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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!