Ride Video/Review: The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure blends Disneyland dark ride nostalgia with new technology

in Disney, Disney's California Adventure, Disneyland Resort, Entertainment, Events, Featured, Movies, Theme Parks

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.

More photos from The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure:
(Photos by Josh Daws. Thanks to Jeremiah Daws for live-blogging the event.)


  1. Akemmi

    It’s a very well done ride, the animatronics are amazing! I can’t wait to go see it in person… but that will be a while yet so thanks for putting up a ride through vid Ricky!

  2. jackie

    Amazing dark ride! I was impressed on how smoothly the audio animatronics moved. I have one little nit picky complaint,which wasn’t much of a bother but i thought was worth mentioning, which is how you can still her music and dialogue (scuttle or under the sea) when you have either passed the scene or have yet to enter it. usually dark rides are a bit better whith that flow. Also, sebastians voice at the end telling you to exit to the left seemed remotely similar to the infamous track from snow white’s scary adventures (step out to your left. step out to your left please. step out to your left…)did anyone else catch that?

    1. Ricky Brigante

      This ride is definitely a bit louder and more open than others, so there is some audio bleed between scenes. It’s not terribly distracting when you’re on the ride though.

  3. joshdarkensins

    most of the ride looks fantastic. i still have problems with this ride though. for the amount of money and space they had i think they could have told a more cohesive story. I think disney could have done better. still is fantastic though. =T

    1. Ricky Brigante

      The story is simplified. Ariel is longing to be part of another world, Sebastian tries to convince her to stay under the sea, Ursula offers a chance to change that, Ariel transformers, she meets Eric, they kiss, Ursula is defeated, and all live happily ever after. The details in between from the film are all glossed over, but the general sense of what happened is there, even if it’s not exactly how you might remember it. 🙂

  4. Roxy

    OMG!!! I love it… Cant wait to go next year. They did an awesome job.

  5. Scott B

    I finally caved in and watched the on-ride video. It seems awesome. The thing that I think is funny is the way that it ends. If I didn’t see the movie, I would probably leave the ride thinking that Ursula came through for Ariel.

    “You know, that Ursula was pretty nice helping out Ariel like that!”

  6. Loved the ride. The animatronics, especially Ursula were great. But what was that weird silhouette scene? That was where the ursula death scene was supposed to be right (per the previs of the original ride on the Little Mermaid DVD)? Did they think it was too much of a downer and swap it at the last minute. Sure seemed that way to me. Also we had the irritating temporary stop message play 5 times during our ride, immediately followed by the resuming message. When it plays it abruptly mutes the sound on the ride but the characters keep moving their mouths… totally wrecks the illusion of the ride. They shouldn’t play that unless the ride is stuck for more than 15 seconds or so. Nobody’s gonna force their way off the omnimover in that amount of time. Also would it be so hard to have the characters stop their mouths while not talking? This works fine for the mostly disembodied voices in the Haunted Mansion, but it is just bad show on this ride. Anyway, it’s a nice D ticket. With this and the other fixes and additions at DCA the park is really becoming Disney quality.

  7. cindy

    that video was awsome i wish i was there for real butt at frist i didnt see anything and then i saw every thing butt the video was short

  8. Frozen Puddles

    This ride was a real let down. You can’t “make” something new be nostalgic. Yeah, you go on Small World and you can see the paste with sparkles thrown on or the kid like plaster of paris Woody and Jesse added recently that fit the common theme, but *that* was amazing for it’s time. There’s so much cool new technology out there, look at Buzz Lightyear’s face on the Buzz ride cue, it’s projected onto the animatronic and it looks really cool. Ariel’s animatronic mouth doesn’t do more than open and close on this ride regardless of what she’s saying and we know they have the technology to do better than that. My real beef is that there’s NO REAL WATER on this ride, the fish spitting up the water in the lagoon should be real water! This should’ve been a boat ride, like pirates, mixed with the newer technology they used on Nemo (projections etc) It still could be a Dark Ride but should’ve been more 21st century! I don’t think that just because it’s a kids ride it’s okay to make it cheap, kids these days know all about the cool technology that’s out there and it’s no excuse!

    1. Jason

      To be fair, the mouth projection isn’t any new technology, while working well it’s used well and pretty often throughout the resorts; when the audio-animatronic actually moves its mouth, that IS the “21st century technology” you’re talking about (you’re over-simplifying how Ariel talks, she does mouth the words naturally, not just open and close her mouth like the it’s a small world dolls). Figures have come a long way from simply saying nothing while a voice overhead has the dialogue.

      The boat ride I can understand, with the only problems they’d run into being how to do an ascent/descent and the loading numbers. But it could be pulled off. The projections wouldn’t be the right way to go, though, Pirates has actual animatronics with little projections; a projection-heavy dark ride would come across more cheap. Speaking of which…

      Where are you coming from that the ride is cheap? It wasn’t cheap by any standards with the detail they put. It cost overall about $100 million dollars to make, about half of what Radiator Springs Racers cost. Pretty hefty for a dark ride of any magnitude, and certainly more than any of the true Fantasyland dark rides across the esplanade.

      Just some thoughts.

  9. That really caeturps the spirit of it. Thanks for posting.

  10. Hola from Auckland!I stumbled upon your blogs when I was looking for BA restaurants and I love them! Im a big fan (if you didnt know you had fans you now have one, which is one away from a fan club)

  11. I demand to know why the MESSiah hasn’t stopped this storm in it’s tracks. After all, if the talking rectum can make the ocean’s level drop, then dissipating this hurricane should be child’s play.

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