Perhaps one of the most beloved attractions in all of Walt Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean is something that you can experience over and over again and never tire of. Located in Adventureland, once you board this adventure on the high seas, you can expect some mischief and antics with these rowdy pirates!
The first version of Pirates of the Caribbean opened in Disneyland in 1967 and was the final attraction overseen by Walt Disney before his death in December 1966. Disney’s original concept for the attraction was to feature a walk-through wax museum of pirates and their history and folklore; however this concept soon evolved into the water-based attraction that debuted in California to great success. Despite its popularity in Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean was almost never built in Disney World. Imagineers believed that guests in central Florida would not be interested in the ride as they were already so close in proximity to the Caribbean. However, when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, almost immediately guests began asking where the famed pirate themed ride was located. Imagineers quickly realized that the attraction was in demand and the swashbuckling pirates made their second home in central Florida on December 15, 1973, exactly seven years after Walt Disney’s death.
Since the attraction was added after the original opening of the park, Imagineers had to be creative in how to fit the very large show building in an area of Adventureland that was already developed. The main issue concerned the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks which are located all along the perimeter of the park. The final solution was to work around (or under) the tracks- the small drop during the attraction is actually to have guests move underneath the railroad tracks and be able to access the main show building. Once the issue of fitting the attraction was solved, attention to detail became the focus of the attraction. One of the finest examples of this is the fort in which the attraction is located. The fort is modeled after the Castillo del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the nearby tower which now hosts a skeleton looking to the horizon is aptly named the Torre de Cielo, or Sky Tower. As soon as you catch a glimpse of the impressive fort, you immediately realize that you are about to enter into a serious adventure through the Caribbean with these ruckus pirates!
As you move through the entrance of the fort, you will notice that the queue for the attraction has two options: left or right. As a general rule of thumb, anytime a queue splits I tend to take the left hand side as most people are generally pulled towards the right, making that half slightly more crowded. This rule doesn’t always work, but sometimes you can save yourself a few minutes of waiting by being conscious of your choice. In terms of Pirates of the Caribbean, I find that the left hand side of the queue does tend to be shorter as the right hand queue has to cross over the loading bay, adding distance and thus wait time. The most important part of the queue, as with any attraction, is to be aware of your surroundings while waiting and to take in all of the great detail that has been created by the Imagineers. You will find canons, cannonballs, rifles, barrels of gunpowder, and many other props that truly look as though they were unloaded off of a pirate ship that very morning.
One of my favorite details in all of Pirates of the Caribbean resides in the queue and was thought up by Imagineer Marc Davis. Davis came up with the idea to have two pirate skeletons forever locked in an endless game of chess. He researched former champion chess matches and found a game that was ultimately called a tie as there were no further possible moves. Once the board was set up to match the results of that game, the pirates have been residing over the board endlessly looking for their next move. During a refurbishment the chess board was moved, resulting in a near crisis. At first Imagineers could not figure out how to put the board back so that the pieces were properly placed preventing any further moves. Eventually, someone found an original sketch of what the board was supposed to look like on the back of one of Davis’ other sketches. Be sure to look through all the barred windows along the queue to find this endless chess game!
As you approach the loading dock, you will begin to hear the first notes of “Yo Ho Yo Ho A Pirates Life for Me” written by F.X. Atencio who also created the classic Haunted Mansion song “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” It is Atencio’s voice that can be heard warning “dead men tell no tales” ominously in the cave sequence of the attraction. In the same cave scene, mermaids from the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie were added in the fall of 2012. They can be heard singing a ghostly tune, seen swimming in the waters on either side of the boat, and also found in skeleton form on the beach. While I was at first skeptical about this addition, the mermaids do look and sound great and blend in really well with the original scene.
As you come out of the drop sequence and enter into the main show building, you will catch your first glimpses of Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise which were added in 2006. It’s great to see how a classic attraction influenced a successful film franchise which in turn influenced minor changes and additions to the original attraction. As you move through the attraction, look for the auction scene where crafty pirates are auctioning women for gold. Unfortunately most of the pirates seem preoccupied with the beautiful redhead located a few women down the line, prompting the classic line “we wants the redhead!” One of the greatest details of the entire attraction comes when one of the pirates on the auctioning side fires his gun leading to a sign on the opposite side of the scene to make a pinging noise and swing back and forth. Also, does the auctioneer’s voice sound familiar to you? He is voiced by Paul Frees who also leant his vocal talents as the Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion. His auctioneer character is so important to the attraction that if that one animatronic is not functioning properly, the entire attraction “goes 101” and closes until the auctioneer is back up and running.
Moving further into the attraction be sure to look for a pirate sitting on an overpass with his leg hanging down over your ride vehicle. The parrot perched with him is none other than Peg Legged Pete who used to sit at the main entrance of the attraction and beckon guests inside. Although he is silent now, it is a great homage to all the years he spent attracting guests that he is now located inside of the attraction. In the same room, check out the fires burning behind the buildings. Although this effect is created by clever lighting and special effects, it looks so real that the fire marshal who rode before the attraction’s opening for an inspection thought the flames were real!
As your boat moves past the infamous jail scene where pirates are trying to lure the key holding dog to release them, you enter into the treasure room where there are a few great details to take in. First be sure to take note of how amazing the animatronic of Jack Sparrow is. As any fan of the Pirates movies will know, Johnny Depp created quite the unique character in Jack Sparrow featuring many nuances of speech and movement. This animatronic beautifully captures the spirit of Jack Sparrow. Surrounding the treasure room, look for several locks which seem to resemble a certain famous mouse. Finally look for a crest featuring the name “Marco Daviso,” a clever stamp of workmanship left by Marc Davis to commemorate his contributions to the attraction.
Even as you are exiting your ride vehicle and heading up the moving ramp to the gift shop, there are still small details all around you. Note the flickering lights mounted on the walls, and if you look carefully at the moving ramp there appears to be footprints with a peg leg. As you exit back into Adventureland, you are sure to be humming “Yo Ho Yo Ho” and wanting to return to the attraction to sail with these pirates again and again.
Is Pirates of the Caribbean one of your favorite attractions? What is your favorite part? Let me know in the comments!