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4 “Hidden” Theme Park Props You Might Spot OUTSIDE the Disney Parks

Castaway Cay, Bahamas: Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage

 Submarine Voyage

Image: Rod Ramsey, Flickr (license)

If you’ve been on any Disney cruise, you’re familiar with one of its most popular ports of call: the privately-owned island called Castaway Cay. It’s a picturesque stretch of soft white sand and crystal blue waters, but if you look just a little bit more closely, you may spot a piece of Disney history that seems to have strayed a little too far from home.

Back in 1994, one of the Magic Kingdom’s staple attractions was showing signs of wear. After nearly twenty years, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage was starting to look a little tired, and most guests had already fixated on a different sea-themed story: the immensely popular animated flick The Little Mermaid. While the lagoon would eventually be reconstructed as Ariel’s Grotto (then Pooh’s Playful Spot, and finally, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), Imagineers needed to find a way to get rid of the dozen metal-colored submarine-like boats still floating around backstage.

As Disney didn’t have immediate plans to keep another submarine ride afloat in the Magic Kingdom, the way they did with Disneyland’s 2007 Finding Nemo overhaul of the Submarine Voyage, they scrapped most of the attraction vehicles. One was shipped across the property to Disney’s Hollywood Studios as part of the now-closed Backlot Tour, while two more were postmarked to the Bahamas and sunk in the waters of Castaway Cay.

Submerging and preserving the boats ended up a more arduous task than Disney had expected, though, especially when hurricane weather hit the island. Today, guests will find just one remaining Nautilus on the floor of the snorkeling lagoon, sans wheelhouse and dorsal fin but still a charming sight—and a unique find from Disney Parks history, to boot.

Sacramento, Calif.: Original Disney California Adventure entrance mural

CALIFORNIA sculptures at Cal Expo
Image: Disney

Some of the random bits of Disney history you’ll find outside of the parks have little to do with the company’s more well-known attractions. Take, for instance, the postcard-perfect sculptures that decorated the entrance to Disney California Adventures back in 2001. When the park underwent an extensive (and expensive) facelift in 2012, Disney was left with a lot of decisions to make. Dozens of attraction props and external décor needed to be repainted, refitted, or removed entirely from the park—including some of the scenery that had become emblematic of the California-inspired theming.

Allow us to jog your memory: Before the Esplanade became a wide, open space for guests to freely congregate, 11-foot, eight-inch sculptures spelled out C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A from tan turnstile to turnstile. Against the backdrop of an elaborate ceramic mural and a faux Golden Gate Bridge, the letters were intended to form an oversized tableau of the Golden State; instead, they served as unusual photo backdrops, a makeshift jungle gym for kids too antsy to wait in line, and another avenue for Disney to promote limited-time events and holiday celebrations.

Just one decade after their debut, however, the entrance to Sunshine Plaza was thoroughly dismantled: record-breaking mural, Golden Gate Bridge, letters and all. Rather than completely destroying the sculptures (a fate that befell the enormous mosaic when it became apparent that the panorama of Californian mountains, wildlife, and urban landmarks could not be relocated without sustaining irreparable damage), Disney elected to donate them to Cal Expo in Sacramento. For the last six years, they’ve helped welcome visitors to the annual California State Fair from their new position in front of the Main Gate… looking every bit as golden and resplendent as they did while gracing Disneyland’s Esplanade.

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What other Disney Parks memorabilia have you spotted in unusual locations?

 

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