A dark ride based on The Little Mermaid was supposed to open at the Disneyland Paris and Magic Kingdom parks in the early to mid 1990s, which would have utilized a suspended ride system similar to Peter Pan's Flight to allow for the guests to physically "dive" under the sea. Early plans for Tokyo DisneySea and Hong Kong Disneyland also included this ride. The ride was scrapped, but a virtual recreation was included on the Platinum Edition DVD of The Little Mermaid in 2006.
A different version opened on June 3, 2011 at Disney California Adventure. The ride building is located on the site that was previously occupied by the theater that played host to the Golden Dreams movie hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The theater itself was torn down. The restrooms nearby were relocated across the way to the San Francisco buildings, due to their previous location being torn down to make room for the ride's show building.
In September 2009, Disney officials announced that Mickey's Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom would be demolished to make way for a huge expansion of Fantasyland, which was planned to include a copy of this ride. This expansion would also fill the space left behind when 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage was demolished. WDW's Little Mermaid attraction has been built in the space that the show building for the submarines previously occupied, even incorporating some of the walls left behind from the demolition. The Magic Kingdom incarnation features two nods to the previous attraction, with the Nautilus being included amongst the rockwork in the exterior queue and the song "A Whale of a Tale" being included in the queue's music loop. Additionally, when the attraction opened, a ceremony was held to symbolically link the two attractions by pouring water saved from the Submarine Lagoon into the waters of the new attraction's exterior queue.
Since the attraction opened in California, several modifications took place. These included changing the projection screen scenes from CGI to hand-drawn animated segments. The hair for the Ariel animatronic in the Under the Sea sequence was also redone after various criticisms compared it to "an ice cream swirl" or "Dole Whip hair" (named for the confectionery sold outside Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room across the way) and instead her hair is now down and swaying in the current. These changes were completed on May 4, 2012.
On March 20, 2014, the attraction in California closed for an extended refurbishment. It reopened May 10, 2014 with several new enhancements. New sea creature figures were added throughout the ride, a view of King Triton's castle was added, the "Under the Sea" scene was converted to a blacklight scene and the Ariel and Prince Eric figures in the Kiss the Girl" and "Finale" scenes were given real hair.
At Disney California Adventure, the building is modeled after a 20th-century aquarium. The Palace of Fine Arts replica from Golden Dreams was retained and redecorated.
In the Magic Kingdom, the building is featured in a recreation of Prince Eric's castle. Guests walk across a bridge over a pond that resembles a beach with the castle on it. A shipwrecked ship featuring Ariel as a figurehead serves as the entrance to the queue, which weaves through waterfalls and caves below the castle. In the queue is the interactive game "Scuttle's Scavenger Hunt", where guests assist him and a group of crabs in cleaning up Ariel's collection of human stuff after a storm had thrown things out of order. Adjacent to the attraction is the new Ariel's Grotto Meet-and-Greet.
The attraction is a dark ride, similar to Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. However, it features an Omnimover ride system like the ones used at The Haunted Mansion and The Seas with Nemo & Friends. The ride transports guests under the sea and focuses on many of the major musical numbers from the movie. Guests ride in cars themed to resemble large seashells; one car designed for use by guests in wheelchairs is themed to resemble King Triton's chariot.
Characters that appear throughout the ride include Ariel, Prince Eric, King Triton, Sebastian, Flounder, Ursula, and Flotsam and Jetsam, with Scuttle narrating the story. The music has been composed by the original film's composer, Alan Menken. Jodi Benson confirmed in an interview in June 2010 that her voice would be included in the ride.
In California Adventure,the indoor queue of the attraction features a mural along the back wall of the loading area, featuring Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, and many of the other characters from the film on the edge of the palace with the ocean behind them. In the Magic Kingdom, this mural only features Sebastian on a beach with palm trees on both sides and instead of broad daylight, it is set at dusk and King Triton in the ocean. At the loading area, guests board an Omnimover-style vehicle in the shape of a clamshell(in California Adventure, each clamshell is a different bright and shining color while in the Magic Kingdom, they are all rough and pink). After leaving the loading area in the Magic Kingdom, the clamshells proceed through a large opening of the broken hull of Prince Eric's ship.
The vehicles enter a shipwreck cove. A large opening in the wooden structure reveals Scuttle perched atop a set of rocks, the sun setting along the shoreline behind him. Scuttle, who is surrounded by some of the shipwreck's lost cargo, plays an accordion while greeting the guests and beginning to tell them the story of Ariel and her dreams of becoming a human, or rather, muddle things up with his inability to decide where to start (even deciding to start at the day he was born). The clamshells begin to rotate backward as they make their way out of the shipwreck's hull. The clamshells briefly travel along the shorelines of a beach, strewn with lost artifacts from the shipwreck.
