When the Submarine Voyage, a classic ride that was one of Disneyland's signature attractions, closed in 1998, it left a literal and figurative void at the park. It took an enormously popular lost clownfish for Disney to find the inspiration and budget to bring the subs back. With its new Finding Nemo overlay, the ride is perfectly positioned to appeal to today's Pixar-lated kids as well as their nostalgia-fueled parents. The combination of deft storytelling and Imagineering magic makes the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage an alluring, sea-worthy E-Ticket attraction for Disneyland's next 50 years.
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage Up-Front Info
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 2
Some scenes are dark, loud, and could be a tad frightening to wee ones.
- Ride-through attraction. The subs don't actually submerge; it's an illusion.
- Guests prone to claustrophobia may want to think twice before boarding the ride's tight quarters. Air conditioning keeps the subs quite comfortable, however. And the compelling story should distract most phobic passengers.
- The subs are slow to load and unload. If the opening-day crowds are any indication (lines swelled to over a 4-hour wait), be prepared for long lines to board the ride. Fastpass not accepted.
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage Photo Gallery
Guests cross a small gangplank and climb down a narrow spiral staircase to board the ride. Each sub has 20 pull-down seats on either side, and each passenger has his or her porthole from which to view the ride. According to the background story, guests have been invited onto an Australian-based oceanographic scientific study vessel operated by the Nautical Exploration and Marine Observation (acronym: NEMO) institute to explore an erupting underwater volcano.
The Sound of Science
There are many nods to Disneyland's original Submarine Voyage, including the brightly colored coral and rockwork in the initial outdoor portion of the ride through the lagoon. To be more environmentally conscious and to help the set pieces withstand the caustic underwater environment, Imagineers, the conjurers who build Disney's parks and attractions, used recycled, crushed, stained glass to "paint" the scenes instead of the lead-based paint used in the original ride. Visible from both the subs and to park-goers walking past the lagoon, the glass-enhanced dioramas sparkle and beguile. In another green concession, electric power replaces the subs' diesel engines.
As with the original ride, cascades of bubbles simulate the subs' dives underwater and help mask transitions between scenes. The first clue that passengers have been immersed (or is that submersed?) into the world of Nemo is the sight of an animatronic Darla, the bratty girl who nabbed the clownfish in the movie.
The action then moves out of the lagoon and into the large show building under the Autopia. While guests aboard the ride might never suspect it, there is no actual water inside the building. But the underwater illusion is quite well done. The sub's guide makes note of the "sonar headphones"--another holdover from the first Submarine Voyage attraction--that will allow passengers to hear the sounds of the fish and sea life. The familiar voices of the Finding Nemo characters, including Mr. Ray, Squirt, Marlin, and Nemo, then come into focus. And there they are, swimming alongside the subs.
Disney won't reveal exactly how its Imagineers accomplished the feat of bringing the computer-generated stars to life in the attraction, but it's fair to say that there are a number of technologies at play, including projected imagery, animatronic and static figures, and three-dimensional sets. Often, it appears that all of the aforementioned elements, plus black lights, sound, and other effects are combined to produce the scenes. As with any great themed attraction, the technology is largely invisible, and the story flows seamlessly.
According to Tom Fitzgerald, executive vice president and senior creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, the subs are divided into four zones of ten passengers each. Because the subs are essentially moving theaters, the Imagineers faced the dilemma of telling a story with audience members who have different, on-the-go perspectives. With the four zones, the guests encounter the characters at different times. "We didn't want zone four at the back of the sub to hear or see what the passengers in zone one were experiencing in the front," says Fitzgerald. "It was quite a challenge." Although the zones are next to one another, there is little to no bleed-through of the competing soundtracks. (And, it should be noted, the onboard surround sound is crystal clear.) To help develop and synchronize the four-zone attraction, Imagineers built a virtual ride-through simulation and constantly tested and tweaked the ride elements. "I don't think we could have built this ride without the simulation," Fitzgerald adds.
Lost and Found at Disneyland
You would have thought Nemo would have figured out how to remain found after his onscreen ordeal, but in the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the plucky fish decides to break away from his classmates and go on an adventure with his pal Squirt the turtle. The tone is lighter than the movie, since the "lost" Nemo is never really in any major peril. The subs' passengers can see that the fish is having fun and is one step ahead of his dad, Marlin, and ditzy Dory, the memory-challenged Blue Tang. While some of the film's original voices, including those of Nemo, Crush, and Bruce the shark, also voiced the characters for the Submarine Voyage, neither Ellen DeGeneres (Dory) nor Albert Brooks (Marlin) reprise their roles. But the voice actors standing in for them are remarkably similar.
Along the way, the Nemo characters, as well as the sub's passengers, experience sharks, eels, jellyfish (in a particularly clever scene), and the East Australian Current. The volcano, which served as the setup for the expedition, does erupt. The underwater lava flow had me scratching my head in bewilderment and amazement. It's quite startling and an impressive Imagineering achievement. For that matter, the entire attraction is an impressive achievement. I doff my naval cap to the Imagineers and Disneyland for bringing back the subs in such a grand and glorious way.