The Complete History of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Parks: From Redhead to Redd to Peg(-Leg Pete)

Brit Tuttle

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The Complete History of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Parks: From Redhead to Redd to Peg(-Leg Pete)

On December 15, 2023, Pirates of the Caribbean celebrated its 50th anniversary at Walt Disney World Resort. To mark the occasion, we thought it was important to share a detailed history of Disney’s famous sailing along the Spanish Main.

The History of Pirates of the Caribbean

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The Beginning

The concept of a pirate adventure was first introduced to the team of talented people that Disney had gathered to work on his theme park in the late 1950s. Some pirate-themed concept art, including a “Pirate Shack” and “Bluebeard’s Den,” even dates back to 1954, before Disneyland opened. 

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New Orleans Square, the section of Disneyland that would end up hosting Pirates of the Caribbean, was being planned in earnest by 1957. With the expansion of the Jungle Cruise in the 1960s based on the comedic ideas of Marc Davis, the proposed site of the Haunted House had been used, forcing Walt to find a new home for the attraction. With this happening, Walt decided to expand and grow the New Orleans area of the park into its own land called New Orleans Square.

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Famed Disney artist Herb Ryman is credited with creating the essential look and feel of the place, which is a convincing replica of New Orleans’ French Quarter, with important input from Disney artist Sam McKim. Plans for the land included a Thieves Market shopping district, an elegant restaurant on the veranda of a plantation house overlooking a moonlit bayou, and a walkthrough Rogues Gallery wax museum. 

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Among the assignments Walt gave to Imagineer Marc Davis in 1961 when he joined WED was the wax museum in the basement of the then Blue Bayou Mart. The attraction had been in development since 1958, but Marc redesigned the entire thing in ‘61. When Walt came to Marc with the project, he said, “Marc, you know, there’s something I would like to do. I’d like to do an attraction on Pirates. You know, maybe ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’?” That’s when the attraction was named.

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In one of the earliest versions, a tour guide would take 70 guests at a time through different vignettes, telling the story of each scene. Operations decided that there was no way a guide could maintain the attention of such a large group, so guests should just guide themselves with a guide spieling in each room. This eventually led to debates between WED and operations as to whether it should be a walkthrough or ride experience. 

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In 1963, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room debuted, marking the premiere of Audio-Animatronics. As Pirates of the Caribbean was put on hold, WED Enterprises went to work on the 1964 – 1965 New York World’s Fair, creating human figures for both Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Progressland containing the Carousel of Progress. With the technology created, the pirate project became a walkthrough that appeared to be a wax museum but then came to life with animated figures.

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At this point, Marc was still focusing on real historical pirate figures from the Caribbean. When research revealed that perhaps the lives of some famous Pirates were not as exciting as he thought, Marc changed his concepts to those of what people think pirates did, and he once again looked to inject humor into these situations. As Marc filled his office with concept sketches, he noticed Walt would ignore them every time he came in to talk about the attraction. Marc was annoyed but knew it was because the walkthrough idea just wasn’t working. 

The Ride System is Found

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The Disneyland operations team had been out to the World’s Fair and understood that everything had changed by the time they got back to California. Disneyland was growing fast, and the impact Disney had made on the World’s Fair would only bring more guests. It was expected that anything coming out of WED after the fair had to be as amazing and would be popular. With this being said, ops claimed that they needed attractions that would be people eaters, handling a far greater hourly capacity than most of the remainder of the park, which had many slow-loading attractions like the Fantasyland rides of the 1950s.

The boat system that Arrow Development had made for “it’s a small world” seemed like a natural fit to turn Pirates of the Caribbean into a ride, and so the decision was made. An October 2, 1962 memo from WED claimed that they had been working on several possible boat systems to turn it into a ride, but they never succeeded with any of them. The Arrow boat system could do it.

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A boat ride would require much more real estate than the two floors carved out in New Orleans Square. In fact, it wouldn’t fit in the park. All of this required some major restructuring of the project, to utilize what was already done and redesign what had not yet reached construction. It was a massive undertaking.

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Walt decided they would send guests down drops through the two basement rooms that existed, using them to go under the Railroad and send the boats to a new building outside of the park. The land for the show building would be reclaimed from the failed Holidayland project, a space for corporate functions and private events. Construction on New Orleans Square began again in 1965 and Pirates of the Caribbean was finally happening. 

