Welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide podcast! Last week we covered the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, pretty much a guaranteed good time for the whole family. That’s a ride you don’t want to miss. Today’s ride, however, is a little different. From the Mine Train,we are moving just next door and diving under the sea to find everyone’s favorite mermaid, Ariel. Her ride is not a roller coaster like the dwarfs, but it does offer an immersive environment. If you have any little mermaids in your group, this is a journey they will most certainly enjoy. What can you expect from this ride? Well, let’s get started with our…
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The ride is located in the Magic Kingdom in Fantasyland
- There is no height requirement
- 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 of older
- The ride is 6 minutes long
- The ride opened on December 6, 2012. It underwent a minor, month-long refurbishment in February 2015.
Those are the facts, now onto the fun!
If you have ever longed to be part of Ariel’s world in the same way she longs to be part of the human world, then this is the ride for you! Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid is a modern day take on the classic Disney dark ride. You will get to relive the 1989 animated film when you climb aboard your clamshell omnimover vehicle.
The 28th film in the Walt Disney Animated library brought about a renaissance to Walt Disney Animation. It had been almost 2 decades since a film resonated with audiences the way The Little Mermaid did. Little girls all over the world fell in love with Ariel. Her bright red hair, adventurous spirit, and incredible singing voice made her a hero for a new generation. She was joined by a fun cast of friends like Flounder and Sebastian, and took audiences on a journey they wanted to live over and over again. Just what was so appealing about this film? Why did it succeed where previous films had not? Well, you could argue the multiple strengths of The Little Mermaid, but I think above all else it was the music. This film didn’t rest on just one song though, it had one memorable hit after another.
That is very important when understanding not only the ride we are discussing today, but the show that preceded it over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After the film became a huge success, Disney Imagineers created a stage show entitled Voyage of The Little Mermaid. This 17 minute performance brings the film to life through both Audio-Animatronics and live actors. It opened on January 7, 1992 and was originally planned to run for just a year or two. They thought the popularity of The Little Mermaid would eventually die down and newer films could be spotlighted in this same space. However, audiences were so delighted to hear their favorite songs, “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” that the show has remained in place for over 24 years! What started as a temporary solution for audience demand, became a staple at that park.
With an unexpected fan favorite already in place at Walt Disney World, the idea for a Little Mermaid themed ride was not needed in Orlando. However, Disney wanted to utilize their new franchise where they could, so Tony Baxter developed a full ride concept for Euro Disney back in 1994. For many reasons we won’t take the time to cover today, The Little Mermaid got pushed to the back burner and the ride did not open in Europe as originally planned. Fortunately for us, the ride was so far along that there is a concept video showing the original concept. Check it out below!
The video is proof that the ride was a good idea, but in 1994, the timing wasn’t right to bring it to life. Instead, like many Disney ideas, it sat on a shelf, waiting for the right time to come.
That time would turn out to be a long time, as it wasn’t until October of 2007 that Disney announced it would bring The Little Mermaid to life in ride form at Disney’s California Adventure, opening in 2011. Disney also announced in 2009 that the ride would be brought to Walt Disney World as part of the new Fantasyland expansion. Fast forward to 2012 and the ride was open on both coasts. Both versions contain many of the same concepts as Baxter’s original 1994 concept. Today, the story of Ariel has been brought to life in sight, and of course sound. Like Voyage of The Little Mermaid over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this ride is all about the music.
With that in mind, let’s take a little musical journey through the world of Ariel. The ride begins with an introduction to our story from Scuttle, followed by your omnimover clamshell rotating around to face backwards. This begins your gentle journey down a slope as you go under the sea, watching bubbles float to the surface above. I’m speaking metaphorically here, you will remain dry throughout the ride. The first familiar notes are those we listened to earlier as Ariel sings about being part of our world. We won’t reprise that song now, but let’s join Ariel in the next room and see if the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake…
Well, that is truly a hot crustacean band! Just as this is a blockbuster scene in the movie, it is the focal point of the ride. The giant space is filled with clams that know how to jam, and blowfish that blow! In fact, over 125 of the 180 plus characters found on the ride call this room home. Sebastian and his orchestra fill the underwater cavern with color, sound, and movement. This is even easier to see after the refurbishment in early 2015. The lighting was changed in this and several other scenes to dim the background and make the characters pop even more.
