Walt Disney World
A History in Postcards
Sailing the Seven Seas (Lagoon)
Part I Excursion Steamers
A page on the larger craft plying the Waterways of Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon
This early view of the transportation hub at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom seems most notable to me for the side wheeler steamboat bringing guests to the dock in front of the Magic Kingdom. When I first started this project I thought perhaps these boats were the pre-cursors to the ferryboats, in part because You can't see the Ferry landing in this view. Later I decided that I was wrong, I thought that perhaps the ferry dock would have been out of frame anyway (to the right). It wasn't until 2008 that former watercraft cast member Greg Chin emailed me and let me know that my original thinking was correct, the first two ferrries did not go into service until 1973, and until then the side-wheeler steam ships were used to take guests from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, Greg Wrote:
Your Postcard image of the Osceola-class Southern Seas arriving at the Magic Kingdom Cruise Dock, showing that the Ferryboat Dock wasn't there, is indeed correct. The postcard shows a pink concrete slab, with the benches and patio umbrellas, on that straight east-west extension of the dock. Later, that was the Ferryboat Dock. It's not out of the photo. It just wasn't built yet, on that straight extension. The Ferryboat Dock's wooden "patio" decking is really about 2' in elevation, above the existing pink concrete slab. The narrower and angled, pink concrete area, was always there for the motor launches and motor cruisers. They probably built the lt. blue canvased ferryboat dock during 1973, when the first two ferryboats were also being built. The third ferryboat, the Kingdom Queen wasn't built until 1975-1976. The MK Tram Drop-off area (under the MK monorail beamway) is still there in the postcard, and wasn't modernized with the covered MK Bus Depot until the late 1980's, (or else 1986-1987) when the Disney resort expansion was beginning. The Grand Floridian Beach Resort, and the two new resort convention centers required that the new MK Bus Depot to be built. I was glad to see the Bus Depot built. We needed it, especially during the Summer nights.

The ship on the card above is one of the Excursion Steamers like the one on the pre-opening postcard below.

There were two of these Excursion Steamers in the early fleet and unlike the one on the pre-opening card neither of them was named the Osceola. They were named the Southern Seas, and the Ports O' Call. and in the early "pictorial souvenir" books it was often noted that they "have "walking beam" engines unlike any built in 100 years" Even though in the end none of the steamers ended up being named Osceola they were called "Osceola Class" Here's Captain Matt with more: There were actually two side-wheel steamers named the "Southern Seas" The original "Southern Seas" was retired in 1975 and scrapped in 1977. The "Ports of Call" was retired in 1982 and scrapped in 1984. The second "Southern Seas" was built in 1977 after the scrapping of the first. After the opening of Epcot in the 1980s the boat wasn't used as much. It was used for midnight cruises, and for trips to and from the World Cruise dock to Discovery Island. But in 1997, it was deemed unnecessary and was taken out to a hill behind dry dock and scrapped after 20 years of service." This shot of the ports of call is the only one I found 
 This image appeared in the 1977 
 " pictoral souvenir of WDW " softcover from 1977 page 28 This shot of the Southern seas is from crescent 
books Walt Disney World and epcot center 1990 edition
Also in closer views of these "Excursion Steamers" it looks like they have a much smaller capacity than the ferryboats. Still according to one source in the early days of the park they were so pressed for capacity in getting people to the park they were for a time pressed into service. David Koenig writes "Although they would eventually be used for "pleasure cruises," their initial use, starting with Opening Day, was to supplement the Monorail as transportation from the Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom, until other ships and Monorail cars could be added." In reference to the pleasure cruises David mentions here's a description from one of the park "Information guides" :
"WORLD CRUISE. Sail the 650-acre Waters of the World aboard a colorful side wheel steamboat. Narrated tours describe Walt Disney Worlds history . . . and preview it's future. adults $1. Children (3-11), 50." (winter/Spring 1974 information guide compliments of GAF). In the resort section of the same guide The Polynesian, Contemporary, and Fort Wilderness resorts all list under Entertainment: "Moonlight Cruises aboard colorful side wheel steamers depart the"Polynesian Village Marina/ Contemporary Resort Marina/ Fort Wilderness Landing " for a full evening of fun afloat. Cocktails and soft drinks are sold on board." I also have a Summer/ Fall 1974 information guide in which the resort information on cruises is basically the same but in which the attraction listing for the World Cruise is limited to basically being listed as one of the possible ways to get to "TREASURE ISLAND!". Treasure Island was the Early name of Discovery Island and according to Disney A to Z it opened April 8, 1974 and changed its name to Discovery Island in 1977.


Hi Brian,

Here is some more information on Ports of Call. To those of us who are steamship fans, these vessels were a rare treat, and are sorely missed. Both of these vessels were rare, modern replicas of the "walking beam" paddle steamer. The walking beam engine was unique to North America, and at one time was the most common type in ocean and deep fresh water. The last operating original walking beam steamer was the San Francisco ferry Eureka, which stopped operating in 1958.

