Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walt Disney World had an on-site Airport!

     Some of my favorite tidbits about Walt Disney World are those that never really happened the way they were supposed to. For example, I've written about a couple of hotels that never quite came to fruition: the Venetian and the Asian (click to read about them). In this post, however, I want to talk about a little historical tidbit that did happen, but only for a short period of time.
     You're taking the monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom on a lovely afternoon . As you approach the Transportation and Ticket Center, you look to the right, and notice a large open area of concrete with trucks and other transport on it, behind the fleeting trees. For just a moment, you just caught a glimpse of a fascinating piece of Disney history: Lake Buena Vista STOL airport. While this air strip is used for parking and transport today, it once served as a functional airstrip. Yes, airplanes could be seen daily flying over and next to Cinderella Castle:


     STOL airport opened in 1971, along with the Walt Disney World resort. It went along with the theme of Walt Disney World: an all-inclusive vacation destination, where guests would stay for many days, and never run out of entertainment and activities. With this airport, guests could fly right in, and not have to worry about their transportation from Orlando. They would just jump off of their long flight, and back onto a short flight direct to the Magic Kingdom! Sounds great, right?
     It was great for a few years. However, as the Kingdom grew in popularity, the flights got more and more frequent, and the airport quickly outgrew its infrastructural capabilities. Pilots began complaining that the air strip was not long enough. The port never really had a hangar, so only four planes could be at the strip at a time. In 1975, with the growth of the World following the end of the oil crisis, the airport became impractical, and was closed until a time when it could be renovated to handle the crowds. However, in 1982, with the construction of the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, the air strip lost any hope of opening again. The rail was simply too close to the air strip to ever allow planes near it again.
     And so, all we are left with is a fun glimpse through the trees to wonder what it must have been like to fly directly into Walt Disney World.