All of this means there is a lot to take in, making it my favorite spot in the ride for repeat visits. Not everything can be as upbeat and cheery as the Under the Sea number. Yep, you guessed it, Ursula is just around the corner and her pair of electric eels are ready to welcome you into her lair. Flotsam and Jetsam promise help for poor Ariel, but let’s hope she doesn’t end up as just another poor unfortunate soul…
If you have any little ones afraid of the giant sea witch, don’t worry. Your time with the 7 1/2 foot tall Ursula is very short and there is a much happier scene just ahead. Ariel may have lost her voice when you next see her but romance is in the air and Sebastian is at it again, ready to set the mood.
As your clamshell glides away from Eric and Ariel your time in the blue lagoon is growing very short. Soon the voice of Scuttle can be heard narrating the end of our story as fireworks explode in the backdrop. As you might have guessed, everything works out for The Little Mermaid.
When you unload from your clamshell you still have a great experience waiting to be discovered. Just a fin flap away from the ride’s exit is Ariel’s Grotto. This is the character meet ’n’ greet area for the red haired girl with the green tail. The line here is usually not very long and Ariel is eager to ask new friends if they have any dingle hoppers with them. Of all the characters you may meet on a Walt Disney World vacation, I think it safe to say Ariel will be one of the nicest and most curious characters you will find. She will be in mermaid form for this photo shoot, so expect to see her shiny tail and purple clamshell bra.
You know, now that I think about it this may be one of my favorite places in the park for pictures, and no it’s not because Ariel is in mermaid form. The outdoor queue and surrounding area for this ride are so detailed and so alive that it makes for great pictures. Prince Eric’s castle overlooks the rocky passages and wooden bridges down below. You begin by passing a large ship with a very recognizable mermaid at the mast. From there the path winds through water filled crevices and pools. As you continue on you encounter a large waterfall that pours over the rocks and splashes into the water below. Eventually, you begin winding your way underground and it feels like you have entered a cave with a sandy beach awaiting at the other end. Inside you meet up with Scuttle. He is busy telling jokes and warming up the audience for the ride ahead. Most of the time the queue is so short you can walk right by Scuttle without stopping. However, I recommend you pause here for just a minute or two so you can enjoy the comedic relief of this fun character. Overall, the theming in the queue is so convincing that you feel transported to a fantastic realm on the edge of the ocean. For me personally, I enjoy the walk through the queue almost as much as I do the ride itself!
Oh, one more really cool tidbit of Disney history lies in the queue. If you ever visited the Magic Kingdom from 1971 to 1994 you may remember a fan favorite ride that once resided in the area now occupied by Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid. That ride also took guests on a journey under the sea. Do you know what it was? What if I gave you 20,000 guesses? Ah, yes, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the submarine voyage that originally occupied this piece of real estate. Sadly, the ride closed in 1994, but all was not lost. The lagoon remained mostly intact for another decade and a couple of the submarines have survived to this day. When it came time to drain the lagoon and make way for new rides, someone decided to save a small bottle of water from the lagoon. In that way the spirit of the ride could live on forever. Well, that bottle of water was kept safe and sound until it was time for Ariel’s new ride to debut. The queue for Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid was filled with water, but it needed a little something special to complete the magic. The bottle of water salvaged from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was poured into the pond of the new queue and finally old ride and new were joined in spirit. Pretty cool huh?
Well, I hope this little journey has been a fun one for you today. Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid is a cute ride the whole family can enjoy together. You don’t need a Fastpass+ and you don’t even need to plan ahead too much for this ride. Just step inside when you find yourself in the area and enjoy the sounds of The Little Mermaid. Say hi to Ariel while you are there and be sure and grab some good pics of the immersive queue.
I want to sincerely thank you for joining me today! It has been my pleasure to guide you through this WDW ride. Also, let me give a big shout out to the WDW Magazine and say thank you for featuring us in this month’s edition. Be sure and check out the WDW Magazine as this is another great resource in helping you plan your next Disney vacation.
Finally, if I can personally help you plan your next Disney trip I would love to do so. I am an authorized Disney Vacation Specialist and I love helping you create lifelong memories with your favorite riding crew. Click here to learn more.
For now I hope you have a great week, and I hope you will come back again. We have lots left to explore! Until next time make each day a ride worth taking!