I rode the Ports of Call as a little boy in 1979 or 1980. I knew about it in advance and specifically made the effort to plan our schedule. I spent most of the voyage standing at the engine room door, watching the engineer. Everything was as I expected. The most fascinating part of the engine is watching the engineer get under way. The walking beam engine has a single cylinder, like a lawn mower engine, BUT there is no such thing as an electric starter. The engine has to start itself by careful steam application. The engineer controls the steam with a "starting bar", a big lever attached to the valves. He watches the crankshaft and swings the bar up and down to shift the steam to each end of the cylinder. This bar was big, as tall as the engineer, and he did it while standing, if I recall. He had to keep doing this until the engine was rotating smoothly and then he could engage an automatic valve gear. When stopping he had to reverse the process, and make sure the engine stopped in a position that allowed starting. If he failed, the engine would be stuck on "dead center" and powerless. In the old days they had to pry the engine off center with a big timber pryed against the paddlewheel. Perhaps Disney had some jacking gear built into the ship. The trains and Liberty Belle boat do not have this problem because their engines have two cylinders synchronized on opposite cycles.

The whole experience was very unique and realistic. You could really tell the engine was authentic. The whole vessel squeaked and warped with the engine's movement, because there was only one cylinder you could feel the power surge with every stroke, similar to the surging of a scull when the rowers are synchronized.

-- Steven Harrod (LINK TO EMAIL)

This image of the Magic Kingdom II and the Southern Seas was included in the
 hardcover souvenir books from the mid 80's
 thru early 90's in the Waterways of the World Section near the back



I really enjoyed your web page about the WDW Watercraft. I was a Watercraft Host from 5/11/73 until 1/31/2000. Capt. Matt was very good in his information, especially on the ferries. Maybe I can fill in some of the blanks about the other vessels. The Osceola class steamships "Ports O'Call" and "Southern Seas" were steam driven by a replica of an 1858 Gallows A-Frame steam engine. They were oil fired boilers running at 350 lbs of pressure. The steam engine only ran on 15-20 pounds of steam pressure, most of the pressure was used by a steam turbine to generate electricity. It took 3 people to run the steamships; a pilot that steered, an engineer that operated the steam engine and controlled the forward and reverse speeds and a deck hand whose duties were to cast off and secure the vessel at each dock. Each steamship was 100 feet, 5/8 inch long and 30 feet wide, drawing 3.5 feet of water, weighing in at 100 tons and could take on board 250 guests. Both the original "Ports" and "Seas" had fiberglass hulls. They were built in sections and then bolted together. Whether or not they had a foundation of plywood is unknown to me, but fiberglass boats have always had a foundation on which the fiberglass is laid and then the epoxy and resin are applied. The teak decks had to continually be pressure washed and scrubbed with TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) to get that good, clean look. I know that the motor launches still in use today have teak decks and have been in use since 1971. I remember piloting through the "wave machine" action one time during the World Cruise to Treasure Island, surviving the incident but never wanting to do it again. The steamships had "wings" extending from the center that housed the keel coolers. Since the steam engine used a closed steam loop, all the steam was recirculated, condensed by the keel coolers and recycled through the boiler. That way, we didn't have to top off with water like the steam trains. These hull "wings" would slap the water if you got parallel to some good sized waves. That's what happened when I went through the waves generated by the wave machine. We weren't in any danger of sinking though.

The original Southern Seas was scrapped in 1977 due to an unfortunate accident in Dry dock. The "Seas" sunk due to the removal of a stern thruster before the bilges were pumped. Needless to say when you remove a large piece of machinery from the hull, it doesn't take much to take on water. When Maintenance got back, the "Seas" port side was sitting on the bottom and the starboard side was still tied up at the dock. It was really strange to go on board a vessel that was listing at 45 degrees! The pieces that were saved from both steamships are used throughout the parks, most of them are at Typhoon Lagoon. The ships whistle, bell and brass steering wheel and binnacle are on top of the Typhoon Lagoon ticket booths. The steam engine gauges and front plate are on a wall near the gift shop. When Disney survived the "hostile takeover" events in the late 1970's, many of the authentic assets were discontinued for financial reasons. It was costly to run an authentic steamship that was slow, low in guest capacity and high in maintenance. When the "Seas" sank in Dry dock, the new "Seas" was built using diesel-electric paddlewheels and showing the action of an A-Frame, walking beam steam engine. The "Ports" was retired and then the new "Seas" retired in the late 90's.

As far as I know, all the large watercraft were designed by a naval architect and built by Disney in Drydock. The ferryboats did have a tendency to dive, especially when you had more than the official limit of 600 guests. On the first several years of Grad Nights, we used to double up with 1200 grads on board and see how far we could get the water to come onboard. One time I witnessed taking on water from the bow and leaving midship through the side gates. The grad guys really loved it since their dates would jump up into their arms to escape from the water!

There were other watercraft on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The "East Wind" was a Chinese junk docked at the Polynesian resort and used only for charters. It took a crew of two to operate; a pilot and a deckhand. The steering wheel was very large and you had to stand on a platform to reach the top of the wheel and steer. The wheel was located in the stern and it was 22 turns from lock to lock. There was a complete galley on board for dining and a wet bar. Usually during a charter we would have a chef, a server, a bartender and a cocktail waitress. Eventually the East Wind was retired and sold to Joe Namath (New York Jets quarterback).

You may certainly use this information on your web site. You can credit me and my time at WDW Watercraft if that will help you authenticate the accuracy of this information. My hope is that some old Watercraft friends might see it and get in touch with me.

Easy sailing,


The photo below is from 1979 and is here courtesy of Martin Smith. If you click on it and view the larger version of it you will see that the two cast members at the gates and the driver all appear to be women. I know that's not particularly notable, but I think almost every time I have been on the ferries it has been a mix of men and women or more men than women.

MKII1979-500 (30K)photo by 
Martin Smith

E-mail Me martsolf@mindspring.com

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Last modified by Brian K Martsolf at 05-Mar-2009 06:38 PM