For a while now, Walt Disney World has been trying to find a way to squeeze The Little Mermaid into a worthy Magic Kingdom attraction. Some may remember Ariel’s Grotto, a somewhat hasty-lazy, but still amusing fun spot that used to be located in Fantasyland. This short-lived attraction was within my area of rotation when I worked as a WDW Cast Member, and as much as I loved it as a guest, I grew to hate it as a CM. Ariel’s Grotto was a splash-and-play area where rock “props”, water sprays and colorful foam ground lured guests into Ariel’s world. Within the cave situated toward the back, you could even meet the mermaid princess herself! Sounds fun, right? So, what was the problem with this magical little area? Guest common sense and restraint, or more precisely – the lack thereof. For some reason, this became an area where parents felt it appropriate to essentially drop off young children for CM supervision. Naturally, every child wanted to climb the rocks and other props, but it was quite obvious that these were not to be climbed upon. (Then again, maybe that’s just me. I also think it’s obviously inappropriate to be digging in planters and flower beds or splashing in decorative fountains… both of which I see on a regular basis.) I would go hoarse begging youngsters and any nearby parents I could locate to avoid the climbing, but repeated requests always went ignored. Inevitably, injuries became the norm. I can only assume that this was a strong reason behind the closure of the grotto play place. Magic Kingdom did seem to be lacking something with the absence of Disney’s resident mermaid, however. To the relief of adoring fans everywhere, the recent, massive Fantasyland expansion project paved the way for a new attraction; much more elaborate and universally entertaining. Journey of the Little Mermaid opened in December of 2012.
Though I have not been to Disney’s California Adventure yet, WDW’s tribute to Ariel is said to be very similar to California’s Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit too close in resemblance to The Seas With Nemo and Friends at Epcot for my liking. The ride vehicles are practically identical. Nemo has the added touch of a giant aquarium tweaked out with tech touches that give it an edge over Mermaid, but if we swapped the characters, you’d see no real difference in these attractions beyond that.
The exterior of the attraction is gorgeous, and will be familiar to guests as Prince Eric’s castle from The Little Mermaid film, situated up against jagged ocean cliffs. Within the walls of the castle resides the wonderfully cool queue, cleverly offering fun, interactive elements to while away your wait time. (… and wait you will! This ride is still new enough to be Fastpass mandatory.) The queue represents a beach and ocean setting, with touch screen play-along highlights, and a visit with a snarky Scuttle animatronic.
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