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Marc Davis got back to work on the sketches for the now-Pirates ride, with Walt now very interested in what he was doing. Marc was also excited to build a ride with an original story, one they could craft from start to finish as they wanted, something that Fantasyland rides didn’t allow and wasn’t thought out well with earlier rides such as the Jungle Cruise and Submarine Voyage. Meanwhile, Claude Coats got to work on designing the sets that Marc’s pirate characters would live in. Coats was also responsible for how the scenes would be laid out. “Claude was excellent at laying out rides,” Harriet Burns said. “He was always the best at getting the most out of a space.”

Song Lyrics and Script

Meanwhile, Francis Xavier Atencio was called to work at WED in 1965, moved over by Walt from animation. He was asked to script the Pirates ride, even though he had zero experience in writing. Inspired by books, his Spanish heritage, and films of the time (“Treasure Island,” “Blackbeard the Pirate,” etc.), Atencio got to work on creating a recognizable Pirate script for guests to relate to. Working from Marc’s sketches, Atencio began writing, starting with the auction scene. 

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With the auction scene being somewhat controversial in manner, the auction for a bride idea was hatched and the banner was put into the scene, making it clear to guests that no advantages would be taken. Walt was leery about the scene, but it made the final cut.

With Walt wary that the attraction was a little un-Disney, Atencio convinced him that a sea shanty could soften the experience for guests. He figured that the Sherman Brothers would be brought in to write it, but when he sang a little of the chorus idea that was in his head, Walt loved it and asked him to do it. George Bruns was assigned to create the tune, with Atencio writing the lyrics.

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“Yo Ho a Pirate’s Life for Me” would be recorded by the Mellomen, a Disney singing group who had already performed in “Lady and the Tramp” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The group was comprised of Bill Cole, Bill Lee, Max Smith, and Thurl Ravenscroft, who would later take the lead on “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for The Haunted Mansion, as well as voice Tony the Tiger.

Atencio also became a director, having to coach voice actors through the audio recordings for the attraction’s cast of characters. Paul Frees would perform many of the parts, including the immortal “Dead Men Tell No Tales” pirate. Frees was the voice for Boris Badenov, Ludwig Von Drake, and would later go on to be the Ghost Host in The Haunted Mansion. Veteran character actor J. Pat O’Malley (Colonel Hathi, Cyril the horse, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) would play the hook-handed pirate at the well and a jailed buccaneer. Atencio would end up voicing the talking skull and the pirate with the hairy leg, two of the most famous characters in the ride.

Sculpting Pirates

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Former animator Blaine Gibson was chosen to sculpt the figures for the ride. Gibson was responsible for Lincoln at the World’s Fair (as well as earlier figures such as Jungle Cruise animals and props for the Submarine Voyage), so this came as no surprise. Starting with miniatures, Gibson began to bring Marc’s ideas to life. 

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All of the heads sculpted for the ride ended up being caricatures of people that Gibson and the other sculptors knew.

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Gibson’s models became the star of the attraction model as well. One of the cornerstones of the model shop was Harriet Burns, along with Fred Joerger and Wathel Rogers. Gibson collaborated with Burns and Joerger on the model, creating the ride scene by scene, with the ability of the figures to be moved, allowing Walt and the Imagineers to perfectly place them before construction began.

The model also included rings where Imagineers could stand to get the view guests would have from the boat, something that had never been done before. It quickly became the largest model they had ever made, and eventually was over 40 feet tall.

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Marc Davis’ wife, Alice Davis, was hired to costume the pirates in the ride, the largest fleet of Audio-Animatronics to date. Walt was so enamored with her work on “it’s a small world” that he brought her onto this project. Audio-Animatronics costumes are a unique challenge in that they must look like normal human clothes, but allow for all of the movement and wiring of a robot. The Redhead was a real problem, as from right below her bust to her hips was nothing but a two-inch tube.

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Velcro was used to realistically attach clothes to the characters and also to allow easy access for replacement or maintenance. Alice also realized that a backup wardrobe would be needed for replacements, but WED told her it wasn’t in the budget. So Alice lied and said every costume cost twice as much and made them anyway. This foresight allowed Disneyland to avoid disaster in the early days of the attraction as the burning town scene ironically caught fire two months after the ride opened.

