Looking Closely at Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

Many have already written about their enthusiasm for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, which opened as part of the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World. Allow me to dive deeper into why this attraction works and why it should be a key part of your visit to the Magic Kingdom. If you want to be surprised by this attraction, don't read any further. But if you want to know what to look for when you visit, this is the article for you.

Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid is a great attraction with a long title. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Walt Disney World has long had an attraction based on The Little Mermaid; the stage production at Disney's Hollywood Studios has been popular for years. It's a labor intensive show, however, and one wonders if it won't go the way of the Legend of the Lion King, which was once housed in what is now Mickey's PhilarMagic now that the new marquee attraction has opened.

Speaking of PhilharMagic, you will need to stop there before heading to the new Mermaid attraction if you want to get a Fastpass. The machines once used for the attraction have been converted to dispense Under the Sea Fastpasses. However, you might not need to use a Fastpass here; the ride has a high capacity and can move a lot of people through quickly. In addition, the Fastpass queue bypasses much of the wonderful detail found throughout the attraction's entrance.

Fastpass tickets for both Under the Sea and Winnie the Pooh are found outside of Mickey's Philharmagic. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

As you approach the attraction, the entrance begins to tell the story of The Little Mermaid even if you're not familiar with the film itself. 

Ariel, carved into the bow of a wrecked ship, greets you at the entrance. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is so much detail to discover, even before you've joined the queue. Look up into Eric's castle perched above to see many the tentacle architectural arms holding up one of the balconies.

Prince Eric's crest adorns the facade. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

An elaborate plaque heralds the name of the attraction. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Four characters from the film adorn the plaque's four corners: Triton, Ursula, Flounder and Sebastian. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Tucked behind the rock supporting the plaque is a starfish who appears to hold up the rock, protecting another starfish from being squashed. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Disney could have used standard metal rods for stanchions, simply rusted for theming, but instead have added an urchin-style head. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Returning to the Fastpass issue, let's quickly examine that path. As always, there are two entrances.

Head to the right to enter the Fastpass line. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

What do you see along your Fastpass journey? Not much, just the backside of water.

Try the Jungle Cruise if you want to see this. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

After taking the path on the right, you head indoors and merge near the front of the queue. It is quick, but you miss most of the experience. If your goal is just to go on the ride, take this route, but you will miss the amazing, immersive experience of the standby queue.

Taking the standby path puts you on another journey. Like this:

Now walking along the front side of the same waterfall, Eric's row boat is visible just to the right. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Because of the omnimover system, the queue has generally been some 25 to 40 minutes in length during the preview days. Like its Disney California Adventure counterpart, visitors can expect long lines in the early opening days that should level off over time.

The standby queue weaves in and out of grottos. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Water seems to be such a wonderful part of this attraction, and throughout New Fantasyland. The older parts of Fantasyland are on top of the utilidor, and as such, don't allow for digging down. In the area of Under the Sea, where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea once stood, water has returned. Speaking of that former attraction, look around and you see nods to the former tenant:

Look closely to see an imprint of a Nautilus in the rock. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Even the drinking fountains in the queue are themed. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Shipwrecks and other debris from the sea are washed up into the grotto as water sprays in from. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I should also note the music, which adds a nautical twist to the tunes found in The Little Mermaid movie. It's nice, but unlike the Belle's Village section of the park, it doesn't incorporate songs from the Broadway show, or even songs created for Tokyo Disneyland's attraction. For those who love Disney music, that would have been a nice treat and it's disappointing that it's not included.

At one point you reach a sign from our favorite mermaid: "Dear friends – A storm mixed up our human stuff! The crabs need your help cleaning up. If a crab brings out something that doesn't match the stuff around it—Just point at it and the crab will take it away. Thanks, Ariel."

A message from Ariel. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

At several locations you will find small blue crabs moving items to and fro. I spoke to an insider about this. It's simply not working very well in terms of reading people's pointed gestures. But this isn't the only problem. With the attraction using an Omnimover vehicle they can move a lot of guests through quickly. So you don't stand around very long. Usually, that's a good thing. But there is so much to see, that you don't get to spend much time looking at everything around you. The good news is that creates a great repeatability factor in wanting to come back and see the attraction again.

Blue crabs at work. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Eventually you reach Scuttle who also explains the crazy things these crabs are up to, servin as an emcee of the attraction and helping to explain, in his own scatterbrained way, what is going on. From there you enter caverns that seem to be beneath Eric's castle. In one area, you walk into a rotunda that hosts a number of poems and images from the sea.

