Last week we kicked off our celebration of the “Finding Nemo” fun in the theme parks as we anticipate the new Disney Pixar film “Finding Dory.” If you haven’t listened to our Finding Nemo – The Musical podcast you will want to check it out! That is my wife’s favorite thing in all Walt Disney World, and a show you certainly don’t want to miss.
This week we are heading over to Epcot to find Nemo and his friends. Now, Epcot may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about fun activities for small children in your group, but hopefully today’s podcast will help change that. The Seas with Nemo & Friends has more to explore than many aquariums across the country. Let’s dive right in and get started with our…
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The ride is located in Future World in Epcot
- Fastpass + is offered
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Guests must transfer to a wheelchair
- Audio Description and Handheld Captioning are available
- Children under age 7 must be accompanied by a person age 14 years or older
- The ride is 5 minutes long
- The Living Seas opened on January 15, 1986. The Seas with Nemo & Friends was completed and opened on October 19, 2006.
Those are the facts, now onto the fun!
Nemo? Nemo? Where are you? Where did that little clown fish swim off to? I just saw him a minute ago. Oh, the sea is such a big place!
Yes, the sea is a very big place, and the The Seas with Nemo & Friends is a huge underwater playground exploring the big blue world. You see, this area is more than just a ride, it includes a 5.7 million gallon saltwater aquarium with live sea creatures and activity centers where you can learn about the real life counterparts from Finding Nemo. Sound like fun? Well, let’s see if we can find Nemo by finding this cool pavilion inside Epcot.
Originally, this area was known as the Living Seas, and it opened a few years after Epcot itself joined the Disney theme park family. Located inside Future World, the Living Seas was presented by United Technologies from 1986-1998. During this twelve year period, guests to the Living Seas could enjoy a film entitled “The Seas,” climb aboard a SeaCab for the Caribbean Coral Reef Ride, and explore Sea Base Alpha. My favorite part of the Living Seas was the Hydrolator, an elevator that took you deep under the sea. This underwater elevator was the gateway from the world above to the enchantment of sea life down below. You would board Hydrolator 1, 2, or 3 after entering the building and walking through the queue. Once aboard, you traveled deep into the depths of Sea Base Alpha. The lights would dim, small windows displayed bubbles floating up to the surface, and the sound of descent convinced those aboard a new world awaited at the ocean floor. When the doors opened you could explore the Caribbean Coral Reef Ride and then observe the sea life for as long as you liked. When you were finished, you took a second Hydrolator back to the surface and stepped outside into the warm Florida sun.
In reality, the Hydrolators only moved a vertical distance of about 2 inches. However, the Imagineers did such a convincing job of tricking your senses I was sure we had traveled from the Surface, past Crew Quarters, below Lab Services, and down to the Observation Level. This magical touch made the Living Seas that much more fun to explore as a child and I have some fond memories of visiting there.
Sadly, the sponsorship from United Technologies ended in 1998 and the Living Seas began to sink like a boat with a small hole at the bottom. The film was removed in 1999 and the Caribbean Coral Reef Ride closed in 2002. Two of the three main attractions were now gone and visitors to the Living Seas began to dry up. Fortunately, Disney recognized the decline in popularity and just happened to have a new smash hit movie called Finding Nemo. After the 2003 film delighted audiences, Disney started taking steps to infuse characters from the movie into the Living Seas. One of the first major introductions came in 2004 in the form of a new interactive show called Turtle Talk with Crush.
We will cover this totally awesome experience in full detail next week. For now, let’s just say audiences fell head over fins in love with the EAC surfing turtle. So much so, Disney decided to close the Sea Base Alpha portion of the pavilion in 2005 so they could completely refurbish the space with more Finding Nemo theming. The Hydrolators and space previously used for the pre-show film had to be removed to make room for a major expansion to the ride system. This gave the Imagineers enough room to add 280 ft. of omnimover track and 9 new dark ride scenes. When the newly refurbished pavilion opened in October of 2016, it shared the same title as the ride located inside, The Seas with Nemo & Friends.
So, now we can get back to finding our little orange clownfish! Today, you enter the pavilion and are greeted with cool temperatures and subdued lighting. The queue begins with a winding walk along the beach before taking your under pier 5A, and eventually underwater. Of course you don’t actually get wet, but the descending walk serves the same purpose as the Hydrolator of old; allowing your imagination to take you under the sea. Shortly before you board your Clamobile, the feeling of walking along the ocean floor is reinforced by looking up to see the bottom of boats and lights flickering from the surface above.