Alice even had the idea to put bras on the ladies in the chase scene, including a device that would make it appear as if their bosoms were bouncing as they ran.

Audio-Animatronics and Other Magic

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Even with Lincoln and other attractions under their belts, Imagineers didn’t know quite what to do with all of the figures in Pirates of the Caribbean. Admittedly, many had very simple movements. The subtleties in Lincoln’s performance wouldn’t be found here, but in fairness, there was plenty more to look at than a pirate in the background. Wathel Rogers and MAPO fabricated the huge fleet of figures for the ride.

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Meanwhile, Yale Gracey was figuring out how to safely set an entire room on fire. How did he do it? With a hubcap he found on the 405 and some crinkly mylar. The mylar, a light, and a fan were used to create the final effect. The effect was so realistic that the Anaheim Fire Department almost didn’t clear permits for the attractions since they wouldn’t know if there was really a fire or not. Arrow Development’s Karl Bacon recalls walking through the set with Anaheim’s Fire Department Chief:

I remember the head of the fire department coming through the lower doors way down there, and he looked up there and saw it and said, ‘You can’t have fire in here!’ As he got closer he saw that it was done with colored plastic. He was going to shut them down!

Yale also created the fake sky effect with clouds that is still used in the attraction today, a trick he invented for the World’s Fair.

Test Drive

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By 1966, the attraction was nearing completion and many of the sets, props, and figures were sitting at WED waiting for delivery. To see the finished product before sending it off, Imagineers set up the attraction at the Glendale headquarters for a walkthrough. However, Walt Disney wouldn’t walk through. He was given a ride-through so he could see what the guests would see. But how do you do this without flooding the building? Well, they set up a dolly and pushed Walt through the ride.

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During the ride, Atencio apologized for the pirates talking over each other. Walt stopped him and said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s like a cocktail party. People come to cocktail parties and they tune in a conversation over here, then a conversation over there. Each time a guest comes through here, they’ll hear something completely different.”

New Orleans Square

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On July 24th, 1966, Walt Disney opened the first new land at Disneyland since it had opened: New Orleans Square. Since then, only three lands have been added to the park: Bear Country (1972), Mickey’s Toontown (1992), and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (2019). The total project cost was $17 million, with $8 million going to Pirates of the Caribbean. 

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The Blue Bayou restaurant was supposed to open with the land but was delayed until Pirates was finished. Walt didn’t like the idea of opening the restaurant before the adjoined ride. WED press releases at the time remarked that the land was not done, as there was still the ride to finish, Blue Bayou to open, and work upstairs on the private club and the apartment to complete.

Walt Disney Passes Away

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Around this time, Walt’s health started to deteriorate after years of smoking Lucky Strikes. Some of Walt’s closest friends, family, and co-workers knew that the problem was quite serious, though when Walt visited the hospital to have a portion of his left lung removed (November 21, 1966), the Walt Disney Company issued reports about his receiving treatment for an old “polo injury.” Walt was quite worried about the effect that his death might have on the value of his company for the shareholders.

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However, he needn’t have worried. His brother Roy continued his legacy and started working right away with WED on the ongoing projects (such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Florida resort). Upon Walt’s passing on December 15, 1966, newspapers, radio, television, and world leaders around the globe all mourned his loss and praised his legacy.

In late 1966, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer. Years of smoking had caught up with him. Walt told his family that they shouldn’t be concerned, that he’d have the cancer removed and quickly recover. But on Monday, November 7, the surgeon told Lilly, Diane, and Sharon that the cancer had spread and that Walt had between six months and two years to live. There were a few more visits to the studio… and to WED. But Walt spent most of the next few weeks with his family, making plans for the future: ‘I’m going to concentrate on the parks and building EPCOT,’ he told son-in-law Ron. On November 30, he went back to the hospital. And on December 15, he died. The flag at Disneyland flew at half mast. And as commentator Eric Severeid said, ‘We’ll never see his like again.’

