BACKSTORY (June 14, 1959–September 1998): 38 Riders were able to enter the 8 half-submerged mini-submarines by descending through access hatches at either end on this E-Ticket attraction. Each 52' long sub cost about $80,000 to build and could go about 1.7 miles per hour. The Disney-designed subs were built at the Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California, and driven down freeways and side-streets to their ultimate destination of Anaheim.
Sitting on small fold-down seats, guests leaned forward to peer out through port holes on either side. The subs moved around a track in the mermaid lagoon and gave the illusion of diving by having bubbles rise around it while the captain intoned commands over the loudspeaker. Guests saw real-looking and imaginary sea life fastened to rocks or floating in the water, a treasure chest of gold, mermaids, a sea serpent, and passed under icebergs at the “North Pole” during their 9 minute voyage.
As you can see from the photos below, REAL(!) mermaids actually swam in the lagoon for a brief period. During the opening ceremonies, there was a water ballet of mermaids. The mermaids were around for the first year, then returned for the tencennial. Requirements for those auditioning at the Disneyland Hotel were height between 5'4"–5'7", long hair, and able to swim! From summer 1965 through summer 1967, the mermaids could be seen for four hours a day on the rocks in the middle of the lagoon. A few overly amorous males apparently swam out to the rocks to the meet the mermaids. In addition, the chlorine in the lagoon turned the mermaid’s hair green. Mermaids entered the changing room located on the sub dock, wearing a Tiki Room mumu while transitioning from backstage. The cover was added on top of the old service dock so that the public did not see them put on their lower fish half. It included a small air unit for ventilation. Early on it was a canvas covering, then became metal to go along with the rest of the maintenance boxes.
The submarines were originally military gray and named after vessels in the 1950’s Nuclear submarine program: Seawolf, Skate, Ethan Allen, Patrick Henry, Nautilus, Triton, Skipjack, and the George Washington. They were all part of the largest peacetime fleet of subs in the world.
The subs were repainted yellow in the 1980’s. This classic attraction was shut down in September 1998 and replaced by the “Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage” on June 11, 2007.
Recently, I was contacted by the niece of a former Disneyland employee who found a vintage photo of her Uncle on my website. She was kind enough to interview her Uncle about his years there and share the information with me. This is the kind of stuff I love! One of these images contains Uncle "Grumpy" (not saying which one for purposes of anonymity!) and the rest are appropriate to the period that he worked at the Park.
Grumpy, my uncle, worked at Disneyland from 1959-1961. It was back in the day when it was mostly college kids working there. They had a lot of fun joking around with guests or hiding out on an attraction waiting to scare them...all in good fun of course! Grumpy’s Disneyland employment started with a friendship with a girl who already worked there. She arranged for him to meet her uncle who was a supervisor there. He met her uncle who interviewed him and then walked him over to the personnel department. He was interviewed by a few more people, then hired two weeks prior to the opening of the Submarine, Monorail, and Matterhorn rides in June 1959. His first job at the Park was as a driver on the Submarine Voyage. At the time the attraction opened, some local laws in Anaheim had to be changed to allow underwater vessels to operate inside city limits. With eight submarines, Walt Disney was the commander of the world's eighth largest submarine fleet.
There was a lot of excitement at the time with a movie being filmed to promote Disneyland. They were also testing the new attractions and preparing for the arrival of Vice President Nixon and his family for the dedication ceremony. Grumpy didn't get to see Vice President Nixon but he saw Walt Disney in the park many times. Walt was there during the testing for the new attractions and was spotted up by the loading area for the Monorail, looking down at the Submarine Voyage. One of the supervisors walked up to my uncle and told him that he had been promoted by Walt Disney to be a Monorail driver. It was quite an honor! Walt Disney and his family made the choices for all of the transportation rides, and Walt only had certain people that he wanted for these positions.
