My family and I recently returned from a trip to Walt Disney World during which we had the pleasure of celebrating our son’s fourth birthday. During the intense, Disney-encouraged planning stages of the trip we were faced with the dilemma of how to make it special…okay, more special than having a birthday at Disney World, which is already kind of a big deal. Since we are character meal fiends, it wouldn’t be special enough just to add another one (although we did a whopping 7 on a 10-day trip, including two on the big day). What we settled on was the Pirate’s League at the Magic Kingdom, something we’ve seen the results of, but never tried ourselves.
Of course, part of the reason we never went total pirate was because we didn’t know how our son would handle the makeup involved in turning into a full-on scurvy dog. The other reason was because our daughter, who is 6, has been asking about the immensely popular Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for some time now. Luckily, that desire was waylaid by the discovery of the mermaid packages at the Pirate’s League, but I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s walk through the experience.
Pirate’s League Overview
For the unfamiliar, the Pirate’s League is an experience that involves getting made-up to look like a pirate or mermaid. There are two different price levels — this won’t be a shock, but the cost of the Pirate’s League is not included in your park admission — one just for makeup and accessories, and another for that plus a costume. Within those levels there are a few different options as well:
- Jake (sans his Neverland Pirates): Basically just some fake Jake hair and a few accessories with some light makeup — $29.95 plus tax
- All other pirates including a Jack Sparrow look (i.e. heavy eyeshadow), a full skull mask, a Captain Hook look (wispy mustache), a pirate with full beard, and the Empress (a shimmery one aimed at girls). These include various levels of makeup and accessories — $34.95 plus tax
- Mermaid: Nails, makeup, and accessories — $39.95 plus tax.
Then we get into the “Deluxe” packages (costumes):
- Jake: same as above with the addition of a Jake and the Neverland Pirates t-shirt — $44.95 plus tax
- Mermaid: same as above with the addition of a mermaid t-shirt and a tutu — $74.95 plus tax
(Allow me to add some commentary here; after seeing the price difference between the regular and deluxe packages, we bought two cheap costumes online that cost about $30 combined — you’ll see them below — and saved a good chunk of cash.)
As with everything at Disney World nowadays, reservations are recommended, encouraged, and practically necessary for the Pirates’s League. Luckily for us, Pirate’s League is not quite as popular as its princessy cousin over at Bibbidi Bobbidi, since we only decided on it about week in advance. Although at first, when we called the reservation number at (407) 939-2739, we were told there were no times available for both kids on our son’s birthday. However, when looking at separating them, the lovely Cast Member on the phone found two times only 5 minutes apart. Since we like math-based calculations here at TouringPlans, I feel obligated to explain that 5 minutes apart is not a big difference.
We also got times in the morning, which we felt was important. Since there was no way we were leaving the makeup on the kids overnight (oh the horror of that pillow in the morning!), we wanted our money’s worth. The reactions of other guests and characters around the park the rest of the day reinforced that decision (see below).
We were told to arrive 10-15 minutes before our scheduled time at the check-in desk just to the right of the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. When we arrived, the children were asked to choose their look. My daughter predictably chose the mermaid, while my son chose a pirate look that involved some heavy eye makeup and a full beard. Unfortunately I neither remember the name of his pirate look, nor was I smart enough to take a photo of the sheet they handed us to choose from. I will regrettably hand over my blogger card at the end of this post for failing you.
Getting a Pirate Name
After the check-in and a quick change into costume (in a provided changing room), the kids were initiated. My mermaid daughter was kindly asked to not attack pirates once she transformed into a mermaid and was then asked to sign a mermaid book. My son was asked his middle name and birth month, which was used to assign his pirate name. It turned out to be Francis Shipcutter — not the most fearsome name I’ve heard, but the kid also named his ship the Cow, so…
Anyway, after the initiation you are asked to wait for your name to be called. This brings up one of my only real complaints about the Pirate’s League: it’s lack of waiting space. The small room is bordered by workstations, so the only place to wait is on a handful of boxes smack in the middle of the room. Needless to say, it gets crowded and awkward.
Luckily, the waiting went quickly and the kids were both soon called. Of course, the makeup artists actually call out pirate names, and my unofficial count is that 94% of people forget their pirate names prior to being called, which is both funny and uncomfortable as the Cast Members call out a ridiculous pirate name several times before finally resorting to one’s given name.
This was the part we were worried about: An antsy four year old boy sitting still in a chair getting copious amounts of detailed makeup applied. It turns out we had nothing to worry about, mostly due to the skill of the Cast Member (Alyssa, pictured). She knew exactly how to handle the problem, which was giving him no choice. She immediately went for the eye makeup while talking, asking questions, and generally making my son laugh. She had to fix a few spots he rubbed at, but it went much better than expected.
On the other side of the room (which required several trips back and forth across the waiting area, stepping on toes each time), my daughter was a pro. Her Cast Member wasn’t as engaging, but she didn’t need to be either. She was very adept, however, at the intricate scaled makeup look required for the makeup and, in that case, that’s all that mattered. Her hair was also rolled simply and pinned with a plastic flower, which looked prettier than it sounds.
Speaking of accessories, each was given a few items. In addition to the hair flower, my daughter was given a necklace with a flower which, along with the flower in her hair, changed color in the heat. They both started white, but the necklace went blue in the heat, while the hair flower turned a lovely deep purple. Over in pirate land, my son was give a bandana, eyepatch, and pirate booty bag (although it’s Disney, so they don’t use the word “booty”). Both were also given sashes, mostly so everyone could see the words “Pirate’s League” prominently displayed.
Upon completion of the makeup and accessories, both children were given a pledge to recite. The mermaid pledge was once again about not attacking pirates (because pirates are good guys now, apparently) while the pirate one involved something about robbing, plundering, and burning villages…okay, it didn’t, it was about being good and having fun and stuff.
Following the pledges, the kids were announced to the room with a hearty round of applause and a YO HO! My son was also serenaded with a round of some generic pirate birthday song, which was nice even if these things just make me laugh about “Happy Birthday” being a copyrighted song.
The Secret Lair of Nophotos
Now that the transformation was complete, my son was given his plastic pirate sword (heaven help us all) and both kids were ushered into what I call the Lair of Nophotos. I refer to it as that because we were reminded several times that this room was so secret that no photos were allowed inside. In an odd and surprising twist, the room contained only one Cast Member…a PhotoPass photographer!
After a staged photo shoot, the kids were each given a trinket: a jewel for the mermaid and, for the pirate, a necklace with the familiar pirate coin from the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl film. He was specifically told that if anyone asked him where he got the coin, he was to reply that he didn’t know. And you know what? He was asked several times during the day.
Needless to say, the photos from the ultra-secret lair were available for purchase, but we declined. Partially because I had taken many photos already and partially because I refuse to be upsold — I’m just that kind of jerk.
The Raction Around the Park
All that day, both kids were getting looks and comments from guests. They were both told how beautiful/handsome/scary they looked many, many times, although the best reaction was from the characters. Without fail, every face character (and many Cast Members) asked about their look, asked the mermaid about her time out of water, and the pirate about his coin (questions which were met with blank stares because he forgot what to say). Even in subsequent days, they continued to get attention for wearing their necklaces. Ariel in particular was excited to meet a fellow mermaid.
We wanted to do something special and this certainly was. The Cast Members were excellent, the process smooth, and the results speak for themselves. What really made it unique in my eyes, however, was the attention they both got throughout the day. I have no doubt that they each felt special.