It’s Magic Madness time, and I’m feeling pretty magic! In celebration of WDW Radio’s Magic Madness – Extinct Edition, I thought I’d take a look at a bygone Walt Disney World classic attraction and compare it to its current Asian Disney counterpart. There are very few attractions left in the Asian Disney Parks that don’t exist at WDW anymore. But, one attraction that still does exist over here is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Due to the attraction’s popularity, both in Walt Disney World and Tokyo DisneySea, I thought it was an apt attraction to review in-depth.
I have vague memories of experiencing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea during my first ever trip to WDW. That being said, my memories of it are very sketchy. Yet, what is not sketchy is my memory of 20,000 Leagues at Tokyo DisneySea. Thus, through the magic of research, I thought it would be interesting to see how the original compares to the funky current version of this attraction.
History and Backstory
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage was a nearly opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom, opening on October 14, 1971. It was a more updated and expansive version of the Submarine Voyage attraction that opened at Disneyland in 1959.
20,000 Leagues ran from 1971 all the way to 1994, when it closed without notice under the guise of “temporary maintenance” to never open again. This caused a kerfuffle with avid Disney fans that loved the attraction. It remained somewhat visible for several years after and was located in the section of Fantasyland that now hosts Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Over in Tokyo DisneySea, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was an opening day attraction (September 4, 2001) and is still located in the Mysterious Island section of the park. Mysterious Island is built into the side of Mount Prometheus and features two Jules Verne-based attractions: Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
In the Magic Kingdom version of the attraction, Guests would board a scaled down Nautilus ride vehicle. Once onboard, the Nautilus would “dive” deep into the lagoon, where an audio track of Captain Nemo (voiced by Peter Renaday in the attraction) narrates the experience. An eerie organ version of the theme from the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea plays throughout the attraction to accompany Nemo’s narration.
Guests experienced various nautical life before witnessing a party of divers dressed similarly to those in the movie. A storm occurs, which caused Captain Nemo to send the Nautilus down ever further, where the Nautilus came across a graveyard of lost ships.
Next, the Nautilus made its way to The North Pole, dodging ice caps as they did. Going further down still, the Nautilus entered the “abyss” where Guests witnessed strange species of fish before locating Atlantis and a friendly looking sea-monster, before returning to the surface again.
With a similar premise but a different story, 20,000 Leagues at Tokyo DisneySea has Guests also board submarines that “dive” into unknown waters. These submarines are “remotely” powered by Nemo from the control base.
The submarines venture into the colorful looking marine life and coral. That is until they encounter the Kraken. Nemo tries to raise the subs, but they are stricken by electricity and Captain Nemo loses all power, plummeting the submarines seemingly to their doom.
That is until the submarine accidently stumbles upon the lost city of Atlantis and the Atlanteans that occupy it. Instead of sealing the submarine’s fate, the Atlanteans help push the Submarine to the surface, saving the Guests inside.
The biggest similarity the 20,000 league attractions share is that of their basic premise. On both attractions you board a submarine, both attractions are narrated by Captain Nemo (Captain Nemo speaks in Japanese in the DisneySea attraction) and both attractions take Guests through murky depths before discovering the lost city of Atlantis.
This is kind of where the similarities stop. Although the general premise is the same, the tone of the attractions differ. Whereas the original 20,000 Leagues was a journey of exploration and discovery, it was a journey where there was very little danger to be had. This is not the case in the DisneySea version. The DisneySea journey is one more of action and adventure, mainly due to the fight with the large kraken and the subsequently impending doom that follows. That being said, the DisneySea version is completely in Japanese, so this could also add to the tense ambiance, as I understood very little of what was being said.
Another difference between the two attractions is the length of each one. The WDW version used to exceed ten minutes in length, whereas the DisneySea version is a little over 5 minutes. This also seems to reflect the tone of each attraction, as you were afforded more time to explore in the Magic Kingdom Leagues versus being almost immediately thrown into the story in its current counterpart.
Also, arguably the biggest difference between the two attractions is that one takes place in water and one does not. Although not actually in submarines, in the WDW version, Guests used to board Nautilus themed boats (with Guests sitting in the lower deck of the boat). This is not the case at Tokyo DisneySea. Your boats don’t actually go into the water. Instead, the attraction is similar to a classic dark ride, but instead of a Hunny Pot or a Pirate Ship, your ride vehicle for this dark ride is an enclosed submarine. The feeling of “diving” into water is simulated through the windows of the ride vehicles. With this being the case, the DisneySea attraction is afforded the ability to be more colorful, and is able to include more animatronics and props throughout the attraction.
Sadly, my memories of the WDW version aren’t strong enough to form an opinion of which one I prefer. That being said, it is generally regarded as a Disney classic that was beloved by all. That is kind of how I feel about the DisneySea version. Although you are not actually submerged in the water, I think they do a really good job of simulating that without the logistical upkeep. I really enjoy the current version, and I hope it stays around for a long while.
What do you think? Do you have strong memories of the 20,000 leagues attraction? Do you wish it still existed? Let’s continue the conversation in the WDW Radio Box People Facebook group.
(Lead Walt Disney World Nautilus photo and sea turtle photo from the personal collection of Kendall Foreman. Tokyo DisneySea photos property of the author.)
To learn more about Daniel and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking on his name at the top of this post.