Pros:Great interactive queue, amazing ride
Cons:One scene could be scary for small children, can have long waits
The Bottom Line: Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid is a great addition to the new Fantasyland and should be a must-see attraction for people of all ages
Since its opening in December of 2012, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid has been the #1 must-ride attraction for my family as we were planning our most recent Walt Disney World trip. The Little Mermaid was always one of my favorite Disney films growing up, so a whole ride that I had never ridden before dedicated to the film definitely intrigued me. After having ridden it (twice now), I can honestly say that it doesn't disappoint in the least.
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Located in the center of the massive renovation of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom, Under the Sea can be reached by walking straight through Fantasyland's new Castle Courtyard gates and heading for Prince Eric's castle. While much of the area is currently under construction (preparing for the Seven Dwarf's Mine Train opening next year), the queue is still easy to find after you get past the Be Our Guest Restaurant and Gaston's Tavern.
Once you reach the queue, there are certain touches that immediately jump out at you. While you can spend a lot of time checking out the "details" of the line (and trust me, the copious amounts of Ariel's treasure stored about the area is fun to look at), it is the interactive portions of the queue that my family and I found most interesting. The best part of the queue for me was an Audio-Animatronic Scuttle telling jokes and playing games to pass the time, though kids will like playing with the touch screens that appear throughout the line.
When you reach the ride portion of the attraction, you are loaded 2 or 3 at a time into clamshells that ride along an Omnimover ride system, much like the Clamobiles in The Seas with Nemo & Friends and the Doom Buggies in the Haunted Mansion. Maybe it was the advancements of the newest technologies, or maybe it was just my own excitement, but the ride cars felt smoother in their turns and rotations than they do in the Haunted Mansion (since you don't really turn at all in The Seas, there is no comparison). The ride just seems to flow better in my personal opinion.
The ride itself lasts over 6 minutes and takes you through the events of The Little Mermaid, from Ariel's initial singing about wanting to be human to her and Prince Eric's happy conclusion together. In between, there is music, amazing sights and sounds, plus some of the best Audio-Animatronics that Disney has put out to date. The main portion with a huge contingent of sea creatures playing "Under the Sea" under Sebastian's direction might be my personal favorite scene, but it is hardly the only highlight of the ride. There is even a portion where the cars go backwards with a bubble and light effect that give you the feeling you are going underwater. It is truly a magical experience.
One thing that should be mentioned to those with small children is that you can't have a Little Mermaid ride without Ursula being involved. While her scene is fairly brief and limited, it doesn't take much to scare some kids, and you never know what can happen on a Disney ride, especially with the Omnimovers. My 5-year-old son is deathly afraid of "bad guys", so when the ride stopped with him seated squarely in front of Ursula singing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" for over a minute as a handicapped person was being helped out of a different car, I practically had to pull him off the floor of the ride at the end. That is clearly a worst case experience, but it was one that could ruin your child's time for hours afterwards if you aren't prepared for it.
Aside from that, there are really no negatives to speak of with this attraction. Because of the ride's popularity, the wait times can get quite lengthy, with lines of over an hour or more during the middle of the day not being out of the ordinary during the busier times of the year. To shorten your wait times, I'd recommend catching the ride early in the morning right after the park opens, during the afternoon parade when many people leave the rides behind, or getting a Fastpass if one is available. Unlike most attractions, the Fastpass machines for Under the Sea aren't anywhere near the ride and can actually be found in front of Mickey's PhilharMagic. Because many people don't seem to know where the machines are, Fastpasses for the attraction last until later in the day than many similarly busy rides. It would be wise to take advantage of this oversight by others.
Overall, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid met all my expectations and exceeded them. While the waits can be considerable if you don't get to the attraction at the right time of day, the interactive portions of the queue keep things entertaining. While I'm not ready to say that this is my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom, it is definitely near the top of my (and my wife's) list. I would definitely make this one of the first rides of the day you try to see at the Magic Kingdom, no matter what age group your family falls into.