From the earliest stages of planning, multiple modes of transportation were outlined for guests to travel the Walt Disney World Resort property. Included in these plans, though slightly modified from their initial scope, were two double-deck side-wheelers to cross the seven seas lagoon. Coined as “Osceola-class” ships, the “Southern Seas” and “Ports o Call” ships operated daily from a half-hour prior to park opening through to an hour after the Magic Kingdom had closed.
In the evening, guests could board the ships (for a nominal fee) and take part in a moonlight cruise. These events departed from the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts and included live entertainment, cocktails, and a leisurely cruise along the waters of the resort property.
In 1972, to help with transportation demands, two Ferryboats were added to the fleet of watercraft sailing the lagoon. It was at this time that the side-wheelers were repurposed into what became known as the “World Cruise.” A 50-minute cruise around the resort waterways, the Word Cruise not only provided a unique view of the property but, onboard guides who shared the story of Walt Disney World and upcoming expansion plans with guests. Cruises could be purchased for a small fee or, an E-Ticket could be used to board. In April 1974, with the opening of Treasure Island, the cruises were expanded to include an option for a visit to the island.
In 1975, after suffering hull damage, the Southern Seas was removed from service and placed in dry dock. In 1977, she was dismantled and a new ship built to take her place and name.
James Beekman, former ship pilot/engineer, recalls: “The Ports o Call and the Southern Seas I were authentic steam-powered ‘Walking-beam’ side wheelers. The Southern Seas II was powered by a diesel/electric (hybrid) system. A diesel engine powered a generator, which, in turn, provided electricity to two electric engines that turned the paddle wheels. Superficially, there’s a lot of similarities between the three vessels, but the Southern Seas II is about 20 feet longer, with a steel hull, much heavier, and as described above, has an entirely different propulsion system.“
With the retheming of Treasure Island to Discovery Island, and the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the focus of the resort, in general, had begun to change and, along with it, the World and Moonlight cruises saw less attendance. In 1984, the second Southern Seas ship became exclusively available for charter cruises and the Ports O Call moved to dry dock for eventual destruction (despite attempts by Cast Members to have her saved).
In 1996, the Southern Seas found her entry to dry dock. While options to get her back in the water were considered, she eventually joined the fate of her sisters in 1997.