How Disney Could Use Technology to Rekindle A Lost Favorite

My family and I were lucky enough to spend a week down in Orlando on vacation this year. While I thought it was going to be a stressful vacation, it was actually glorious, largely in part due to the technology that Disney has integrated into their parks.

I write a lot about technology and Digital Transformation and clearly, Disney has embraced both. For example, their Magicbands serve as the key to my resort room, my pass to the park, my FastPass, my PhotoPass and even my credit card for purchases.

Somehow Disney was able to tell where I was riding on the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and captured some great shots of me with the kids in the car I was riding in. Also, the hitchhiking ghosts in The Haunted Mansion ride said they were coming to Pennsylvania!

Somehow Disney knew we were right in the front

Technology has become the magic in the Magic Kingdom.

I have no doubt that Disney will continue to innovate and integrate even more technology into their parks, but could they use technology to give the world an experience they haven’t had in over 20 years?

The End of an Age

In 1994, Walt Disney World closed up one of the greatest rides ever based on one of the finest fantasy/science fiction books ever written (and a Disney movie), Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

If you didn’t have a chance to go on the ride in between 1971 and when it closed, you missed something really special. The ride was classified as a thrill ride with a lot of it not physical, but mental.

Here’s what I remember about the experience.

For a kid, there was nothing as big as the Nautilus. Each one fit 38 people and was not only massive, but partly underwater! You could look out of a porthole in the side of the submarine at various scenes. Bubbles would appear as the submarine would ‘dive’, lights would flash, and tentacles would wrap around the portholes.

The experience was not only visual, but also auditory. Captain Nemo would narrate the adventure as you went around the lagoon and through the cave. A creepy organ played against the white noise of the engine. Bells would clang and whistles sounded, adding to the stress of certain situations.

As a kid, nothing was cheesy about the experience. There were underwater wonders everywhere (Atlantis! Sea Serpent! Mermaids! Volcano!) and a massive giant squid whose eye would strike fear in the hearts of everyone. It was a completely magical experience.

A Reminder of the Past

My recent trip to Disney World took my wife and I to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian, the best (and possibly smallest) bar. I saw something there that reminded me of my childhood.

A drink, simply called “The Nautilus” was on the menu, complete in a souvenir mug in that familiar profile. I highly recommend visiting Trader Sam’s and ordering it, you won’t be disappointed by what happens.

The Nautilus mug from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

After drinking my sorrows away in memory of the long forgotten ride, we finished vacation and came home. Seeing this mug though and the technology used at Disney World got me thinking.

Surely, this doesn’t have to be the end?

From Traditional Magic to Technological Magic

In 2015, HTC Vive and WEVR Labs showed off what is really possible with virtual reality (VR) at Gamescon with The Blu. This demo shows the possibility of resurrecting the ride for long term fans.

HTC Vive VR Demo — The Blu

While the ride likely had its challenges due to the scale, a massive amount of water and frankly, its popularity, perhaps it could live again through the digitization and updating of the experience through VR.

Here’s my challenge to the Disney Imagineers — design a VR experience for the now lost 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride.

This could be the forerunner to new VR experiences for the home, where Gen-Xers like me (with disposable income mind you) can relive the experience and share it with our kids.

Create a ‘classic’ version that follows the original ride, complete with Imagineer stories about creating it, and the opportunity to explore the ride and how it was built. Show off the ride as you’ve designed it for Europe and Asia. Lastly, build a new ‘modern’ version that is a little more terrifying.

Consider the VR experience as a proof of concept for other types of experiences that only Disney can build.

Surely, technology can be a substitute for nature here?

“Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s instinct of destruction.” 
Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Nautilus at Walt Disney World
The Nautilus at Walt Disney World