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The 626

Epcot's Living Seas - Classic or Nemo?

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by , 03-10-2012 at 10:23 PM
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"We welcome you to The Living Seas. We welcome you to Seabase Alpha."

And with those words, we were transported to a world under the sea...

Not a world filled with singing crustaceans and red-headed mermaids. That's reserved for cartoons. I'm talking about the REAL DEAL: a living, breathing seabase, teeming with life and research.

Fantastically enough, it all took place at Epcot.

Well, maybe we weren't exactly under the sea, but amazing things did happen, and long before computer-generated fish swam in to stake their claim.

January 2010 was the 25th Anniversary of The Living Seas Pavilion. I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I thought it might be a good time to explore the past of one of Epcot's most treasured Pavilions.

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Although The Living Seas was designed by Imagineers, they had a team of oceanographers, marine biologists, and other experts to help them create an undersea world on dry land. Before it was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium in 2005, The Living Seas boosted the world's largest artificial saltwater tank, containing over 70 species of aquatic life swimming in 5.6 million gallons of sea water. The main coral reef is just about 203 feet in diameter and 27 feet deep.

Nothing at the Living Seas was done half-way, and so even today, The Living Seas is a site to behold!

The original pavilion had you enter a queue decorated with various props from the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. At the end, you were ushered into a theater for a seven minute film about the mysteries of the oceans and how they effect our lives in ways we might not have even imagined. If you remember this film, it's probably because of the infamous line: "And it rained..."

When the film was over, you were taken to the hydrolators, capsules which would 'descend' to the ocean floor using an effect which made it appear as though you were descending. Outside the hydrolator's window, a conveyer belt painted with 'rocks' moved upward along with bubbles and the floor shook just slightly.

Put it together and you had quite the realistic illusion that the hydrolator was taking you down into the ocean depths.

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From there, you boarded Seacabs for the short trip to Seabase Alpha. These cabs followed the same track through the aquarium as today's Nemo ride, but with one slight difference: instead of Nemo and his friends popping up during your journey, the Seacabs took you through a tunnel with the coral reef visible through six-inch thick windows.

Upon arrival at Seabase Alpha, you were encouraged to explore this underwater research facility. You could watch another film about harnessing oceanic resources, check out the many exhibits, view demonstrations in the airlock, or watch divers performing studies on the coral reef from a breath-taking, two-story viewing area.

The Living Seas exemplified one of Walt Disney's early philosophies: disguise learning as fun.

They say that what goes up must come down, but the opposite applied here: when you left Seabase Alpha, you had to ride the hydrolators to 'return' to the surface. While in the hydrolator, you could look up to the 'glass ceiling' to see the water's surface come into view from above.

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[I]Here's an overview of the attraction they way it was in 2003 (without Sea Cabs) shot by JPL1311[/I]
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In 1998, The Living Seas lost its sponsor, United Technologies, who had been financing the exhibit since it opened in 1986. Without a sponsor, the pavilion began to decay. The Seacabs were stopped in 2001, and eventually the hydrolators became optional - you no longer had to ride them to reach Seabase Alpha. But without the hydrolators, the illusion of entering an undersea world was lost.

With the success of Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo, Disney decided to revitalize its dying pavilion by adding characters that kids knew and loved. In late 2006, The Living Seas became The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
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[video=youtube;roowhMPtHiQ]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roowhMPtHiQ[/video]
Preshow room and Hydrolators give way to extended Nemo Ride and extra queue
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The new ride uses the same track as the Seacabs, though now slightly lengthened. These new Clam-mobiles also face sideways (the Seacabs faced forward).

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Disney also added the popular show, Turtle Talk with Crush as part of its Living Character Initiative. In what is quite possibly now the highlight of the pavilion, guests are brought into the 'human tank' to interact with Crush using cameras placed throughout the room and a live actor backstage playing the role of Crush.

The Seas is also home to one of the nicest restaurants on Disney property, the Coral Reef, where you can enjoy a meal surrounded by stunning underwater views of the Caribbean Coral Reef.

If you happen to be an experienced (and certified!) SCUBA diver, you can experience the reef from the other side of the glass! This special attraction lasts about three hours and includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium, a guided underwater tour of the reef, and some free time for you to explore the tank yourself.

Though the educational aspect of the pavilion has been reduced, The Seas still provides some unique learning experiences as well as an up-close look at what goes on beneath the water's surface.

