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Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Demolition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Because of the popularity of the Submarine Voyage attraction at Disneyland, it was decided to include it as an opening attraction for Walt Disney World, but with tweaks to reflect the Jules Verne inspired live action Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Verne theme made the attraction appropriate to be located in Fantasyland rather than Tomorrowland, its Disneyland home.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remained popular throughout its first two decades, but it became increasingly apparent that it had limited capacity compared to the expense to maintain and operate it. In addition, water leaking into the lower-level utilidoors, updates to make the ride ADA compliant, and corrosion of mechanical parts made the decision to close it necessary.

(c) Disney

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea closed on September 5, 1994 without advance notice. Walt Disney World claimed it was closed temporarily for maintenance and would reopen in the summer of 1996. In April of that year, it was announced the closure was permanent.

The submarines were moved around to several different backstage locations at Walt Disney World for several years until they were eventually stripped of items that were auctioned off and the hulls buried in landfill around 2004. Three of the vehicles were saved. Two ended up in the snorkeling lagoon at Castaway Cay but only one survives there today, with both its wheelhouse and dorsal fin destroyed by hurricane weather.

The third vehicle was on display on the backlot tour at Disney MGM Studios and then later put in storage to be used at events like conventions.

Full demolition of the former site of the ride began in 2004 behind construction walls. Adrienne Messenger, Assistant Development Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering, stated, “The project will take several months to complete. The first thing we have to do is take down the ride building and enough rockwork so trucks can get in and out of the lagoon.

“After that, everything in the lagoon comes out. Only the north wall and east wall of the ride building will remain as retaining walls. Backhoes will chip the volcanic rockwork apart, and a special machine will demolish the ride building.

“Crews salvaged reusable show props when the attraction first closed and Horticulture cast members will redistribute existing landscape materials within the theme park and backstage areas.

“Next, we’ll bring in truckloads of earth, about 70,000 cubic yards, compact it, grade it and then we’ll add plants and irrigation. We’re adding some fencing and lights to replace what we’ve removed. When the walls come down, you’ll see a four-to-six foot berm all the way around what used to be the lagoon.”

The work did not effect Ariel’s Grotto with the King Triton spouting fountain or the nearby utilidor. The major challenge according to Messenger was “We’re in Park 2, which is where all the Magic Kingdom Cast comes in to work. There’s not much of a road, and we’re working Third Shift, so there are deliveries coming to the utilidor and Mickey’s Toon Town Fair gate.

“Getting in and out, when you’re talking a hundred loads of debris going out every night, is extremely challenging.”

Once all the water was drained, Pooh’s Playful Spot was built on the area and operated from September 2005 to April 2010. As a tribute to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, a knothole in the shape of the Nautilus submaine was carved into the inside upper arch of the treehouse doorway.

About a month after the playground closed, Disney brought in a crane to move the impressive 120-ton tree a short distance to become part of a new exterior for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.


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