Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

A film as important as Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meant that it has always had a presence at Disney's theme parks, in one way or another. A walk-through museum of the film's sets was originally planned for the Opera House on Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. before finding a home in Tomorrowland in 1956. Disneyland Paris stepped up the concept by floating a full-size Nautilus in Discoveryland's lagoon, allowing visitors to descend into it and examine Nemo's ship for themselves. Tokyo Disneysea took it even further and created the Mysterious Island: Nemo's volcanic base, with a full-sized Nautilus at dock and two rides based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Arguably the best of all, however, was Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage. When WDW opened in 1971, it imported Disneyland's 1959 classic Submarine Voyage. To provide some differentiation, this trip beneath the waves was transferred from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and given a brand new overlay. Instead of the atomic navy submersibles of today, these became the iron-rivet crafts of the 19th century. Where other theme park versions of 20,000 Leagues have given the opportunity to visit the Nautilus and its berth, WDW's version gave us the opportunity to sail the seven seas aboard her.

The ride was essentially same between Anaheim and Orlando, but the Vernian version gave a few tweaks and nudges to fit the theme. Visitors would enter beneath the iron canopy of the dock to an acoustic medley of sea chanties, including Kirk Douglas' Whale of a Tale. The infamously unpleasant profile of the Nautilus would sweep into dock and helpful swabs would escort you to the red faux-leather seats where you would be able to see the adventure unfold through your very own porthole. To spice up this voyage through liquid space, (and heavy chlorinated animatronics) scenes were pulled right from the film, such as the oceanic farming and squid attack. The translation from the Submarine Voyage also meant that a few prime sequences from the novel not included in the film were accidentally restored, such as the trip beneath polar ice and the discovery of Atlantis.

Unfortunately, the Nautilus sailed its last in the mid-1990's. During an era of cutbacks, the submarine voyages on both coasts were scrapped. The revival of Anaheim's Submarine Voyage as a Finding Nemo ride (the fish, not the captain) could have brought hope for a revival of 20,000 Leagues, if not for the lagoon having long since been filled in. Where once cruised the fleet of Captain Nemo, there is now a Winnie the Pooh playground. Ridiculously, this was the second beloved attraction lost to him, as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was evicted for a proper Pooh ride as well.

The closest we can come anymore are the online videos collected by astute and nostalgic fans. The first video shows you the surface, with the Nautilus gently gliding along. The second takes you beneath that placid surface onto the ride itself. For more on the greatest journey through liquid space, do not miss the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - The Ride website.


Gryphon said...

Thanks for posting the videos of the ride. I loved it as a kid and was so sad when it was closed. Thank you for bringing back happy memories.

Cory The Raven said...

You've won my jealousy for having been able to ride it at all! Unfortunately, my opportunity was lost before I ever even wanted it, and in the process WDW lost any interest I might have had in a Florida vacation.

Biblioadonis aka George said...


I remember getting in line in 1994 and realizing it was a 45-minute wait. My wife and I decided that we would do it some other time and headed towards something else.

I made sure that I rode the DL version in 1996.

How I wish I could travel back. I swear I would only change little things...

Cory The Raven said...

Oh man that burns! At least I can take some solace in that I never even had the chance to ride 20K or the original DLP Space Mountain... This is why we must value every opportunity we have to ride everything we can at any theme park we go to ^_^

Minako said...

Hi... just happen to cross your site...

Im planning to go to Tokyo or Hong Kong Disney this Christmas. Hoho and I found some stuffs from Hong Kong Disneyland here as well:

I will definitely take tones of photos there!!!