In the beginning the Submarine lagoon had live mermaids that swam around the subs, and they would also sunbathe on the rocks. It eventually became a problem when young men started jumping into the water and swam out to meet the mermaids! The girls practiced swimming in the Disneyland Hotel pool but soon realized that the chlorine was changing the color of their hair. There were also costume malfunctions; Grumpy recalled one instance when one of the girl's shell bras came off and she was sitting on the rocks yelling for someone to bring her a towel! They had him row out to her in a little boat and save the day. Disney eventually decided not to use "real" mermaids and they became part of Disneyland history.
Most cast members do not stay in one place; they get scheduled to work in many areas throughout the park. Grumpy also worked on the Monorail and the Matterhorn. These attractions (Submarine, Matterhorn, and Monorail) were the reason for Disney adding the "E" ticket to their ticket books. My uncle worked all three rides (and a few others) during his time at Disneyland. When he wasn't working, he would call his friend Bill and some of their buddies to go have fun at Disneyland. His favorite attractions were the Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn, and the Submarines. The park was especially fun at nite with all of the lights, and the lines for the rides weren't as long. He didn't really have a favorite place to eat since they were young and broke! But he has always liked to stop by the Carnation Ice Cream Parlour.
While driving the Monorail one day, a group of guests insisted on sitting in the back of the Monorail. Grumpy explained to them that it's winter and the windows in the back of the Monorail will fog up. The guests had heard that you have the best views in the back, and that's where they demanded to sit. When the Monorail came to a stop, the guests were pounding on the windows and yelling to get out. The windows had completely fogged up and they couldn't see a thing!
Since he worked on the Matterhorn, I asked if Grumpy saw a basketball court up in the top of the attraction. He did not recall it being there at that time. Occasionally there were technical difficulties on the Matterhorn. One day one of the bobsleds was stuck on the track, so Grumpy and an electrician ran up the stairs inside the Matterhorn. They reached the disabled bobsled and the electrician released it, but Grumpy didn't have time to get out of the way. He was okay but a little banged up. Disney scheduled him to work in Town Square over on Main Street for a while until he felt better. They had him dress up as President Lincoln and talk with guests. He saw a mother and her son walking toward him and decided to freeze like a statue. The little boy asked his mother if he was real, and the mother replied yes. Despite this, the little boy said he was a fake. She told her son to touch him and find out. The little boy hesitantly reached out with his finger and poked him. Grumpy yelled "Boo!" and the little boy took off running down Main Street. The mother looked at Grumpy and said, "I told him so!"
A painter was hired once to touch up some paint on the guns at the Shooting Gallery in Frontierland. All of a sudden the painter ran out screaming. When asked what was wrong, the painter turned around to reveal a dart in his backside. It turned out that a little boy had a dart gun and shot him in the rear!
Grumpy was also a Skipper on the Jungle Cruise. One day some guests ran up to him claiming that the natives in the jungle were real! No, he told them; they're mannequins that move. Just in case, Grumpy decided to check it out for himself. He and his supervisor walked back through the jungle to find some college kids that had hopped the fence and were dancing around with the Native Indian mannequins. Interesting fact: the water in the Jungle Cruise is dyed brown so that it looks real and you can't see the bottom, which is only 3’ deep. Walt had originally wanted real hippos and elephants on the attraction.
Disneyland still has a special place in Grumpy's heart. It is there where he can still be a kid and his memories will live forever.
MANY thanks to Uncle Grumpy and his niece for sharing these amazing stories!
Dry Submarine Lagoon A Beehive of Activity
Disneyland has long been noted for its beautiful landscaping and gardens and most employees know that our gardening experts raise a good percentage of these plants in the Winston Road nursery, but…not until recently were Disneylanders aware that Bud Washo's Staff Shop artisans have a flourishing "nursery" of their own.
In the service area behind the Administration Building, on a "sea" of asphalt, is a beautiful "under water" garden. Brilliantly colored blossoms and lush foliage thrive despite their concrete "roots." If one happens to see a mermaid or two among the foliage, coral, driftwood and other flora and fauna usually found in the depths of the sea—the explanation is simple. It's all part of the extensive Submarine Voyage rehab program.
