For those of you who stay onsite, taking Disney’s Magical Express is one of the best parts. You don’t have to worry about your luggage or booking transportation, as Disney does this for you. Right when you hop off your bus, you’ve arrived at your Disney resort and are completely immersed in the Disney theming. And, it’s easy to get back from Walt Disney World to the airport – you can take the Magical Express back too (we love that people call it the Tragical express).
But, did you know this wasn’t originally the plan for Disney World airport transportation? Disney used to have flights land directly on property. Imagine being able to step off of a plane and be within minutes of Magic Kingdom.
Epcot Airport of Tomorrow
Walt Disney’s plan for Epcot, (the original community, not the theme park) was for there to be a regional airport with 4 runways.
After Walt’s passing, this plan never came to fruition. The later released plans for Epcot were significantly scaled down and did not include the airport.
Lake Buena Vista Airport
Lake Buena Vista Airport was built in 1971 to serve as a “STOL” airfield for Walt Disney World guests and employees. A STOL airfield is an airport designed with “short take-off and landing” operations in mind. In the late 60s, STOLports were envisioned as a way to transport people across town and elevate car and bus traffic congestion.
This airport had scheduled passenger airline service to Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport, provided by Shawnee Airlines. The airport was not large, and only had enough ramp space at the passenger terminal to accommodate four aircrafts at a time. No hangar space to house the planes was ever built. For reference in the photo below, look at the Contemporary in the top right corner.
Why did Disney need an airport? Orlando was relatively undeveloped at the time. The airport we fly into today, Orlando International Airport, did not exist. When Walt Disney World opened, the Orlando airport was called Orlando Jetport at McCoy and was a civil-military joint operation that shared the ground with McCoy Air Force Base. The Lake Buena Vista STOLport was the final destination for guests traveling to Disney, with the Jetport at McCoy a short layover.
The airport was only in use for about two years, before closing in favor of a vision for a larger, full-service airport within Walt Disney World itself, similar to Walt’s original vision. This idea never came to fruition itself either.
The runway at the STOL airport had a surprise for guests who would travel there. When landing, the grooves (like on the side of the highway) played “When you wish upon a star” when driven on at about 45 miles per hour. In the picture below, Mickey welcomes some of the first guests to land on the runway.
By the 1980s, all passenger service was discontinued, largely due to extensions of the monorail on either sides. In 2003, WDW was declared a no-fly zone and flight operations are legally prohibited. Even Walt’s personal plane was not able to land on the runway. It had to land on World Drive.
What’s left today?
What’s left of the runway today? We visited it in September to take a look. The singing grooves were removed in 2008, but the area remains intact and is visible to motorists traveling along World Drive toward the Transportation and Ticket Center, as well as by passengers on the monorail. It is used as storage and specific employee parking.
How can I see it?
The exact coordinates of the runway are “28.3987, -81.5710”. Oddly enough, if you search these coordinates on Google Maps you will see the label for the Lake Buena Vista STOLport.
If you want to take a look, it’s easy. Simply enter Magic Kingdom through the main parking gates, and take the immediate right bend onto Vista Boulevard. Immediately after you turn, you’ll see it on your left! It’s actually the extension of the runway that you see. It may not look like much, but we find the history fascinating, and it’s crazy to think it sits here in plain view each day! Here’s a link to the map.
Wrapping It Up
If you have seen this runway in person, or better, flown into it, let us know below! We hope you enjoyed this article, and be sure to check out our other “abandoned Disney” articles including River Country and the Rainbow Tunnel.