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Attraction Profile: Diving deeper with Walt Disney World’s classic “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” ride

in Disney Cruise Line, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Movies, Theme Parks, Tokyo DisneySea

Based on the 1954 Disney movie of the same name, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” was an extremely popular early attraction at Walt Disney World in Central Florida.  The centerpiece (and ride vehicle) of this undersea adventure was the “Nautilus,” a smaller version the submarine Captain Nemo commanded in the Disney movie.

ride poster

After a successful expansion of Disneyland (California) that included the “Submarine Voyage” attraction in 1959, it was decided that a version of the popular experience should be included in the forthcoming Walt Disney World in Florida.  The new undersea attraction would be based on the 1954 live action Disney movie.

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As guests boarded, folded down their seat and prepared for departure, the sound of Captain Nemo’s voice (Pete Renaday) could be heard over the speakers. A steady stream of bubbles rising past portholes on the vessel indicated the sub made its departure dive.  During the journey guests witnessed various sea creatures and even a team of divers harvesting kelp.  Deadly weather, shipwrecks, icebergs, mermaids and giant sea serpent are all encountered along the way.   The adventure came to a climax as the “Nautilus” faced a giant squid (which appeared to have already destroyed another submarine).

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A lavish lagoon and “underwater” show building were constructed for the experience.  Smaller versions of the infamous Harper Goff “Nautilus” submarine were constructed at Morgan Yachts on Florida’s west coast.  The project was overseen by Disney Legend Bob Gurr.  The 40 ton ride vehicles were transported across the state and installed into the rides guide track.  The task of transforming the pristine green vehicles to the appearance of sea-worn submarine was handled by Disney Legend Tony Baxter. Baxter also worked on show elements for the deep sea part of the ride.

20Kwheel
image: 20Kride.com
Nautilus-In-Traffic
image: 20Kride.com
Disney_world_submarine_ride_1998
image: Disney Wiki

The ride vehicles themselves never actually dove below the water’s surface.  Instead these were large boats travelling along a ride track.  The underwater adventure was achieved by seating guests below the water line and using a series of practical effects like water bubbles and an indoor ride building/cavern.20,000 Leagues under the Sea opened at Walt Disney World, in Fantasyland, opened on October 14, 1971, two weeks after the Florida theme park opened. The attraction was one of several E ticket rides. Captain Nemo’s undersea adventures came to close on September 5, 1994.  Briefly replaced by Ariel’s Grotto and Pooh’s Playful Spot, Seven Dwarves Mine Train currently occupies the space once used by this water adventure.

Several of the iconic “Nautilus” ride vehicles have shown up at other Disney resorts.  For a time there was a pair just offshore at Castaway Key, the private island destination stop as part of the Disney Cruise Line. Those have since vanished.

Another of the green submarines is docked just outside Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris.  There, guests have the opportunity to tour the inside of the vessel as they enter “Les Mystères du Nautilus.”

n014369_2020feb01_les-mysteres-du-nautilus_16-9
image: Disneyland Paris

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At Japan’s DisneySea, not only is there a “Nautilus” anchored, an updated version of the “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” attraction once again brings guests into the depths of the oceans.

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Models and props from the 1954 movie are on display at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, in the One Man’s Dream Attraction.  The large pipe organ from the film has a fitting home too, its part of the ballroom scene in the New Orleans Square Haunted Mansion in at Disneyland in California.

One Mans Dream
image: Michael Gavin
Haunted Mansion Holiday
image: Disney Parks Blog

The “Nautilus” also made a brief visit to Epcot Center, in Florida.  This was part of the Florida Project event.  See our story on the event here.

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One the most exhaustive compilations of photographs (some appearing in this article), videos and history of the attraction can be found at the 20K Ride website.  Highly recommended for anyone wishing to dive deeper into this amazing attraction.

Do you have a favorite tale of undersea adventure that involves the “Nautilus?”  Please share your shanty in the comments below.

Source & Images: Wikipedia, Disney Parks Blog, Disneyland Paris website, 20K Ride website, Disney Parks Blog

6 Comments

  1. Susan

    When I very little, maybe 5, I ride 20,000 Leauges for the first time. I had a complete and utter meltdown when we started to “descend”. No amount of consoling from my parents worked. They were just going to suffer through all my screams. The pilot came and took me up to were he stood and showed me we weren’t really under water that it was a trick. And it was a secret! I immediately calmed down because I knew something none of the other riders knew! After that it became my favorite ride. I’ll never forget that castmember for giving me that “peek behind the curtain”. I miss that ride!

  2. Matt

    Don’t forget about Disney imagineer jack gladdish who also helped with design of the captain nemo submarines…he also did Abe Lincoln animatronics at the hall of presidents, accompanied him to the worlds fair and worked on the pneumatic birds for Mary poppins and the tiki birds…he told me about the nightmares he had about getting the birds to chirp just right in time with the beaks moving! He showed me a picture of Julie Andrews holding a bird and you could see the pneumatic air lines in a slit in the sleeve near her elbow.

  3. Nemo

    The BEST video out there that captures the sunken Nautilus off Castaway Cay!

  4. Sergio Araujo

    Thank you, Michael. It’s the great posts like this that reinforce my admiration for this website. Keep doing this wonderful job.
    Regards, Sergio

  5. ” The centerpiece (and ride vehicle) of this undersea adventure was the “Nautilus,” a smaller version the submarine Captain Nemo commanded in the Disney movie”
    I don’t agree, look at: http://blog.hwtm.com/2013/08/free-printables-disney-pixar-cars-birthday-party/

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