Our queue weaves through this rotunda. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Here's what these poems say in their own whimsical style:

A monstrous beast has risen up
To rule the waters wide
What say you sailors shall we fight?
Or swim away and hide?

Upon the rocks the siren's call
Has shattered vessels numerous
But bringing sailors to their doom
The sirens find quite humorous

Come fierce and cruel Leviathan
Our noble king commands
But while he keenly scans the sea
The fish makes other plans

Oh sing to me of mighty kings
With hearts so brave and true
Who fiercely faced rampagmy [?] beasts
And sternly whispered "shoo!"

In this area, you pass near a set of stairs leading into the kitchen, and if you have a chance to linger, you can hear the chef cooking up plenty of fish.

"How I love les poissons." Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Exiting the caverns, the standby line enters the boarding area of the attraction where it merges with the Fastpass queue. At this point it's plain to can see how much you miss when you don't take the standby line.

Nautical bas relief work adorns the columns and arches. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The clam shell ride vehicles used in Under the Sea are unlike the ones in The Seas With Nemo & Friends at Epcot, and instead are comparable to those at Under the Sea's sister attraction at Disney California Adventure.

The Magic Kingdom's mural paints a sunset, differing from the traditional "dark ride" mural found at Disney California Adventure. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

For that matter, the attraction from here on out is very much like Disney California Adventure. However, since most guests will have not seen that attraction, they're in for a treat.  Entering the hull of a wrecked ship, riders encounter Scuttle, who sets the scene.

Scuttle makes a great emcee. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

From here it's time to go under the sea.

Going under is a great effect visually and physically, as you feel a rush of air along with the images. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Ariel has returned from finding human trinkets and treasures and laments not being part of the human world in her secret grotto.

Eric's statue has already found its home in Ariel's grotto. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

After exiting Ariel's grotto, the ride enters its showpiece, where Sebastian leads the entire underwater kingdom in a rousing tune of "Under the Sea." This section is to this attraction as the auction scene is to Pirates of the Caribbean, or the ballroom is to the Haunted Mansion. It's very memorable.

There are so many details, it's hard to catch all of them in one ride through. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The attraction brings the movie alive with all of its memorable characters. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Ariel sings along, this time with a better hair piece than she first had at Disney California Adventure. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Leaving the singing behind, you soon pass Flotsam and Jetsam who act as gate keepers to Ursula's lair.

Ursula is an amazing animatronic creature. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Just as Ariel becomes human and heads to the surface, so do we, where we encounter her in the "Kiss the Girl" scene with Eric on the boat.

All of the most memorable moments of the film are depicted, even if many of the minor plot details are left out. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Perhaps the story becomes too cryptic at this point, as the ride quickly compresses the remaining story from the film. We really don't see how the plot evolves, but we know that Ursula is destroyed and Ariel gets her voice back. That leads us into the final scene where Eric and Ariel, now married, greet King Triton, as well as the other subjects of the sea. Scuttle closes our story and we are brought to the exit of the attraction.

Just as there are three appearances by Scuttle, both Sebastian and Flounder also makes three appearances. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

As you exit, take a moment to look out over the mural. If you're a fan of Hidden Mickeys, you may spot one in the clouds.

They don't make this Hidden Mickey easy to find. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

When you leave the New Fantasyland it might sink in how many details there are to see in this, the biggest addition to one of the most popular lands, of the biggest theme park in the world.

The Magic Kingdom is truly more magical than ever.


  1. By averagecuppajoe

    The version in DCA is cute, but underwhelming. Just another dak ride (updated) that easily would've fit into Fantasy Land. It's nice to have it, and I never see a line, but I wouldn't wait in line for it. If it had a stunning que like the new version, it would've been much more impressive.

    In the dvd bonus features that show the concept for a new Little Mermaid ride, going under the water and being able to look up over the water was very impressive. That element wasn't included. Sure a blow of air is a nice touch, but not the same.

  2. By Toocherie

    I took my Mom (who doesn't know the Ariel storyline) on the ride in DCA and was amused at the end where King Triton appears and she asked: "who's the naked guy?"

  3. By carolinakid

    I enjoyed the ride itself, don't get me wrong, but found it a bit underwheming for such a magnificent attraction building. Was expecting more like the next level of dark ride but it still seemed pretty 20th century to me. Because of that, I rank Peter Pan still the best!

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