Pirates of the Caribbean: At Walt Disney World's End

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

Entrance to the new Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You may remember a time in the years shortly after Disney's The Lion King first premiered. There was Legend of the Lion King at the Magic Kingdom; The Circle of Life at Epcot; The Making of Disney's The Lion King at Disney-MGM Studios; and the Festival of the Lion King at the brand new Disney's Animal Kingdom.

It was all about lions.

Now it's all about pirates.

That's not to say it has anything over the princess presence in the parks. But it's trying really hard. And with the new Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow attraction, it now has two major park options for enjoying all things pirates—in the same way that Epcot's Akershus Royal Banquet Hall offers a second option to all that is at the Magic Kingdom for princess lovers to enjoy. Let's look at how pirates have come to cover nearly every aspect of Walt Disney World—including the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Caribbean Plaza—or Pirates of the Caribbean Plaza

When most people think of Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World, they rightfully think of the attraction found in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. They think of the bateaux setting sail, wandering past skeletons, dodging cannon blasts, and escaping an entire town on fire.

The Castillo del Morro—the Magic Kingdom's second castle. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Curiously, the "unofficially official" story behind this attraction was that it wasn't going to be built at all. Marc Davis had envisioned a more frontier style of attraction around a fictional place called Thunder Mesa. The reasoning was that such an attraction made no sense since Walt Disney World was already so close to the Caribbean. Guests visiting the park felt otherwise, and soon management fighting to get those guests to come back during an energy crisis built an abridged version of the Disneyland original at the Magic Kingdom.

Clearly, that philosophy has set sail some time ago. Not only is there an attraction today in Caribbean Plaza, there's a whole bounty of pirate like things to do. Once Jack Sparrow and company was inserted into the attraction, every Jack Sparrow "wanna-be" had to have a place to go to become one. Conceptually similar to the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, the Pirates League was soon open for business.

The Pirates League. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Once you're dressed up to become a pirate, you'll want to learn to be a pirate. That's where Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial comes in to play. And once you're done swashbuckling, you'll probably have an appetite. So you head over to Tortuga Tavern for a bite to eat.

Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But wait! There's more! A new scavenger hunt is coming as fast "as the crow flies" to all of Adventureland. My sources say that this is a very involved scavenger hunt played out at several levels, the highest being at a fairly lofty pricing level. And all of that is focused very much around the tales of Jack Sparrow.

This little store front that once sold Kodak supplies is now believed to being refitted for the new scavenger hunt experience. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Disney's Pirated Studios

Even before the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios, there was plenty of homage being made to the Pirates of the Caribbean brand. Many of the props from the movie have found their way in the queue to Disney's Studio Backlot Tour. When your tram passes by the costuming shop, take note of some of the costumes used in the films.

The captions and note the photos that go with these props are fairly amazing. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And for the last couple of years, the AFI Showcase at the end of the studio tour has showcased props and costumes as well from the various movies. As it re-opens, the new Showcase will feature any variety of exhibits, and not just one particular theme such as "Villains" as they have done in the past.

An organ befitting Davey Jones. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Bunking down at Disney's Caribbean Beach

After all that swashbuckling, one may be ready to hit the sack. If being a pirate is your thing, stay at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. One of the options here is to stay in a pirate-themed room.

But there's plenty around this resort to entertain any marooned pirate. Just hang out around the pool and walk the trails of the resort complex.

Probably one of the best places to relax as a pirate. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

To the ends of the world

There are other ways to be a buccaneer at the Walt Disney World Resort. Returning to Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, you have the Island of the Caribbean Pirate Cruise. There is also the Albatross Treasure Cruise that dominates the waters around the Yacht and Beach Club.

Disney's Pirate Adventure sets sail from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa most days of the week.

And not to be outdown, there is the Bayou Pirate Cruise itself stepping off from Port Orleans Riverside. All of these are designed as a children's activity.

For entire families, there is the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage. This one actually focuses more on Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. But it allows you a great view of the evening fireworks from the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Still haven't gotten enough? Head over to DisneyQuest to play Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buckaneer Gold. Since this attraction took over the only Hercules attraction on property years ago, it has become the most popular DisneyQuest activity, surpassing CyberSpace Mountain.

A map from the attraction, which uses technology similar to that found in Toy Story Mania. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And should you need a holiday to do all this pirating? Then definitely visit during Halloween when the pirates play a significant role in the Boo To You Parade and in the Happy HalloWishes Fireworks.

Where it all started

You get the idea. There are lots of places to do lots of pirate-like activity. We could have also covered older attractions, such as the original Treasure Island (that became Discovery Island) and also the Pirate and the Princess Party at the Magic Kingdom (which no longer exists). There has certainly been a great deal of pirate looting across the Walt Disney World Resort.

But remember, it didn't start with Pirates of the Caribbean. It began in Fantasyland. After all, where else does one board a pirate ship, fly over moon-lit London, and then go on to Neverland to meet up with mermaids, Indians, and a scallywag group of pirates?

Even this venerable attraction is due for some loving attention—at least in the queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

In that same genre and not to be outdone, Disney Junior—Live on Stage offers a chance to meet up with Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Here, along with other Disney Channel favorites, you get to interact with puppets on a stage.

A very popular attraction for the "I love goldfish crackers" group. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The legend of _______ goes here

That brings us right back to why this article was written in the first place. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Captain Jack Sparow.

The best way to compare this new attraction to Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom is to compare Peter Pan's Flight at the Magic Kingdom to Jake and the Neverland Pirates at the Studios. This new show is a kind of a grown up version of Disney Junior—Live on Stage. Only, rather than using puppets, you are watching a very convincing digital presentation (even I was caught up most of the time with whether Sparrow was being portrayed by a live actor or by use of a projector). Here you are asked to roar, stomp and throw your hands in the air to get rid of mermaids, fighting skeletons and a visiting kraken. It's participatory theater, in the same way Disney Junior does it.

Does this skeleton look familiar? It should, as it used to be in the Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Alas, it no longer exists there. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Housed in what was once a showcase of props and sets used for a cute short Bette Midler film called The Lottery. It was supposed to demonstrate how all of the elements come together to create a movie. In recent years it has promoted the Chronicles of Narnia films. In between it showcased 101 Dalmations—and maybe something else—though I seem to struggle to remember.

Amazing special FX—though done in a soundstage like previous shows—keeping it from being thoroughly immersive. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

That's the problem with this venue. It has always been used to house the comings and goings of something. Though I reckon that this attraction will be here for at least the next five years, I lament that the theme is again...pirates. Not that it's bad. It's a fairly well done "B-Ticket" experience. Impressive special effects. But with the Walt Disney Company having acquired so many amazing properties in recent years, one questions why we had to focus on pirates. True...you can't cover Marvel characters due to licensing arrangements with Universal Studios down the street. But there was Tron. And there is Wreck-It Ralph. There are many other really great Pixar films like Up and Ratatouille that have no presence in the Studios.

And then there's the biggest movie franchise of all time, with the smallest theme park foot print: Star Wars.

"Star Tours: The Adventures Continue"...I hope so. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So if you're a pirate at heart...then "drink up me hearties, yo ho!" You'll find plenty to enjoy...probably more than you will find in the actual Caribbean itself...unless you take the Disney Cruise Line. But that's another story.

But if you're looking for something else...well...let's hope that it's not light years away.

What do you think? Excited to see the new pirates experience at the Studios? If not, what would you like to see?