As recently covered in our Disney Animated Films Deserving DarkRides, I’m a child of the 90s with a fondness for the animated films from the Disney Renaissance, which included such all-time greats as Aladdin, Lion King, Mulan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, Pocahontas, and other movies. Personally, I think these films are criminally underrepresented in the parks, especially now that there are like 37 rides based on Toy Story and other Pixar films.
Three of those are my personal favorites: Beauty and the Beast (#1), followed closely by The Little Mermaid and theLion King, which are both tied for second place. (Not that you care, but those are my top tier trio.) Not only are these movies underrepresented in the parks, but the presence they do have leaves something to be desired. Each are deserving of multiple new attractions.
Today, I thought I’d bring some attention to a cool theme park area that already exists–a port based on The Little Mermaid. No, not the Prince Eric’s Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Rather, I’m talking an entire land (err…sea?) of activities under the water below King Triton’s Castle in Tokyo DisneySea…
For starters, this area is located in the Mermaid Lagoon port of call in Tokyo DisneySea. Mermaid Lagoon features 6 attractions, an expansive play area, several shops, meet & greets (including rare ones like Max the dog), and Sebastian’s Calypso Kitchen counter service restaurant.
There are also a couple of outdoor attractions, but the vast majority of this port of call is located inside a gigantic building designed to resemble King Triton’s Castle. This palace is eye-catching and photogenic from a distance, and just as beautiful as you get closer. As you approach the entrance, the castle spires vanish from view and the details reveal themselves. The intricate tile, shells, and features are all pretty impressive!
You enter King Triton’s Castle on the upper level and descend downstairs, traveling under the sea in the process. It’s similar to the beginning of the Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid dark ride in Magic Kingdom, except you walk through this.
Mermaid Lagoon arguably is more successful in achieving its under the sea atmosphere. Neither will have guests totally suspending disbelief–that’s just the nature of breathing air and not being wet–but the lighting and visual cues are pretty effective inside Mermaid Lagoon.
With that said, Mermaid Lagoon is actually somewhat controversial and derided among Tokyo Disney Resort fans. Widely considered the best Disney theme park in the world, Tokyo DisneySea has a reputation predicated on lavish attention to detail and ornate design. Pretty much everything is a John Hammond “spared no expense” kind of deal (except without the whole ‘death by dinosaurs’ thing).
Mermaid Lagoon is an anomaly of sorts, being the main kiddie area of the park, and one filled with several flat rides and lower budget attractions. I highly doubt this land was “done on the cheap,” but there is easily ascertainable difference between this and, say, Mysterious Island.
Of course, so too is there a difference between Indiana Jones Adventure and Mad Tea Party, Casey Jr, Storybook Land Canal Boats, and other Fantasyland attractions at Disneyland. The latter often receive a pass from fans because they’re charming and have history, but the reality is that they also fill an important role.
Before it closed, I argued that ‘a bug’s land’ at Disney California Adventure occupied a similar role and was very well done for what it was. I’d argue the same with Mermaid Lagoon.
Literally no one is going to claim that Mermaid Lagoon is on par with Mysterious Island, but it takes all types of experiences to make a successful theme park. Tokyo DisneySea has no shortage of lavishness in its other ports, and several headliner attractions dazzle.
It wouldn’t lack those things without Mermaid Lagoon, but what it would lack is an overall ride count and options that are suitable for small children. With that in mind and for what it is, Mermaid Lagoon is incredibly well done, and serves a vital role–especially at Tokyo DisneySea.
None of the rides in Mermaid Lagoon are particularly noteworthy. They’re all ordinary amusement park rides but decorated to feature oceanic motifs. Think ‘a bug’s land’ rides, but with aquatic life instead of insects. Nothing that measures up to the Little Mermaid dark ride at Magic Kingdom or Disney California Adventure. However, there’s something to be said for the sensation of being under the sea while having some mindless fun.
The one somewhat-interesting attraction is King Triton’s Concert. In talking with others, this seems to be a love it or hate it type of thing. We definitely don’t fall into either extreme, but we rarely make a point of seeing this show, which should more or less say where we stand on King Triton’s Concert.
Unfortunately, photos and video are not allowed inside the show, but it’s mix of puppets, projections, and performers. The way those three things are blended together is anything but seamless, some of the visuals are downright strange, and the pacing is poor. There are some cool visuals, but ultimately it feels like the team designing King Triton’s Concert took a tech-first approach in many segments, and it feels disjointed and downright perplexing as a result.
You can tell that King Triton’s Concert has a lot of ambition (and money was clearly spent creating it), but the perplexing and odd stuff is too much for the payoff to overcome.
For me, the most compelling attraction of Mermaid Lagoon is Ariel’s Playground.
For a while, play areas in Disney theme parks were one of my blind spots. I’ve recently taken an interest in these play areas, and we recently had the chance to spend time in Ariel’s Playground while watching our friends’ kids while they rode Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Ariel’s Playground has a ton to see and do, with a labyrinth of caverns and rock formations leading to different rooms, all with moody lighting simulating under the sea environments (some of this is arguably too effective, as we’ve seen small children apprehensive to venture inside).
There are some cool effects in here, many of which are interactive. Then there are the rope bridges and other areas for kids to blow off steam.
Ariel’s Playground is a bit like the various alleyways around Toontown coupled with Tom Sawyer Island, but all indoors, inside a simulated underwater setting. There’s a lot of depth and detail throughout–to the point that some scenes in this walk-through feel like they could double as dark ride sets.
Photos don’t do it justice, and it’s worth checking out even if you don’t have time. With all of that said, it’s still not even the best kids play area at Tokyo DisneySea–that honor goes to Fortress Explorations.
One of the cooler things you’ll see in Mermaid Lagoon is rare characters, like Max the Dog with Prince Eric. You’ll also see traditional characters in uncommon costumes, like Goofy and Pluto sporting swimwear.
We’ve found that the characters do midday sets near the restaurant and gift shop. They’re easy to spot, but they’re totally spontaneous and the interactions are random. Getting a photo can thus be challenging!
While we appreciate the menu, mood, and some of the details, it’s a very utilitarian restaurant aimed at serving as many families as possible during the lunch rush.
My other favorite Mermaid Lagoon area isn’t an attraction or restaurant, but rather, the large retail area housed inside the Sleepy Whale Shoppe.
This whale opens its eye periodically, and the interior of this sprawling shop is also like being inside a whale. Well, in the cartoonified sense. It’s more like Pinocchio in that regard rather than Body Wars. It’s really cool.
Overall, Mermaid Lagoon simultaneously is a disappointment and pleasant surprise. It’s unfortunate that this port isn’t anchored by a groundbreaking dark ride, or a truly immersive restaurant. Among Disney fans, that’s probably the most common sentiment and there’s unquestionably validity to this.
Once you get past those disappointments, it’s easy to write Mermaid Lagoon off as a pretty exterior without any redeeming substantive value. However, the inside contains a beautiful under the sea setting with a variety of kid-friendly offerings, including one of the most compelling play areas anywhere. There are some cool visual effects, and the restaurant and shops are also worth checking out. In the end, it’s not one of the elite ports of call at Tokyo DisneySea, but it serves a vital role and shouldn’t be ignored, either.
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
Have you visited Mermaid Lagoon at Tokyo DisneySea? What did you think of this port of call? Did you enjoy King Triton’s Concert? What about Ariel’s Playground? Sebastian’s Calypso Kitchen? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of this area? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!