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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


October 14, 1971


September 5, 1994



Replaced by

Pooh's Playful Spot

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was an attraction at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Resort from 1971 through 1994.


By the time development work for what is today Walt Disney World began, Disney Imagineers had already been working out a rough concept for a sister attraction to Disneyland's Submarine Voyage. However, it was not going to be a simple ride clone. The idea was to make as best use as possible of the larger space the company now owned in Florida, and what became 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea did indeed do just that. At 11.5 million US gallons (44,000 m3) of water throughout, it was one of the biggest and most expensive Disney attractions ever conceived. The Florida version had 12 submarines (14 if counting the two submarines grappling with Giant Squids on either side of the track).

It has long been thought that the Magic Kingdom attraction was originally intended to have been installed in place of the Submarine Voyage in California in 1959, as the two attractions were identical except for the themeing and some elements of the plot. It is believed that the ride's corporate sponsor, General Dynamics, preferred to keep the original concept, and so the Submarine Voyage opened in 1959 with a non-specific theme, and with nuclear as opposed to Victorian submarines.

Despite the best efforts of the construction and installation teams attached to the 20,000 Leagues project, the attraction opened two weeks after the Magic Kingdom due to infrastructure problems with the lagoon. On October 14, 1971, the first guests boarded a submarine to take the ten-minute voyage of discovery that covered the surface of the earth from underwater, without ever leaving the state of Florida.

The completed attraction covered almost a quarter of Fantasyland, including the lagoon and hidden show building surrounded by palm trees and volcanic rock, meant to evoke the impression of Captain Nemo's Pacific Ocean base Vulcania. A storage facility at the back of the show building served to house submarines removed from the main line during day-to-day operation, and also included a dry dock for repair work.

Along the shores of the lagoon, small beaches were built, one with a chest of abandoned pirate treasure. The words "20,000 Leagues" spelled out in nautical code from signaling flags at the entrance to the attraction added a final subtle touch.

The team of Cast Members operating the attraction played the roles of Nemo's ever-silent crew, and even wore authentic replicas of the screen production's costumes. Throughout the attraction's life, the crews were almost exclusively male. The first helmswoman appeared in the 1970s.


One of the signature pieces of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the fleet of twelve passenger vehicles, adapted for theme park use from Harper Goff's Nautilus design for the 1954 Disney live-action version by Disney Imagineer George McGinnis. The basic hulls were constructed by Morgan Yacht in Clearwater, Florida, with the final building work being transferred to Tampa Ship midway through. This massive project was overseen by another veteran Imagineer, Bob Gurr. Upon delivery at Walt Disney World in August 1971, the vehicles weighed some forty tons, and were installed into a concrete guide (track), mounted on top of a mechanism that limited "bumping" accidents.

The attraction vehicles were not actual submarines, but instead boats in which the guests sat below water level. The interiors were a mix of metal paneling, rivets and bolts, as well as Victorian-esque fittings in the form of passenger seats that can flip outwards, and armrests beneath the portholes, in keeping with the Harper Goff concept from the 1954 feature film. Each "guest" aboard the Nautilus had his or her own seat, as well as a round porthole to look out into the attraction. A small button located in the porthole recess was intended for defogging the window if needed, but this rarely worked.

Above the seating area was the sail (as it was known to the employees) where the "helmsman" stood and controlled the vehicle's operation. The "diving" effect that became so much of a part of the ride was actually produced by bubble machines located throughout the attraction, as well as using the waterfalls at the entrance to the show building.

Each of the twelve vehicles accommodated a total of forty riders. Vehicles normally cycled through the attraction in packs of three.

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