Widen Your World – If You Had Wings – If You Had Wings Overview

If You Had Wings Overview
    supplement to WYW’s main If You Had Wings page



     If You Had Wings occupied the space in Tomorrowland that is now the home of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  As with some of its neighbors from years past, CircleVision 360 and Mission To Mars, If You Had Wings had a relatively unremarkable exterior. It consisted of an identifying sign pylon, white concrete walls and a dark blue angular portal that framed the glass door entryway. Seen to the left in a Spring 1972 photo, IYHW had a WEDway track above its entrance a full three years before the WEDway Peoplemover opened (July 1975).  IYHW’s doorway was flanked by a set of wall signs, dimensional letters and Eastern logos that changed slightly over the ride’s years of operation. The entrance was usually staffed by a cast member known as a “greeter.”

Once guests passed through the open doorway, they entered what Eastern Airlines described as “a spacious, modern airport passenger terminal.”  This vast room, also known as the Holding Area, had high ceilings, sparkling white walls and luxurious blue carpeting (orange for the ride’s first couple of years, as shown in an adjacent photo). At the far side of the room was the Load area, where guests stepped onto a Speedramp and took a seat in one of 102 continuously-moving Omnimover vehicles. These ocean blue cars trailed off to the north side of the room, where they entered an oversized and elongated globe through a gaping hole. Attached to the side of the globe for much of the ride’s lifespan was a model of an Eastern jet, heading west. The sight of the cars passing into this sphere was exciting and a little ominous, as what lie beyond the darkness of the globe’s interior was anyone’s guess. From the entrance to the load point, a twisting queue area was recessed into the center of the room. Guests passed by large backlit signs for arriving and departing flights, which blinked exotic destinations such as “Bahama’s 100,000 Islands” and “The Magic Kingdom.”  Echoing throughout the holding area was a lush orchestral arrangement based on the main theme of Eastern’s “Airbus” commercials. Periodically played over this theme was the voice of a man* announcing a series of arriving and departing flights…”Eastern Airlines announces the departure of flight 811, Whisperliner service to the underwater reefs of Bermuda.”

When guests reached the end of the queue, they were guided onto the Speedramp by a host or hostess and split into Omnimover-car sized groups, typically 2 adults per vehicle.  From here on out they cruised forward at a rate of two feet per second, steadily approaching the big hole in the globe. This hole, incidentally, was situated just south of Florida, throwing guests smack into the middle of the Caribbean, which was the approximate center of Eastern’s more celebrated vacation routes.

     The ride began with guests disappearing into darkness. The black walls of the globe’s interior came alive with the white silhouettes of seagulls in flight.  The persistent whirr of the ride’s 16 millimeter film projectors snuck up out of nowhere and the ride’s theme was introduced by a gleeful chorus of unseen singers. This simple song, written by Buddy Baker and X. Atencio, became a favorite for many visitors to the park. “If you had wings, you could do many things, you could widen your world, if you had wings…If you had wings, if you had wings, if you had wings, had wings, had wings, had wings…”  Repetitive as hell, just like It’s A Small World’s theme, thereby making it all the more memorable.

As the ride vehicles spun inside the globe, the seagulls on the wall turned into jet airplanes racing off to exciting destinations. These silhouettes faded into the background as guests approached their first destination, Mexico.  The cars faced off to the right of the ride’s forward motion, and the track began a climb through the room.  Spread out before the guests was a vision of old Mexico, brought to life by a series of two-and-three dimensional props, film projections, lighting and sound effects.  Rising from a sea of geometric cloud formations was an Aztec pyramid basking in the rays of a blazing stylized sun.  In the distance were the cliffs of Acapulco, where a series of divers took the breathtaking plunge every few seconds.  Soon the cars swung over to the left.  As they did, guests were confronted by a large stone dragon’s head, a representation of the Aztec god Quexalcoatl.

To their left, guests faced a panorama of modern Mexico.  Flower-laden boat drifted across the shimmering floating gardens of Xochilmilco, carrying dancers and a Mariachi band that blared the ride’s theme from their trumpets.  In the sky above, projections of pottery and other crafts rose from the horizon and flew through the sky.  Further along was a main plaza of Mexico city, where the shadows of festival-goers frolicked in the distance.  Closer to guests, through the open arches of a downtown building, dancers in fiesta regalia spun across the floor.

