Walt Disney World Water Skiing

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Features, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 15, 2013 at 3:00 am with 5 Comments

A few articles ago, I looked at some of the exclusives that Magic Kingdom Club members could get from the MKC Family Shopper catalog. One item was a set of posters from Walt Disney World. One of the posters featured the Ski Show at the Polynesian Village Resort. The fact that Pluto was driving the boat and Goofy was skiing couldn’t be any more, well, not quite meta, but close.

This generated a comment or two about the short-lived water skiing show during the first few years of Walt Disney World’s opening. Many guests have seen Tigger, Goofy and others skiing during the more crowded days of summer to help entertain guests on the ferry boats during the mornings. I ran across this photo of Pluto, Tigger and Goofy from the Magic Kingdom Entertainment Character Ski Team entertaining guests during a morning commute to the Magic Kingdom in summer 1999. Besides Tigger in a cowboy hat, the only other odd thing is Goofy wearing a poncho. You can see more about the photo, here.

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I found a great article in a 1973 Disney News about the Wonderful World of Water: Of a Daring Dumbo, Two Dauntless Dogs, and a Dazzling Display of Water Skiing Wizardry. Again, I was amazed at how much detail was shared in an early Walt Disney World public relations article. We don’t see a Disney like this any longer.

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Guests at Walt Disney World soon learn to expect the unexpected. Even so, casual sailors on the Seven Seas Lagoon often are startled by the sight of two outlandish canines careening by on water skis. If they don’t shake the boat, chances are the skiing hippopotomi in tutus or the kites skiing overhead at 300 feet will. If, finally, curiosity overcomes incredulity, guests will discover that their eyes have not deceived them: for dogs do ski and men do fly, during the day and during the night, in a unique water ski fantasy on the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom Landing.

Walt Disney World’s new summer water ski show, filled with humor, artistry, and spectacular costumes, is deceptive in many ways. As audiences enjoy the pageantry and seemingly effortless skill of the performers, usually they are unaware of the high degree of technical proficiency involved in every act.

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The ski show was comprised of 23 members all in their twenties and they have all been skiing for years. One of my favorite Disney research and history sites, Widen Your World, had this to say about the cast:

Dick Pope (the “Dean of Florida Tourism” and founder of Cypress Gardens) was probably less than delighted when he learned of Disney’s plans to stage this show. After all, waterskiing had been one of the Gardens’ major draws for decades. And Pope, a friend of Roy O. Disney’s since the 1940s, surely didn’t anticipate this kind of head-on competition from WDW so overtly and so early on—especially with Roy’s death occurring a mere six months prior to the show’s debut. Furthermore it could be reasoned that at least a few of the 23 cast members in WDW’s show must have “defected” from that old park down the road. In any event, the show’s short life span might have yielded some consolation…and some out-of-work skiers, at least until Sea World opened in December 1973 and soon thereafter began its own daily waterski shows. http://www.omniluxe.net/wyw/ski.htm

Widen Your World offers some other important details about the show. It ran from September 1972 to (about) September 1973 and cost 50 cents the first season. During the second season, the show cost 75 cents (or a D ticket) and many show times were added, including one at 11:00pm. There was a special area between the Magic Kingdom monorail station and the lagoon that was gated and offered seating on a hillside of sorts.

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I’m assuming, based on the Ski Show at the Polynesian poster, that guests at the Polynesian Village Resort could see the show for free. I haven’t seen a lot of online mentions about charging for viewing it from the Polynesian. It must have been a perk for resort guests.

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Did you ever see an elephant ski?

The three-tiered pyramid, one of the most intricate and unusual acts in the show, requires an amazing degree of precision and balance. Eight skiers—usually three hosts and five hostesses—are towed evenly behind one boat until their lines are taut. As the boys on the first level bend at a 45-degree angle, the girls quickly discard one ski at a time and climb to the top of the boys’ shoulders. Once the second level is complete, a final skier, weighing no more than 90 pounds, climbs to the third tier. All this is done so swiftly that by the time the boat passes in view of the audience, the pyramid is complete.

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The special roped off area for viewing the show. It was 50 cents in 1972 and 75 cents in 1973.

