I remember walking through Fantasyland, and there it was – an abandoned lagoon. I had never seen a submarine sail through its waters, and I never would. How could what must have once been a fascinating excursion into the deep now sit off-limits, never to be experienced by another guest?
The story of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage began long before any Disney parks were constructed. In fact, it began many years prior to Walt Disney’s birth. In March of 1869 author Jules Verne introduced the world to the story of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus. The story was serialized in a French publication and ran until June 1870.
Verne’s description of the Nautilus was well ahead of its time, accurately describing many features of modern submarines. Because of this, the story has stood the test of time. In the late 1930s, when many Hollywood film studios were looking to create new Technicolor films based on classic novels, Disney secured the rights to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Unfortunately, the project was put on hold due to World War I. The project was resumed years after the war ended and the completed film released in 1954, just one year prior to the opening of Disneyland.
Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage
In 1959, Disneyland’s Phantom Boats were replaced with a new submarine attraction called Submarine Voyage. While similar to the attraction which would later be built at Walt Disney World, the Submarine Voyage was technically a different attraction. Guests would board submarines to explore the sea; however, this attraction was not based on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Upon boarding, the captain would invite guests to journey through “liquid space.” After diving into the lagoon through the use a an angled bubble effect outside of the windows, guests would view various sea creatures including sea turtles, lobsters, and crabs, as well as, seaweed, coral, and rock formations. The voyage would also take guests past shipwrecks, under ice caps, and past a giant squid. Other sights while aboard the submarine included mermaids, the lost continent of Atlantis, and a sea serpent.
The submarine voyages continued at Disneyland until 1998. The attraction proved too costly to operate for such a low guest capacity. The lagoon sat filled with water, but dormant, for seven years. With the release of the 2001 Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire came rumors that an Atlantis themed attraction may fill the Tomorrowland Lagoon. These were followed by rumors of the lagoon’s destruction. Neither of these turned out to be true. In 2005, the lagoon was drained in preparation for a new Finding Nemo themed attraction. Two years later, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage opened on June 11, 2007.
Walt Disney World’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage
Just two weeks after the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World, guests began taking voyages aboard 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage. Each of the attraction’s 40-ton ride vehicles were designed to resemble Captain Nemo’s Nautilus as seen in the 1954 Disney film. Once aboard, guests would hear the voice of Captain Nemo, as well as, the film’s theme music in the background.
Other than the design of the ride vehicle and narration from Captain Nemo, the Disney World attraction was fairly similar to Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage. The attraction featured similar sea creatures, ice caps, shipwrecks, mermaids, and even ruins of Atlantis. The 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea attraction featured deep-sea divers wearing diving equipment similar to that seen in the film. Guests aboard the Nautilus would also see a recreation of an iconic scene from the film as they watched a smaller Nautilus in the grasps of the giant squid.
Despite being a guest favorite, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage proved to be expensive to maintain and had a low hourly capacity. In fact, only three submarines, holding 40 guests each, could go through the attraction at a time. The attraction closed for what was announced to be temporary maintenance on September 5, 1994. Two years later the temporary closure was revealed to be a permanent closure of the attraction.
The submarines remained in the lagoon for a time and were later removed to backstage location. In 2004, the majority of the ride vehicles were taken to a landfill. Three submarines were saved. One was taken to the Backlot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and two were taken to Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
What Became Of These Attractions?
Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage may not be the same today, but its essence is still present in the current Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. With the recent closure of Hollywood Studios’ Backlot Tour, guests are no longer able to view Captain Nemo’s Nautilus at Walt Disney World. The two submarines at Castaway Cay sustained hurricane damage and have since been removed. In 2004, the lagoon at the Magic Kingdom was drained. A year later, Pooh’s Playful Spot opened in the location until its closure five years later. Today guests can take a ride aboard the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train in the location which once housed the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea lagoon.
While I never had the opportunity to experience any version of these submarine attractions, I am thankful for videos such as the one featured above which allow us to relive a bit of Disney history. I hope someday to visit Disneyland and experience the Finding Nemo incarnation of this classic attraction.
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Orange | Vintage Disney Loop:
- 1st Stop – My Dreams of Disney | Vintage Disney: The Magic Kingdom’s Original Attractions
- 2nd Stop – What’s the Point? | The Mickey Mouse Club
- 3rd Stop – Main St. Insider | 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Submarine Voyage
- 4th Stop – The Delightful Life | Disney Ticket Books
- 5th Stop – Disney Mamas | The origins of Disneyland