Walt Disney World visitors of a certain age are likely to hold great nostalgia for the ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage. The extinct lagoon attraction — which operated at the Magic Kingdom from its opening month in October 1971 to 1994 — was a fan favorite.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ride’s closure. In Fantasyland, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train now inhabits the spot that the submarine lagoon once did.
Across the world, however, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea concept lives on in a different form at Tokyo DisneySea. In this photo tour, we’ll take a look at DisneySea’s version of the ride, exploring its backstory and details of its theming.
The attraction is in Japanese, so having a little background knowledge of it before you visit might enhance your appreciation for what you’re seeing and what’s happening throughout it. If nothing else, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea provides a cool visual trip, even for those who can’t make it to Japan and are living vicariously.
But hey, don’t take my word for it, sailors. Prepare your diving suits, and let’s take a voyage 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea together.
Photo Tour of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
At Tokyo DisneySea, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is situated in the port of Mysterious Island. DisneySea’s central landmark, Mount Prometheus, makes up part of the port. Its crater forms the cove where the ride is located.
Here’s how the official backstory from the DisneySea Press Kit sets up the attraction:
“The time is the 1870s. On an uncharted island somewhere in the South Pacific, a giant volcano rises up from the ocean depths. This is Mysterious Island, the secret base of operations for the enigmatic genius, Captain Nemo.”
Captain Nemo, of course, is a classic literary character, created by science fiction pioneer Jules Verne. With its steampunk trappings, Mysterious Island draws conceptually from Verne’s 19th-century novels, including Journey to the Center of the Earth.
It also draws from Disney’s 1954 film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason. Sixty-five years later, this movie is still one of the better entries in Disney’s live-action catalog. As noted in our Tokyo DisneySea Complete Character Greeting Guide, the DisneySea ride’s Cast Members are outfitted in the same uniforms Nemo’s submarine crew wore in the film.
FastPass Area, Story Card, and Ride Entrance
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a FastPass attraction, but it’s one of those where you can often do it on standby with minimal wait. On slow days, they might not even open the FastPass ticketing area.
If they do, however, you’ll be able to see inside a neat tunnel where a long catwalk takes you down to the FastPass machines. The intricate metal design curving overhead makes it feel just like you’re in the hull of a submarine.
If you pick up an English story card from a Cast Member at the entrance to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it will help walk you through the major beats of the ride. The story card is designed like a blueprint and pictorial diagram that Captain Nemo has drawn for scientists boarding his fleet of submersibles.
Guests access the ride via a huge spiral ramp in the water. While descending the ramp to the submarine docking bay, you will pass under Nemo’s own personal mini-sub, the Neptune (which appears on the story card).
Along the way, you will also have a straight-on view of Nemo’s full-sized Nautilus submarine across the water. The sight of this iconic vessel docked in the cove might even make you forget for a moment that you’re in Tokyo and not the Magic Kingdom.
Queue Areas and Submarine Docking
Here’s a bit more from the DisneySea Press Kit:
“To board their vessel, guests … enter a volcanic rock cavern that leads first to Captain Nemo’s Private Study and Control Station. Discovering that Captain Nemo is working in another part of the facility, they are able to walk through these private quarters and observe Nemo’s various notes, maps and research materials related to his studies of the sea.”
This part of the queue, along with the “Dive Hatch Area” — where old-fashioned diving suits and other equipment is displayed — is frequently closed off. They only open it up when the park is busy and they need the extra queue space that wraps around through that area.
Once you reach the submarine docking bay, you’ll see a rig conveying the mini-subs through the loading area. The subs are suspended from the rig. In the backstory, hooks release the subs into the water.
In reality, that never happens. Once you’re inside your sub, looking out through your window (each sub has two doors and three benches and portholes with different views), a bubble effect on the window makes it appear that you’re underwater.
The Pseudo-Submarine Ride Experience
On the off-chance that the ride breaks down and you have to be evacuated like in the YouTube clip below, you’ll be able to see how everything is above water. This version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is actually a cleverly designed dark ride that makes the guest feel like they’re underwater through elaborate effects.
As for the ride experience, Captain Nemo and his crew control your sub. They’re piloting it from the surface and you’ll hear the busy sounds of them testing the searchlights and running a defense systems check before launch.
During the ride, Nemo communicates with you in Japanese via his Aquaphone. Passengers aboard the subs explore an aquafarm, a mysterious reef, and a ship graveyard.
“As they float through the Ship Graveyard, in and out of the wrecks of sunken ships from every era, they observe that all the power and riches the people who piloted these vessels might have possessed or sought, were only destined to become so much junk at the bottom of the sea—a playground for the denizens of the deep.”
Giant Squid Attack and Lost City of Atlantis
One visual highlight of the mini-sub excursion is an attack by Verne’s famous monster, the giant squid. The squid’s eye changes from green to red as you brush up alongside it and seek to escape its long, blue, wriggling tentacles. Nemo electrocutes it, but the squid’s attack knocks your vessel off course, causing it to fall into an oceanic trench.
At the bottom of the trench, you discover the lost city of Atlantis. Another visual highlight of the excursion is seeing a broken colossus head on the ocean floor. The “denizens of the deep” referred to in the ride’s backstory are the green mermen of Atlantis. These mermen help your mini-sub resurface, giving you a web-handed wave goodbye.
When you exit the ride, the pavement is close to the water’s surface, so as the walkway moves upward, it does somewhat feel like you’re coming up from the ocean. The walkway takes you back up past the Nautilus and the spiral ramp entrance again.
Nautilus Galley, Gyoza Dog, and Transit Steamer View
You’ll definitely want to check out the Nautilus on the other side of the cove. The submarine is stationary or permanently docked, as it were. However, you can get up next to it outside the Nautilus Galley. This counter-service restaurant is the current venue for DisneySea’s popular gyoza dog (an elongated pork bun) snack.
Nemo’s “N” logo pops up all over Mysterious Island, everywhere from walkways to manhole covers to trash cans. You can also visit Nautilus Gifts, but the shop mostly sells generic park merchandise, as opposed to souvenirs themed specifically to Mysterious Island.
In the back port of Lost River Delta at Tokyo DisneySea, you can catch a Transit Steamer and ride it back up to the front of the park. Depending on the time of day and route (check the map posted outside for details), the Transit Steamer might take you through Mysterious Island. If you’re sitting on the right-hand side, you’ll have a close-up view of the narwhal-shaped Nautilus, with its eyelike porthole.
Seeing that submarine in the water again is an ever-present reminder of how a classic Magic Kingdom attraction’s legacy lives on at Tokyo DisneySea.