What follows is an account of Walt Disney World's most legendary ride, from its glory days as it enthralled generations of kids through its slow, painful demise until it met its unbecoming end. This is the story of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The ride opened in 1971, and as you can imagine, it was mind-blowingly awesome to Disney visitors back in the day. It took up a whopping 25% of Fantasyland...and that was only a fraction of what the original blueprints called for it to be. Riders were invited aboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine, and on a fantastical voyage through liquid space, just like in the Jules Verne book that inspired it. The submarines passed by polar ice caps, re-discovered the lost city of Atlantis, and observed magical mermaids. People were thrilled as they saw animatronic sea monsters guarding treasure and watched a giant squid attacking another Nautilus.
However, the ride proved difficult to maintain. The 11.5 million gallon tank had to be drained several times a year so the attractions could be cleaned of any pond scum, and time was not kind to the submarines-- they were leaky, the sound was crappy, and the air conditioning barely functioned. After 23 good years, Disney "temporarily" closed the ride in 1994. It sat in all its fading glory for another two years before Disney finally admitted that the ride would never again open. They dismantled the attractions and submarines, sending them to the scrapyard to be used for parts and covered up the caverns, turning the lagoon into "Ariel's grotto". In 2004, they sealed the area off and drained it...to demolish it completely and turn it into "Pooh's playful spot".
Even though the ride is gone, it's not forgotten. Scores of people fondly remember the ride; Amy Baxter, now CEO of MMJ Labs, says that as a kid from Kentucky, she loved seeing the exotic coral and experiencing the calmness of being underwater. Most kids, like Kelly Barnes were willing to suspend reality and imagine that they truly were 20,000 leagues under the sea, and Florida resident Tangela Walker-Craft regrets that her young daughter will never get to experience one of Disney's coolest original rides the way she did as a child.
As for the submarines rotting in the Disney junkyard, two were saved and sent to Castaway Cay, one of their private resort islands visited by Disney Cruise Line ships. One was painted red and sunk in the lagoon as an attraction for snorkelers to explore, and the other was buried in the sand for kids to play on. However, the pair of submarines disppeared after awhile-- some say that Disney removed them, while others think a hurricane could have washed them further into the ocean...maybe, just maybe, they're now actually resting 20,000 leagues under the sea.
Do you have fond memories of Disney's dearly departed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride? Check out this website for a real blast from the past and leave your experiences in the comments below!