My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love about Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdomby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me. As Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans, we've all probably heard that simple refrain dozens of times in our lives. And while I certainly don't pillage and plunder, maraud and embezzle, or even hijack, I've definitely developed quite an affinity for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean over the years that I've been sitting in that boat. Described by many as the ultimate theme park attraction, Pirates took the world by storm when it debuted at Disneyland in 1967. It was considered such a star attraction that guests were shocked and complained about its omission from Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971. The powers that be didn't feel that the attraction fit in the Florida park due to its proximity to the actual Caribbean and the state's own pirate history. That was obviously a misjudgment and due to overwhelming guest demand, Pirates finally landed on the shores of Magic Kingdom's Adventureland in December 1973.
It was a common thing for a Disney attraction to be based on one of the classic Disney films. Take a stroll through the Magic Kingdom and you'll spot Peter Pan's Flight, Dumbo, The Swiss Family Treehouse, and even Cinderella Castle itself. It was something else however for the opposite to occur. Even though Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl wasn't the first film based on a ride—that honor technically goes to the 1997 made-for-TV film The Tower of Terror starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst—no other attraction has generated a legitimate movie franchise for Disney. With five films in the can and over $4 billion earned at the box office, I'm obviously not the only one with a soft spot for pirates.
Pirates became a "go to" entity for the company. Disney was always looking for a marketing juggernaut to rival the enormous success of the Disney Princesses. They certainly found one in Pirates for quite some time there. If you were a little girl and went to Walt Disney World, you could get a princess makeover. If you were a little boy, you could become a pirate, although many little girls became pirates as well. There were meet and greets with Jack Sparrow. Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland received a complete pirate overlay. The Pirate and Princess Party debuted at Walt Disney World in 2007 and 2008. After the Black Pearl landed on the big screen, you couldn't go anywhere in the Disney universe without encountering pirates.
What is it about the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction that started such a behemoth franchise? Is it that good of a ride? Does it still live up to its legendary status as the mother of all dark rides? Let's take a closer look with my Top 5 things to love about Pirates of the Caribbean. And remember, as with the rest of the installments of this new attraction specific series, I'm specifically targeting the Walt Disney World versions. Mostly because, and I always hate to admit this sad fact, I still haven't made it to Disneyland!
5 – The Theme Song
There's something seriously catchy about the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song that's played throughout the attraction.
This phrase is posted at the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean. It is the theme song for the ride at The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, and was used in the film "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Photograph by Bonnie Fink.
"Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" written by Disney legends X. Atencio and George Bruns describes some really despicable individuals who drink up, kidnap and ravage, and don't give a hoot, and yet it's considered one of Disney's most beloved theme park songs probably sung by millions of little kids out there over the last 50 years. Much like "it's a small world," I just can't get it out of my head after I ride and I'm not considering that a bad thing. I kinda like it.
4 – Jack Sparrow Animatronic
The Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp animatronic figures in Pirates of the Caribbean have to be the most lifelike of any in the Disney parks. I remember the first time we rode after the new figures were installed.
We were all taken back by the first Jack you encounter near the well. He's especially lifelike when you compare him to the older generation animatronics throughout the attraction. It's classic Disney Imagineering innovation at its finest.
3 – The Queue
The Pirates of he Caribbean queue is one of my favorites and not just because it's a welcome break from the Florida heat. As you wind your way through the stone walls you get deeper and deeper into the theming. It looks and feels like you've entered an old fort.
I've always been a big fan of the skeletons playing chess. You may have heard the legend that Imagineer Marc Davis wanted the skeletons' chessboard to show the game ended in a stalemate insinuating that the pirates died waiting for one another to win. Several sources out there on the net have proven photographically that this just isn't true; the pieces frequently move and are not forever locked in a stalemate. I'd hate that to be true because it's one of my favorite Imagineering details. One way or the other, it's still a favorite detail, as are the cannons, muskets, gas lamps, skeletons, rum barrels, and cannon balls that populate the attraction. Be on the lookout for some great Hidden Mickeys as well. I also have always loved the fairly muted instrumental version of "Yo Ho" that plays throughout the queue.
2 – The Burning Village
One of the most iconic attraction rooms in any Disney park has to be the burning village in Pirates of the Caribbean. It's certainly not a pleasant moment. After all, the unsuspecting villagers are having their homes burned down by marauding pirates; it's pretty shocking by Disney standards if you think about it. Nonetheless, it is a visually impressive room chock full of details and special effects.
The smell of the wood burning, the simple yet effective lighting and fans to simulate actual flames, and the sound effects all pull together to make you feel like you're in an actual burning village. It's played for laughs and it's a little irreverent if you stop and analyze it, but all that aside, it's such an impressive room.
1 – The Wicked Wench
In the motion picture world a reveal is when a plot device, location, or character previously unknown to the viewer is exposed, typically in a big sweeping moment. The Disney attractions, designed by Walt's movie makers turned Imagineers contain many different reveals. Think about flying over London in Peter Pan's Flight or reaching the pinnacle of Spaceship Earth to see the starry sky and planet Earth and you'll understand what I mean. Perhaps my all-time favorite Disney reveal in any attraction is the moment you go "over the falls" after the small drop in the dark and emerge alongside the seemingly full size pirate ship, The Wicked Wench.
Captain Barbossa is on deck spouting out classic pirate jargon waving his sword in anger and the cannons are firing. It's a classic Disney moment. You spent the early moments of the ride in relative silence, just some eerie music and the noise of the wind blowing over you as you take the plunge. At that point you are "delivered" into the pirate world. It's a big moment. The buildings off in the distance, the "sky" above, the cannon shots hitting the water right next to you and splashing your vessel all combine to fully immerse you into this new realm. It's Disney at its best, using details and special effects to transport you someplace else.
Once the film was released, Pirates of the Caribbean literally turned into a worldwide phenomenon. A lot of that has to do with Johnny Depp and his incredible creation, Jack Sparrow. I imagine most of you out there are seasoned Disney veterans and realize that Jack Sparrow was not originally in the attraction. The people at Disney were reportedly more than a little unsure once they saw Depp's unorthodox performance style. Director Gore Verbinski had to reassure them that Johnny was clearly on to something and to give him room to be creative. Good advice! Depp's Jack Sparrow became an instant film icon and gave Disney a legendary character to add to their stable.
The ride where it all began is still one of the most popular theme park attractions on the planet. There's a Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in each of the Disneyland style parks throughout the world and I would assume that if Disney chooses to build any more theme parks anywhere else in the world, they would always carve out a spot for a Pirates themed attraction. That's just fine with me.
I'm a big Pirates fan—both the films and the ride. It was a favorite as soon as I walked into Castillo Del Morro, the Spanish style fort in Adventureland that houses the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. And it's not like I'm a big fan of all things pirate. I've never been a fan of pirate movies or stories. But there was something about this ride, the music, the atmosphere, the effects, and the enormity of the whole thing that just kind of won me over.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a must see for me on every visit to Walt Disney World. I love everything about it. I think it's a timeless escape overflowing with details, music, and attraction technology. It's the last attraction that Walt Disney himself personally oversaw and, in my humble opinion, it's got Walt written all over it. It tells a story in a completely immersive way and that's what Walt was truly about.
That's my take on the venerable Pirates of the Caribbean. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.