Do you prefer one version of The Living Seas over the other? Did the addition of Nemo & his friends hurt or help it in your opinion? Let me know what your favorite part of the pavilion, if any, is!
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[/FONT][/SIZE][HR][/HR][SIZE=2][FONT=verdana][B][I]by Jeff Heimbuch[/I][/B]

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [EMAIL="[email protected]"][email protected][/EMAIL] or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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Updated 03-11-2012 at 09:29 AM by The 626

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Comments

  1. Disneylandfan85's Avatar
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    I haven't seen the Living Seas since 2003, so I really can't say, but I would say that the classic was good.
  2. lilorangebird's Avatar
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    I'm not the biggest nemo fan in general, so of course i always bypass the ride when i visit now. A lot of the new theming just doesnt hold much of any appeal for me. I don't even care for turtle talk. But it is more than possible to still get lost in the sheer size and beauty of the aquarium and coral reef is still amazing. Both of those things make it a worthwhile pavilion. But gosh do I miss those hydrolators...
  3. mratigan's Avatar
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    I have never been to any of them by from videos I would have to say .......THE LIVING SEAS
    did the hydrolators move up and down at all?????????????????? Great 626!!!!!!!!
  4. Susan Hughes's Avatar
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    Compared to Finding Nemo Submarines at Disneyland, this version is rather uninteresting. I would prefer more of a live aquarium ride than a pale version of what they have running in California.
  5. Disneyaholik's Avatar
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    Well.... I personally feel both versions highlight different cool features, I like the original. I feel that the original Epcot embraced knowledge and learning. The new Epcot (and Disney in general) is about synergy and brand marketing. It doesn't matter if you learned anything about the sea. Just that they got a catchy tune playing and that people will ride it again. The ability to see the actual aquarium has all vanished and now you can barely see the fish at all. I think it's a mute point though as we will never see the old version again. Disney is not interested in moving backwards, so all we can hope for is a new version down the road.

    For the record Hydrolators rule! And they do not move up or down. They just jiggle.
  6. danyoung's Avatar
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    I understand why they needed to make the changes they did. And I think the Nemo overlay works very well for what it is. But I'm right with everyone else in my love and nostalgia for the original attraction. We all knew the hydrolators weren't real, but the illusion was so well done that you totally bought into it. In fact, on one trip they had the exit hydrolator doors all open, so you could just walk out, and I HATED it. It completely blew the illusion (self imposed though it was) that we really were down deep in a research lab. And I even miss the movie - it set up the drama of the hydrolators and the descent into the lab. A very well done attraction that sadly fell into disrepair over the years.

    I did the dive in the Seas twice a few years ago, and it was totally incredible to be on the other side of the glass! I've felt recently that the tank is not as good as it once was for two reasons - the water is much murkier than it used to be, and there used to be quite a lot more fish of all varieties. Anyone remember Orson, the 600 pound grouper? While I'm glad they sunk some money in and revitalized the place with Nemo, I still much prefer the original.
  7. Omnispace's Avatar
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    I feel lucky I was able to experience the original pavilion. I can greatly appreciate the effort that was made to add realism to the journey to the seabase. Unfortunately, one actually had to go through four presentations (intro film, preshow film, hydrolators, sea cabs) just to get into the main exhibit. I can see how over the years that Disney would want to try and streamline this for repeat guests.

    I've always felt that the informative presentations and journey to seabase could all be distilled into a single omnimover show similar to the original plans for the pavilion. It's interesting that they actually attempted that. Unfortunately, what we ended up with is a rehash of the Finding Nemo story executed on the most basic level. Even the movie itself instilled a greater sense of awe and beauty for the oceans. Talk about an opportunity wasted.

    It's also unfortunate is that the the Seabase Alpha concept has been extremely watered down during the addition of the Finding Nemo characters. They could have updated the futuristic sets and just added the Nemo cast to liven things up a bit.
  8. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    I went to the Living Seas Pavillion's original opening and was very excited about what I saw and what was to come. Loved the film on the discovery of the Civil War Iron Clad ship. 25 years later, I understand the new resident Nemo the fish was named after a famouse Captain Nemo who used to have a presence there and his diving suit on display. Wouldn't it be great to take that Tom Scherman creation out of backstage mothballs and put it in a display case in the restaurant?
  9. HMF's Avatar
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    The Seas with Nemo & Friends is one of the worst things in Epcot, The Living Seas was spectacular.
  10. Jungle Trekkie's Avatar
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    I really enjoy these 626 columns Jeff. Thanks for writing them.