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Just before Walt passed, on his last visit to Disneyland, he walked through Pirates of the Caribbean. The channel was finished and walkable, so Walt took a stroll through. This was while programming had moved on to the Auction scene. Walt watched the Auctioneer fully programmed and go through all his motions. Marc Davis said, “It’s a hell of a waste.” Walt said, “No Marc, it’s not a waste. We do so much return business down here, the next time people come in, they’ll see something they hadn’t noticed before.” Walt was right.

On Walt’s last visit to WED in November 1966, he met with Roger Broggie. Broggie told him that Disneyland was pushing hard to open the ride for Christmas. Walt told Broggie to tell them they had to wait until the ride was done. Walt then went into Marc’s office to see concepts for the Country Bear Jamboree. 

With Walt gone, the team decided to complete Pirates of the Caribbean for him, promising they would open it when it was ready.

The Legacy Continues

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Pirates of the Caribbean finally soft-opened on March 18, 1967, with the media festivities planned for April 19. What began as a two-story basement walkthrough was now a 1,838-foot flume through a 112,826-square-foot building. Disneyland had never seen anything like this before, and it became the standard of Disney quality for five decades to follow.

Pirates of the Caribbean was an instant hit when it opened, and perhaps was the moment when the company and the public realized that Walt Disney Productions would continue to be. On August 24, 1968, more guests experienced Pirates of the Caribbean in one day than any other attraction ever.

Grand Opening

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The ride received an elaborate opening special on “The Wonderful World of Disney” on January 28, 1968. The episode, “Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow” is hosted by Disneyland Ambassador Marcia Miner and highlights the New Orleans Square expansion as well as the new additions to Tomorrowland — the Peoplemover and the Carousel of Progress. The show starts with clips from the 1965 episode where Walt tours the Pirates model at Imagineering. The episode then goes on to show the opening day ceremonies.

The press there to cover the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean were all put aboard the Columbia, which was then boarded and taken over by pirates who were sailing on the Rivers of America. The pillaging included the ship’s crew walking the plank and actresses in period costumes being hauled off by some of the pirates and made to serve drinks to the press. The ship then docked and the pirate actors led the press to the ride, where, after a battle with the guards out front, they were allowed to board. Viewers are then treated to a 10-minute ride through before the focus shifts back to Tomorrowland.

1967 – The Ride at Disneyland

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New Orleans

Our adventure begins in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which stands proudly at the bend of the Rivers of America. A manor house serves as the entrance to the attraction. Once inside, guests are greeted by an improbable brick canal with a tropical sandbar strewn with treasure chests, a weathered Jolly Roger, and an unfurled treasure map. A green parrot also greets guests, added in later years. 

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Blue Bayou

In the “Blue Bayou,” which is where the attraction begins its adventure, you can clearly see the side rails underneath the shallow water. The bayou is only 24 inches deep in this upper level of the attraction. Animatronic fireflies were added to the bayou for a touch of realism. Many California natives had never seen such creatures before and thought they were a Disney invention.

Marc Davis recalled Yale Gracey (WED’s extraordinary creator of practical illusions) as having come up with the original effect, but in 1985, Tim Carter (who later went on to become a Disneyland Cast Member) came up with a superior design with more life-like behavior. His idea was accepted and utilized by Disney, and the effect was updated.

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Riders board their boats at Laffite’s Landing and are at once afloat in the heart of bayou country, after the safety spiel given by Blackbeard. Once past several rickety houseboats, the soft strumming of banjo melodies (including “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races”) can be heard over the peaceful sounds of nature. Guests pass by a houseboat with an old man calmly rocking back and forth in his rocking chair on the porch.

Crickets, frogs, toads, alligators, and all sorts of waterfowl (hidden behind the mangroves) sing their eerie songs quietly throughout the swamp as you drift slowly toward the stone walls of a canal, which narrows into a brick channel that sweeps the small flat-bottom boat quickly toward a dark corridor.

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From somewhere ahead, a steady low voice seems to be warning you of the adventures that may lie ahead. But for now, the gentle evening holds sway. The Blue Bayou is widely regarded as Disneyland’s most effective “outside-inside” effect.

Situated inside a four-story-high set, the flickering lighting of lamps and lanterns reflecting off of the gently lapping waters creates a convincing outdoor experience. This is amplified by a queue design that gradually winds away from the natural sunlight, taking the guests through a simulated onset of the evening hours.