Next, you walk into your omnimover Clamobile and it is off to explore the big blue world as you keep an eye out for Nemo. The journey follows the tale from Finding Nemo and the Imagineers have cleverly recreated several of the film’s most popular scenes in a variety of ways. The adventure begins by entering the coral reef and finding Mr. Ray collecting his school of explorers. This and other scenes utilize a combination of hand crafted seascapes infused with digital screens, making it seem like the characters are swimming through the space. Nemo will occasionally reveal himself to the audience by swimming in and out of these spaces. However, Marlin and Dory aren’t lucky enough to see the little guy and the ride continues taking you on their journey to find him.
One of my favorite scenes in the ride is the Jellyfish room. As you glide along the ocean floor you are suddenly surrounded by dozens of large jellyfish floating up and down. Blacklight gives the pink jellyfish a bioluminescent glow. Fortunately, these aren’t the real thing and only Marlin is subjected to their painful sting. Moving on you will come to the abandoned ship home to Bruce and his shark pals. Pay close attention and you will notice Nemo swimming in and out of some clever hiding spots.
The most immersive part of the ride might be the EAC tunnel. Here, you see the current of water streaming by and inside Crush, Squirt, and Nemo can be seen swimming back and forth. Your ride vehicle moves in sync with the projected characters and bubbles giving the feeling that you are caught up in the EAC yourself. The righteous music and effects will have you saying, “Dude, that was totally awesome!”
The ride doesn’t end there though. In the final scenes, Marlin and Dory do find Nemo and the three can be seen swimming with a couple hundred friends. What does that mean? Well, you see the animated characters from the movie swimming inside the real aquarium with hundreds of live salt water fish! Your ride vehicle continues to move past large glass windows that look into the aquarium and along the way all of Nemo’s friends make a final appearance. One window has Mr. Ray swimming with his school of fish and the next has Squirt doing barrel rolls next to Crush as the live fish swim in the background. Seeing the animated characters sharing the space with the live fish is a touch of Disney magic kids of all ages are sure to enjoy.
The cherry on top is the brief appearance by the pink-red starfish named Peach. You can find her clinging onto the final frame of glass as she admires you going by. Listen carefully and you may hear her asking to see your dental work!
The ride concludes with an inspirational musical number, “Big Blue World,” as the characters encourage you to continue exploring once you exit your Clamobile. When you come off the ride, you will be on Level 1 of the Sea Base. This level is home to Turtle Talk with Crush, Bruce’s Shark World, and Manatees Up Close. Level 2 is home to the incredible undersea viewing areas Fish Up Close and Dolphins Up Close. You can also see the other level of Manatees Up Close and find the Explorer’s Club here.
Let’s take a few minutes to put this all in perspective. When you arrive on the second floor of Sea Base, you will be surrounded by a 360 observation deck that brings you face to face with over 4,000 sea creatures representing 60 different species. You will find sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and more swimming through the 5.7 million gallons of salt water. The Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium is one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world! If you really want to see the tank come to life, plan on stopping in at 10:00 am or 3:30 pm. Twice daily you can witness the fish being fed as a cast member offers fascinating details about the sea life before you.
Back down on Level 1, kids will love exploring Bruce’s Shark World. When you enter this area there is a giant head of Bruce that serves as a great photo op. For brave little souls, you can climb inside the mouth of the friendly Great White and take a picture surrounded by rows of sharp looking teeth. Inside Bruce’s Sub Shop, kids will also find Bruce’s friends Anchor and Chum. The area is part playground and part interactive exhibit. The goal here is to teach the truth about sharks in a fun way. Kids will learn what sharks really like to eat (not humans by the way) and what a shark’s skin feels like.
If a friendly fish encounter is more your speed be sure to check out the small aquariums that showcase real clownfish and other sea life from “Finding Nemo.” Seeing the tiny little orange and white fish in real life helps to illustrate their need for hiding in coral reefs and living in sea anemones. One of my favorite specimens in this area are the sea horses. This is another species that is very small and consequently takes shelter in sea grass and coral reefs. The intricate detail of a sea horse is just fascinating to me. Their tiny little dorsal fins and unique upright swimming position make them look rather alien next to a clownfish.
