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Capturing the Airplanes of St. Maarten’s Maho Beach with @samhorine

To view more photos and videos from Maho Beach, explore the Maho Beach, Sint Maarten location page.

Maho Beach on the Dutch side of the Caribbean country of Sint Maarten has white sand and turquoise waters, but that’s not why visitors flock there. The beach is famous for planes that buzz sunbathers at low altitudes en route to landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport. Arriving aircraft must touch down as close as possible to the beginning of Runway 10 because of its short 2,300-meter (7,500-foot) landing strip.

New York Instagrammer Sam Horine (@samhorine) recently visited Maho Beach while on a layover. “I walked down the airport road for 10 minutes and turned a corner to find a large crowd of people swimming, sunbathing, drinking cheap Carib beers and waiting for the jets to come in,” he says. “I first watched a few smaller island hoppers come in—a plane lands or takes off every 20 minutes or so. Then, a 757 pulled up for take off. People ran over to the short fence separating the beach and the runway and grabbed hold of the chain link. The jet’s engines turned on and it tore down the runway kicking up sand. Hats, sunglasses and other small items flew past me as the jet blasted down the runway for takeoff. It was truly an amazing, and sandy, experience.”

To get a great shot of the planes, Sam has a few tips:

  • I really liked the perspective of the jets coming in over the beach from the side. It gave a great perspective of how low the planes were and how many people were there.
  • If you’re shooting from the side, I found it helpful to frame the shot before the plane gets there to figure out exactly when you’ll need to start shooting.
  • You can also stand on the beach and let the planes come right over you or wade out into the water and eliminate the beach completely—at the right time of day the jets will cast their shadows down on the water.
  • Don’t underestimate shooting back at the crowd from the beach and catching the planes from behind as they come in above the crowd.
  • Shoot in burst mode if you can. It’s a matter of seconds between when the plane’s a small speck in the frame to when it’s roaring overhead. I missed a few planes at first because of the speed.
  • Lastly, I shot in the square crop on my phone so I could make sure I got the entire plane in the frame to post to Instagram.


Star Spangled Spectacular

This fantastic press image illustrates the Bicentennial iteration of Walt Disney World’s Electrical Water Pageant. This version of the show boasted a unique hot air balloon and put in place the patriotic finale that still plays out nightly on the Seven Seas Lagoon. 

Before this, however, The Electrical Water Pageant had begun a tradition of nightly spectaculars with many important implications for entertainment at the Vacation Kingdom. Essentially the first large entertainment spectacular in Disney World, the show illustrates how different the early Vacation Kingdom presented itself to guests. With the Magic Kingdom closing early in the evening, often at 6 PM, it was expected that guests (most of them staying on Disney property) would retire to their hotels and resorts and would find entertainment there. Both the Polynesian and the Contemporary hosted large venues with music and dancing, and many forms of recreation were held on the Seven Seas Lagoon. But the unifying event of the evening was the Electrical Water Pageant, a spectacle unlike any other. Synthesized music, glittering, animated floats, all set against the bucolic beauty of the Seven Seas Lagoon and The Magic Kingdom at night served as what was designed to keep guests active and engaged at Walt Disney World. Disney’s Florida endeavor was designed to be a fully encompassing vacation destination, often meaning that the Magic Kingdom was not always the singular focus for patrons. By emphasizing differentiated activities and diversions, Disney World defined itself against Disneyland’s image of being theme park centric. Today, this allure of the Vacation Kingdom is still very much alive, though often overshadowed by the theme parks, which have blossomed and thrived, as expected.

But as a cornerstone for Disney’s entertainment history, the Electrical Water Pageant is one of the largely unique pieces of Walt Disney World heritage that defines the Florida venture as wholly its own. What began as a nightly spectacle has receded into the texture and sinew of what Walt Disney World means to the rest of Disney’s properties, but still sparkles and shines with a unique light and meaning, all its own. 

Image graciously provided by Dan Cunningham (@HonuDan) 


The STOL Port: Walt Disney World’s Forgotten Airport

When Walt Disney first envisioned his ambitious Florida project, a mid-sized international airport of the future located at the southern end of the property was to be part of this plan, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the Disney experience from the moment they landed. Even after Walt’s death and the uncertainty that lied ahead for Disney World, executives were insistent on keeping the airport in some way, shape, or form as a means to whisk guests right on property from McCoy Jetport (now Orlando International) and other Florida airports. It would eventually make its debut, much smaller and closer to the Magic Kingdom, in 1971 as the STOL (short take-off and landing) Port. It was served by small commuter airline Shawnee Airlines with daily flights to Orlando, Tampa, Daytona, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach at its peak.

