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Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean

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Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean

Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort share a number of the same attractions, such as Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, “it’s a small world,” and many others. But if you think that these attractions are the same on both coasts, you would be mistaken. One of the many things I love about Disney is that they never do the same thing twice; and while the attractions that can be found on both coasts may share the same names and themes, they do have differences too. Hey, who doesn’t like variety, right? But you have to wonder, which resort has the best version of a popular attraction? Which Disney Park has the bragging rights? Well, that’s what I’m going to find out beginning with one of the most popular attractions ever in Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean!

What is Pirates of the Caribbean?

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of Disney’s most brilliant attractions of all time! It even inspired the popular Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise starring Johnny Depp. The attraction is a boat ride which takes guests back in time to the days where pirates looted and pillaged the Caribbean through incredibly detailed scenes, audio-animatronic pirates, and a terrific balance of both humor and danger. Pirates of the Caribbean’s signature song, “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me” by “X” Atencio and George Bruns is also just as famous as the attraction itself and has had adults and children humming along for decades.

Lafittes Landing
Laffite’s Landing

History: Pirates of the Caribbean was first envisioned as a walk-through wax museum for Disneyland, but fortunately, due to Walt’s growing ideas and new audio-animatronic technology, the concept evolved into an attraction that became a classic and an icon. Pirates of the Caribbean first debuted at Disneyland Park in 1967, just a short time after Walt’s passing. Then, when Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, guests were surprised to find no Pirates of the Caribbean! Why? Imagineers didn’t think the attraction would be appeal to East Coast guests as Florida and its surrounding area is rich in pirate history; but Magic Kingdom guests, who had seen Walt introduce Pirates of the Caribbean on television, were disappointed that they couldn’t experience the attraction for themselves. Thankfully Imagineers listened to guests and Disney World’s own Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1973.

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean & the Disneyland Dream Suite

Location: Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean can be found in a beautiful New Orleans style façade in the park’s New Orleans Square. The reason why Disneyland’s Pirates is in this particular land and structure is due to New Orleans’ history of pirates. In fact, the loading dock for the attraction is called Lafitte’s Landing, a homage to a historical pirate from the New Orleans area. Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is also the home of one of the park’s most popular restaurants, The Blue Bayou, which overlooks the attraction’s bayou scene and boats filled with guests embarking on their pirate adventure. Also, the second floor of Pirates of the Caribbean is home to the Disneyland Dream Suite! This space was originally intended to be used as an apartment for Walt and his family, but in 2008 it reopened as a magical suite for special guests and contest winners. The Magic Kingdom’s version has a very different location. As there is no New Orleans Square, Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean is located in Adventureland and housed in a Spanish fortress known as Castillo Del Morro. The surrounding area reflects the pirate theme as the soundtrack from the film franchise is often heard playing and there’s a nearby stage where Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial takes place. In addition, guests can satisfy their appetites with a meal at Tortuga Tavern which is filled with not just seating, but also plenty of nods to the films.

Winner: Disney World

Photo by Brandon Glover
Photo by Brandon Glover

Ride Duration: One of the best things about Pirates of the Caribbean is its ride length. I appreciate attractions that offer a lot of bang for your buck. But when comparing both coast’s versions of Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland’s is the clear winner. Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is a whopping 15 minutes and 30 seconds long while Disney World’s is only about 8 minutes. While the latter still offers a relatively impressive ride duration, Disneyland’s is almost twice as long and no doubt wins this category.

Winner: Disneyland

FastPass: Disney World’s FastPass+ system is still relatively new where guests use the app and My Disney Experience online to reserve FastPasses in advance. Guests need only to scan their park tickets or MagicBand to take advantage of their FastPass reservation during their return time. Currently, Disneyland is still using the old paper FASTPASS system where guests insert their tickets into an attraction’s FASTPASS machine to obtain a paper ticket with a return time. However, not all of Disneyland’s popular attractions offer FASTPASS and Pirates of the Caribbean is usually one that does NOT. Disney World, however, does.