An attempt to describe IYHW accurately should include an assessment of its acoustics.  The first half of the ride took place in one large room divided into different areas by three-dimensional props.  This resulted in a blending of all the scenes’ musical tracks and created a messy din.  So it was hard to pick apart the song lyrics for any given area.  These lyrics are on WYW’s IYHW Annex page.  The music was a key element of the attraction, its one quick melody tying together many otherwise unrelated segments.  In this essay, however, the music is only mentioned in brief.  Suffice it to say that each area had its own background music whether guests could hear it or not.  In Mexico, it was the sound of a Mariachi band. 



     All sense of motion in the attraction – beyond that of the actual ride vehicles – was achieved through the use of film and effects projectors.  By and large the ride’s backdrops served as framing for projected images. There were no moving props or animated figures, but the ride was still very “alive.” This was due in large part to the creative genius of Claude Coats, a key WED Imagineer, Walt Disney Productions artist and the attraction’s principal designer.  His gift for staging gave the ride a strong sense of atmospheric plausibility.

     After passing below the dragon’s head, the cars descended into a Caribbean seaport.  To the right was an ocean liner, inventively dubbed the “Caribbean Cruiser,” preparing to set sail. Passengers lined the railings of the boarding deck, waving and throwing streamers. A steel drum band played in their midst. In the harbor below, a slew of smaller watercraft dotted the horizon. The image of a dancing couple was silhouetted against the sail of small sloop.  Down in the water, divers groped through the kelp for treasure.

     At the water’s edge, in a shack marked “Sport Fishing,” a tourist posed proudly with his catch (a swordfish of indeterminate proportions) while his wife set up to snap a picture.  As the man stood there beaming, the fish hanging next to him grew larger and smaller, evidently illustrating the vast difference between what he’d caught and his own biased impression of it.

     The cars turned left again and entered a straw market.  In a small building decorated with all manner of hand-woven goods was another couple, who tried to make a sale (in time with the music) to passing guests.  “Wanna buy a sombrero,” the man inquired, “made of real fine straw?  How about a nice handbag, for pretty mama?”  His wife sat beside him, eagerly trying to unload a hat.  The straw market scene then gave way to Puerto Rico, as the cars swung back to the right and began another slow incline.  Through tropical foliage guests viewed a group of young people doing the limbo.  Then the battlements of San Juan’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro rose around the track.  Through archways guests had aerial views of the seacoast and the fort, with now-familiar seagulls passing by.  In another arch was a musical group fronted by a cheerful lady playing the maracas and putting yet another twist on the ride’s theme song.

     The cars leveled off at the entrance to the fort, wherein another series of arches framed out scenes of the Bahamas.  A marching band stormed by with their rendition of the song, and with every other line of music their image gave way to a street traffic traveling in the opposite direction.  This motif was repeated in the next several archways, but now the street traffic alternated with a flurry of flamingos rushing down a shallow waterway. In a central arch, a Bahamian traffic cop in white knee socks and shorts had his hands full attempting to regulate this bizarre flow of events. With a whistle perched resolutely in his mouth, he pivoted to the left and right in a thankless pursuit of order.

     Off to the right, a new vista unfolded. Here was a stunning view of Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls and the surrounding jungle vegetation, rife with butterflies.  Making their way up to the top of the many-tiered waterfall was a large gathering of swimsuited young people.  As they reached various plateaus on their climb, they would “dance” across the water in group formations – in reality holding on to each other so as not to slip. Further along was a window looking out across a twilight lagoon in Trinidad, where more flamingos flew by every few seconds.

The next scene was New Orleans’ French Quarter during Mardi Gras.  In an open courtyard to the guests’ left, the shadows of a Dixieland quartet played their version of “If You Had Wings” on a vine-covered wall.  On the right, the street was blocked-off for the parade that was passing just a little further down.  Other Mardi Gras festivities (including the perplexing sight of a lady holding hands with a man wearing a huge zebra head) were viewed through the corner of a nearby building laced with wrought iron balconies.  Fireworks burst in the sky ahead, and guests moved toward them on their way into the cavernous room just around the corner.

This was the Speed Room, also known as the SuperSpeed Tunnel, and it was a part of If You Had Wings that no one forgot. Guests moved down the middle of this huge bullet-shaped room while 70mm projections of high-speed adventures played out on the walls around them.  The ride vehicles tilted backward and large fans added to the sensation of motion created by “you are there” scenes, such as racing in a dune buggy across the desert, water-skiing on a busy lake and flying down a forest path in the engine of a speeding train.  The Speed Room, of course, is an effect that went on to uses in other attractions such as Disneyland’s Peoplemover and Epcot’s World of Motion.  Now that those two attractions are gone, the only Disney Speed Room left is the original, now a part of the Buzz Lightyear ride.

