There’s no doubt that the water transportation Disney World offers is often overshadowed by the iconic monorails and buses. But Disney World has transported guests over the water from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom ever since the park opened in 1971, when two Osceola-class steamships did the work. The steamships quickly gave way to diesel-powered ferry boats for efficiency and capacity, and have been in operation ever since. The Admiral Joe Fowler, General Joe Potter, and Richard F. Irvine are vital to the resort for moving guests from the ticket booths on the south side of the Seven Seas Lagoon to the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom on the north side, and safely back again at night. Here are a few things that the ferry boat captains would like you to know:
10. We Start a Little Later
The monorails open earlier, but the ferry boats open for guest transportation around 30 minutes before park opening. That’s still plenty of time to have you at the Magic Kingdom in time for the welcome show – it’s only a five minute trip across the water.
9. “Not By the Hair of My Chinny-Chin-Chin.”
Much as guests can no longer ride in the front car of the monorail, they are also no longer permitted in the pilot houses of the ferry boats. This practice ended many years ago after changes were made to increase safety. So captains can no longer open the door and let you in.
8. It Doesn’t Stop on a Dime
Based on the sheer size of the ferries and the fact that they are on water instead of on land, it should come as no surprise that they require significant stopping distance. Ferry boats require between one and two boat lengths – up to 240 feet – to slow from full speed to a hard stop. Nonetheless, despite warnings from Cast Members, guests that rent boats on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon often end up directly in front of a ferry either to take a picture or through poor navigation skills. Ferry boat captains are trained to take evasive action but accidents have occurred nonetheless.
7. It’s NOT on Rails
There is a very simple distinction between boats that are inside the Magic Kingdom and boats that are outside of it. The boats inside the park are on rails. The boats outside the park are not. As such the ferries are free-floating and require a pilot not only for acceleration and deceleration, but for steering as well. In moderate to high winds there can be some bumping as the ferry docks, so guests should be aware.
6. There are Always Two Captains Aboard
The ferry boats are crewed by three people, and at least two of them are captains. Since the ferry boat has pilothouses, propellers, and rudders at both ends of the ship, it doesn’t normally ever have to turn around. One captain pilots the boat in one direction and the other captain pilots in the other direction on the return trip. When not piloting the boat the other captain serves as the deckhand on the upper deck. Sometimes there are even three captains aboard, and when this happens the three rotate through the captain and deckhand positions on each successive trip across the water.
5. En español, por favor.
The Spanish translation of the monorail’s audio track that warns guests to stay away from the doors has taken on a life of its own. “Por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas” is now featured on t-shirts and other merchandise at the resort. However, ferry boat captains prefer their own translated message, and it’s just as important a safety tip. “Por favor mantengase alejado de las escaleras” means to please stay clear of the stairs. The ferry boats have two staircases that can be dangerous places to stand during docking, and the deck hands aboard will direct you to get off of the stairs when approaching your destination.
4. We Are Well Trained
When Cast Members join the Watercraft Department, they begin as deckhands and learn how to properly cast off and secure the boats, along with safety training. From there, they work with a Disney Trainer to learn how to pilot either the resort launches or the resort cruisers. After proving themselves proficient on one boat, they then learn the other. Only after showing proficiency on both boats are they invited to train to pilot the ferry boats. Ferry boat training is comprehensive and involves a number of exercises, including being able to hold the boat’s position one foot off of a dock and then maneuver the ferry side to side along the dock while maintaining that one foot distance. There also tends to be a number of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard retirees among the captains in the Watercraft Department.
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3. There Are No Working Bathrooms Aboard
It’s only a five minute trip across the Seven Seas Lagoon, but many people end up asking if there are restroom facilities on board. There are not. The General Joe Potter once had working facilities when it still did dinner cruises but they were taken out of service many years ago. There are restrooms to the right of the ticket booth near the Magic Kingdom turnstiles, and just to the right past the smoking area after you exit the Ticket and Transportation Center dock.
2. The Ferries are Safe, But Please Watch Your Children
Safety railings and gates line all sides of the ferry boat, but you still need to keep an eye on your children. There are two wide sets of stairs on each ferry boat that can present a danger of falling for children – or people of all ages for that matter. Additionally, children who want a better view have been known to climb up on the safety railings which puts them in danger of falling overboard. Make sure you know where your children are whenever you are on board.
1. We’re Faster Than the Monorails… Sometimes
Whenever there is a large crowd waiting to cross the Seven Seas Lagoon, whether it’s in the morning as they wait at the TTC to go to the Magic Kingdom or in the evening as they wait to get back to their cars after the park closes, the ferry boat will often get you on your way quicker than the monorails. During these times, the Watercraft Department has all three ferry boats in operation, which means that one departs every five minutes or so. That is approximately the same frequency as the monorail, but the ferry boat can carry 600 passengers which is about double the amount that the monorail carries. However, if only two ferries are in service due to renovations or repairs on the third, or if there is no crowd of people waiting, the monorails tend to be faster.
Anyone who has taken the ferry boat from the Magic Kingdom to the Ticket and Transportation Center at the end of a hot day in the park knows how pleasant it can be. The evening breezes off of the Seven Seas Lagoon and hum of the diesel engines soothe even the most frayed of nerves. Have you ever ridden on the ferry boat? How did it measure up to other forms of transportation at Disney World?
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