In the Submarine lagoon, and cavern, drained of its cool clear, filtered water, even stranger things are taking place. To the sidewalk superintendent, it looks like Jack Reilly has Joe Fowler's and Truman Woodworth's entire crew concentraiting on this one area. The scope of rehab is tremendous. Leo Chsney's plumbers, Fred Johnson's electricians, Larry Smith's and Bud Washo's craftsmen and Robbie Robbins' animation mechanics are working with Dick Irvine, Claude Coats, Marc Davis, Bob Sewell, Roger Broggie and Emile Kuri of the DIsney organization. This concentrated grop of talented men are adding new rock work, iproving the camouflage, as well as repainting and redecorating the entire ride. The animation devices and lighting effects are undergoing complete rehab and many new and exciting props are being added to the popular attraction.
King crabs and lobsters, sea turtles and another sea bass, sun fish, additional and more realistic moray eels and giant clams are being readied for placement and animation. New manta rays, a shark and octopus in an underwater fight will also be added to the adventure. The newly animated mermaids, will, according to DIsney experts, be doing just what beautiful ladies do everywhere, when there's a treasure chest of jewels and a mirror handy, and even the winsome sea serpent is getting a new animation overhaul which will make him more captivating than ever.
A strange sight, indeed, is this dry lagoon with as many workmen as props, but when the work is completed in a few weeks and the lagoon and cavern are once again filed with water, Disneyland's guests will enjoy an even more beautiful and exciting adventure than when the Submarine was opened to the public less than 2 years ago.
Not only does Disneyland continue to grow, but Walt Disney and his staff are continually searching for a better and more exciting way to present Disneyland's world famous attractions.
"NEW" SUB VOYAGE READY FOR EASTER
The wolrd famous Disneyland Submarine Voyage, after having been out of operation for the past couple of months for rehabiliitation, is all set to welcome guests aboard again. Flooding of the lagoon and cavern building has been going on for the past week after literally thousands of man hours went into the extensive rehab program.
Disneylanders who had the opportunity of walking through the completed attraciton before the water started to flow were amazed and thrilled with the additions and changes in both the lagoon and the cavern. Thousands of added props, pieces of coral andn rocks (the Bud and Bill Washo kind) have been added and even the conrete walls of the laoding dock have been "dressed" with star fish, bits of coral and other underseas wonders. These will be immediately seen by passengers when they sit to await the start of their voyage through the wonders of the seven seas.
As soon as the subs pull away from the dock thousands of additional air bubbles will start stirring the crystal clear water to give the passengers a genuine feeling of "diving" and no longer will a blank wall be discernible on the port side. This wall as well as all of the walls in the cavern building have completely camouflaged and darkened in color so the illusion of being thousands of miles at sea and at great depths will be firmly established in the minds of Disneyland's guests.
As the submarines travel through the lagoon area brilliantly colored underseas wonders will be seen along with giant animated crabs, turtles, lobsters, sea bass, Moray eels, Manta rays and an ingenious shark and octopus in a "fight to the death."
The rock work exterior of the cavern building has had a new paint job by Larry Smith's fine crew (and they also did all of the other painting that was necessary) and as soon as the submarines disappear under the water fall passengers will experience the feling of diving even deeper because of the tremendous added number of air bubbles that pass by the port holes.
The Grave Yard of Lost Ships area has had a complete face lifting which makes it even more exciting and Chuck Fowler and Hank Dains and their crews have been busy adding more jewels, coins, nets and ropes for added realism to the area.
Dick Irvine's art director staff, with Bob Sewell as the resident, have done wonders with all of the animated creatures, as well as the beautiful mermaids, in the cavern. No longer will hanging wires be seen because Roger Broggie and his mechanical wizards have found the answer to animating in other ways.
