Across the esplanade from Disneyland’s most beloved Fantasyland attractions sits Disney California Adventure, a theme park previously home of little to feel nostalgic about - until today. The opening of The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure adds a much-needed classic Disneyland feeling to a park that in the past lacked that Disney magic touch. (And there was plenty of magic to be found in the musical performances during the ride’s grand opening ceremony too. Watch here.)
As guests journey “under the sea” with Ariel and friends, the new dark ride inspired by The Little Mermaid simply feels like it’s always been there, right along side Peter Pan’s Flight and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. But Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) dark ride. A slow-moving adventure on the surface, The Little Mermaid ride packs in an impressive number of moving creatures, elaborate scenes, and animated figures that only today’s Audio-Animatronics technology can achieve. This ride leaves the relatively static figures found in other Disney dark rides behind, offering colorful and kinetic scenes that require multiple rides through to catch even half of the details.
But don’t take my word for it. While The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is best experienced in person, riding in a clam shell with friends and family, it also translates rather well to video, reminiscent of the animated classic it’s based on.
Enjoy a complete video trip through The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure:
When The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure officially opened to the public on the morning of June 3, the response was tremendous from excited guests waiting to board a clam shell for the first time. In the morning, the wrapped clear around the park, stretching through Paradise Park, down past Grizzly River Run and the entrance to the Grand Californian Hotel, and past Soarin’ toward the park’s entrance. It promised to be a wait time of several hours for these eager guests.
I walked the line at around 10:30am on June 3, 30 minutes after the park opened. Here’s a video showing just how many people were waiting to ride:
At roughly 6 minutes long, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure offers far more time immersed into Disney’s fantasy world than the average dark ride. Even so, the ride ultimately feels rushed in the end. So much emphasis is put on the impressive first and second acts that the final third act doesn’t quite wrap up the experience, in jumping to the grand finale. But such is often the case with Disney’s dark rides. Snow White is suddenly awakened at the end. Captain Hook is suddenly defeated. Blink and you might miss them. It’s more fun to set the stage and enjoy the journey and music than to focus on the fact that it’s all coming to an end.
Especially impressive during the journey is the gigantic Ursula animatronic, which can not only move fluidly, but also “squash” and “stretch,” two tools an animator loves to use when depicting movement.
Ariel herself shows off more facial expressions while speaking and singing than has previously been seen in similar Disney dark rides.
The ride uniquely combines different types of show elements to create one cohesive experience. Audio-animatronics figures are paired with computer generated imagery, each appearing when most appropriate. Large festive scenes are lit colorfully with standard show lighting whereas more sinister scenes heavily use blacklight, which all too often dominates some dark rides. It’s clear that Disney’s designers tried to match the look of each scene from the film using a variety of techniques.
While The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is certainly not a big new E-ticket attraction (like Radiator Springs Racers in Carsland will be when it opens nearby next year), the ride adds a welcome and obvious Disney touch to a park that is quickly shaping up to become the worthy Disneyland counterpart it always was intended to be.