Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most influential theme park attractions ever created. Immersive storytelling, terrific animatronics, special effects, and scenes filled with detail combine to set a standard others have tried (and mostly failed) to equal for decades. Now, it’s time to buckle your swash and get ready to explore five key things you should know about Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. If you’d rather just abandon ship and learn about the wheres, whys, and whats of the attraction, here’s your shortcut.
1. Set sail for adventure!
Pirates of the Caribbean is an indoor boat ride through a series of remarkably staged scenes. The queue winds you through a dark Spanish fort called the Castillo Del Morro. There are barred windows, cannons, and a prison cell where two skeletons are playing chess. For my money, despite the elaborate details here, the queue is less immersive and far less interesting than some others in the Magic Kingdom, although it is cool and refreshing on a hot day. But the attraction itself is another story altogether!
You’ll board your vehicle and hear a disembodied voice repeating “Dead men tell no tales …” Passing through a wall of cool mist , you’ll encounter an eerie skeleton helmsman steering a ghostly ship during horrific storm conditions. Suddenly, you drop (just 14 feet) to enter the pirate’s cove where a 12-gun galleon engages a Caribbean fort in battle. The plundering pirates raid the island and celebrate after overrunning the settlement. And then fire! The famous “Burning Town” scene highlights all that goes into making this an attraction without an equal.
2. Yo ho, yo ho, some history for thee!
Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the last attractions whose development was overseen by Walt Disney himself. Originally envisioned as a walk-through, wax museum type of exhibit, Walt changed directions for two reasons. The 1964 World’s Fair demonstrated how successful a boat ride could be when “it’s a small world” proved so popular. And the smash hit animatronics in the Carousel of Progress at that same fair sealed the deal on taking a whole new approach.
The Disneyland version of Pirates opened on March 18, 1967, in New Orleans Square. Sadly, Walt died three months before the premiere and never saw the finished attraction, but the 16-minute ride was an immediate hit. Fun fact: the majority of skeletons and skulls utilized were real. Over time, they were removed and replaced with (easier to keep clean) fakes. Except for maybe one skull…?
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 there were no Pirates to be seen. Because Florida is so close to the Caribbean where there was already plenty of pirate lore to be had, Disney didn’t think there would be much interest. They called that one wrong! Disney eventually bowed to an overwhelming number of requests, and on December 15, 1973, the shorter (7.5 minute) version opened in the Magic Kingdom. Since then, a version of Pirates of the Caribbean has opened in Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Shanghai Disneyland.
3. The pirates changed course.
The ride has undergone several changes over the years. Most notably, scenes in the attraction that were considered lewd and more than mildly suggestive have been eliminated.
Pirates once chased women through the town; now the women carry food that the pirates want to steal. In particular, the Bride auction, also known as the Wench auction scene, has been updated. The red-headed animatronic is now Redd, the female pirate, and the auction action is buying chickens and plundered goods instead of brides. Also censored: a pirate sitting in front of a barrel who held a woman’s petticoat as she hid in the barrel. Now, he holds a map instead, while Jack Sparrow pops up.
After the 2003 success of the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” Disney began to include Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa in the ride’s scenes. Some argue that these updates and alterations have rendered the original narrative confusing. How can Captain Jack appear in three places at the same time? Others have posited that you’re riding through a pirate’s dream, in which all these moments are relived and revisited. Still others ignore the illogic of it all, choosing instead to enjoy what is undisputedly one of the most amazing attractions Disney has ever created.
4. Dead men tell no tales (but we do!)
We’ll spill the beans about six hidden gems that will enhance your experience of Pirates – or at least help you win a trivia game.
- Paul Frees, the voice of Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion, is the fellow you hear saying “Dead men tell no tales.”
- The drop in the ride moves your boat under the Disney World Railroad tracks and into the building that actually houses the ride.
- There are more than 120 animatronics in Pirates, from pirates to birds, animals to villagers.
- One rumor states that the chess game pieces on the board where the two skeletons are playing are in a stalemate, implying they sat there unable to make a move until they died.
- The song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” was written by George Bruns, lyrics by Xavier Atencio. Bruns also wrote “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” for those of you who remember the TV series.
- Pirates was the first ride in Disney World to end with an exit directly in a gift shop, an idea that has since be replicated throughout the parks. (Truth be told, I think my grandkids enjoyed the shop more than the ride itself.)
Bonus: my favorite pirate joke. Me: What’s a pirate’s favorite letter of the alphabet? Grandkid: “ARRR.” Me: you’d think it was the “R”, but it’s the “C.” Grandkid: groans.
5. The Nuts and Bolts.
Pirates of the Caribbean is located in Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom. As an indoor ride, weather doesn’t affect its operation. Although it has a long indoor queue, if the wait is more than 45 minutes it can extend into an additional queue area that is covered, but not air-conditioned.
The ride vehicles are boats with hard benches and backs. Each can seat 2 to 4 guests per row, and guests in the very first row have been known to get sprinkled a tiny bit as the boat goes over the drop.
Guests must transfer to a wheelchair and then to the ride vehicle. There is no height requirement, so every member of your group can ride. Although, some young ones may find the darkness, noise, and skeletons a little scary. To this point, although Pirates is not on the official list of Rider Switch attractions, Cast Members routinely accommodate requests to use it. Handheld Captioning and Audio Description devices are available from guest services.
Pirates of the Caribbean is not open for Early Theme Park Entry, but it is open for Extended Evening Theme Park hours for guests staying at a qualifying resort. It’s best to plan a visit early in the day or nearer park closing time, but it’s not uncommon to find shorter lines for a bit in the middle of the day. Alternatively, you can purchase Lightning Lane entry via Genie+.
The Bottom Line.
We think Pirates of the Caribbean is not to be missed. It’s classic Disney storytelling at its best! The iconic scenes, memorable characters, and connection to the blockbuster film franchise keep it among the highlights of any park visit. At least, that’s true for us – and I hope for you, too.
Have you ridden Pirates of the Caribbean lately? What’s your favorite scene in the ride? Let us know in the comments