Thanks to the Disneyland Maintenance Department under Truman Woodworth and Earl Vilmer, the Submarine Voyage has a new thrill for "old timers" who have enjoyed it before and the thrill of a life time for first time guests. Jack Reilly has been the coordinator for the entire project and in addition to those already named in this article, Dale Drummond, Leo Chesney, Robbie Robbins, Andy Anderson, Fred Johnson, Sam Billings, Tommy Thomas and all of their hard working helpers can take a low bow for a job well done.
The record one day patronage for the Submarine Voyage, according to Ted Crowell, is 16,502 and the theoretical capacity in a 16 hour day is 18,240 happy guests. Everyone who has seen the "new" voyage agrees you ain't seen nothing yet and that patronage records are made to be broken.
The Submarine Voyage: An In Depth Look
When guests come to Disneyland, they expect the unexpected. Their expectations are easily fulfilled in the watery wilderness of Tomorrowland's Submarine Voyage. The mysterious world of the attraction's undersea waterways reveals in intriguing array of rare and seldom-seen life forms and sunken ships laden with treasure. Adventurous guests experience many exciting events within the security of the air-conditioned submarines.
Inspired by the filming of Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," construction of the Submarine Voyage begain in the fall of 1958 and was completed in time for what was referred to as Disneyland's "second opening," when it was premiered in June 1959, along with the Matterhorn and the Monorail. The hulls of the eight submarines that comprise one of the largest peace-time submarine fleets in the world were built by Todd Shipyards of San Pedro, shipped to the Park, and ocmpleted in Disneyland's Naval Shipyard under the supervision of their designer, Joseph W. Fowler, a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.
Each of the vessels, named after submarines in the U.S. Navy Nuclear-Powered Submarine Fleet, can carry 38 passengers, and makes a round-trip journey to the North Pole in just nine minutes. As dark and remote as the voyage may seem at times, the undersea scenes are always clearly visible through the portholes, because the water in the lagoon and caverns is continually filtered.
While the technical intricacies touch the Submarine Voyage with the essence of realism, the significant factor that makes this adventure a real attraction is the friendly and expert corps of Attraction Hosts who fill the roles of the submarine captains and deck hands. These dungaree-outfitted seahands have more to be concerned with than they let on, for they have to be constantly on the watch for the safety of the guests near the waterways.
Our smaller guests who wonder if they will get wet have nothing to worry about, according to Working Leader Steve Weisman. Even though the attraction is so complex, Steve and his crew keep the operation shipshape. "It's like a giant chessgame, the way we have to move things around," says Steve of the hustle and bustle required to load and unload the submarines.
When higher attendances require the deployment of all available submarine units, the situation becomes even more involved. The deck crew implements a technique called "wolf-packing," in which three submarines go through loading and unlaoding procedures simultatenously. At peak capacity, the Submarine Voyage can handle 1300-1400 guests per hour, which necessitates the teamwork of 22 Attraction Hosts.
"'Syncing' the sub speed to the spiel and docking are the most difficult skills for new Casuals to master," explains the Working Leader Pat Selitrennikoff. Each unit is different form the next in forward and reverse modes, and each has its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to handling or braking.
Guest safety is a factor that demands extra attention on the Submarine Voyage and the Attraction Hosts continuously alert the guests to warch their footing on the deck and on the stairs. "Some children have a fascination for the water, so we have to watch them closely on deck," adds Host Bob Applewhite.
Besides the deck hands who keep things in order topside, there is a crew of experienced divers who attend to all underwater details of the attraction. These aquatic mechanics have the job of keping the animation and other effects in line, as well as checking the subs theselves to verify their seaworthiness. They are headquartered in Disneyland's Naval Shipyard, located behind Fantasyland Autopia, where major submarine rehab work is done.
There is something to fascinate children of all ages in the liquid depths of the Submarine Voyage lagoon and caverns. Through the combined efforts of the Disney Imagineers and the Tomorrowland Attraction Hosts, the attraction has become one of the more popular experiences for our visitors, one which returning guests revisit again and again.