With a splash, the clamshells proceed to travel underwater, utilizing an effect of a projected ocean wave passing over the clamshell in front of the rider to simulate the feeling of traveling under the ocean. While the clamshells travel along the curve of the underwater passage, they take a slight descent to further simulate the illusion of traveling under the sea. After passing under the ocean wave, projected bubbles and waves cover the rocky walls of the underwater passage, as seaweed and coral come into view (in Disney California Adventure, fish, clams, seahorses, and starfish can also be seen in the passage) The "Main Titles" score from the movie is heard as the descent continues. The clamshells pass under an opening in the passage, revealing an image of Ariel and Flounder staring at the ocean's surface.
The underwater passage opens to reveal Ariel in her grotto, surrounded by all of the treasures that she has collected from the human world. Throughout the scene, Ariel sings "Part of Your World" while holding a chest filled with many of her gadgets and gizmos. The scene features a completely animated Audio-Animatronic of Ariel that has animated fins, hair, and facial expressions. Next to Ariel, Flounder floats along the walls of the grotto. A statue of Prince Eric is located in the corner of the grotto, implying that the scene takes place after Ariel had saved Eric from the wreckage of his ship. Throughout the scene, Sebastian occasionally appears, secretly spying on Ariel by popping up behind a treasure box or by appearing behind a magnifying glass or in a knight's helmet in some instances. To create the illusion of Ariel's hair flowing in water Imagineers created a brand-new material.
The clamshells leave the grotto and proceed through an underwater passage, where Sebastian tells Ariel about the wonders of being under the sea, while a view of King Triton's castle can be seen in the distance. The scene opens up to a large undersea garden, where the undersea life joins in singing "Under the Sea". Sebastian conducts the number from a clamshell overlooking the garden. Many of the creatures seen in the attraction are also found in the film, such as a spinning octopus, a dancing turtle, a group of lobsters, twirling starfish, and a huge blowfish, amongst many other sea creatures playing instruments and singing and dancing along. The vehicles encircle the scene, passing by Ariel as she dances to the music.
The celebration fades as the clamshells pass into a dark canyon, filled with smoking geysers. The canyon leads into the mouth of a giant sea dragon skeleton, the entrance into Ursula's Lair. Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula's pet eels, welcome the clamshells into the sea witch's lair, exclaiming that they told Ariel that Ursula would help her in reaching her dreams of becoming a human. The clamshells enter the lair as the sea witch stands before her cauldron, singing "Poor, Unfortunate Souls". The Ursula Audio-Animatronic is one of the largest ever created (second only to the dragon used in the Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea versions of Fantasmic!) and was built in a way to allow squash and stretch motions similar to the film In a misty orb floating above the cauldron, images of Ariel nurturing Eric and signing Ursula's contract appear from within, as Ursula continues to sing. Ariel has made her agreement to give her voice to Ursula in exchange for legs. The clamshells proceed past the sea witch and encounter walls adorned with many of the lost souls that Ursula had collected. The bright yellow eyes of the lost souls glow brightly in the passage. The clamshells proceed through a cavernous passage adorned with lost souls, leading past an image of Ariel with a swirling vortex around her, revealing her new legs.
The clamshells slightly ascend through a rocky chamber as projected bubbles cover the walls, simulating the illusion of rising above the ocean's surface. The clamshells then proceed to enter a tranquil, romantic lagoon, as a human Ariel and Eric are seen floating in a boat along the lagoon's surface. Sebastian sings "Kiss the Girl" as Flounder and other fishes encircle the boat, fountains of water rising out of their mouths. Low, dangling moss is suspended over the lagoon. Fireflies twinkle throughout the scene as the moon brightly shines on the scene in the distance. Throughout the scene, Eric and Ariel lean in to kiss each other, only to have Eric back away sheepishly, leaving Ariel disappointed.
After leaving the lagoon, the clamshells pass before the silhouette of a giant Ursula, who is seen in the distant ocean. Smoke arises around the sea witch as her plans to rule the ocean went askew and she has been defeated. Next, to the silhouette of the sea witch, the clamshells pass in front of a doorway to Prince Eric's castle. Seen within the doorway of the castle, a silhouette of Ariel and Eric are seen kissing. A golden orb glows from within Ariel's neck, signifying that she has now regained her voice. The orb proceeds to encircle the two, creating a heart shape as Ariel and Eric kiss.
The clamshells proceed into the final scene of the attraction, where the kingdom celebrates the wedding of Ariel and Eric. Several sea creatures, King Triton, Sebastian, and Flounder are seen in the ocean celebrating, as the now-married Ariel and Eric wave goodbye from a gazebo on the ocean's edge. Prince Eric's castle lies just in the distance. Fireworks explode in the sky above the scene. As the clamshells proceed back into the load/unload area, Scuttle closes off the attraction by exclaiming that Ariel had received her dream and everything worked out in the end. The clamshells arrive back in the load/unload area where the guests exit the clamshells and proceed out of the attraction building.
- Jodi Benson - Ariel
- Philip Lawrence - Sebastian
- Pat Carroll - Ursula
- Chris Edgerly - Scuttle
- Corey Burton - Flotsam and Jetsam