Source: Pin IMG
June 1959 – September 1998
Tomorrowland – The Submarine Voyage toured Tomorrowland’s lagoon, between the Matterhorn and Autopia. Today, the lagoon has an updated version of the attraction: the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.
In 1959, Disneyland went through its first major expansion. The area between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland completely transformed, adding the Matterhorn, rerouting Autopia, and introducing Tomorrowland’s lagoon. The Submarine Voyage opened to the public in June, giving guests the opportunity to fly above Tomorrowland’s skies, and dive deep below its surface.
Onboard the submarines, guests were promised an extraordinary tour far below the ocean’s surface. A curtain of bubbles over the port holes gave the illusion of diving deep down into the water. Once on the ocean floor, adventurers saw ocean life ranging from eels to clams to turtles.
As the submarines turned around the lagoon, they received warnings of an impending storm. To avoid the turbulent waters, the subs dove even deeper. Here, they discovered a graveyard of lost ships, each from a different historical period.
Next, the submarines traveled to the North Pole, found deep sea creatures and mermaids, and then uncovered the lost continent of Atlantis. The tour ended as the submarines resurfaced, returning guests back to port.
Source: Jim Hill Media
By the late 80s and 90s, the cost of operating this attraction began to outweigh its popularity. The slow-loading submarines turned over fewer visitors per hour than virtually every neighboring ride. In 1998, the lagoon came to a standstill, remaining unused for almost a decade. Thankfully, Imagineers updated the submarines in the style of Finding Nemo, and the classic attraction became new again, reopening in 2007.
Imagineers originally wanted real sea life to live within the lagoon. But the required chlorine for maintenance, logistics of rotating vehicles, and the need for consistent visitor experiences meant this idea was soon scrapped.
Each submarine cost $80,000 to construct (in 1950s dollars), under the supervision of Disney legend Joe Fowler. He is the namesake for Fowler’s Harbor on the Rivers of America. At opening, the subs were military grey, but were repainted yellow during a 1986 refurbishment.
Since the submarines never submerge completely below the surface, they are technically not submarines. However, the seating area is beneath the water level, allowing Imagineers to manipulate currents and water flow to give the illusion of diving.
Mildred Nelson, wife of the USS Nautilus’ chief machinist, christened the original fleet in 1959.
For a few summers in the 1960s, the submarine lagoon also featured real mermaids!