by Todd James Pierce
As long as we’re on the subject of boats, I recently was going through a box of 1955 / 1956 Disneyland slides and found a nice never-before-published image of the shortest-lived attraction at Disneyland–the boats in Tomorrowland. (By the way, as with all DHI images, you can click on the photo to view a substantially larger version of it, with sharper detail.)
These boats were housed in the Tomorrowland Lagoon, which is roughly where the submarine lagoon is now situated. Originally called the Tomorrowland Boats, they opened to the public in July of 1955. Designed as an attraction where young pilots could motor a boat around the lagoon–like an aquatic version of Autopia–the attraction soon proved problematic. The fiberglass boats were poorly designed, particularly in the engine compartment. The enclosed motors quickly overheated as young boaters tried for speed, with the boats then towed back to the dock. To add to the problems, these motors also threw off a lot of smoke. Overtime Disneyland formed two solutions to these problems: (1) engineers redesigned the backend of each boat, enclosing the motor (which limited ambient smoke but increased engine heat) and (2) park operations added an employee to pilot each boat to insure the boats didn’t overheat. The park also renamed the boats the Phantom Boats. With this, the boat attraction became a money-loser for the park. On peak days, the 14 little boats required 14 employees to operate them, with each boat carrying two or maybe three guests at most. The Phantom Boats turned their final lap around the little lagoon in August 1956, a little more than a year after the park first opened.
This photo here is probably from mid-1956–with park guests driving each boat. When the attraction first opened, the banks of the lagoon–as well as the island–were bare dirt. So with the natural grasses in place, I’d say very late spring is a pretty good guess. This photo clearly shows the original lap for the attraction, with guests puttering a single well-marked course around the islands. Also featured here, a couple of boats recently broken-down. They rest on the bank, with a park employee in a jon boat come over to fix them up.
I find the boats beautifully styled–especially with their bat-ray tailfins–but a beautiful vehicle design by itself is not enough to keep an attraction open. The boats in Tomorrowland were the first attraction to be removed from Disneyland. To put this in perspective, another troublesome Tomorrowland attraction, the Rocket Rods lasted nearly three years. The Phantom Boats lasted just one.