However, the oil embargo of 1973 and the subsequent high fuel prices resulted in the STOL Port closing indefinitely some time in the mid 70s. With the extension of the EPCOT Center monorail line practically next to the STOL Port in 1982, the airfield was now too close to the track to be safely used, officially ending the STOL Port’s career as an airport despite still being legally listed as one up until the late 90s when it was finally removed from the Federal Aviation Administration’s register once and for all. 

Today the former STOL Port remains intact and can still be seen from the monorail or World Drive. Nowadays it’s mostly used as either  a bus parking/proving ground, storage, and most-recently as a staging ground for New Fantasyland construction.

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(Source: disneylawyer)

Fort Wilderness Campground has always offered its guests unique Disney experiences, including camping out in their own tent or camper, canoeing or bicycling through the natural wooded areas, or attending a campfire and sing-along. But from 1973 to 1977, Fort Wilderness also offered its guests a unique mode of transportation - the Fort Wilderness Railroad.

Guests staying at the campground could use the Railroad to get from place to place, which was necessary because this campground was much larger than most other campgrounds across the country. Guests rode in passenger coaches pulled by authentic steam engines. The sight of these trains puffing through the campground and the chance to ride them no doubt added to the sense of being far from the civilized, modern-day world, providing guests with an escape from their everyday lives. Just imagine how relaxing a steam train ride through the Florida wilderness would be, away from the problems of the civilized world, even away from all the activity of the nearby theme park.

Walt Disney knew that most everyone has at least some fascination of trains, and that is one of the reasons he prominently featured a railroad in his design of Disneyland. The Imagineers also realized this fact, and thought that a railroad would be a unique feature of the new campground. The railroad was featured prominently on Fort Wilderness advertising materials, further increasing guests’ interest while giving them the idea that it was not your typical campground.

The steam engines used to pull the trains were somewhat different from their distant cousins on the Walt Disney World Railroad. The first obvious difference was their size. These 2-4-2T engines were built to 4/5th scale, making them quite a bit smaller than the full size engines at the Magic Kingdom. The gauge, or distance between the rails on the track, was 30”, compared with 36” in the Magic Kingdom. These engines also had a different design. Known as “saddle tankers,” the water for the engine was stored in a tank that wrapped around the boiler. The Magic Kingdom trains carried water and fuel in the tender pulled behind the engine. Fuel for the Fort Wilderness engines was carried in a small tank behind the cab. Because of their scaled-down size and the lack of a full tender, these engines did not have the same capacity for fuel and water as the Walt Disney World Railroad engines.

The engines had green water tanks and red cabs and wheels. The words Fort Wilderness Railroad appeared on each side of the water tank, along with decorative scrollwork. The four engines were not given individual names, so instead only a number appeared on each side of the cab. The engines also featured brightly polished brass which gleamed in the Florida sun. These engines of the Fort Wilderness Railroad were fashioned with the same care and attention to detail as the engines of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Railroads.

The coaches pulled by the engines were also different from those in the Magic Kingdom. Each car was green in color and was entered from the front or the back. Seats on each side of the car were separated by a center aisle. The coaches all had large windows so that guests could see the different areas of the campground as they rode past.

Much like the C.K. Holliday and E.P. Ripley, the first two engines of the Disneyland Railroad, the Fort Wilderness Railroad trains were created by Walt Disney Productions. The engines and coaches were designed by WED Enterprises, and construction was by Mapo; these were the two divisions of Disney that designed and built all of the theme park attractions. Also like the two Disneyland Railroad engines, the desgins were based on existing locomotives, and these engines looked almost exactly like those on which they were modeled.

But the Fort Wilderness Railroad did not have a very long life. In Michael Broggie’s book Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, several reasons are given for the Railroad’s demise. Among those reasons are frequent derailments caused by poor track conditions, stranded engines caused by low water and fuel capacity, and poor training of the cast members who served as engineers. Following the closure of the Railroad, the trains were put in storage for many years.

A few of the passenger cars have turned up over the years around Walt Disney World. Some were used as the original ticket booths at Pleasure Island, before new, larger booths were built to resemble passenger cars. Another can be seen in the Typhoon Lagoon parking lot strapped to pontoons, supposedly used by the inhabitants of the area when the typhoon struck, creating the lagoon.

For transportation around the campground, the trains were replaced by buses and trams; the trams were later eliminated, leaving only buses to help guests get from place to place. These days back at Fort Wilderness, the lingering reminders of the Fort Wilderness Railroad are some tracks and trestle bridges which have not been removed. Guests often inquire about those tracks and trestles, and some guests can remember when the trains were there, chugging through the campground.

Please see the excellent book Walt Disney’s Railroad Story for more information on the Fort Wilderness Railroad. Thanks to Michael Campbell for his help. All pictures from the collection of Michael Campbell.

- Story by Steve Burns

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