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Renewed DCA 'Mermaid' attraction worth another look

California Adventure's premiere dark ride features a number of new changes, including a much improved 'Under the Sea' segment.
California Adventure's premiere dark ride features a number of new changes, including a much improved 'Under the Sea' segment.
Scott J Dennis

Since its inception in 2001, Disney's California Adventure had lacked the kind of quality dark rides its Disneyland neighbor is famous for. The lone example, Superstar Limo in Hollywood Pictures Backlot, closed less than a year after opening. It wasn't until 2011, in the midst of the park's great rehabilitation, that California Adventure's dark ride problem was addressed with the introduction of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure in Paradise Pier. The new attraction received mixed criticisms for its length, scenes and showmanship, but a recent re-tinkering by Imagineering has reputedly fixed many of the ride's original flaws.

Guests familiar with the ride will note upon boarding their omnimover clam car that an early cave scene now includes a number of "floating" fish and sea creatures overhead. The transition hall that leads to the next sequence was also given a small improvement by way of a new painting depicting King Triton's golden castle. Exiting the caves, guests enter the expansive and often criticized Under the Sea room, a major focus of the recent refurbishment.

The debut version of the showstopping sequence was considered one of the attraction's most disappointing. In its review, fan site MousePlanet said at the time, "I enjoy the music-driven energy of this room, but there are several elements that pull me out of the fantasy. The room is brightly lit, which allows riders to see all the way across the set and into the clamshells on the other side of the curve. There is no sense that you're peering through deep water. You can also see the room's ceiling and many of the animation mechanisms..."

Revitalizing the room was a top priority for designers this time around, resulting in a spectacular new rendition that has drawn applause from park fans. Newly implemented blacklight effects and significantly improved illumination has created a much more immersive environment for riders, hiding the technical features and giving the scene an appropriate undersea glow.

While popular and appreciated, the renovation did fail to address a couple persistent complaints due perhaps to time or budget. Cut from the plans was an anticipated expansion for the all-to-brief Ursula battle and death scene, something fans have long looked forward to. Until then, visitors can certainly get a kick out of the recent renovations to one of California Adventure's best attractions.