    When my wife and I visited the "Nemo"-ized Living Seas in 2008 I was unsure what to expect, having enjoyed visits to the original incarnation in 1991 and 2001. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a significant emphasis on marine biology, ecology, and conservation. We saw some really fascinating behavioral research being done with the bottlenosed dolphins on pattern recognition and had an informative chat with one of the Living Sea interns about manatee conservation. This seems like one of the few remaining Epcot pavilions that is still focused on scientific research and exploration.
  11. ChrisFL's Avatar
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    I always loved the original version of the pavilion and as it stands now...if you're a first time guest, and you get off of the nemo ride, you're probably wondering about the whole rest of the aquarium, it doesn't really fit into the general context of Nemo.

    IMO if they were creative enough with the existing space, they could have kept both the family-friendly Nemo ride and still had a separate Seabase Alpha theme. The opening "Deluge" movie is still one of the most brilliant and captivating pieces of 8 minute film I've ever seen.
  12. davidrusk's Avatar
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    I was never a big fan of the old version, but the new version isn't a must see for me either. While the Nemo ride is amazing from a technical aspect, it's just, well, kinda boring. Perhaps little kids enjoy it though. Turtle talk is amazing and entertaining. If you look at the Nemo ride in Disneyland Paris you'll see what WDW should have installed IMO.
  13. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the great comments, folks! Much appreciated!

    Like most of you, I definitely loved the original version over the Nemo-ized one of today. While I understand the need to make the pavilion more accessible to kids today, it's such a shame to see such a richly themed, original attraction branded with something that just SCREAMS "Disney" at you.

    I certainly miss the hydrolators, and the sea cab ride in the big glass tunnel, with sea life all around you.

    I AM happy, though, that the main focus of the pavilion is still in place. The cast members working there still educators in the marine biology field, for the most part, and it's great to see them keep the message of the original "Living Seas" alive!
  14. ImagiNERDing's Avatar
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    Riding the Seacabs was one of the coolest things ever. It was really a great idea. Now, unless my kids are with me, we don't go near the Seas with Nemo.
  15. ConnCOT's Avatar
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    Although the technology used for projecting Nemo is cool, chalk me up as another one of the original Living Seas proponents. I'm somewhat sad at what has become of the pavilion. Even now, the attraction feels dirty and dank still, even after the refresh - in need of a good cleaning. The tank has a fraction of the life that used to be in it, with large sections barred off and barren. This was a marquee attraction, and I feel it is now a shell of what it used to be.

    There was a magic to the anticipation of going to SeaBase Alpha, however cheesy it was. The ending of the pre-shows, meshing film with in-theatre lighting, sound & finally water effects in the Hydrolator embarkation room, along with Hope's iconic "We welcome you to SeaBase Alpha" was a really well-done way to bring you from one world into a totally different environment, and then there was an excitement in the air with a lot of activity once you got to SeaBase. For those who like the environmental science that they show currently, they used to do much more. I hope another sponsor picks it up and they refurb it properly for one of the future anniversaries...even better if they go back to the height of what it was. The hydrolators broke constantly towards the end of their tenure, hence them becoming optional, and then finally pulled. I always thought they were a great piece of storytelling. And yes, danyoung, I remember Orson well, as well as Orson Jr. He always made an appearance when I had dinner at Coral Reef. I always wondered if he ended up a special...
    Updated 03-13-2012 at 02:27 AM by ConnCOT
  16. DragoHarley's Avatar
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    At Christmas, I had the chance to go to Disneyland for the first time in about 20 years -- and I was appalled by Nemo and Friends in what used to be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen, to have these cartoon fish in that underwater ride. I really, really missed the old 20,000 Leagues animatronics...and I am still wondering how long it's going to take for them to ruin Jungle Cruise by adding the cartoon animals from Lion King to that.

    I live in Chicago and I like going to the Shedd Aquarium here. One of the things that's like fingernails on a chalkboard is hearing all the little kids scream "Nemo! Nemo! NEMOE!" at all the fish in the coral reef habitats.

    I can't remember anything from my own childhood in the 80s and 90s that was that annoying. So, if I ever got to Epcot, I'd probably skip this attraction because I wouldn't want to hear even more NEMO! screaming than I hear as it is here at home.