I ran a series of historical type posts awhile back, and got away from it for a bit, and now we’re back. The recent draining of part of the moat around Cinderella Castle for the renovations of the hub had some people asking about the rails at the bottom, so here is why they are there.
The Plaza Swan Boats, or simply Swan Boats, opened on May 20, 1973 and operated seasonally for a D ticket. The boats were white with swan figureheads at the front of each boat. Each one sat 26 guests and they were operated by a Cast Member, much like the boats on the Jungle Cruise, with the exception that for the majority of their lifespan in the park, all of the guides were female.
Some of the original names of the boats were Tiger Lily, Tinker Bell, Katrina, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Each was powered by natural gas and the original fleet was made up of twelve boats. Shortly after opening, the fleet was reduced by one in lieu of a boat that could keep the canal clean. Moving forward, the boats generally operated in the summer and usually had around five boats operating at any given time because of mechanical failures. The original guidance system for the boats was electrical, but failed early on necessitating the cast member guides. They installed two water jets on the bottom of each boat that could swivel 360 degrees to point the boat in the direction you wanted to go. It was not an easy steering system and collisions with anything within reach along the canal were common, though not harmful.
The loading dock was located near Tomorrowland where you boarded your boat and took a seventeen minute guided tour through the main hub, into Adventureland, and back again. The pinnacle of the ride was to drive around the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse before heading back to unload. It wasn’t long before the original dock was replaced by a new dock closer to Cinderella Castle. The original dock is now a seating area across from the Plaza Restaurant. The replacement dock was demolished to make way for the new hub.
The Swan Boats closed in August 1983 after a decade of operation plagued with problems. The maintenance of the boats had become quite costly, combined with the cast members required to operate them, and the length of the lines to ride them. The boats themselves were sent to a storage lot on property where they were all sold at auction with the boats and swans sold separately. Six swans are currently accounted for with one of those swans belonging to a man in Florida who also has the only known surviving boat and recently purchased the swan so he could restore the Snow White to her former glory.