beach Resort to the other moderate hotels, like Coronado Springs and the two Port Orleans resorts.
Will there still be bus service to hotels that use the Skyliner?
Buses still run regularly (at an average wait time of 15 minutes) between Skyliner resorts, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. If there is no bad weather and you don’t want to ride the Skyliner, you can still take a bus to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, but be aware that the buses run less frequently.
The board that tells you bus wait times will often just encourage you to take the Skyliner instead of waiting for a bus, but according to Guest Services buses will still run between the Skyliner hotels, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. They should begin running an hour before official park opening and continue to run at least an hour after park closing.
What happens to the Skyliner during bad weather?
The Skyliner has one big disadvantage to other forms of Disney transportation. When bad weather rolls in or is scheduled to roll in, the Skyliner shuts down completely. Light or even medium rain won’t stop operations, but if there is lightning or other adverse weather in the area, Disney cast members completely empty the Skyliner – every guest is dropped off at the next station but nobody is allowed to get on. The Skyliner won’t start running again until the all clear.
This can be very frustrating if you’re relying on the Skyliner for transportation, so be aware if you’re staying at one of the Skyliner hotels in the summer. Disney will still get you where you need to go via bus, but it’s just not as efficient. As always, touring early morning and late night will minimize your chances of weather disruption in the summer.
What are the operating hours of the Skyliner? Can I use it for rope drop?
Unfortunately, Disney World doesn’t post Skyliner operating hours online or in the Disney World app. The only way to know the Skyliner operating hours is to check the A-Frame boards Disney posts outside of Skyliner stations every day. If you see a picture of one of these schedules a few days before your trip, they’re likely accurate, but Disney ramps up/down its schedule depending on projected crowds.
You can count on the Skyliner opening at least one hour before park opening and at least one hour after park closing most times, but that is not early enough to truly rope drop the parks. While rope drop is itself a moving target these days (and with the new half hour for early theme park entry for on site guests being introduced in October 2021), we can confidently say that taking the Skyliner one hour before park opening likely will not put you in the front of the line.
With the Skyliner not opening early enough, you could take your chances with the bus system. Buses should start running an hour before park opening, if you get on the first bus you’ll be in a decent spot (though probably not at the front of the line). Note that Disney continually changes its bus schedules so you should ask cast members at your hotel about specific operations during your visit.
If you decide to take your chances with the Skyliner for rope drop, aim to line up at Caribbean Beach Resort station 30-45 minutes before the Skyliner’s starting operating time that day. If you are coming from the Pop Century/Art of Animation station, line up even earlier – you really want to be one of the first to board the Skyliner because you will have to transfer at Caribbean Beach. But the real way to ensure you’re at the front of the line for rope drop at Hollywood Studios or Epcot is to stay at one of the Crescent Lake hotels and walk if you can afford it.
How crowded is the Skyliner at the end of the night?
If you want to avoid long lines, you might not want to ride the Skyliner back home at the end of the night. Now that fireworks are back at both Epcot and Hollywood Studios, a lot of people pour out of the Skyliner parks at the end of the evening. We’ve seen lines running all the way to the Beach Club Resort for the Skyliner at park closing time.
Our recommendation? Wait it out. If you can hang out in the parks, shopping, people watching, etc. for 20-30 minutes after park closing you will find the lines pretty much gone. Or if you’re at Epcot, walk around Crescent Lake or explore some of the shops and restaurants on the Boardwalk. You can return to the Skyliner when the lines have died down.
Should you ride a regular or “wrapped” Skyliner car?
As mentioned above, a lot of the Skyliner cars have cute Disney characters wrapping them. The mixing and matching of different colored Skyliner cars and decorations makes watching the Skyliner a visual treat. But there is a difference between riding a decorated or non-decorated Skyliner car.
Unfortunately, the Skyliner cars with wrapped decorations make it harder to see out of the Skyliner windows. If you want to get the best views of Disney World from up high, ask a cast member if you can wait for a non-decorated gondola. Of course, your kids might want the fun of riding in the Elsa or Goofy gondola, so in that case the trade-off might be worth it!
How can you best use the Skyliner on a non-park day?
Regardless of whether you are staying at a Skyliner hotel, if you’re taking a non-park day, cruising the Skyliner is a great way to pass the time. If you’re into eating, you might want to check out the Landscape of Flavors food court at Art of Animation, Sebastian’s at Caribbean Beach Resort, or Topolino’s at the Riviera Resort.
You can also take the Skyliner to the Epcot station and explore the boardwalk around Crescent Lake and the hotels there as well. This area has great places to eat like Cape May Cafe, Ale & Compass, and Beaches & Cream. Best of all, you can ride the Skyliner at off-peak times and just enjoy the views high above Disney World by yourself!
Disney’s Skyliner continues the long tradition of magical transportation options at Walt Disney World. The main drawback is how bad weather can throw a real monkey wrench in operations. Other than that, however, it’s a convenient and fun way to get around Disney World. There are rumors that Disney will be expanding Skyliner service in the future – we can’t wait!
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About the author: Contributing writer Joe Cheung loves traveling with his wife and three children. He has been writing about using miles and points to reduce the cost of family travel since his wife was pregnant with their first child. He loves traveling all around the world with a special place in his heart for travel to Asia and all things Disney. When he’s not writing, you can find Joe chatting about Disney World on the Disney planning podcast Disney Deciphered that he and Leslie co-host or working as a travel agent specializing in Disney destinations. You can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.