Why is Mermaid so Bad?

In the last major essay on this blog I discussed an attraction that is commonly held to be one of the best dark rides ever made, Pirates of the Caribbean, and examined some of the techniques used that make it work so well. Today, I’d like to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and look at one of the more ‘meh’ examples of dark ride design in the Disney library.

Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and in California, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure are the long awaited ride adaptations of the classic 1989 animated musical that debuted as part of Florida’s new Fantasyland in 2012 and the revamped California Adventure in 2011. From here on I’ll just refer to them as ‘Mermaid’. For the purposes of this analysis I’ll be focusing mostly on the ride portion of the experiences as these are nearly identical between both coasts. The rides debuted to much fanfare from the Disney PR machine but have had a decidedly negative to, at best, ambivalent reaction among the fan and theme park community. To be clear, the rides are still of high quality and feature some dazzlingly technology, especially when compared to competitors, and many guests still find the experience enjoyable enough. But, I think it is fair to say that for a movie as iconic and beloved as The Little Mermaid the attraction that resulted, even for a ‘C’ or ‘D’ ticket experience as intended, feels underwhelming, and moreover, just off. Even simple dark rides like Peter Pan and Mr. Toad give better experiences. What is it?

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A New Entrance for SeaWorld

Hello again! Today a visit to 2nd tier of themed entertainment: Seaworld Orlando. 

I actually really like Seaworld Orlando. Views on animals in captivity and recent controversies aside, the park itself is a really pleasant and attractive place to be with some fantastic coasters (if perhaps less than fantastic other rides). While I often say I grew up at Walt Disney World, since it was 15 minutes away from my house and both my parents worked there and we were therefore there very often, it’s actually probably more accurate to say I grew up at Seaworld. My house was within walking distance of the front gates (not that I ever actually have walked there – should try that some time), my family loved the place because of all the shows and as a nice place to walk, and we probably were there a good deal more than Disney- at least until I became a tad older and wanted to ride more rides. Keep in mind there were nearly no rides at Seaworld during this period – only the sky tower and Wild Arctic. Later there was Journey to Atlantis (which I have ridden a record 13 times in a row without disembarking) and Kraken (which was my first “big kid” roller coaster). But there was an amazing playground! (which the good part of doesn’t exist anymore). So lots of fond memories, lots of experience with walking around and seeing the sights, lots of sadness around the lack of water-skiing shows these days. 

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In Praise of Traditionalism

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is probably the pinnacle of traditional design.

Okay, since I constantly seem to get sidetracked by this issue any time I try to write anything about theme parks, I might as well talk about it now.

First some quick definitions. David Younger in his fantastic book aptly titled “Theme Park Design” (add link) outlines a few different design styles that have been applied to theme parks in their relatively short history. Here they are along with their (paraphrased) definitions.

Traditional: the classic form of design that originated with Disneyland that seeks to immerse you in environments. Characteristics include almagations of different kinds of spatial entertainment (not just rides), a trend towards experiential vs explicit story, loose theming. Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion.

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