As the boat continues floating onward, the mysterious voice continues with a rather ominous message:

Psst! Avast there! It be too late to alter course, mateys… and there be plundering pirates lurking in every cove, waitin’ to board. Sit closer together, and keep your ruddy hands inboard. That be the best way to repel boarders. And mark well me words, mateys… dead men tell no tales! Ye come seekin’ adventure and salty ol’ pirates, aye? Sure ye come to the proper place. But keep a weather eye open, mates, and hold on tight, with both hands if you please… there be squalls ahead, and Davy Jones waiting for them what don’t obey…

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After turning a final corner in the brick channel, guests find the owner of the mysterious voice: a living “Jolly Roger!” Mounted on the bricks above the boat’s path, a plaque mounted with crossed swords and a talking skull (voiced by Atencio) asks the guests to take heed of his warnings.

The Grotto of Lost Souls

After passing under the talking Jolly Roger, Pirates of the Caribbean visitors are rushed down two misty waterfalls, launching the ride into a dark and mysterious grotto. Both drops are at a 21-degree angle, with the first 52 feet in length, and the second 37 feet.

All around the boats, towering stone cliffs direct the current to wind through various dank passageways, as the theme song to the ride sets the mood. Why? Well, Walt said to just put some caves in. He couldn’t figure out another way to get guests through to the show building and the main part of the tale.

The audio throughout the grotto portion of the attraction is quite important to the atmosphere. After successfully navigating the waterfalls, the joyous theme song “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me” plays briefly. The ominous stone walls of the caverns and the eerie moonlit scenery soon lend an air of mystery to the ride. The audio matches (and helps establish) these changes in mood, by changing to more of a “cinematic” soundtrack, simplifying the theme to allow for sound effects to take the lead, and adding to the guests’ anticipation and/or dread of things to come.

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After winding through the grotto for some time, visitors come across a grim tableau: three skeletons that appear to have been seeking treasure in a small cove have reaped their reward. Two have been run through with their blades, and the remaining body lies dead next to the now-empty treasure chest, all three apparently the victims of another band of treacherous villains, or victims of in-fighting. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction doesn’t shy away from the fact that the legendary life of a pirate wasn’t a placid existence and that there was a price to be paid for such a vile lifestyle. This first set piece demonstrates that clearly.

However, the art and technology used in the attraction have propelled it into today’s pop culture, stripping it of any real menace or threat.

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In issue 32 (Fall 1999) of The “E” Ticket magazine, Jack and Leon Janzen published an extensive celebration of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and the article notes some of the subtleties of the grotto scenes:

In the grotto, the first pirate skeletons are shown undisturbed where they lay. Further along, the skeletons are engaged in more ‘lively’ pursuits like steering the ship or gulping rum at the bar. Deeper in the caves, the dead pirates seem as if still alive, reviewing treasure maps or fondling treasure. This shift from the realistic to the whimsical helps prepare the audience for adventures even more fantastic along in the attraction.

These observations will prove true as we move further into the attraction. In many ways, the grotto scenes are modern results of the lives of the historical pirates that we will see further on in the ride. The clear message driven home by this attraction is that ‘dead men tell no tales…’

Moving through the grotto, the crusty skeletons become more animated, as noted above. We pass a skeleton at the helm of a shipwreck, the rotting boards smashed on the grotto shore as we see through the rocky walls of the grotto out into the stormy night sky. Shredded sails and old cargo remain scattered throughout the site of the wreck as the lone skeleton captain is doomed to eternally pilot the ship to a long-forgotten destination. 

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Fake skeletons of the time were unconvincing, so real human remains were acquired from the UCLA medical center to furnish the ride. Later on, Imagineers decided to replace these with facsimiles and return the skeletons home to their countries of origin for a proper burial.

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Moving onward, guests pass the “Crew’s Quarters,” a salty hangout where two pirates appear to have died enjoying their rum. Pirates seem to have once used this old inn as a homestead, as signs hanging nearby read “Stow yer weapons” and “Thar Be No Place Like Home!” Decorated with remnants from old ships and vessels, this hideaway is adorned with liquor, glassware, and lush artwork.

