Bob-A-Round Boats and Walt Disney World History
I’ve had a bunch of people email me this photo of a bob-a-round boat from the Polynesian Village Resort. There’s a display case that looks at the resort’s history and this image of a weird looking boat has garnered a lot of attention. Of course, anyone familiar with Communicore Weekly, should recognize what bob-a-round boats are.
Communicore Weekly. C’mon and get geeky with Bob-A-Round boats and five legged goats.
Are you singing the theme song, yet?
If you’ve watched any episode of Communicore Weekly, then you know that my co-host, Jeff Heimbuch and I are obsessed with the hidden and not-so-hidden details of Disney theme parks. I ran across a Walt Disney World flyer in 2008 that started an obsession with a little-known watercraft.
Horizons, World of Motion, Toontown Fair, the Flying Saucers; more than a litany of closed and shuttered attractions and lands, these names are part of the ephemeral history of Disney theme parks. Unless you have studied library science or archival preservation, you might not be familiar with the term ephemera. In most cases, ephemera refers to transitory material (like maps and brochures) that is not designed to be kept. In terms of theme parks, we can think of ephemera as the long gone attractions that we pine for wistfully.
The Beginning of the Bob-A-Round Boats Mystery
I was checking out some online ephemera (can something be ephemera once it is digitized?) and ran across a flyer at Vintage Disneyland Tickets. The flyer was from 1975 and promoted the Vacation Kingdom as whole. What caught my eye was the following image:
Yeah, that round thing. This is a pretty standard shot from Disney in the 1970s. There is a lot of activity and everything is staged without looking staged. But still, I had no idea what the round boat was. It wasn’t in any of my souvenir guides nor could I find it in any of the PR material that I own.
I was stumped!
Besides, how do you do a Google search for round boat at Walt Disney World and not go insane? I e-mailed a few of my friends and Foxxfur from Passport to Dreams was able to provide the answer. She told me to visit the pages at Widen Your World and Walt Dated World for the bob-a-round boats. Alison, at Walt Dated World, had this to say:
Rub a Dub Dub. Three (or four) people in a tub. These bizarre-looking striped boats had what looked like a lightening rod on top of them. (Florida is home to a lot of lightening, you know!) They were only around a short time after Walt Disney World opened. Apparently the boats were often the victim of dead batteries, which prevented them from Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along.
And Mike, at Widen Your World:
Another aspect of the resort [Polynesian] that has seen much change is the range of watercraft made available to guests over the years. Gone are the days when as many as eight people piled into a 40-foot Polynesian War Canoe and took off across the Seven Seas Lagoon toward real islands. And before those craft sailed into the sunset, the circular Bob-A-Round boats (each with an independent stereo system!) had already long since been retired.
Since then, I have seen the Bob-A-Round boats in other promotional material. Big Brian’s WDW A History in Postcards lists the following image as 01110261 THE POLYNESIAN VILLAGE.
Bob-A-Round Boats in the Wild!
Since originally writing this article in 2012, I’ve confirmed that you could not rent watercraft from the Magic Kingdom area. But, a good friend did tell me that he did drive a bob-a-round boat from the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom dock and left it so he could visit the Magic Kingdom.
The Demise of the Bob-A-Round Boats?
Check out my video on the Strangest Boats to Ever Sail the Seven Seas (Lagoon)
Looking for more Walt Disney World history?
Check out my list of WDW history books.
15 thoughts on “Bob-A-Round Boats at Walt Disney World”
My dad and I rented a Bob-a-round from the Contemporary Resort marina in 1971 or 1972. They were extremely popular at the time; the Seven Seas Lagoon seemed to be completely dominated by swarms of Bob-a-rounds many days.
Each boat had an 8-track player built-in. The boat we rented, however, had a defective 8-track deck, stuck playing the song “Promises, Promises” over and over and over. We couldn’t stop it! If my dad or I tried to move over to the side of the boat containing the player, the boat would start to tip perilously, so we never had the courage to remove the 8-track tape. My dad refused to return the boat, because he had paid for a two hour rental, and darn it, he was going to keep it for the full two hours. For two solid hours, that infernal song played on. And so to this day the song “Promises, Promises” is forever associated in my mind with the Bob-a-rounds.
Alex–what an amazing story to share! Thank you so much for leaving the comment. I’ve only seen two photos of the inside of the bob-a-round boats. I just can’t imagine what it was like to float in one of those.
Think WWII life raft… with bad theme music!
Hi, it’s Alison from the Walt Dated World website. Thanks for linking to my Bob-A-Round page in both this post and your one from 03/16/2011. Both posts go to an older version of my site that is going away soon. Can you please update the links to the current site of https://waltdatedworld.com/id159.htm ? Thanks!
I went to WDW in 74 with the family. We stayed at the Polynesian. We did rent a Bob o round.
My dad very accomplished boater and sailing instructor. He had a hard time controlling it. As soon as you got it going straight, it would unexpectedly turn in one direction or another.
While we were out a squall pop up. The wind made the boat uncontrollably. A center console came out to retrieve us. Even with another boat pulling us, I still remember it swinging from one side to another. That boat would just not track.
Great story! Those were the craziest boats.