Home » Behind the Ride: 4 Amazing Tricks You Never Noticed on Peter Pan’s Flight

    Behind the Ride: 4 Amazing Tricks You Never Noticed on Peter Pan’s Flight

    When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, 23 attractions were part of the new theme park. Only three of them were entirely new while the rest were duplications of existing attractions at Disneyland. Due to construction issues, three more rides appeared later in 1971. When we fast forward to today, only a handful of the rides, shows and events available in 1971 exist today.

    Out of those legendary attractions that embody the origins of the world’s most popular theme park, only one still comes with a consistent hour-long wait. Whether you believe that omnipresent line is due to its sustained demand or some issues with ride throughput, the attraction is undeniably popular to this day. So, let’s go Behind the Ride to learn more about Peter Pan’s Flight, from its original version up to the recent modifications.

    The Experience: Creating the Illusion of Flight

    The Trick: Building a Better Boat

    Image: Disney

    In the days preceding the Omnimover, Disney Imagineers invented numerous ways to load passengers on ride carts. The initial plans for Peter Pan’s Flight, however, required a tremendous amount of innovation. The attraction would lift people up in the air and make them soar through the London skyline on their way through Neverland. That’s an entirely different type of movement than for attractions like Autopia, or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The riding apparatus would have to pull guests into the air safely, similar to a Ferris wheel, and then it would have to guide them on a fixed route through various set pieces.

    Suffice to say that there was no technology available that could perform such aerial maneuvers. Marvin Davis, a recent hiring of WED Enterprises, received the request to build a functional lift apparatus early in his tenure at the company. He had to create a ride system that would hook to a track on the ceiling. In order to create the appropriate sensation, Davis and his cohorts designed a new kind of ride cart.

    This contraption is called an Aerial Galleon, and you know it as the flying boat that operates similarly to a ski lift carrying you up into the sky. It perfectly mimics the sensation of flying over London. More impressively, the ride track manages this while delivering one of the smoothest ride experiences at Walt Disney World. Most of Disney’s attractions are intentionally rough at times. The ski lift mechanic somehow seems tranquil as it elevates. Disney planners intended guests to feel like lifting into the sky via magic is a fluid and calm process rather than a bumpy ride.

    One noted improvement occurred at Walt Disney World over Disneyland. In order to handle the larger crowds in Orlando, Florida, Disney built a better boarding/de-boarding area. They discarded the regular loading and unloading methodology at Disneyland in favor of Omnimovers. So, as long as the lines are at Walt Disney World today, the situation could have been much worse without that bit of forward-thinking.

    The Experience: Making guests feel like Peter Pan

    The Trick: Learning from the mistakes at Disneyland

    Image: Disney

    While Peter Pan’s Flight wasn’t ready at the start of Walt Disney World, it had debuted on opening day at Disneyland. Given the long list of catastrophes that occurred there on the nightmarish first day at Uncle Walt’s first theme park, the problems with Peter Pan’s Flight certainly didn’t stand out. Still, an ongoing issue existed. People really didn’t get the ride.

    You have to remember that in 1955, Walt Disney tried to differentiate the Happiest Place on Earth from the similar entities of the era. Those were circuses, carnivals, and haunted houses. None of those places offered anything resembling Peter Pan’s Flight. Ostensibly, that was a competitive advantage for Disney. In execution, it led to a lot of confused customers. Theme park rides are a lot like jokes. Something’s gone wrong if you have to explain what should be self-evident. With jokes, that’s the punchlines. With theme park rides, it’s the experience that everyone should innately understand.

    The concept of Peter Pan’s Flight is right there in the title. The idea is to elevate the rider into the sky so that they enjoy the sensation of flying through the clouds, just as Peter Pan can. The problem with selling products to consumers is that they have a tendency to be literal. While other characters in the story of kids swept off to Neverland are memorable – especially dastardly Captain Hook, mercurial Tinkerbell, and strong heroine Wendy – none of them are as important as the titular lead. The fact that Peter Pan’s Flight didn’t feature Peter Pan annoyed guests.