Of the 13 or more acts in the show, many of them are extremely funny. But even the clown must be skilled at his clowning. When a skier seemingly “forgets” to put on his skis and is carried barefoot across the water, the sight is hilarious. And when the barefoot skier is moving backward in a wall of spray, the effect is even funnier. And it is meant to be.

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Yet, barefoot skiing is considered to be one of the most difficult events in exhibition skiing. In all the country, there are only a few skiers who can do it consistently. And backward “barefooting” is well-nigh impossible. The skier, traveling at 35 miles per hour and surrounded by spray, is virtually blind. He is totally dependent on his skill—and the driver of the towboat.

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The jumping event (a 5 1/2 foot-high-ramp with a 70-foot line at a speed of about 45 miles an hour), whether performed by Disney characters in costume for comedy effect or by “sedately” dressed skiers, is one of the most thrilling moments in the show. And one of the most exacting. Traveling at the high speed necessary for momentum to carry them up and off the ramp, three skiers execute a series of complicated turns in the air, cover a distance of more than 100 feet, and land simultaneously.

So, imagine being dressed as Dumbo and having to perform one of these hi speed jumps or tricks? Also, the language is fantastic. What does the term sedately dressed actually mean? Notice that the article uses the terms boys and girls to refer to the cast.

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Sedately dressed? Eyes forward, Goofy!

“We are always prepared to fall,” explained one jumper. “By that, I mean every skier in the show knows the right way and the wrong way to lake a fall. There is a safety boat nearby during every act. If a skier goes down, he raises his hand immediately to say he’s all right and to guide the safety boat to the spot. We don’t take any chances.”

Imagine Goofy or Dumbo losing their grip? I wonder how heavy the costumes were after spending a few moments in the water.

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The flex-wing or delta-wing in action.

Although all members of the water ski show exercise extreme caution at all times, the skiers who slip into the harnesses of the giant, flare-equipped flex-wing kites and soar 300 feet over the waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon never overlook one detail before, during, or after their flight.

Introduced into this country from Australia several years ago, the flex-wing or delta-wing kites rapidly have become the most spectacular event in every water ski show—where there are experts who can fly them. And where there are drivers with the skill to tow them.

“Naturally, there is an element of what I like to call ’controlled danger’ in every flight,” said one kite flier. “But that is true of everything even driving a car on a highway. Flying the kites takes experience. maturity, and good judgment.

“For example, in our show we are an integral part of the ‘circus’ number–I mean, the other flier and myself are the ‘daring young men on the flying trapeze.’ Of course, we are soaring over the ‘Vacation Kingdom’ with wings and not trapezes, but our performance requires the same degree of skill, caution, and expertise demanded of any specialty act. As performers, we try to entertain the audience without taking unnecessary Chances.

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Sparkling with special lighting effects, magnificent costumes, and an exciting array of comic, precision, and Disney character acts, “The Wonderful World of Water” is a show the entire family will enjoy,

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Photo courtesy of Ryan at http://www.mainstgazette.com/

The last image is from Ryan at the Main Street Gazette. We’re both fairly obsessed with early Walt Disney World history and his image is one of the first I saw of the water skiing anthropomorphic dog.

Do you have any memories of the water skiing show from the first years of Walt Disney World? Have you seen any of the characters skiing by at other times?

Looking for a great book about Walt Disney World history? Jeff Kurtti’s Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – The First 25 Years is a great look at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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5 Comments

Comments for Walt Disney World Water Skiing are now closed.

  1. How did I not know about these water ski shows? Bring them back! Sounds awesome.

    • Apparently alligators live in the lagoon now, and you never know when might show up. The suits up in Legal wouldn’t let it happen, unfortunately.

      • But they let guests take watercraft out into the lagoon every day and even have beaches at all of their hotels on the lake.

    • They stopped allowing swimming in the lakes ages ago, and alligators aren’t a threat to watercraft. That said I’ve never seen a gator in there. I’d imagine the lakes are just unsafe in general for any sort of submerging.

  2. Don’t forget about Pluto and Goofy on skis that old WDW postcard http://www.bigbrian-nc.com/WDW1971/01110213.jpg