If you’ve been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland you probably have ridden the monorail and like me you probably remember your first ride. Mine came the summer before my sixth grade year. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was at Disneyland and we boarded at Tomorrowland. As we cruised around the park and over, what was then the Submarine Voyage ride, I was beyond thrilled and amazed. But what was this amazing ride in the sky that I was on? Little did this boy from Nebraska know that this incredible piece of technology opened on June 14, 1959. That’s right – 1959!
Walt Disney loved technology and wanted a fun and innovative way to transport guests around the park. He hired Imagineer, Bob Gurr, to design the ALWEG Monorail. The technology had existed in Europe and Gurr was tasked with making it work at Disneyland. On that day in 1959, the Disneyland Monorail became the first monorail to transport people in the Western Hemisphere. Guess who cut the ribbon on that day? Vice President Richard Nixon and his family. There is great story about the monorail taking off with Nixon and leaving behind the Secret Service and then after the first trip around, Nixon’s daughters asked for another ride and again left the Secret Service in panic!
Before we move onto the monorail system at Walt Disney World, a fun fact about the Disneyland version is that it was actually owned by a company called Retlaw, which was a private company Walt owned. They also owned the Disneyland Railroad. The Cast Members working these rides were employed by Retlaw. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the Disney family sold the rides to the Disney Company.
The Walt Disney Monorail opened on October 1, 1971 which was opening day for the park. It traveled around the Seven Seas Lagoon to transport guests from the resorts to the Magic Kingdom and from the Transportation and Ticket Center known as the TTC. The TTC is a critical but not too often thought about area of Disney World as it was built to create a buffer from parking to the Magic Kingdom. Something Disneyland did not have the luxury of having.
The Disney World monorail was special as it actually went through a building, The Contemporary Resort. The first time I rode that monorail I had to do three more times because I was amazed that we were inside a hotel! Fun fact about The Contemporary is that each room was built off-site as a modular then the nearly nine ton rooms were lifted by crane into place.
The monorail was expanded to connect the TTC, Magic Kingdom and resorts to Epcot in 1982. Anyone who has taken a spin in the monorail knows that for many years there was a familiar voice who made announcements including this famous one in english and spanish. “Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas.” This was, of course, the voice of Disneyland, Jack Wagner. In the early days of Disneyland his voice was heard from parades to rides throughout the park.
So there you go, a little history lesson on an amazing transportation vehicle, which I thought was futuristic in 1991 but was around for nearly 40 years before. The next time you get on an elevator give ole Jack Wagner a nod and say “Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas.” You might get some strange looks but for us Disney fans you will get a big smile!