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Attraction Archaeology: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Submarine Voyage

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In 1959, Walt Disney’s bold plans for Tomorrowland included the Monorail, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Submarine Voyage to the Disneyland Park. Since each of these attractions became instant icons and synonymous with the Disneyland experience, it only made sense the Magic Kingdom would offer its own spin of these classics upon opening in 1971. While the Matterhorn Bobsleds never made an appearance, the Magic Kingdom did receive an expanded Monorail system. Then, two weeks after the park’s opening, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage made its debut.

Unlike Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage, the Magic Kingdom’s version opened in Fantasyland with a design inspired by Disney’s 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, despite its strong fan base and serving as a stunning addition to Fantasyland, this classic experience closed September 5, 1994. So for today’s installment of Attraction Archaeology, we’re taking a look at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage and what remains of it today.

What Was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage?

Courtesy of Retro WDW

The Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage provided guests the opportunity to explore the world under the waves, along with a few of its secrets and dangers.

Courtesy of Retro WDW

Guests descended down a narrow stairway and sat on Victorian fold-down stools facing individual portholes. These portholes were a guest’s view into the underwater world. Special bubble effects outside the glass created the illusion of movement.

Courtesy of Retro WDW

During the voyage, Captain Nemo served as the ride’s narrator as his signature organ music played in the background. He pointed out the different sights guests would see outside their porthole such as kelp and coral, fish, sea turtles, crabs, and underwater divers. Things got real interesting when the subs passed through a waterfall and into the show building. This is where guests saw shipwrecks and sharks, explored under the polar ice cap, and even discovered Atlantis.

If that wasn’t all, a sea serpent and mermaids made an appearance. The grand finale? Seeing a giant squid attack a submarine before then attacking the ride vehicle!

Where Was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage?

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage was located towards the rear of Fantasyland where Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid are located today.

Why Did It Close?

The reasons for closing and replacing attractions are complex, and we may never know the full stories behind why they happen. What we do know is the Submarine Voyage was a low-capacity attraction. It was also expensive and in need of a refurbishment. The attraction closed suddenly September 5, 1994 for such a refurbishment. Unfortunately, the lagoon and its subs were left to sit and wait for two years. Finally, in 1996, Disney closed the attraction for good.

Courtesy of Yesterland

Even though the attraction was no longer accessible, the lagoon remained with a corner area re-themed as Ariel’s Grotto. Here guests met Ariel in rock grotto built to blend in with the lagoon. In the water itself was a statue of King Triton spouting water. Nearby, guests took advantage of extra seating, a splash pad, and the Scuttle’s Landing snack kiosk.

In 2004, the lagoon was finally filled in. However, Ariel’s Grotto remained, just without the scenic water view and King Triton fountain. It would remain until 2010 when it was removed for the New Fantasyland construction.

Courtesy of Yesterland

On September 1, 2005, Pooh’s Playful Spot opened on the site of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Submarine Adventure. Intended for kids ages 2 to 5 years, this space had slides, tunnels, and a splash pad. The centerpiece was Pooh’s house built at the base of a large tree. This play area didn’t last long as it also closed in 2010 for New Fantasyland construction.

Where Can You Find Tributes or Remnants of the Attraction Today?

Clearly Imagineers are just as nostalgic for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as its fans because there are A LOT of tributes and relics to discover.

For starters, Pooh’s house from Pooh’s Playful Spot survived the area’s closure. It was moved to the entrance of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and is still there today. However, since it was once stood in the same area as 20,000 Leagues, Imagineers left a small Nautilus submarine in the beam above the Pooh’s front door.

Speaking of where the lagoon was, The Little Mermaid themed area of New Fantasyland is home to several tributes to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage. Above the DVC kiosk next to Prince Eric’s Village Market is a sign. It bears the name of H. Goff, which is a homage to Harper Goff. He designed the Nautilus submarine for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film.

Also, on top of the building itself is a weather vane. It resembles the giant squid from both the film and the ride!There’s also a wood carving of King Triton nearby. It looks a lot like the statue which once spouted water in the 20,000 Leagues lagoon near the original Ariel’s Grotto. All this just happens to be across from the new Ariel meet and greet which is also called Ariel’s Grotto.

For another tribute, check out Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. In the queue, eagle-eyed guests may find a hidden Nautilus submarine in the rock work. The water in the queue’s lagoon is also a relic from the past attraction. Imagineers bottled water from the original 20,000 Leagues lagoon and kept it safe for 18 years. In 2012, the bottles were emptied into this new lagoon. Curiously enough this lagoon has a waterfall effect reminiscent of the 20,000 Leagues attraction. Coincidence? You be the judge.

While the attraction’s lagoon was filled in back in 2004, reportedly three of the submarine ride vehicles were saved from destruction. Disney shipped two subs to Castaway Cay. They later removed one due to damage. Fortunately, guests still enjoy discovering the other which is submerged in the snorkeling lagoon today.

For years, the third sub was displayed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour until the attraction closed for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge construction. The sub’s current location? A mystery…

Avid fans of the Submarine Voyage should visit Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. This tiki bar has a number of tributes and references to the old-school attraction, including a Nautilus-inspired drink and souvenir glass!

Fans who miss this classic ride experience should know Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage was re-imagined and reopened as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in 2007. Tokyo DisneySea still boasts a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. Although, their mini-subs don’t actually travel through water. Instead, the attraction relies on bubble effects in the windows to simulate that underwater look. Finally, at Disneyland Paris, guests can enjoy a walk-through of the Nautilus submarine complete with a giant squid attack!

While I enjoy what the Disney Parks have to offer now, I also enjoy discovering relics and tributes to the magic and memories that came before and their presence in the parks today. Did you ever experience 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid at the Magic Kingdom? If so, please share your experiences!

