August 1955 – August 1966
Tomorrowland – The 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Exhibit sat toward the rear of Tomorrowland, roughly where the Starcade and gift shop sit today. Guests could reach the exhibit by following the main path from Main Street USA, or by taking the Skyway from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.
When Disneyland first opened in 1955, Tomorrowland was the least-prepared land. Most of the attractions ready on Opening Day were never meant to be permanent fixtures in the park, and many were installed only weeks before park opening to fill up space. Imagineers needed more exhibits in the back section of Tomorrowland, so they took inspiration from the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The walkthrough exhibit took guests right into the underwater world of the film, and provided a needed change of pace from the almost exclusively space-themed attractions in Tomorrowland.
The exhibit sat in a large circular room, mimicking the experience of walking through a real submarine. Guests began their tour by passing an 11-foot ship model, before entering the various rooms within the submarine. The Wheelhouse, Chart Room, Professor Aronnax’s Cabin, the Salon, Pump Room, Diving Chamber, Fitting Chamber, and Power Supply Room each had unique displays and interactive features detailing the room’s role in the submarine. Along the tour, guests could see kelp, fish, and a giant squid through the porthole windows in each chamber. And finally, guests saw the center of the exhibit, called the “Last Resting Place of the Nautilus”. This display showcased the submarine in its final resting place, embedded in a massive underwater rock formation.
By the 1960s, Tomorrowland had begun its first of many massive renovation and expansion projects, in an attempt to keep up with constantly changing technology and what the public perceived as “futuristic”. While some attractions survived the overhaul, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of the less fortunate. The exhibit closed its doors in 1966, to make way for new, larger rides like Adventure Thru Inner Space.
The organ inside the exhibit was the very organ used in the film, and is now the organ in the grand ballroom of the Haunted Mansion.
Most of the props and models in the exhibit were actually used during filming.
The 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Exhibit was a completely separate attraction from the submarine ride, which had an almost identical name.