"We know it isn't as relevant today as it once
was," Disneyland Resort President Paul Pressler said in announcing
the submarines would soon enter dry dock.
Dreamed up by Walt Disney himself, the ride -
consisting of eight submarines, each ferrying 32 passengers around
a turquoise bay - debuted June 6. The subs were modeled and named
after the U.S. Navy's 1950s-era nuclear subs. Their construction
was overseen by retired Adm. Joseph Fowler. He and other navy
brass witnessed the ride's dedication in the days when the
then-Soviet Union was still the enemy.
"Wow," a friend said on learning of the
submarines' imminent demise, "I guess the Cold War really is
The ride has, like a vaudevillian, been
showing its age. Fake fish on wires bob, bot swim, and the subs
cruise in four-feet of water - no computer-driven turns and
splashy plunges here. On a recent farewell spin, the lights went
out. Patches in the reef and a tarp were visible as the Seeker
returned to dock.
"It was a very spectacular attraction for its
day ... You saw mermaids and mythology, the sea monster; it was
very special," recalled Jack Lindquist, who worked for the park
when it opened in 1955 in a former orange grove and retired in
1993 as its president. "For those of us out of the Stone Age,
there's a twinge of sadness at seeing it go, but things ... Disney
Imagineers come up with will hopefully be even bigger and better."
Because Disneyland is a national institution,
he said, it can be touchy tweaking the balance of old and new
rides at the only Disney park in which Walt walked.
"Tens of millions of people have grown up with
it," he said. "It's a wonderful thing that a huge number of
people think of ... as their own."
Steady as she goes
As a native Southern Californian, I felt like
Disneyland was my playground, even if we kids only went once a
year. My father worked in international sales, and our family
often hosted foreign friends and visitors. All wanted to go to
The different rides and different years blur
together and flash back out of order. Across from Adventure
through Inner Space, where riders went microscopic, was telephone
land. There, speaking of low-tech, you could go into a windowed
room with a sibling and - it was incredible! - both talk at once
on a speaker phone. "Hi Mom; we're on the phone, and we don't
even have to hold it!"
Based on my mother's reaction, the sound was
intermittently fuzzy or akin to birds screeching. The fuzzy part
reminds me now of that portion of the submarine ride that claims
to use "sonar hydrophones to actually hear the fish talk!"
Like the sub voyage, and the Matterhorn
Bobsleds that seemingly race through a Swiss mountain, most of the
best rides were those that took me far away. And how much farther
could you go than under the polar ice cap?
"Dive! Dive! Take `er down easy. Aye, aye
... 10 fathoms ... All ahead full. Steady as she goes. This is
the captain here."
Ride operators didn't all love working on the
submarines, which belch diesel fumes and go in circles. Bad
ventilation is worse when, say, someone changes a diaper. Over
the years, workers have played pranks on each other. According to
"Mouse Tales" (1994), an unauthorized history of Disneyland by
David Koenig, these often involved getting people wet. Sub
sailors would slide a coin under the hatch of the pilot dome,
preventing it from sealing. When the sub motored under the
waterfall, the pilot would get soaked. (Hatches are now shut
An out-of-town couple once asked a submarine
operator how long the ride lasted. Two days, the weisenheimer
quipped. The couple soon returned, having hopped the Monorail to
the Disneyland Hotel, packed up and returned with luggage for what
they apparently thought was an overnight cruise.
There have also been mishaps. Koenig reported
that one sub pilot blathered on so long about the dastardly sea
serpent that another submarine rear-ended it.
In a truly strange episode occurring on Pearl
Harbor Day, Dec 7, 1974, one of the most famous crashes marooned a
submarine in the lagoon for three days. It seems one submarine
smacked another, and the guests stood atop their seats neck-high
in water before they either squeezed onto the pilot's ladder or
burst out the hatch to swim off into the lagoon. All 38
passengers were Japanese tourists.
About 11:30 on a recent August morning, the
90-degree heat made the lagoon looked [sic] inviting to those
winding through the line, which had formed at 9:30 a.m. "It's a
popular ride, and even more popular now that people know it's
closing," sub operator Andy Quesada said. "One little girl said
to me, 'You can't close my submarine ride. It's my favorite.'"
It was a common refrain. Even those who
conceded it had grown dated waxed sentimental.
"They shouldn't [close it]; it will be
missed," said Aiea Ockoa of Las Vegas. "That's not what people
look at - that it's not high-tech - they like it because it's been
here from the beginning."
Even though the sub's lights left us in the
darkness a few times, and we truly felt in the black "liquid
space," Dominic Rojas, 3, was enthralled. He declared the ride,
"Gweat!" His favorite parts were "the jellyfish, and the other
Whether it will be replaced and with what
isn't known; some company officials say an new attraction might
materialize in five years.
From the summer of 1965 through the summer of
`67, Disneyland had live mermaids perched on the rocks for about
four hours each day. They brushed their hair, primped with an
oversized mirror and sunned themselves.
"A special tryout was held at the Disneyland
Hotel swimming pool, with requirements specifying a height between
5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 7 inches, long hair and good swimming
ability," according to "Disneyland: The Nickel Tour," on sale at
the Magic Kingdom. "The aspiring sirens were assured that
Disneyland would provide the appropriate mermaid attire."
Of all the Disneyland uniforms, this was
clearly the sparkly best - even better than Snow White or that of
one of those personal guides, who got to wear a plaid skirt and
meet people from exotic lands. When you're job hunting at age 5,
anything at the Happiest Place on Earth looks good. But who
really wants to be a trash sweeper?
"It was like a dream job," ex-mermaid Shannon
Baughmann told Koenig. At 6 foot 3, she was a lot of Starkist.
"You could swim [within] 15 feet of the subs and wave to the
guests. We'd do underwater stunts, synchronized swimming, play
and splash each other," she recalled. "I was always the last one
out, to make sure we didn't forget our oversized combs, necklaces
They were very popular, and not just with the
"They were quite an eyeful," The Nickel Tour
concluded. "Unfortunately, they were too much for some of the
guys onshore, who found themselves compelled to jump into the
water and swim to the rocks to answer the siren's call."
Folklore has it that chlorine kept the water
clean, but made the mermaids' long and lustrous hair green.
Eight-year-old Jennifer Berdine of Missouri,
who had been waiting two days for the lumbering voyage, was
leaving the ride with her father on a recent morning. Unlike me,
she had something besides a Hans Christian Anderson tale upon
which to base her mermaid comparisons.
Through the submarine portholes, she could see
phony maids gracefully sway in and out of undulating sea plants
and hover over a treasure chest. Would Jennifer - a child of the
"Little Mermaid" movie generation - be as charmed as I was?
She climbed out of the submarine beaming. "I
liked it when the mermaid[s] came out," she said, declaring
Submarine Voyage her favorite ride.
Like her, I found something dreamy about the
underwater world in which life unfolds in blue slow motion and the
mermaids resembled giant swimming Barbies. Although it may be
time for a modern attraction at the lagoon, I hope any future
adventure is a watery wonderland reached by submarine.
And I will long wistfully for the old
faithful, along with Slip `n Slides and the endless summer of
The Submarine Voyage is open through Labor Day
at Disneyland, 1313 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Today, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.;
Friday, 9 a.m.-midnight; Monday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission is free
for children age 2 and younger, $28 for ages 3-11, $38 for ages
12-59, and $36 for ages 60 and older. Parking is $7-$8. (714)