Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your skipper on today’s journey through the waterways of Disneyland.
This past Monday marked the one year anniversary of me starting this blog and what a journey it has been. From starting out creating my own site and not knowing if it would go anywhere to writing for Laughing Place and inspiring Mouse Madness, this blog has gone places that I never expected. I’m so grateful to all of you readers for sticking by me and enjoying the blog, week in and week out. I’m also thankful for my colleagues here at Laughing Place for their flexibility and giving me plenty of opportunities to shine.
Now that we talked about my blog’s beginning, let’s jump over to Disneyland’s opening day, where today’s story begins.
While Disneyland’s Opening Day may not have been the most successful (because of too many guests, uncompleted areas, and a myriad of other issues), the park quickly became a phenomenon during that summer of 1955. In those days, Disneyland looked very different than it does today, with only current-day Fantasyland really resembling its opening day appearance.
The land that has changed the most over the years is Tomorrowland, but that’s to be expected as a land about the future needs to be constantly upgraded to reflect the future of the present. With that in mind, I’ve always pondered about the inclusion of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in Tomorrowland because it always felt very grounded in the present. But when the park first opened, there was an entirely different attraction located there, originally known as the Tomorrowland Boats.
As you can see from the photo above, boat drivers had relatively free range when motoring around the lagoon. In a way, it was like Autopia on water, except with more broken down vehicles.
The Tomorrowland Boats were constantly undergoing maintenance, so a few months after their opening, they closed down for an extended period of time to figure out the issues of the boats overheating and breaking down.
When the boats reopened, they were renamed the Phantom Boats (the name they are most commonly known by today). To counteract the issue of youngsters going too speedy, Cast Members rode along with guests in each boat. The biggest issue with this addition was that the Phantom Boats required more Cast Members than almost any other attraction and its popularity did not justify the additional cost of hiring these employees.
Ultimately, these extra costs ended up outweighing the benefits of keeping the attraction open with the Phantom Boats closing for good in August 1956, gaining the distinction of being the first Disneyland attraction to become extinct (and making it especially fitting for today’s anniversary post). But Disneyland wasn’t quite done with boat attractions in that general area just yet.
Though the Submarine Voyage took the place of the Phantom Boats, a waterway still connected the lagoon to Fantasyland’s Motor Boat Cruise, which opened in 1957.
Along with Arrow Development, who helped design many of the attraction vehicles for classic Disney attractions, these new boats functioned better than the Phantom Boats because some proper design time was put into the formation of the vehicles.
Originally, these boats had some leeway in terms of their movement, and guests could slightly wiggle the boats, kind of like how you can wiggle your car around on Autopia. But otherwise, guests were required to follow along the path of the track and waterway. However, guests could not control the speed of the boat, so if the person in front of them wiggled enough, the boat behind them would catch up and the boats could get stuck. In some areas, this problem wasn’t an issue as Cast Members could easily reach the boats, but in other areas with large amounts of water and no land, Cast would occasionally have to dive into the water and separate the boats. At one point, they even installed a Cast Member to simply stand in the water and help stuck guests because it had become such a problem.
Eventually, Disneyland got around to changing the system, so that guests could now control the speed, but the steering wheel no longer did anything. This method actually worked a lot better because guests could control their speed, while also having an easier time breaking out of jams due to that flexibility.
Now that you’ve gotten a little taste of the mechanisms behind the attraction, you can take a ride on it ourselves in the video found below. (You can fast forward to about minute 2 to get to the actual attraction and skip the queue.)
As you could see if you watched the video, there really wasn’t much going on during this attraction, but that’s what made it so interesting to me. It really was this simple concept of just riding through the waterways of a back area of Fantasyland, but it seemed super relaxing. You got to see all the beautiful landscaping, water features, and even views of attractions that you would not normally be able to experience.
In a way, it was kind of similar to a PeopleMover on water, but without a tour of Fantasyland. Still, I found myself completely engrossed by the video of this attraction because it was so basic, yet oddly awesome. I’m sure that I would have ridden it over and over again every time I was at Disneyland because it’s the type of attraction that goes way under the radar and always sparks my interest.
Over time, the Motor Boat Cruise did begin to lose some steam because people became more interested in other more exciting attractions around the park (and understandably so). Because of this decline, Disney decided to “spruce” the attraction up in 1991 by changing the name to Motor Boat Cruise to Gummi Glen. Trying to capitalize on the success of the Disney Afternoon show Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, guests could now undergo a journey through the bears’ home, Gummi Glen. Along the way, they could see the bears making juice . . . and that was about it.
Additionally, the characters added were all 2D characters made of plywood and just didn’t live up to the quality upon which Disney prides itself. Unfortunately, there aren’t many pictures of these cutouts, but the video below shows some of them. Beware though, it is a home video so there is a much bigger focus on the father’s children than the ride itself.
Needless to say, guests were not enamored with the new version of the Motor Boat Cruise, and the entire attraction ultimately closed in January 1993 after 36 years. In the end, it wasn’t the lack of attendance that killed the Cruise. Rather, Toontown opened and Disneyland needed to transfer the operating costs of the Motor Boat Cruise over to Toontown.
Today, most of the remnants of the Motor Boat Cruise have been filled in by dirt and landscaping, helping to add to the areas around Autopia actually. Only the small area that you see above still resembles the Motor Boat Cruise in any way.
Now dubbed Fantasia Gardens, this area was the original loading area for the Motor Boat Cruise. I love how they kept this part of the attraction alive, as well as keeping the surrounding water because it really helps it feel like it’s still a part of the park.
So with that taste of the present, we have come to the close of the past, but not without a taste of the future (aka next week’s post).
- The replacement to this attraction is celebrating its tenth anniversary next Thursday.
- This attraction was an opening day attraction in its park.
- This attraction celebrates a country’s origins.
Thank you for joining me in this magical journey to reach a year of writing. It really means a lot that so many people have stuck with me during this time and helped this blog become what it is. I truly appreciate all the support and hope you stick around for all that is still to come!
Thanks again for reading, and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.