Of course, much bigger sea life is also on display: dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees. There really is a whole lot to explore in the Sea Base. I think that is very important to understand this point before you visit The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Don’t think of this as a building with a ride inside, but rather an area small kids may want to spend a couple of hours exploring. I know that sounds a little crazy, a couple of hours in only one part of Epcot? Well, think of it this way. If you were to take this whole pavilion and place it in an average size city, I would bet you money parents would pay to take their kids here to spend half a day. Like I said at the beginning of the podcast, I have been to stand alone aquariums that have a comparable list of things to see, and a much smaller tank to see them in. Not to mention, these places don’t have the magic of Disney in the form of Finding Nemo characters.
The problem I see too often, and I’m guilty of this myself, is that we think we have to hurry to the next ride or show before we have finished enjoying all there is to do where we currently stand. As adults we have most likely seen sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins many times, so we rush the youngest members of our group through the exhibit, letting them get a drive-by view just before dragging them onward to make sure we don’t miss our next Fastpass+. Wouldn’t it be better to let them explore to their heart’s content?
Well, if this will be your first time to visit The Seas with Nemo & Friends, I hope you will think about doing just that. The ride itself is a cute slow moving journey through the film, but it is not going to be the most memorable experience you have. If you go in just to do the ride and rush through the Sea Base I think you will be a little disappointed. However, if you view the ride as it is intended, an introduction to the Big Blue World, you will have a great time. I recommend planning at least an hour for first time visitors with young children. The ride and Turtle Talk with Crush will easily take up 30 minutes together, leaving you another 30 minutes to take your time exploring the Sea Base.
Now, if this is your tenth time to visit Epcot chances are you won’t want to spend an hour in the pavilion. You may want to spend even more! What? Have I gone crazy? Nope, just building some anticipation before I tell you about the rest this area has to offer. Even if you have been ten times, I’m going to bet you don’t know about the 3 tours The Seas has to offer. So, here we go:
- Epcot Seas Adventures – Dive Quest
SCUBA certified divers will enjoy a 3 hour experience in which they will get 40 minutes of dive time to explore the Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium. Guaranteed calm seas, no current, and crystal clear water make this a diver’s fantasy. Family members can watch their divers from the observation deck and a video can be purchased of your individual dive. Participants will also enjoy a backstage tour of the massive facility that maintains this man-made ocean. All guests must be SCUBA-certified and 10 years of age or older to participate. Guests 10-12 years of age must be accompanied by a paying adult, 18 years of age or older. You will need to provide proof of certification, such as a C-card or verification from a certifying agency. Dive Quest is only offered on select dates and the cost is currently $179 per adult.
- Epcot Seas Adventures – Aqua Tour
For those not certified to SCUBA, this tour offers the opportunity to snorkel in the aquarium for 30 minutes. The tour also offers a backstage look at the facility and lasts a total of 2.5 hours. A complimentary photo of you in your snorkel gear is provided, and you also receive a special Aqua Tour souvenir. Guests must be 8 years or older. Guests under 12 years of age must be accompanied by a paying adult, 18 years of age or older. The cost is currently $145 per adult.
- Epcot Seas Adventures – Dolphin in Depth
This 3 hour tour teaches you about the bottlenose dolphins found at The Seas. You will see how the dolphins are cared for, learn how they are trained backstage, and sit in on a training and research session. Last but not least, you get to interact with the dolphins in waist deep water for 30 minutes. A once in a lifetime photo op and souvenir are included. The tour is limited to only 8 guests per day, so early sign-up is highly recommended. Guests must be 13 years or older. Guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult, 18 years of age or older. For safety reasons, guests must be able to fully understand English. The cost is currently $199 per adult.
If any of these sound like a lifetime memory you want to make, reservations can be made by calling (407) WDW-TOUR, that’s (407) 939-8687.
Doesn’t that sound amazing? There is so much to do in this one little corner of Epcot, and we still have a whole podcast to go on Turtle Talk with Crush! I hope today has built up a little excitement for you and your family as you plan your visit to The Seas with Nemo & Friends. This is by no means my favorite ride in the parks, but kids will love it, and the real life aquarium makes this a can’t miss part of your trip. Whoever said Epcot wasn’t geared for kids just needs to spend a little more time with Nemo and his friends!