Although the official opening date was May 20, 1973, there is at least one photograph of guests riding a boat down the canal that was published in 1972. At first, the boats loaded at what is now the outdoor dining patio just north of the Plaza Restaurant. The better-known dock, which is the green-roofed structure on the water’s edge between Cinderella Castle and Tomorrowland, which was built in 1973.
Images of the Swan Boats were widespread in the 1970s. Photographs of the boats appeared on postcards, slides, in pictorial souvenirs and other Disney publications of the era. A Swan Boat photo even made the front cover of the Summer/Fall 1974 MK guide book. The Swan Boats were listed in the park’s guides up until 1975 only, even though the attraction lasted eight more years. The ride required a “D” Ticket up until 1980, when the A-E ticket system was disbanded.
The female cast members staffing this attraction wore a stylized white and blue sailor’s uniform. An early photo (top of this page) of one boat shows a hostess wearing a different uniform, with a broad-rimmed hat and Fantasyland type dress – something closer to what hostesses at Disneyland’s Storybook Land ride once wore. This photo also showed the boat traveling in the “wrong” direction, sailing west to east past the front of the Crystal Palace restaurant. The male cast members who showed up for the ride’s last several seasons of operation wore blue and white as well, often with a white cap. Male Leads wore red and white.
A cast member who worked this attraction during its last season said the ride was closed due to operating costs, which stemmed largely from the maintenance of the boats. This would make the Swan Boats the first ride to contract the disease that laid 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea to rest in 1994. All manner of other reasons have been given for the Swan Boats’ closure, including that the ride was “just too popular.” When I first heard that, I presumed it was entirely untrue. According to Greg Scott, however, the ride’s popularity was actually a problem. Scott (pictured above and below with co-worker Kerry) staffed the ride as a Lead during its last few summers and in 2003 recounted that even with six boats running the queue could easily reach 45-60 minutes.
One fun rumor surrounding the ride is that the “swan boats” on Orlando’s Lake Eola are the Disney Swan Boats restored. Anyone paying attention could tell you that’s nonsense for many reasons, including the facts that Lake Eola’s boats a) are foot-powered and b) hold no more than four people each. Of course some of the same people who have suggested that also made the correct, although hardly sagacious, observation that the old Swan Boat dock still resides, useless and forlorn, along the canal just opposite the borders of Tomorrowland. The true destiny of the boats themselves is a bit more sad. After the ride closed the boats were moved to the property control yard at the north end of WDW, where they were put up for sale. They were all sold and in all accounts that I’ve heard, the swan figureheads and boats went their separate ways.
In 2009 and 2010, the exact whereabouts of several boat pieces came to light via e-mails sent to me and a few other websites, some linked to ebay auctions. In South Florida the boat portion of the “Snow White” vessel was found sitting behind a restaurant by David McFee, while in Orlando a gaggle of swan figureheads were in storage by Bobby Lory, whose father … here’s the thing, my most recent e-mail crash (2010) wiped out all of the great messages that helped tell this particular story. BUT, if you follow this link to Walt Dated World you’ll not only get the details but great photos. None of this recent information puts us closer to seeing Swan Boats back in the Magic Kingdom (that isn’t going to happen – today’s WDW management hates cool stuff), but somebody’s going to see a 90% restored swan boat floating around one Florida lake or another in the future.
Hopefully this attempt to preserve some of the Swan Boat’s history does not add to the sea of misperceptions surrounding this charming ex-attraction. Since I only experienced it as a child, the bulk of this research has come from Disney publications and the generosity of others with their own memories.
|Plaza Swan Boats Images & Video
ADDITIONAL IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
Both of these videos featuring the Swan Boats were provided to WYW by Mr. Pat Connor. Thanks Pat!!!