Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - A brief overview
Opened October 14, 1971 - Closed September 4th? 5th? 1994 (conflicting dates)

20k was one of the original eight E-ticket rides when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. Based on the Disney film of the same name (and in turn, based on the original novel by Jules Verne), the ride consisted of a submarine voyage with Captain Nemo on his ship, Nautilus. Plagued by slow loading and unloading, the ride consistently suffered from long lines. Additional problems ranging from the burden of maintaining 11.5 million gallons of water clear, to water leakage into the cast member tunnel system under the ride, to cost of upkeep, this ride was closed in 1994 despite still being a very popular attraction. It was apparently listed as "closed for renovation" with the promise of a re-opening in 1995. However, this was not to be and the ride never ran again. The submarines were removed and stored for a time in the lot behind the property. (See links below for aerial shot.) Some were apparently sunk at Disney's private cruise-ship island, Castaway Cay. Parts from the ride were also sold on ebay by the Walt Disney company.

For ten years, the location remained empty. Referred to as the 20,000 Leagues Lagoon, it served as a backdrop for Ariel's Grotto (character meeting place for Ariel from The Little Mermaid movie) and was used for other character signings. Small tables and chairs were also set up under the original queue area for people to relax and sit in the shade. Ducks habited the lagoon and it generally was just a bit of watery scenery across from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (previously Mr. Toad's Wild Ride).

I went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1984. Recently, I got copies of the photos from my mother and came across the one of 20k below. Intrigued by the old look back - not only of the ride itself, but from the vantage point taken in the skycarts which are also gone as of 1999 - I took some photos of the lagoon to compare then and now. Unknown to me at the time, it would be my last chance to get such photos. As of this writing, the lagoon is being drained and the land reclaimed. Rumors abound as to what may or may not be put in that spot, but the official word is simply that the land will be brought back to ground level and all track and water removed. This prompted me to compile this page of photos taken almost by accident, giving a small legacy to this bit of Disney history.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (active ride) circa 1984
(image taken from now also defunct skycarts)

This shot was taken from the skycarts which used to provide an aerial view of Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. 
Unfortunately, such a shot is no longer possible as they were closed and removed in 1999. Soon, the lagoon itself will be gone as well.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Lagoon April 18, 2004
The lagoon in it's general state the last ten years. You can see that much of the theaming had been removed - most noticeably the rocks along the back of the lake and the tree line is almost completely changed - but the one large tree on the right remains and the cave area towards the back right corner (blocked on this shot but viewable in the older and newer ones) did as well.

I took photos this day on just a whim to compare the old 1984 picture I found with it's current look. I had no idea that a little more then a week later, walls would line the entire lagoon along the railing. This was my last chance to get photos of it in it's unused, but still watery state.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - All Boarded Up May 2004
For many years, it served as a character meet-and-greet location as well as a place just to sit down in the shade. You can see here the wall that's been put up around what was the old entrance to the ride. The wall extends all the way from Ariel's Grotto into Mickey's Toon Town Fair.

What lays behind the wall isn't nearly as nice to see.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - draining of Lagoon May 1, 2004
The process of draining and land reclamation begins. The area used as Ariel's Grotto (first picture, left), has been boarded up as well where once a waterfall fell. Much of the water has been drained already, revealing the original track that was still submerged under the water level. The old launch point has come above level as well and the lagoon looks eerie and almost skeletal. There is a wall surrounding the entirety of the lagoon, however, there is a point where a planter/seating area is up against the wall and by standing on the highest point of that, I was able to peer over the side and take these shots. Being so close to the lagoon, it's impossible to get a far-away shot, however, these show most of the view.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - draining of Lagoon June 10, 2004

Water levels are lower and work is still progressing forward though slowly.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - demolition of Lagoon July 13th(?)2004

The demolition has now begun. Piles of material are heaped up as they tear apart the old decorative setting which once stood underwater. Also, the old loading "dock" area is being torn down. No more rocks poking up out of shallow water and even the facade of the back wall reveals it's steel support frame. It's a sad, sad site. Much has changed since June and it's clearly full-steam ahead on it's demolition.
Thanks to Kevin for taking these photos and permission to use them.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - demolition of Lagoon July 20, 2004

