Monday, October 24, 2011

Disneyland's Submarine Voyage

Disneyland's Submarine Voyage
          My earliest memories of visits to Disneyland include the Submarine Voyage. This was one of my grandmother's rides and every visit with her included a trip under the sea. I have wonderful memories of sitting in her lab squealing with delight as we saw the amazing life under the sea.

          For many years I told people I remembered seeing live mermaids swimming in the waters around the subs. People told me I was wrong. During Disneyland's 50th celebration they show video of the park from over the years. In one of the videos they showed mermaids sunning on the rocks in the lagoon and diving off of the submarines. I also remember seeing some of the live fish in the lagoon.

          I was sad when the ride closed and even sadder to see the empty lagoon begging for attention for almost 10 years. I was glad when Disney Imagineers came up with the idea for a new submarine ride based on Finding Nemo. Imagineers were surprised when they found the original subs were still in good condition, though in need of repair and restoration. The original subs were restored and are in use for Finding Nemo.

          So here is the history and stats for the old Submarine Voyage.

Submarine Voyage

Submarine Voyage
WED Enterprises
Attraction type
Submarine ride
Undersea voyage
Propulsion method
Opening date
June 14, 1959
Closing date
September 9, 1998
Vehicle type
Vehicle capacity
Ride duration
8 minutes
52 ft (15.8 m)
Track height
1568 ft (477.9 m)
Ticket Required
Replaced by
Finding Nemo submarine Voyage (2007)
Total Water
9,000,000 Gallons (Including Lagoon & Caverns)
Cost Per Sub
Approx. $80,000
Sponsored by
General Dynamics
Wheelchair accessible
Must transfer from wheelchair
Assistive Listening Available
Fastpass available
Single rider available

          The Submarine Voyage thru liquid space was an attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

          The attraction, which featured ride vehicles designed to look like Navy nuclear submarines, opened on June 14, 1959 as the Submarine Voyage (one of the first rides to require an E ticket). Part of a major expansion of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, which also included the Matterhorn bobsleds Roller Coaster, an expanded version of Autopia, the Disneyland Monorail, and the Motor Boat Cruise, the attraction was originally planned to feature glass-bottom boats. It closed on September 9, 1998, with then-Disneyland president Paul Pressler promising that a new attraction would open in 2003 (purportedly based on Disney’s 2001 animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a box-office failure); it never did. The attraction reopened in June 2007 with a Finding Nemo theme, and is called the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

The attraction

          As initially conceived, the Submarine Voyage was to feature real fish and other sea creatures, though the idea proved to be unfeasible. A major portion of the ride simulated the voyage under the Arctic Ocean's polar ice cap undertaken by the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) on August 3, 1958. During the summers of 1965–1967, female cast members dressed in mermaid costumes could be seen sun-bathing themselves and performing synchronized swimming and underwater stunts for four hours each day. Disney ended this live mermaid feature in 1967 after several ladies reported health concerns related to the submarines' diesel exhaust fumes and the highly chlorinated water.

The vehicles

          The hulls (eight in all) for "one of the world's largest peacetime submarine fleets" were fabricated at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California, then transported to the "Disneyland Naval Yard" in Anaheim for outfitting under the direction of retired Admiral Joseph Fowler. Technical data and advice regarding the design were provided by General dynamics' Electric Boat Division, builder of the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered submarines. The vessels were painted in military gray livery until 1986, when the attraction was updated and the exterior color of the submarines was changed to bright yellow.

          The vessels were not actual submarines as they did not submerge, but were in fact boats, where inside the 39-passenger seating area was positioned below the water level. Portholes along the sides allowed guests to view the many underwater sights. Above the seating area was the conning tower, where the operator stood and controlled the sub's speed. The "diving" effect was made by bubble screens and using the waterfalls at the entrance to the caves that led the submarines into the cleverly disguised show building. The bubble jets can be seen from outside if one were to look just past the loading dock. Atop the building, which still remains, are the majority of the Autopia tracks, some Monorail tracks, trees and the currently derelict Rocket Rods/PeopleMover track.

Closing and re-opening


The Submarine lagoon drained of water while Finding Nemo was constructed


The Submarine lagoon drained of water while Finding Nemo was under construction. The Matterhorn Can be seen in the background

Hidden Mickey painted in the form of three bubbles in the fence around the dried out lagoon while Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage was under construction. The sign read "Imagineers At Play" before it was revealed what exactly the project was to be

          On September 6, 1998, the attraction closed and the lagoon stood derelict, filled with water, but otherwise empty. Many rumors went around over the years, saying that a proposed attraction based on the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire was going to replace Submarine Voyage. Another rumor was that the lagoon was going to be destroyed in a similar fashion to the submarine lagoon of Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But in 2005, the lagoon was drained and construction began on a new attraction: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Original nuclear submarine names (1959–1986)

·         301 Nautilus

·         302 Seawolf

·         303 Skate

·         304 Skipjack

·         305 Triton

·         306 George Washington

·         307 Patrick Henry

·         308 Ethan Allen

A giant clam seen through a submarine porthole.

Sea Serpent as seen through the port side porthole

Exploration submarine names (1987–1998)

·         301 Nautilus

·         302 Neptune, formerly Seawolf

·         303 Sea Star, formerly Skate

·         304 Explorer, formerly Skipjack

·         305 Seeker, formerly Triton

·         306 Argonaut, formerly George Washington

·         307 Triton, formerly Patrick Henry

·         308 Sea Wolf, formerly Ethan Allen


          In 2005, an auction took place at the Disneyland Resort, where several pieces of the original attraction's scenery were sold, such as the sea serpent, the shark fighting with the octopus on a rock and two fighting lobsters. They were removed from the lagoon prior to the auction so new scenery for the updated Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage could be built into the lagoon.

Similar attractions

          The successor of this attraction was the Jules Verne themed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The attraction was given a Nautilus theme and a narration by Peter Renaday, whose voice was similar to that of actor James Mason, who portrayed Captain Nemo in the 1954 Disney film. The attraction was closed in 1994 for a "rehabilitation" period, but never reopened. Management felt that continual maintenance of the attraction was simply too costly. In 2004, ten years after closure, the water was drained and the lagoon area was paved over to create new land for Fantasyland.

          A similar voyage attraction now exists at the Tokyo DisneySea in Japan, using the same Nautilus theme from Florida, except instead of boats in water, it is a dark ride through a show building, in enclosed suspended cars ("mini-subs"). There was a walk-through of the Nautilus sets from the 1954 film at Disneyland from 1955 until 1966, when they were destroyed. However, an updated version of the walk-through was built in 1994 in Discoveryland in Disneyland Paris, known as Les Mysteres du Nautilus, along with the construction of Space Mountain. The attraction involves not only an accurate recreation of the Nautilus interiors, but a mock attack from a large animatronic giant squid.

In popular culture

·         When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was denied permission to go to Disneyland in 1959, Walt Disney was reportedly upset, as he wanted to introduce Khrushchev to one of the largest submarine forces in the world.

·         In the sing along songs video Disneyland Fun, during "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", the "Argonaut" was briefly seen.

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