Winner: Disney World

Disneyland’s outside queue

Queue: At the Disneyland Park, the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean begins outside. Guests pass under a bridge and wind in front of and around the sides of the attraction’s elegant New Orleans façade. Once they pass through the doors, guests get their first look at the attraction as boats filled with guests float by. When waiting to reach the loading platform, guests get a glimpse of the bayou and its lightning bugs. At the Magic Kingdom, the queue begins when guests enter the cool, dim, stone fort lit by yellow lanterns and filled with stockpiles of barrels and artillery, as well as prison cells. A must-do in the Magic Kingdom’s queue is to peer down into one of the cells to see two pirate skeletons who appear to be have been playing chess for a long time! You see, Imagineer Marc Davis was an avid chess player and arranged the pieces on the board in an actual stalemate with the skeletons as a joke. Tip: There’s another nod to Marc Davis in the last scene of Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Have you ever seen it? The boarding platform is similar to Disneyland’s, but the room appears much more spacious and foreboding!

Winner: Disney World

The first glimpse of the boats!

Story: The storyline for both versions of Pirates of the Caribbean is that guests are being taken back in time to the days where pirates pillaged, plundered, rifled, and looted in their quest for treasure. Guests first find themselves in pirates’ former stomping grounds before taken to see what became of them (as evidenced by the scenes involving skeletons and their loot), and then into days gone by where pirates lived the pirate’s life. Captain Jack Sparrow’s role in the attraction is a subplot, as he pops up in the scenes involving living pirates, trying to get his hands on some treasure of his own and…of course he does! While the Magic Kingdom version communicates this story, Disneyland expresses it so much better due to its start in the bayou. This particular setting contrasts the upcoming scenes so sharply that it’s much more clear that guests are no longer in the present but the past. Also, the drops at Disneyland, which serve to plunge guests back in time, also helps to move guests from one time period to another. The Magic Kingdom only has one drop and the talking skull and crossbones that warns guests about what awaits them has been absent for a number of years. Lastly, the climb back up at the waterfall at the end of Disneyland’s Pirates serves to show guests that they have returned to the present. It sort of bookends the time traveling experience — but at Disney World, guests travel back up to the present via a moving sidewalk after they have disembarked from their boat, which doesn’t contribute much to the story.

Winner: Disneyland

Dead men tell no tales...

Effects: When both versions debuted in the late sixties and early seventies, the special effects mainly consisted of fake fire and audio-animatronics. Due to updates and the Pirates of the Caribbean film overlays, both attractions have more special effects these days than in years prior. In the Disneyland scene where guests float past Captain Barbossa attacking a fort, I’ve noticed more special effects than what you find at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. While both offer the simulation of cannons hitting the water, Disneyland’s version also lets guests feel the wind from the cannons; and overhead, there are shadow projections of pirates in a fight. Also, both Pirates of the Caribbeans have mist projections towards the beginning of the experience, but they are different too. Disney World’s projects Blackbeard from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides while Disneyland’s projects Davy Jones from both Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End and the quality is somewhat fuzzy.

Winner: Disneyland

Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean

Overall Ride: As both Pirates of the Caribbean attractions are boat rides, the ride is mostly smooth. Although, Disneyland’s version is a little bumpier at the end and boats can bump the others from behind at both the Disneyland and Disney World locations. In recent years, Disney World’s version has received complaints as new boats were causing guests to get a little more splashed than they were supposed to. The attraction itself is currently under refurbishment and scheduled to reopen September 26th, 2015. Lastly, Disneyland’s Pirates overall ride is different than Disney World’s in that it offers two drops, as opposed to the Magic Kingdom’s one and floats them out and by the queue before disembarking. Disneyland’s Pirates also offers more scenes that what you encounter at Disney World.

Winner: Disneyland

So which Pirates of the Caribbean is the winner? Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean! Yes, Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean has the best overall ride, effects, execution of story, and the longest ride. But do you agree? Is Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean the superior of the two, or do you think Disney World deserves more credit?

Sound off on another Disney Park attraction showdown in Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: Space Mountain.


