Did Disney Miss The Boat With The Nemo Subs in Disneyland?

I remember when my parents would take my sister and I to Disneyland when we were kids during the summer. It was different back then, coupon books were still purchased for ride admission. Of course, everything is different when you are a kid. The first place I would want to go is Tomorrowland, a place where the imagination could soar with journeys to outer space, inner space, and liquid space.

Tomorroland really was a look into the future or at least a look into the places where regular people could not even begin to imagine. In today's 21st century world, tomorrow quickly becomes yesterday's news and the reason why you will never again see a real Disneyland Tomorrowland. Disney could easily spend hundreds of millions of dollars on futuristic rides and attractions only to have them irrelevant in concept and technology in the blink of an eye.

It's far better business to build rides and attractions based on successful movies that can be franchised and in today's Tomorrowland you can kinda / sorta tie them to the concept of tomorrow. So you have Star Tours and the Jedi Training Academey (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away….”). And you have Buzz Lightyear who may be a spaceman of sorts but when everything is stripped away, he's just a child's toy. And coming soon you could a massive attraction based on Iron Man, who lives in the world of today (no matter when today is).

As a kid, I would have to think my favorite ride in Tomorrowland was the original Submarine Voyage. Granted, that over the years the ride deteriorated to where it pretty much resembled a bunch of faded garbage rotting in a swimming pool but are you kidding me?

I'm in a flipping Navy submarine exploring the depths of the ocean's floors. By the time the original subs closed in 1998, they had run their course. The attraction that was once inspiring was now an embarrassment, a faded shell of its former glorious self.

The original Submarine Voyage was a journey of imagination and not inspired by some movie (though you could get some references to Disney's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). It served its purpose to a generation or two of kids but now it was time to move on.

Disney could have rebuilt the Submarine Voyage using the latest technology with digital projected imaging that the current subs use extensively but no, that just isn't the way it works anymore. Over on the movie shelf, Disney had a massively successful Pixar movie called Finding Nemo. We got an underwater ride and an underwater movie. The current Disney thinking is to tie movies with rides then reap profits off the subsequent consumer products (clothing, toys, games, DVD's, etc).

So the subs came back in 2007 as Finding Nemo's Submarine Voyage. The stark official looking gunmetal gray diesel subs have been repainted to bright yellow and blue and given an electric motor and instead of underwater exploration, we get a retelling of the Nemo story – a cartoon – in Tomorrowland.

Now I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the Finding Nemo movie though it is one of Pixar's biggest successes. Nemo is the one Pixar movie that seems to be overrun with their standard formula of having a lovable misfit character in some kind of peril. So I'm a bit prejudiced here. Loved the subs as a kid. Didn't like Nemo the movie as an adult. This was not my idea of a perfect marriage of movie and ride  (now redo 20,000 Leagues and we may be on to something).

But I'll go back to my original question, did Disneyland miss the boat with the Nemo subs? For 90% of the people who visit Disneyland, the answer absolutely not. Disney did a great job with the ride and found a way to keep an attraction that easily fades with age alive with color.

Miss the boat? Not on your life. You're still going to be standing in line 30 -60 minutes to get on the slow loading subs. It's hugely popular, especially with children, which is easy to overlook when adults like me take a look at Disneyland attractions. Sometimes, it isn't about me — it's about the enjoyment in others.

I first rode the Nemo subs during the Christmas season of 2007. A group of family members, young and old, waited about 45 minutes to get on fairly late at night. We rode the subs, saw the Nemo story, and for the most part got off the ride thinking we could put an ‘X' on our checklists that we got on the still new attraction. Maybe now is the time to mention that when everything goes completely black for a few seconds after one particular scene on the ride, some small children may have a tendency to – FREAK OUT!.

My wife and I were back in Disneyland about a year later in a driving rainstorm. I looked at the line to get on Nemo and my watch (when people still wore watches and didn't use their smartphones to tell time) and said “Let's Go”. On that day, the wait to get on Nemo was exactly 7 minutes and the sub was maybe two thirds full when we left the loading dock.

I haven't been on the ride since. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is not on my “must-do at Disneyland” list (unless maybe the wait is 7 minutes again). It is just a little too cartoonish for me with the once mighty submarines just another ride vehicle – only more cramped than most as you sit in that little seat with your head glued to a porthole.

PS…. the Nemo subs may not be to my personal liking but you have to admit, they do take a mighty fine photograph.

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2 comments add your comment

  1. I think the ride is good, but it doesn’t fit in Tomorrowland. And considering the popularity of Nemo, I think they could have found another way to tell the story (like what they did with the Little Mermaid dark ride). My son liked the ride, but didn’t ask to go on it again (like he did with Autopia and Matterhorn). Overall, it is nice to see Nemo in the park, but I wouldn’t miss the ride if they took it out.

    • I agree. Also remember that Disney did use the same omnimover ride system to tell the story of Finding Nemo that they use for the Little Mermaid Attraction in Disney California Adventure. The attraction is called the Living Seas With Nemo and Friends and is located at Epcot in Walt Disney World.

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