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

9 thoughts on “Attraction Archaeology: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Submarine Voyage

  • I enjoy all the reminiscing of 20K, otherwise known as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. I was a Cast Member in the Magic Kingdom from Summer 1978 to Summer 1979. I was assigned to the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea attraction (also Peter Pan’s Flight, The Mickey Mouse Revue, and Cinderella’s Golden Carousel) LIttle did I know at the time that working on the submarine attraction was going to be one of the best experiences of my life. I even had a “celebrity” guest on one of my submarine shows one evening. Amy Carter, the daughter of then-President Jimmy Carter. I remember working all of our positions “outside” of the submarine itself. I collected tickets at the ride entrance (yes, this was back when 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was an “E” ticket attraction, later becoming Magic Key tickets good for any attraction), and front, center, and aft dock “load” and “unload” positions. If you worked in the aft dock “unload” position, you were also “submarine traffic control” via handheld radios. (All cast members in each submarine had a radio to communicate with each other. On busy summer days, the radios were used to alert other submarines of your status. If you were slowing down or stopping. this would allow other submarine pilots ahead of you or behind you to adjust their speeds and the soundtracks with the show scenes the guests were viewing) I remember our little tiny breakroom inside the decorative sea rock formations adjacent to the ride entrance. All our radios would be charged in there. Our schedules would be posted. And they had one small water fountain which was a welcome relief on hot humid days in the summer. Piloting your submarine was the best job ever. You had control over the front and back hatches, the interior lighting effects, the soundtracks, and the forward or reverse thrust of the submarine. I can still recite all of my spiels to this day. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome aboard the Nautilus. My name is Mike and I will be your host and helmsman today on your voyage 20,000 leagues under the sea. Please continue moving all the way down to the end of your aisle filling in each and every available seat leaving no spaces between you and your friendly neighbor.” 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was a Fantasyland attraction directly across from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction. However, our Operations office, called M07, was located on Main Street, just above the Main Street shops. So many stories to tell about working on this attraction. Thanks for all the memories 20K !!!!!

  • Rode the Nautilus in 1972 at Magic Kingdom – just after witnessing the last Apollo launch to the moon w/ my parents. I was a huge Jules Verne fan and the impression of that day still lingers w/ me 50 years later. Today I got my second ride – on the submarine ride at Disneyland. I can report that the 12 year old boy still lives within me!

  • Great site. One correction though, the 2nd picture, the one showing the sub leaving the dock is backwards. The subs left the dock and turned to starboard, in the picture, the sub is turning to port.

    I worked at 20k back in 1987/88 and it was my favorite attraction to host. The camaraderie was great especially during busy times like Easter when we would have “dock wars” with Jungle Cruise to see who could have the highest ride capacity.

  • I worked at Disneyland in ’65-66 (drove the Monorail) the time the Park still used “tickets” to be able to go on a ride and the management encouraged the “actors” to see which rides could accommodate the most guests every hour. Magic Mountain, The Monorail, Autopia, etc. were fairly “High Volume” rides until…Small World came to the Park…It was the first attraction to load and unload from different sides so as the passengers were disembarking, the next group was loading…after that, none of the older rides had a chance.
    When Pirates of the Caribbean opened it too was a dual unload-load attraction.
    The Submarine Ride was so slow to get people through it never made it along with the high maintenance.
    Disneyland looked like a relaxed place to work but it was tightly controlled and monitored continually.
    On the Monorail we had 90 seconds to get 110 people through the turnstile and up the escalator starting from the time the train pulled into the station. Meanwhile all the existing passengers had to be removed and off the ramp before that next 110 could board. On “Max” days, there were four Monorail trains circling and each train had to stay the proper distance apart throughout the Park.
    The Steam train was also another ride owned by Walt. He was a train buff and had a company called “Retlaw” ( Walter spelled backwards) that owned the trains and the Monorail. To work there You had to be first hired by Disneyland, then go through a second interview and screening, then be 6 feet tall (man). The only two rides you switched between were those two.
    The only night I ever worked a different ride was the night the Gold Monorail inhaled a high school kid trying to sneak into the Park where his girlfriend’s high school was having their graduation night party. He was up on the fiberglass shield that kept hydraulic fluid from the Monorail from getting on cars below in the parking lot . A security guard and his dog walking the perimeter saw him and tried to get him to come down. Kid saw the train coming and layed down but there was no clearance.
    My friend was driving and he never saw the kid, and no one else ever did either! The Monorail was shut down and all of us had to go to rides in Fantasy Land to fill in.

  • I purchased off of eBay many years ago one of the interior panels of the ride subs.
    I had ridden in them several times over the years and thought it would be neat. Shortly after receiving I got a letter from Disney wanting the return of it due to it containing lead paint….I never responded and still have it, plus kept the letter requesting it’s return.

  • All but three were dismantled (destroyed) like the article says, some pieces made it on ebay years ago, but for the most part they were disposed of. But I am 98% certain of where what is left of them may be ( along with all the other rides that are gone now ie Mr Toad to name one), although I highly doubt that WDW would be willing to part with any more pieces of any of them. Not sure if you had the money or not if they would even entertain a discussion of acquiring anything, not that Disney is hurting for money anyhow.

  • I am trying to locate (purchase and transport to MD) the actual submarines that were retired. Does anyone know whom I might contact?

  • Both times that I went to WDW as a child/young adult (1975 and 1983), 20,000 Leagues was broken down and thus not open. I didn’t get around to going to WDW with a vengeance until 2013. Of course by then, the ride was long gone. It’s the one Disney ride I’m really sorry to have missed…

  • One of my favorite childhood attractions. The view into the lagoon from Dumbo was beautiful.

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