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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

13 thoughts on “Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean

  • No context. Disneyland. longer length, a longer previous drop before the smaller one.. (it was alspo the first I went, beign a lifetime Calif.resident!_

  • Great article! I love reading these comparisons. Just wanted to share my experience with Disneyworld’s recent complaints about getting “a little more splashed”. We rode this ride in 2013, prior to the most recent refurbishment, and again in May of 2015, before they began the current refurbishment. We had just gotten off of splash mountain about an hour prior and dried off (we had only gotten moderately wet- think heavy mist type… We were seated in the front row of Pirates and had no clue about the change in wetness of the attraction. When we went down the big hill, it felt like buckets of water were dumped in our lap. We got off the ride DRENCHED- not just wet! Way more than what we received at Splash Mountain. I’ve heard the new refurbishment will fix that issue, as it was more comparable to what you would receive at Kali River Rapids rather than Splash Mountain… something that of course we could come prepared for had we known… Thankfully it wasn’t too late at night so we were able to dry off and still enjoy the rest of the day. Anyway- just thought I’d share our experience with the splash…Thanks again for the nice article!

  • I agree completely on the DLR version being better. I’d always heard it was better and then got a chance to ride it several years back. I used to listen to the audio with my eyes closed when I was younger, imaginging I was on the ride, but always wondered why the beginning part with the banjo wasn’t part of the attraction I knew (WDW). After riding it at DLR, everything made more sense.

    I also agree with the location being better at WDW. Adventureland is much more suited to be a launching place for POTC than New Orleans Square. I understand the reason for it being there in DLR, but feel like the “Caribbean” fits much better in Adventureland. Also, its location in WDW keeps the theming around it, whereas at DLR there is really just the sign on the facade that lets you know the attraction is there. I love both, but the location at WDW really is better.

  • A couple of historical notes.
    Pirates was changed from a walk-through to a boat ride when the Imagineers saw the immense “people eating” capacity of it’s a small world in operation at the NY World’s Fair in 1964. The story I’ve read is that they called back to Disneyland and ordered a stop to the walk-through’s construction while it was already in progress (imagine that now).

    As you noted, the WDW Pirates as an add-on due to guest demand. The Imagineers planned a much more extensive dark ride called Western River Expedition that would have be built were Big Thunder Mountain Mountain RR now stands.

  • I know this is a DLR vs. WDW post, but it would be nice to try and compare with the overseas versions. I particularly like the DLParis version. It has great themeing, a compelling story, and best of all, no PotC movie overlay.

    • I also enjoyed the Paris version! They put things in a different order- it made sense.

  • Very nice article. I am looking forward to taking my family to Disneyland some day when my kids are a little older.

    I swear that I have felt the wind from the cannons in the Disney World version, but maybe I am mistaken…..

  • Great article! Personally, I think this is one of those situations where there are certain features of the Disneyland version that are so much better, it renders it an unfair fight, even though it may look more balanced when comparing certain aspects of it — there are areas, like those you’ve notes, where WDW edges DLR, but where DLR wins, it wins BIG. It’s longer, the drops are actual drops, there are more scenes, the opening passing through Blue Bayou is incredibly cool, and all told there is just more “there” there. Going on the Disneyland version has actually made it tough to enjoy the WDW version!

    • I completely agree. For me it’s DLR in a landslide. Everything is better from the “land” it’s located in to the length and as you mentioned how cool it is going through Blue Bayou.

  • I have to say that Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the rides we’ll do two or three times on our Disneyland trips.

  • Nice job. This is a case with possibly the largest disparity between attractions at the two parks (except maybe the Astro Orbiter). I like the Florida version, but POTC in California is one of the great rides in any park.

    One thing where I’d disagree is with FastPass. I find that Pirates at Disney World has been hurt drastically by FastPass Plus. We go during the slow times, and it was always a walk on attraction. Now because of the mess-ups with FP+, it has a 30-minute wait or more. That’s not a benefit for me.

    • The longer wait is not the result of “mess-ups”, it is the intention of FP+ to spread guests more evenly around the park, so you don’t have to wait in line for 120 minutes for Space Mountain. The result is also that it pushes up the standby wait times for middle tier attractions.

  • Based on your description (I’ve never been to the Disneyland version of the ride), it sounds like to me that the Disneyland version should win in all categories except FastPass 🙂

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