Moving through the small hole at the end of the Speed Room, guests entered the Mirror Room.  The walls of this box-shaped space were covered with mirrors, against which the projections of snow-capped mountains and other placid ranges were reflected.  Each scene was shot from an ascending angle, which created a gentle, lifting sensation.  The holding area’s orchestral theme was reprised here, adding to the already lush environment.

The final scene brought back the seagulls, which now breezed across a dark blue sky.  Between the birds, an Eastern jet would come shooting past every few moments.  The voice of the holding area’s announcer came back with these parting words, “You do have wings, you can do all these things, you can widen your world, Eastern…we’ll be your wings.”  Then the cars approached Unload, where guests gathered their belongings and stepped out to their right onto another moving belt.  The poster above hung on the wall at the end of the Speedramp.  A final version of the theme song played between here and the exit, “If You Had Wings” had become “You Do Have Wings.”  Just before stepping back out into Tomorrowland, guests had the opportunity to stop at an Eastern-staffed reservations desk, where they could make travel arrangements or other inquiries.

And that, more or less, was If You Had Wings.  I do not presume to have captured the spirit of this attraction, which cannot be conveyed by words, music or visual imagery alone.  This ride was truly more than the sum of its components and was surely more happy, strange and worthy of praise than I can communicate in this limited format.  Perhaps that much abused phrase “virtual reality” will one day allow those who missed this original experience to revisit it in highly-approximated terms.  The world should be so lucky.

iyhwmapShow Scene Breakdown

Scene 1

Holding Area & Departure

Guests enter the attraction and find themselves in a spacious modern airport terminal.  They navigate a twisting path to the load belt, where they board an Omnimover car and approach an opening in the globe that looms ahead.

Scene 2

Globe Interior
The silhouettes of seagulls glide past and transform into Eastern jetliners, all flocking toward the next show scene which…

Scene 3

Ascending Flight
…really isn’t a show scene at all, but by the end of the ride you won’t remember this little bit of cheating.  It’s where you first see Scene 4…

Scene 4
Aztec Mexico
An Aztec pyramid rises from swirling clouds, cliff divers in Acapulco take the plunge and the great serpent head of Quexlcoatl hovers just a little further down the track.

Scene 5

Mexico City
Flower-laden boats on Lake Xochilmilco carry festive souls to the heart of the city, where a fiesta livens the main square.

Scene 6

Caribbean Port
A departing cruise ship dominates a busy harbor and a fisherman poses proudly beside his catch.

Scene 7

Straw Market
Two local merchants hawk their hand-woven wares. 

Scene 8

Treasure Hunt
Divers comb the pristine blue waters in search of sunken gains.

Scene 9

Caribbean Island
A bunch of merrymakers do the limbo on the beach to the tune of a nearby steel drum band.

Scene 10

Puerto Rico
Views of the sea and a musical group are glimpsed through the portals of Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

Scene 11

Traffic Scene / Bahamas
A Bahamian traffic cop struggles to maintain the balance between street vehicles, pedestrians and a flock of frantic flamingos.

Scene 12

Tropical Forest / Jamaica
A small army of carefree young people make their way up the rocky steps of Dunn’s River Falls.

Scene 13

Flamingos soar past a fantastic sunset framed in a terrace window.

Scene 14

New Orleans
The shadows of a Dixieland band play against a courtyard wall while Mardi Gras is in full swing just across the street.

Scene 15

Speed Room
Seven different high-speed 70mm film scenes are projected within this bullet-shaped room, including: dune buggy racing, a jet runway takeoff and waterskiing.

Scene 16

Mirror Room
Serene vistas of lofty mountain heights and scenic desert valleys are reflected all around this box-shaped room, to the accompaniment of the same lilting music first heard in the load area.

Scene 17

Descending Flight
The seagulls and Eastern jets return, signifying the end of the journey. “You Do Have Wings”

Scene 18

Guests disembark their vehicles and pass an Eastern Airlines reservations desk on their way back to Tomorrowland.

   * A 1972 Eastern publication proudly proclaimed that Orson Welles, who had done voiceover work on the airline’s TV ads, would also lend his voice to the queue area.  While I have no recordings of this, outside sources have confirmed that Welles’ voice did appear in the attraction during its earliest years.  By the late 1970s, a new voice was used and remained until the ride closed.  That voice sounds like either John Forsythe or Disney Studio mainstay Peter Renoudet, who provided the voice-over on a “demo tape” of the ride as well as voices for several other Magic Kingdom attractions.

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