    In the early days of Walt Disney World, Imagineers had to address the concern over the absence of Peter Pan. Their iteration of the flight included a stronger link to the character, which was part of the attraction at Walt Disney World. All they had to do was focus on the one aspect that got lost in creating the Disneyland version of the attraction. Peter Pan’s Flight had to include Peter Pan in the story. It seems so simple in hindsight, yet the amazing cast members of The Walt Disney Company didn’t get this right for 16 (!) years. Similarly, they didn’t add a Peter Pan audio-animatronic at Walt Disney World until 1983, 12 years after the attraction’s Florida introduction and almost 30 years after its Disneyland debut.

    The Experience: Creating London and Neverland

    The Trick: Disney Artistry at its Finest

    Image: Disney

    Imagineers also had other options to improve the experience while enhancing the connection to the story. Due to the extra land available at Walt Disney World, Peter Pan’s Flight spreads out across a larger space. That provides Disney with the ability to include extra set pieces. The larger scale in combination with the employment of Audio-Animatronic figures brings the realm of Neverland to life in a better way than the attraction’s original Disneyland counterpart. To perfect the ride experience, however, they had to re-imagine the journey.

    The vessel you board for Peter Pan’s Flight sweeps you into the room of Wendy, John, and Michael Darling. The idea behind the bedroom is that you as Peter Pan are carrying the Darling children off on a grand adventure. Your destination? Neverland!

    Imagineers clearly loved the endeavor of bringing Neverland to life. Starting in 1955 at Disneyland, cast members have delivered several iterations of the same concept. The one at Walt Disney World is superior due to the aforementioned space. In 1971, Disney realized that they could add additional elements to an already-popular attraction.

    At Walt Disney World, the London skyline extends longer and includes greater detail. Gorgeous fluorescent colors sparkle in the darkest of dark rides, causing London landmarks like Big Ben to glimmer as they glow. The real showstopper of the Florida version, however, occurs at Captain Hook’s boat. This vessel is 48-feet-long, large enough to host a duel between Hook and Pan as well as audio-animatronics of all the major characters. And it’s soooo shiny. This part of the Peter Pan’s Flight journey features virtually every color palette imaginable, and the view is so overwhelmingly bright that it almost scorches your eyes. The final touch that differentiates the Magic Kingdom version is a celebration of the victorious Peter Pan with his beloved Darling children. The attraction encapsulates the joyous exuberance of Peter Pan the Disney movie in barely two minutes of ride-time.

    The Experience: An Interactive Line Queue

    The Trick: Major Technological Advances

    Image: Disney

    In 2015, Peter Pan’s Flight added something that fundamentally changed the aggravation of the ride queue experience. Prior to then, people found themselves standing in the world’s most boring line for one of Walt Disney’s World slowest attractions with regards to guest turnover. In the wake of the MyMagic+ FastPass changes, would-be Peter Pan’s Flight riders generally experienced a wait-time of at least 45 minutes and occasionally as long as 90 minutes.

    Imagineers wanted to shake things up, so they added an interactive line queue. Now, guests walk through the bedroom of the Darling children. That may not seem exciting, but if you watch this video, you’ll understand how revolutionary the changes are. The queue is now part of the Peter Pan’s Flight experience.

    3D images of Peter Pan characters set against fluorescent backdrops populate the exterior of the Darling bedroom while embracing the theme of the actual ride. Once you reach the room itself, magic exists in every nook and corner. Tinkerbell spreads her fairy dust on the children’s trunk, a globe, and a wall calendar among other things. When you reach a certain wall, you can interact with her simply by waving your hands. 

    Peter Pan’s Flight as originally envisioned thrusts riders into a world where magic exists and Peter Pan fights off adulthood and a one-armed pirate simultaneously. In 1955 and then again in 1971, Disney employees recreated the world as best they could. In 2015, they expanded the range of Peter Pan’s powers by introducing a line queue that is quite possibly the most impressive thing Disney Imagineers have created in the 2000s. It’s that special. Best of all, it reinforces the underlying theme of the J.M. Barrie story: childhood never truly fades away, sometimes you simply need to sprinkle a bit of pixie dust!