The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is always a must-do attraction when visiting the Magic Kingdom. It has three elements that I love in a ride: boats, animatronics, and a musical number. However, what separates this from Splash Mountain is knowing Walt’s influence on it, being it one of the last attractions he worked on at Disneyland.

Pirates of the Caribbean” by HarshLight licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many of the older rides that he and WED Enterprises (now Imagineering) created fascinate me, especially the ones with animatronics. They brought animation to a whole new level: from the screen into our world. They were innovative, and since I love the pirate world in cartoons and live action movies, I couldn’t help but grow an affinity for this ride. Also, the theme song is super catchy, and I can’t help but listen to the soundtrack when I’m away from the resort!

Pirates of the Caribbean Secrets & History

Like I said, I’m a fan of Audio-Animatronics and how they have been used throughout history in the Disney parks. Walt Disney grew a fascination with them when he visited Paris with his family in 1949. While shopping around town, he found some wind-up toys that caught his eye. He thought their movement was interesting, and they might have been what sparked the idea of Audio-Animatronics in Walt’s mind.

So in 1951, Walt pulled together some future Imagineers and got to work experimenting in how to bring his own animatronic characters to life. First, he started with “Project Little Man” which created a nine-inch-tall figure who moved and talked. Then he moved to start working on an Audio-Animatronic version of Abraham Lincoln for a Hall of Presidents exhibit in Disneyland. Since that project didn’t come to be, Walt and his team started using their Lincoln for his own show at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

While in the works for that, Walt wanted to feature how progress has influenced an American family in the 20th century. With the sponsorship from General Electric, Walt Disney started working on a ride that originally opened as Progressland, but ended up being known as The Carousel of Progress. Although all of these projects were in the works, it wasn’t until 1963 when the first animatronics to make their debut in Disneyland were the birds from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. The show featured over 200 animatronics in the form of birds, flowers, and Tiki Gods.

In the background of all of these projects was the idea for a pirate ride in Disneyland. The idea came about in the 1950s, and was first considered by Walt to be a walkthrough wax museum. I mean wow, can you imagine Pirates to be a walkthrough attraction?

Anyway, because of the success from attractions that came out of the World’s Fair, Walt and his Imagineers had to change their plans to make Audio-Animatronics a part of the story. The team that worked on this attraction really paved the way for other Disneyland attractions like The Haunted Mansion. Some of the team included:

  1. Marc Davis
  2. X Atencio
  3. Claude Coats
  4. Yale Gracey
  5. Blaine Gibson

I think it’s important to know who the people are who helped Walt bring the attraction to life. After all, Walt never thought that he could do anything by himself. He valued his team and what they could do to make his dream become a reality. Since the attraction opened in 1967, and Walt died in 1966, he never got to see the attraction come to be, but I would to think that he would have been pleased with its outcome.

It’s no secret that Disney created a live action movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Kiera Knightly, and Orlando Bloom. The movie was viewed and loved all over the world, and it even sparked other movies that were based on rides to be produced.

In 2006, after the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Imagineers started incorporating characters from the movies into the ride. Now, you can see characters like Captain Barbossa, and of course, Jack Sparrow poking his head out around the attraction.

Before 2017, legend had it that whenever Johnny Depp was in the Disney parks, he would dress up as Jack Sparrow and interact with people who were passing by in their boats. Well in April 2017, to promote the fifth Pirates film, he finally did it! He was standing there in full costume, speaking in pirate vernacular to the shocked guests. This never happens, but from now on, I will keep my eyes out for Johnny whenever I go back to Walt Disney World.

Ride Overview

When you go through the Pirates of the Caribbean entrance, you start to notice that you are stepping into the 17th century. On the way to your boat, you pass by rusty jail cells where there might be a skeleton or too. It isn’t until you sit in your boat when you are fully emerged in the world that lies along the Spanish Main.

One of the first things you encounter in your boat is the tentacled Davy Jones on a misty fog screen who, along with another eerie voice (Paul Frees), reminds you that “dead men tell no tales.” Next, you may see a grotto which holds Dead Man’s Cove and Hurricane Lagoon, full of skeletons of unfortunate pirates from days far gone. Hold on tight, because you will then find yourself in total darkness with a drop that follows.

Then, SPLASH!

You are immediately brought to a cannon fight with Captain Barbossa, spitting insults to those opposing him. There is also the question: Where is Jack Sparrow?  Everyone is asking around Town Square, but no one knows. However, as you ride in your boat, you can see Jack peeking an eye to see if the coast is clear from other Pirates who want revenge against him. Other activities in Town Square include pirates getting into all sorts of horrible shenanigans, including a bride auction, which I’ll speak about later.

Then you float into a scene of a burning city. The pirates have set fire to everything in sight, taking everything valuable from the natives. As they share rum, they sing their drinking song “Yo Ho (A Pirates Life For Me),” written by Imagineer X. Atencio.

