By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Voyage of the Little Mermaid

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a multimedia indoor stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that incorporates live performers, character costumes, a variety of puppets, water effects, lasers, a huge animation screen backdrop, and more, to immerse audiences into an approximately fifteen minute re-telling of the popular Disney animated feature The Little Mermaid (1989).

Here Come the Muppets ran in the same Animation Courtyard Theater from May 25, 1990, to September 2, 1991. The device utilized for that show to have the front of a monorail crash onto stage with the Muppets and later retract is the same one used now to move Ariel’s rock.

(C) Disney

The Voyage of The Little Mermaid was meant to be a temporary placeholder show, designed to last perhaps two years. It was only budgeted at approximately five and half million dollars.

The director was Fran Soeder, who also directed The Legend of the Lion King puppet show at the Magic Kingdom and The Hunchback of Notre Dame show at the Studios, among many other accomplishments. Once the show was up and running, Michael Korkis took over as maintenance director for the next five years.

In the pre-show, low-ceilinged (to help establish a feeling of going under the sea) waiting area, guests are surrounded by a nautical theme and many clever artifacts including one of Captain Nemo’s diving suits and a peg leg worn by L.J. Silver (the pirate Long John Silver from Disney’s live action feature Treasure Island).

King Triton’s trident hangs on the wall leading into the theater and glows when it is time to enter. The Heffelginger Brain Coral is a reference to Jim Heffelfinger who was the General Manager of Entertainment at WDW.

Ariel is a live performer with a microphone attached to her wig so that she actually sings. The performer has previously recorded a safety track so if during a show she experiences vocal problems, she can lip sync if needed. All the other singing in the show is pre-recorded.

The original Ariel was performed by Leanza Cornett, who eventually became Miss Florida and then later Miss America in 1993.

She was hired for the role in November 1991 along with Michelle Martin and a singer from the northeast named Jenny to cover all the shows. Even though Cornett won the pageant in September 1992 and left the role, she feared she would be unable to find a job after her reign so came back during her Easter break in 1993 to do the role again to keep her character status. She went on to be one of the hosts on Entertainment Tonight in 1994.

Miss Tampa, Nicole Padgett, a senior at University of South Florida majoring in psychology, who won the Miss Florida crown in 1993, also portrayed Ariel during the summer of 1993.

Originally, Ariel sat down in a hole on that big clam shell on a bicycle seat with pedals so she could manipulate the tail. That is not the case today.

There are over a hundred different puppets in the Under the Sea musical number with puppeteers responsible for some puppets connected together. The puppeteers are clothed completely in black so when the black light is on, the audience only sees the movement of the characters.

The Ursula puppet is impressively twelve feet tall and ten feet wide, and while her head turns, her tentacles have limited mobility.

The attraction went through a significant rehab in 2004. In 2007, there were rumors of the attraction closing so as not to be in conflict with the upcoming Broadway production based on the animated feature. However, the attraction continues to consistently bring in so many guests that it remained open.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Call Me Walt, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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