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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Whatever Became of This E-Ticket Attraction?
One of the most innovative attractions ever created for the Disney theme parks was 20,000 Miles Under the Sea. An “E-Ticket” attraction at Walt Disney World since it opened on October 14, 1971 (when WDW used individual coupons instead of single-price tickets), this Fantasyland ride closed exactly 23 years to the day after it opened, making it the only E -Ticket that has ever been removed from the park.
The 38 passenger submarines (39 with cast member “The Captain”) used in the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction based on the Disney film of the same name featured Roman numerals on the outside. They were built at a shipyard in nearby Tampa and then transported on flatbed trucks to Walt Disney World. In fact, when “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” opened, the 24 submarines that operated at Walt Disney World and Disneyland gave the Walt Disney Company the 5th largest naval fleet in the world!
Guests board Captain Nemo’s submarine and travel under the sea through coral reefs, dark caves and into unexpected danger beneath deadly ice caps. Sadly, the ride ended in 1994 with almost no notice to guests, not due to lack of popularity, but due to constant ride breakdowns, loading difficulties (offers were not wheelchair accessible), long queues and the difficulty and high cost of maintenance (including maintaining the 11.5 million gallons of water clear enough for guests to see).
For some time after the closure of the attraction, the submarines remained “anchored” in the lagoon, leaving a vain hope that the attraction would be renovated and reopened. However, the submarines were soon removed and the lagoon drained. They were later stored in a maintenance backstage area for a while, but were moved to an unknown location a long time ago… well, for the most part anyway. While rumors persist that many of the old submarines have either been dismantled or buried somewhere on the property, two submarines have been brought to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, for Disney Cruise Line passengers to explore. As recently as January 2005, parts of the old submarines, including windows and flip-up seats, were available for sale in Epcot’s Art of Disney store and on the inevitable eBay secondary market. (And yes, I have already purchased my personal pieces of Walt Disney World attraction history). Additionally, as part of Disney’s Piece of Disney History Pin Collection, guests can purchase actual pieces of the 20,000 Leagues attraction in a limited edition of 2,500 pieces.
The former front line of the attraction became what was known as the “Fantasyland Character Festival” where you could meet and get autographs from Disney characters. The back of the lagoon was used for “Ariel’s Grotto” where guests could meet the star of “The Little Mermaid” and children could play in a soft park dotted with water jets. Rumors of a bigger “Little Mermaid” ride had been circulating for years, and in 2003, with the success of “Finding Nemo,” similar, as yet unsubstantiated, rumors began to surface.
For some time afterwards, the empty lagoon that once took guests to faraway lands for dangerous underwater adventures remained empty – a sad reminder of days gone by. Then in 2004 something strange happened… The area around the lagoon was closed off with the familiar green walls that signal to guests that major renovations are underway behind them. The massive process of removing the entire contents of the lagoon and filling it with debris has begun and was recently completed at the time of writing. A trip aboard an elephant ride high above Dumbo reveals to the curious eye that construction has begun on what will eventually become the “Stoakre Wood” meet-and-greet location for Winnie the Pooh characters. Conveniently located across from the popular The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction, this “temporary” area will give kids a place to find Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and more, have their picture taken (and, of course, buy some themed merchandise on the way out, I’m sure).
Rumors have begun to surface that eventually (in about 7-10 years) this area is to be turned into a “guarding gates” attraction that will logically bridge Toontown and Fantasyland. (but I’ll save that story for another article). Then again, don’t be so sure that the Hundred Acre Wood area will disappear too quickly. Remember Disney said this about Toontown and Voyage of the Little Mermaid – they were also “temporary”. Only time will tell. For now, the beautiful attraction 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remains a distant part of Disney history and a beloved memory for millions of fans.
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