Yes, you will get it stuck in your head, but personally, I believe this is a good thing! After you pass the fiery town, you see a dungeon where arrested pirates try to grab the keys from a dog who have them dangling in his mouth. In the final scene, you see Jack Sparrow sitting in a room full of gold and treasure for all. It’s nice to know that a pirate as incompetent as him got away with something that day!

Influence in Other Disney Parks

Like many classic attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean is not only seen in Walt Disney World, but in Disney theme parks all over the world. You can find the ride in Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, most recently Shanghai Disneyland, and originally in Disneyland. Since the one in Shanghai is so new, the Imagineers were able to experiment with how they wanted this version to be presented.

There is still Audio-Animatronic in the ride, but with new special effects added to them. For example, a seemingly dead skeleton, suddenly comes to life as an animatronic Jack Sparrow. Seriously, if you haven’t seen any of it already, it’s a sight to see. In comparison to the classic ride, Shanghai’s version has more high definition video effects involved. I was a little skeptical at first when I heard of this happening, but Disney Imagineering really stepped it up a level with these animated effects.

Since I’ve been on both versions, I always like to compare Disneyland vs. Disney World when it comes to Pirates of the Caribbean. The first thing I want to compare, because its a huge element for me, is the drops in both rides.

Since Disneyland had the space to do it, they created two drops into the attraction instead of the one in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Now, there are a couple of reasons why Imagineering decided not do this in Orlando. Since Florida is prone to having sink holes and swampy land, Imagineers could not dig very deep. This is why the Magic Kingdom was built on the second floor of the park, while the first floor is occupied by the Utilidors, or employee tunnels.

The second reason is that when the Imagineers were building Disney World to open in 1971, they had to take into consideration the popularity of Pirates in Disneyland. In order to get the attraction opened by 1973, the Imagineers rushed to get it done. I understand they did this to get more people riding it as soon as possible, but one part of me wishes that they didn’t rush.

Disneyland’s version does has some minor flaws: a somewhat inappropriate location (New Orleans Square as opposed to WDW’s Adventureland), and a partially outside waiting area, but it is definitely more polished then the attraction at Disney World. It is not only the two drops that make it better, but the set up makes for a better story.

By using New Orleans as a backdrop, they are able to slowly immerse guests into the world. As you float on by in the beginning of the ride, you are introduced to a bayou, which contrast to the chaotic pirate world that they will soon encounter. Disneyland also uses every minute they have on the attraction to entertain the guests. Since there were two drops included in the attraction, they needed to incline the guests back up to the park’s surface.

While they do this, they show Jack Sparrow sitting with his pile of treasure. Disney World inclines the guests once they are out of the boats via a walkway. If you are a first-time guest to Walt Disney World, you probably wouldn’t notice this at all. However, for people who have experienced both attractions like myself, it could be noticeable that Imagineering didn’t put enough time into the ride. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth going on. It still one of, if not my favorite rides to go on in the Magic Kingdom.

Pirates of the Caribbean Ride Changes

Recently, there has been some controversy surrounding the Pirates of the Caribbean and one of their scenes. As I have mentioned, when the guests float through town Square, they can see a bride auction happening before them. A red haired women, with a beautiful red dress, smiles while waving her hand as she is being auctioned off. The rest of the women in the auction are roped up together, some crying while they await their fate.

This doesn’t sound like a positive scene to show to families on their trip to Disney World, so now people have started a conversation around it. It’s sparked so much negativity that The Walt Disney Company agreed to change that scene to start showing women in a better light. Imagineering already started with Disneyland Paris. On July 24th, 2017, they revamped the attraction to feature new scenes. For example, instead of the red haired women being auctioned off, she is joining the pirates. Both Disneyland and Disney World will follow similar changes in 2018.

When I was younger, I never saw a problem with the auction, so much so that I almost became a purist when they announced that they were getting rid of it. Now that I think of it, I’m sure that I won’t miss it. I loved the red haired woman and the update to her dress that she has gotten in recent years. I also liked some of the other characters involved in that scene as well. It seems that, from looking at the concept art of the new scene, Imagineers are keeping those classic characters!

Some people do find this change negative because it almost erases the history that went into this attraction. It is the last attraction that Walt Disney worked on after all, but Walt believed that change to the parks was a good thing. He was always searching for new ways to make his company better, and I believe that the Disney company leaders are staying true to their founder’s vision.

Your Experience

If you are planning to go in 2018, just know that Pirates will be closed for renovation sometime that year to put in the new changes. Once it is reopened, I suggest you get a Fastpass+ reservation as quickly as you can before they run out. Everyone’s going to want to see the new changes that were placed in the attraction.

The ride will probably remain seven to nine minutes long, which isn’t so bad, but make sure you check that it doesn’t conflict with any dinner reservations you may have. Also, when I say that there is a drop, don’t think Splash Mountain steep! It is a small drop that was refurbished in 2015 to carry you down smoother. If you have a motorized scooter, you must transfer from it into your boat.

Also know that there is no height limit on the attraction, making it available for anyone to experience it. I hope you get to ride Pirates of the Caribbean soon. You will surely never want to stop singing “yo ho, yo ho! A pirates life for me.”

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