One of the many operational issues facing Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971 was inadequate transportation capacity. Walt Disney Productions simply ran out of time before the resort’s debut, and so the Magic Kingdom opened without enough operational monorails and watercraft to bring visitors in from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Every moving vehicle was pressed into service in those early days, and Disney wound up relying on a motley collection of monorails, buses, and wheezing, under-powered parking lot trams to get guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Disney didn’t have the large-capacity ferries you see today until 1972; prior to that, they utilized the resort’s smaller excursion craft that were eventually run into the ground due to overuse. In 1972 the Magic Kingdom I and Magic Kingdom II, based on the famous Staten Island ferries in New York, came on line to alleviate the situation. Still, this left Disney with little margin for error if ships had to go down for refit or repair, and so in 1975 work commenced on a third ferry. This ship would eventually be christened the Kingdom Queen when it entered service in 1976.
According to the invaluable Disney Watercraft site, this new ship was designed by naval architect Ben Ostlund of Newport Beach, California. Several years later Ostlund would go on to design the FriendShip launches for EPCOT Center in 1978.
The $1.25 Million Kingdom Queen featured a more efficient internal design than its predecessors, and a number of new features. Intended to accommodate evening excursion cruises on the moonlit waters of Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Kingdom Queen featured two wet bars on either end of its upper deck. The top deck was bereft of benches or seating due to its intended alternate use as a dance floor, and the ship is the only Walt Disney World ferry to feature bathrooms – which remained locked to visitors during regular operating hours. Sadly, the wet bars were removed during a 2001 refit.
In 1999, the Kingdom Queen was renamed General Joe Potter to commemorate the Army veteran who had helped lead construction of Disneyland in 1955 and Walt Disney World in 1971.
Back in 1975, though, they had just laid the keel for the new vessel and the following article appeared in the December 19th, 1975 edition of Eyes and Ears of Walt Disney World:
FERRYBOAT TAKING SHAPE HERE
Our third ferryboat to transport guests from the TTC over to the Magic Kingdom is well underway behind the Shops Building in the North Service Area, with the first of June as a proposed date to launch her.
The as yet un-named vessel has a steel hull and aluminum super-structure, a dance floor on the second deck, will be diesel powered, with a hull 120 feet long by 35 feet wide. Actual construction on the massive boat began in mid-October and will continue through the winter and spring months.
The construction site is behind the Shops Building near the drydock area. Pictured above, one of the steel hull sections is lifted into place where it will be welded into the rest of the hull. EYES & EARS will be following the assembly of our newest ferryboat and will occasionally be bringing you reports on how it is going.