Shortly after Magic Kingdom opened Oct. 1 1971, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a “submarine” ride, debuted as one of the original Fantasyland attractions. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea took guests an underwater voyage, complete with a glimpse of giant squids, inspired by both the Jules Verne novel and the 1954 Disney film. The attraction closed in 1994.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was Walt Disney World’s version of Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage and overseen by Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr. The attraction debuted two weeks after Magic Kingdom opened, at what was then a lagoon near Tomorrowland. Cast members, dressed as Captain Nemo’s crew, took guests on a circular tour of the lagoon, but presented as an underwater tour of the world that traveled to the depths of the ocean.
The ten-minute ride featured 12 “submarines,” actually boats in which were designed to place guests below water level in order to provide the illusion of being submerged for the journey around the lagoon. (The illusion of being underwater in the cramped confines of a submarine, though, was effective.) Each submarine could hold 38 riders, each of whom had their own porthole. There were 12 operational submarines, and two submarines that were part of the journey’s sights.
Above the water, guests could see the lagoon and Vulcania, the hidden base of Captain Nemo. After the initial dive, an illusion enhanced by rising bubbles, passengers traveled by several wonders of the deep: fish and coral reefs, crabs and turtles, and other sea life. Among the most memorable sights were deep-sea divers, a battle between an octopus and a shark, and fantastical creatures such as mermaids. The highlight, though, of the ride was a giant squid attacking another submarine – a scene that recalls one of the film’s most thrilling action moments.
At left: For insight into the ride experience, watch the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea video, circa 1990, by Widen Your World.
The attraction ride vehicles were designed to look like Captain Nemo’s Victorian submarine, the Nautilus, designed by Harper Goff for Disney’s first live-action film. Disney Imagineer George The submarine’s design provided what might now be called steampunk. The exterior design featured metal paneling and lots of rivets and bolts with design elements, such as convex porthole that resemble eyes and curved metal “fins,” to suggest a sea creature. Its interior featured faux-leather flip-down seats for passenger and brass instruments.
Although 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea no longer exists at Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland offers 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at its Tokyo DisneySea park. In 2007 Disneyland Resort opened the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in the Tomrrowland location that housed Submarine Voyage until that attraction closed in 1998.
To learn more about this Magic Kingdom original attraction, visit 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – The Ride, a fan page that includes photos, Cast Member interviews, and video as well as a guest forum.
About Memories of the Magic Kingdom
This article is one of my “Memories of the Magic Kingdom” series that looks at Walt Disney World Resort as part of a year-long observation of the Magic Kingdom’s 40th anniversary. The series focuses on the Disney attractions, people and moments – past, present, and future – that have shaped the park many guests believe “helps make dreams come true.” For many who visit, Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom both live up to the tagline, “the most Magical place on Earth.”
Throughout this series I invite all my readers to share their memories of the Magic Kingdom, and of Walt Disney World Resort, with each other in the comments section.
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