This week on WDW ESCAPE, take a journey of the imagination with us, as we IMAGINE Sailing the Disney Seas.
IMAGINE- Sailing the Disney Seas
Many years ago, my family and I were rounding out another fantastic day at the Magic Kingdom with a visit to the Wishes viewing area. While we were waiting for the show to begin, a cast member stepped up and began to speak to the crowd.
He was a well-spoken fellow of a certain age, with one of those voices that seem to carry without effort, and it gave everyone in the area the impression that he was speaking just to them as he began to entertain the crowd, waiting for fireworks with varying degrees of patience, with an impressive display of Disney World minutia and trivia, including the astonishing claim that, if you counted every single boat that operated on property, you would find that Walt Disney World had what amounted to the world’s fourth largest navy.
This fun fact stuck with me over the years for some reason, and with this June’s edition of WDW Magazine being the water issue, it seemed like a time to salute the Naval Might of the Most Magical Place on Earth.
One problem immediately presented itself: the “fun fact” was more fun than fact. Some folks swore that it was true. Others said sixth largest. Or fifth. And more than a few sources were quick to note that technically a navy was armed, and what Walt Disney World actually has is a fleet. And so it is, the Friendliest Fleet in the whole wide world.
You may not immediately associate a trip to Walt Disney World with a boating holiday, but in one way, that “fun fact” got things exactly right; it is almost unimaginable to experience a Walt Disney World adventure without setting sail on more than a few vessels within that fabulous flotilla.
You can roughly divide the Friendliest Fleet into two categories; Practical and Magical. Except that this is Walt Disney World and even the most practical of transportation is pure magic at times. Case in point: The Magic Kingdom Ferry Boats.
When my family makes a day of it at the Magic Kingdom, it always begins with a bus from a Disney resort right to the park. For us, the sight of the ferry approaching means something very different than it does for the people on board.
There are three ferry boats operating every morning, and they can each carry 600 passengers per trip between the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Centre. For those of us getting off the busses, the sight of a ferry approaching makes us walk a little more briskly to the entrance, before you find yourself at the back of the crowd of guests approaching by sea.
But for most of the visitors who arrive at those gates every day, the ferryboats are their chariots, carrying them on a joyous journey for a day like no other. Millions of happy memories have had their start right here, and their finish too, when the day is at an end.
Bay Lake is home to many members of the Friendliest Fleet. If you are lucky enough to stay at a resort on the monorail line, you have almost certainly traveled in the opposite direction from that terrific train of tomorrow on some of the wonderful boat launches that dot the lake.
The Gold Flag Launches go from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian, and back again. The Red Flag Launches serve Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort, and the Blue Flag launches travel between Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and Contemporary Resorts.
And the Green Flag launch is the most magical of all, as it will carry you from the Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, which is where one can find that pinnacle of both cuisine and culture that is the magnificent Hoop Dee Doo Musical revue, truly a journey you will never forget.
The Magic Kingdom has no exclusive over the services of this mighty fleet either. If you have ever cut across EPCOT’s World Showcase Lagoon on a “Friend-ship” on a hot Florida day, you know that can be magical as well.
Other Friend-ships ply the waters between EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, making stops along the way at the Yacht Club, the Boardwalk, the Beach Club and the Swan and Dolphin.
For guests at those resorts the ships may seem very practical, but for Disney Dads with tired kids looking for a little break while trying to pack more adventure into a park day, the friendships are magical boats indeed.
Of course, there are some very fine boats connecting Disney resorts with the bright lights of Disney Springs as well. With three different routes connecting the shopping and dining district with Saratoga Springs Resort, Old Key West, Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, and a fourth route running a circuit within Disney Springs itself.
And of course, there are the Amphicars, for those with a taste for adventure with style and fins that have nothing to do with swimming.
And that is all very well and good, but is it really enough to qualify as the Friendliest Fleet in all the land? It is when you count the many, many ships that are less practical than they are magical. You know the ones… The boats that don’t really take you anywhere, except where you really want to go.
Like the boats that take you all around the world in It’s a Small World. They have ben sailing proudly since October of 1971, with up to sixteen passengers per ride and no end to the journey in sight. Or Pirates of the Caribbean, which has been taking twenty-four passengers on each of fifty-odd boats countless times every day since 1973!
Ah, you say, but those aren’t really boats, are they? I bet you wouldn’t say the same about the Liberty Belle, would you? A mighty riverboat that has been circling Tom Sawyer Island for nearly 50 years, and your holiday would not be the same without making the trip at least once.
Not to mention the motorized rafts that cut in and out of the Liberty Belle’s path to drop off guests at Harper’s Mill. Or could you really imagine a trip to Adventureland that did not include a voyage on one of the dozen ships of the world-famous Jungle Cruise? Do the logs at Splash Mountain count?
Of course they do! And that’s just the Magic Kingdom!
The more you imagine your ideal Walt Disney World trip, the more you realize that the Friendliest Fleet has been at the heart of your experience all along. From the soaking you are bound to get on Kali River Rapids to the soothing, hypnotic sights and sounds of Na’vi River Journey, there is wonder in each sailing.
From the joy of Frozen Ever After to the astonishment of Living With The Land and the delight of the Three Caballeros in the Gran Fiesta Tour, every part of Walt Disney World is filled with nautical adventures… Except Disney’s Hollywood Studios for some reason. Unless… Do spaceships count?
Friendliest Fleet, meet the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Sounds ship-shape to me.