The demolition clearly is continuing at an accelerated pace at this point. These three photos are courtesy of MKT of mkt3000.com He took them on July 20th, 2004. You can see they've torn out part of the track and that heavy equipment is on site. Even the old loading area is gone completely. It's amazing how fast things are going at this point and how much they're tearing it down.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - demolition of Lagoon July 26, 2004

The demolition continues. The sign which used to announce "Fantasyland Character Festival" (see photo from May above) is gone and they're gutting the Lagoon and all it's workings. Work is being done mainly at night from what I understand though sometimes, machinery is heard from behind the wall during the day.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - demolition of Lagoon August 2, 2004

Demolition pushes forward. These great shots are thanks to yensidlaw1969 and were taken on August 2nd. All the track seems to have been removed at this point and the area looks like it's being leveled out.



20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - demolition of Lagoon August 12, 2004

Hurricane Charley comes through central Florida. The 20k grounds are muddy and and wet after the storm, but work has been continuing. The show building/queue building is now completely gone. The ground is continuing to be leveled. These great photos are once again thanks to MKT of mkt3000.com


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - state of Lagoon September 13, 2004

The area doesn't even look like the Lagoon anymore. Dirt is clearly being brought in to level the area, and there's no hint of the track that was prominent for months as the water levels dropped. These photos are simply fantastic and with great thanks to Rob of mkt3000.com 


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - state of Lagoon September 21, 2004

Even more flattening of the land that was once the Lagoon. Thanks to Rob of mkt3000.com 


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - state of Lagoon December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve, 2004. These shots were taken from the second floor outside patio of Pinocchio Haus Restaurant. By this point, the walls blocked everything from in front of the Lagoon and the only chance of peeking past them was getting up higher.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - state of Lagoon July 4, 2005

Flash forward to July 4th, 2005. Work is active on the main tree of the new area. Workers are present during guest hours adding to the mesh wire structure and shaping and decorating the branches. Large portions of the tree are already done. And the general area shows massive amounts of "empty space" filled in with bushes and greenery. You can't see the Grotto any longer and it's all plants and benches everywhere.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - state of Lagoon September 24, 2005

And that's all she wrote folks. The transformation is complete. It's hard to express in photos how tiny the area looks now. How small the little Pooh's Playful Spot area actually is. It's also hard to express how wide the sidewalk is between it and the Pooh ride across the way. How much they expanded the walkway when they tore down the Lagoon and queue area. The playground is surrounded by a massive amount of greenery and plants and the area looks like a lot of empty space now overstuffed with plants. It's really hard to overlap the memory of the Lagoon on top of what it is now. The entire shape of the area has changed and it looks utterly and completely different.


Final Thoughts
I'll be keeping an eye out on the continuing changes at the 20k Lagoon. Though I must admit that it's not my all-time favorite ride (in fact, I barely remember it, having last ridden it as a small child), I am nevertheless fascinated with the changes over the years and the history of the ride. Having so accidentally stumbled in at such a critical moment in the evolution of this ride (from it's peaceful lagoon state to it's changes now), I feel compelled to preserve it for fellow Disney fans and future ones who'll never have a chance to see this for themselves. Having lost some of my favorite rides (notably Horizons and the original Journey into Imagination at EPCOT) and lacking photos of them, makes me realize the importance of chronicling such changes. Once it's gone, it's gone and it helps to at least have photos to remind you of it. So, this is my small way of helping it continue on for others to enjoy.


Links & Resources
20,00 Leagues Under the Sea: The Ride - Amazing tribute site with photos, information and even merchandise
Walt Dated World
- Few nice photos, information, and ride script
FL Theme Parks by Air - There's a great overhead shot of the ride when open as well as the subs lined up in on land
Started by a Mouse - Some photos, history and info on the book and movie origins
Magical Mountain - History and facts about the ride
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Tribute site with photo tour of the ride
Sail Away - This is about the Disneyland ride, but has neat photos of the last voyage of the submarines there


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photos copyright 2004-2005 M. Turner, All Rights Reserved.