June 1959 - September 1998
On August 3, 1958, Disneyland unveiled the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear powered theme-park ride vehicle. The submarine-shaped "boat" (actually a modified school bus that was designed to operate half submerged) could seat 38 guests and operate for decades without refueling. When the prototype proved successful, Disney built several others and opened the Submarine Voyage (in the lagoon vacated by the Phantom Boats' disappearance) in 1959.
On the Submarine Voyage, guests looked through tiny portholes as the submarine took them through a variety of underwater scenes inspired by legends, Disney films, and, in some cases, the actual ocean. During the journey, the submarine's captain described the world outside the portholes and ranted on about the evils of the world above the waves. Read the complete spiel (via the link at the bottom of the page) to get a feel for what guests would have seen.
As originally conceived, the Submarine Voyage was to feature live fish and other sea creatures. This was a popular idea with bookkeepers, who realized that the animals would work for scale. Unfortunately, tests showed that real fish did not behave predictably enough to please guests, and that leakage from ride vehicles tended to make them mutate.
From 1965 to 1967, "mermaids" (actually female cast members) could be seen in the lagoon, sunning themselves on the rocks, tending to their hair with oversized brushes, and buffing their scales. Sometimes, they would even swim up to the portholes of a passing Submarine Voyage ride vehicle and wave to guests, ducking out of the way just in time to avoid being filleted by the submarine's propeller. Every hour on the hour, the mermaids would sing a tantalizing song, causing a passing ship to crash into the rocks and sink (ample evidence that Disney either didn't have a good handle on its mythology). Unfortunately, the mermaids only appeared in the lagoon for two years. They were discontinued for a variety of reasons, including:
The Submarine Voyage remained largely the same for decades until the 1985 when, in a major overhaul to the ride intended to make it more popular with modern audiences and refresh the experience for seasoned visitors, the gray ride vehicles were painted yellow and renamed.
The highly successful ride was closed in 1998 when Disney management was threatened with a lawsuit by long-time ride operators who complained that their hair was falling out and their teeth felt loose. When the submarines were decommissioned, their nuclear power plants were removed and installed in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
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