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Review - The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure

Little Mermaid ride entrance
Our rating:
4.5
User rating:
Your rating: None Average: 3.6 (125 votes)
(1 user review)

Disney California Adventure has finally opened its highly anticipated attraction, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure. I have an annual Disney pass that has allowed me to visit the park as much as I've wanted during the construction period. Each and every visit brought new levels of sheer excitement as I watched walls going up and heard the loud tinkering of crew members bringing Ariel's story to life for us.

The day of the grand opening finally came and I knew that the line would be long, but I had no idea as to how chaotic it would be. I soon learned that there is no FASTPASS for this ride. You just have to find your way to the starting point of the line and patiently await your turn - a task that was confusing at first because the line seemed to be going in every which direction, wrapping through the covered pavilion and spilling out beyond the attraction.

A note on spoilers: this review contains some plot spoilers later on - for those that wish to avoid them, stop reading when you reach the spoiler warning.

Pulling in the crowds

The wait time was an hour and a half when I got there, so I chose to come back a little later. Silly me! When I came back, I found the wait time to be two hours. At that point, I decided to suck it up and get in line. The funny thing is that one might expect this fun undersea adventure to attract mostly children, but the line was filled with adults over the age of thirty. I think that those of us who were children when The Little Mermaid came out in theatres wanted to recapture that nostalgia!

Little Mermaid ride entrance
The exterior of the new ride's building looks impressive.

The building itself is a beautiful architectural piece with its sandcastle coloring, carved mermaids and structured arches, but lacks in excitement when you compare it to, say, Disneyland's Haunted Mansion (which will be a common comparison since the rides share a similar layout and car system). To be fair, the two hour long wait did leave me with quite a bit of extra time to pick the ride apart, but I still believe that there should have been more detail and/or interactive devices added in the line area since the majority of the wait time is spent outdoors under an awning. To be specific, I would have loved to see character elements involved in addition to the nautical embellishments to give the waiting experience some personality.

Attention to detail

To highlight some details, I think that people will be pleased to find classic elements such as brass fixtures and railings that resemble water bubbles, seaweed and sea urchins. A keen eye might recognize the formation of Mickey Mouse heads made by the bubble detailing. They’re not quite "Hidden Mickeys", but they’re still fun to notice!

Little Mermaid wall decoration
Disney's legendary attention to detail is in evidence everywhere on the new ride.

What interested me most was that the décor wasn’t fluid throughout the line. Rather, some sections were covered in tiny overhead light bulbs whereas other parts boasted modern spherical light posts. Yes, lighting was a major theme in the line area. As for the flooring, some parts of the pavement played home to tiny embedded seashells, yet other parts made way for little bands of mosaics depicting character-esque silhouettes. Keeping in mind that the outside portion of the building was kept simple and classic, I have to admit that they did a beautiful job with the individual accents.

Bubble kiosk

The bubble kiosk is a welcome distraction when waiting in line.

One fun addition to the experience was a bubble kiosk next to the line. It was manned by a single cast member who continuously doused passersby with soapy bubbles from Disney-themed bubble guns. It was adorable to see the interaction between the bubble making cast member and the children who were lucky enough to walk past him. It worked out well for those of us in line, too, because we got to enjoy some of the rogue bubbles that made their way over our heads whenever the wind would blow. It also helped to entertain us when the ride shut down for about ten minutes. An official announcement wasn’t made, but the line had come to a halt. When it began moving again, the crowd cheered!

Boarding the OmniMover

Little Mermaid mural

The mural is a highlight of the queue for The Little Mermaid ride.
Image © Disney

The line eventually took me inside the building, at which time the wait was only mere minutes. This is the one portion of the line that I wish I could have stood in longer, as there was a beautiful mural behind the line of cars depicting Prince Eric’s ship, Ariel lounging on a rock and Prince Eric’s castle. It was absolute eye candy!

Boarding station

The boarding process is similar to that of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.

Nautically dressed ride attendants made sure that everyone found a clamshell shaped car in the continuous loading system to ride in (up to four people per car, unlike The Haunted Mansion’s three person limit) and then we were off. It was a quick and efficient process.

Heading under the sea

Spoiler warning: This section contains plot spoilers for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.

I passed under a wrecked ship façade and into Ariel’s story, told by Scuttle the seagull. It wasn’t long before the cars tipped back and “lowered” riders into the sea. The experience was heightened by a projection of water bubbles on the back of each car, so that the riders could see the water line on the cars in front of them. Add to that a gust of cold air and the muffled sound of water gurgles, and you really did feel as though you were on an undersea adventure.

Shipwreck scene

A shipwreck marks the start of the adventure.

The ride incorporated four famous Little Mermaid songs: Part of Your World; Under the Sea; Poor Unfortunate Souls; Kiss the Girl. Each song was coordinated with a large scale scene, with “Under the Sea” being the most elaborate of the scenes.

Little Mermaid scene

The underwater scenes are packed with color and characters.
Image © Disney

The “Under the Sea” scene was set in a circle that allowed riders to travel around for a 180 degree perspective. It included an array of creatures playing in a musical band with dancing lobsters, a spinning octopus, fish playing horns and Ariel herself dancing up a storm! Speaking of Ariel…

The animatronics on this ride were breathtaking! Ariel’s movements were incredibly realistic. I actually found myself doing a lot of double takes. I have to say, though, that Prince Eric’s facial features were much more spot on than Ariel’s. There was something a tad bit creepy about her mouth and eyes, almost as if she were modeled after a ventriloquist doll. You can get an idea of this from the video below (courtesy of Asianjma123):

I thought that the coloring throughout the ride was brilliant! There were rich orange and pink tones to give a beautiful sunset effect above the water, a nice mix of deep and electric blues to make wave reflections, slightly murky greens for the shipwreck scene, vibrant neons in the underwater band scene, inky black-light effects in Ursula’s villainous lair, and romantic lighting over deeper neons for the “Kiss the Girl” scene near the end of the ride. In fact, the natural light as I was getting off the ride hurt my eyes after all of that visual input!

Coming up for air

A word of caution: I highly recommend watching your step coming off of the ride. Boarding the ride felt much more natural than disembarking onto the conveyor belt (perhaps because I’m right-handed and boarded to the right vs. disembarking to the left), and the design doesn't leave a whole lot of room to give you time to step off comfortably.

Little Mermaid ride exit
Reaching the ride's exit is not as easy at it could be.

I could see the situation becoming a little hairy if families with small children aren’t as quick to exit as the other cars. Again, I have to mention the Haunted Mansion because that attraction incorporated a much longer belt to exit on. Considering the overall enormous size of the Little Mermaid attraction, one would expect a more efficient exit system.

Our thoughts

All in all, I was impressed with the approximately 6 minute ride. It was built on a grand scale and delivered in the way of detail and frivolity. I’d even go so far as to say that it was worth the two hour wait in line, and I’ll definitely do it again!

Share your thoughts

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You can see more images of Disney's new dark ride in our The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure gallery.

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