Some of Walt Disney World’s most overlooked and wonderful experiences take place along its many waterways and lakes, and that has held true since its earliest days. In fact, one of the most unique watercraft was an authentic Chinese Junk.
A what? Yes, the Eastern Winds, a cocktail lounge aboard an authentic 65-foot Chinese Junk, was docked at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort hotel from 1971 to 1978. It was available for charters, and took a crew of two to operate; a pilot and a deckhand. The ship included a galley on board for dining as well as a full wet bar. Often during charters, the crew would also include a chef, a server, a bartender as well as a cocktail waitress. The large wheel was located in the stern of the 50,000-pound boat and took 22 turns from lock to lock.
Legend has it that after the East Wind was eventually retired, it was sold to Joe Namath, (“Broadway Joe”), quarterback of the New York Jets.
But whatever became of the Eastern Winds? Thanks to listener Dave, this March 20, 1979 article from The Virgin Islands Daily News gives us the answers!
You can see from the article that it was built in Hong Kong in 1964, and was later purchased by a Texas oil baron. The article also confirms that Joe Namath did own it at one time. But how it got from Walt Disney World to the Virgin Islands is the best part of the story!
It seems that Ron Cooper and is partner were flying in a private plane over Florida and spotted the junk sitting anchored in the middle of a body of water. That body of water just happened to be the Seven Seas Lagoon – right in front of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort! One month after making his offer, Mr. Cooper received the call from Disney to come and pick up his stripped-down boat. But getting it was more difficult than expected.
Becuase Walt Disney World is land-locked, a trailer had to be positioned under the junk to transport it across the state. And once he brought the boat to its new home, the crane operator wanted no responsbility for the damange to the boat, so it was launched off the back of the trailer like a small powerboat.
After some time spent refurbishing the boat, it was used for pleasure cruises in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Its current location could not be determined at this time, and one wonders if she is still treating passnegers to sunset cruises, much as she did in Walt Disney World.