By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Under the Sea — Journey 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

When the animated feature film The Little Mermaid debuted in theaters in 1989, it was a massive critical and financial success, and Imagineers immediately began developing ideas for an attraction.

One plan for a dark ride for Disneyland Paris designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter was included as an “extra” in the 2006 Platinum Edition DVD of The Little Mermaid. It was also announced that there would be Little Mermaid attractions at Tokyo DisneySea and Hong Kong Disneyland.

However, for a variety of reasons, none of these proposals became a reality. Ariel’s presence in the parks was primarily limited to parades, character meets, and the Voyage of The Little Mermaid show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

It wasn’t until June 3, 2011 that guests were finally able to journey under the sea with The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure attraction which debuted at Disney California Adventure.

In 2014, several enhancements were made including adding new sea creature figures throughout the ride, a view of King Triton’s castle, and the “Under the Sea” scene was given a blacklight treatment. The Ariel and Prince Eric figures’ sculpted hair was replaced with realistic hair in the “Kiss the Girl” and “finale” scenes.

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom received a nearly identical version of the California attraction except for a different exterior (Prince Eric’s castle) and queue. Titled Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, it debuted with the park’s New Fantasyland on December 6, 2012.

One of the reasons for the difference in the name of the WDW attraction is that is built on the same spot of land that once featured the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. Homage to that attraction can be found in an imprint of the classic Nautilus submarine on one of the rock formations before entering the attraction.

When the submarine attraction closed in 1994, Imagineers bottled up some of the attraction’s water and carefully labeled and stored it for almost twenty years. During the official event for the new attraction’s opening, the bottles were opened and poured into its waters.

Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid is a standard Disney “dark ride,” where guests in vehicles travel through scenes from a classic Disney animated film. In this case, the vehicles are ominmover pastel-colored clamshells that transport guests on a winding track for approximately five and a half minutes (twice the time of Peter Pan’s Flight) from the time guests board the clamshell to the time they exit the clamshell.

As the vehicle turns and tilts backward, bubble effects projected on the clamshell in front of you, and a rush of cool air provides the illusion of going “under the sea” into the story of Ariel.

Senior Show Producer Lisa Girolami explained, “We had to create more of the ‘Under the Sea’ [scene], because those are very short little clips in the film. There are 128 animated characters in this scene, ranging in complexity from a whirling octopus and a lifelike Sebastian figure, to fish that bob back and forth and 50 sea stars that spin on the coral. There are 183 character figures in the attraction with more than 70 percent just in this scene.”

As they were developing the attraction, the Imagineers brought in co-directors of the film John Musker and Ron Clements as well as Ariel’s animator Glen Keane to consult and they agreed to the final scene where Eric and Ariel are married and waving to their subjects and friends because of the spatial restrictions of the attraction.

One of the most impressive Hidden Mickeys in Walt Disney World is located within this attraction’s queue. It can only be seen on Mickey Mouse’s birthday, November 18 at noon! Disney Imagineers carved part of the rock formation in the queue to allow the sun to shine through on the dark rock wall. This special birthday Hidden Mickey can only be seen for about seven minutes.

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Thanks, Jim! I have a review of Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid here.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.


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