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Adorning the Disneyland “Crew’s Quarters” is an original work by Marc Davis. His original painting has hung inside the attraction for years. It pictures a redhead wielding a pirate’s blade, drinking nectar supplied by a cherub with a devilish grin.

Some have suggested the painting represents the redhead we will meet later in the attraction after her abduction by the pirates… but who knows?

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Drifting onward, the guests’ boat passes the quarters of the captain himself, who is nothing more than a bony corpse propped up in his lush bed, studying a treasure map while his harpsichord plays a melancholy rendition of the ride’s theme song. 

“A man o’ delicate taste, the cap’n,” reads an old Disneyland souvenir guide. “His quarters rigged with the finest furnishings money did not buy.” 

And finally, leaving the cap’n behind, we come across the grand finale: the “cursed treasure” that every pirate dreams of. “Pretty baubles — and a king’s ransom in gold,” the guide continues. “Aye, blood money and cursed it be…” Indeed, the treasure cavern is filled edge to edge with sparkling jewels, piles of gold, and all types of trinkets and art.

Seated atop this cache of plundered wealth is a final skeletal pirate, reminding guests that even the finest riches and wealth are no match for death, which is the only reward any of these pirates could count on. As the boat continues past the amazing treasure, the grotto narrows into a tunnel shrouded in mist as ghostly voices echo through the cavern:

No fear have ye of evil curses, says you? Arrrgh… Properly warned ye be, says I. Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders of this bewitched treasure? Dead men tell no tales!

Perhaps ye knows too much… ye’ve seen the cursed treasure, you know where it be hidd’n. Now proceed at your own risk. These be the last ‘friendly’ words ye’ll hear. Ye may not survive to pass this way again… Dead men tell no tales!

Originally at this point, alligators attached to chains would snap at guests to urge them away from the gold, but then guests would pass a Pirate salesman, offering gold and other trinkets out of his open trench coat. This was cut for some reason.

The Wicked Wench

Escaping the eerie grotto, the boats find themselves thrust through a blinding mist into the smoky middle of a battle. Pirates aboard their ship, “The Wicked Wench,” are lobbing cannonballs across the lagoon at a Spanish fort, which is returning fire. Caught in the middle between splashing cannonballs are the innocent guests aboard their boats, proceeding heedlessly through the smoky melee.

“Strike yer colors, you bloomin’ cockroachers!” screams the crazed captain as the cannonballs screech toward the fort.

With each splash of an errant cannonball, the water glows orange as the red-hot projectile cools.

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Of course, there are no real projectiles. Each cannonball splashdown is created by a flash of light mixed with an upward blast of air from under the water’s surface. This set is one of the most majestic large-scale scenes in the ride, but even so, it uses lighting and forced perspective to create the appearance of a much larger space. By creating a ship with topsails that are much smaller than they would be on a real ship (and, likewise, a fortress with smaller upper levels), the effect of a larger scale is created.

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Sacking the Town

The village of Puerto Dorado on Isla Tesoro is overrun with pirates in search of treasure. Passing through the gates of the sacked town, guests see the first of several incredibly detailed scenes of mayhem. First, Carlos, the magistrate of the town, is tortured by being dunked in the town well by a group of pirates asking for the location of the treasure. “I weel not talk!” he replies bravely in a Spanish accent, before being dunked yet again. 

A line of other town officials stand in a line, bound as prisoners, perhaps waiting their turn to be questioned.

The captives are being held at the gates of the Mayor’s home, which has been battered open and ransacked. His proud wife occasionally peeks out of an upstairs window, admonishing her husband “Don’t tell him, Carlos! Don’t be chee-ken!” A pirate’s potshot at the window sill quickly causes the wife to duck back inside, but she’ll peek out again before long.

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Floating on, the next scene that guests come to is the ride’s infamous “auction scene,” in which drunken pirates are encouraged to bid on the local women, and a banner advises the men to “Take a Wench for a Bride!” In an interview with “E Ticket” Magazine, Coats recalls Walt’s apprehension at the idea of the scene. “He came in one time and even said, ‘This will be all right, won’t it?’ He was a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite ‘Disney’ or not?” Pirates will be pirates, though, so the scene was included. Though some humor was added to the scene, to give it a comic lift. While the auctioneer is trying to sell off one on the typical “stout-hearted and cornfed” women of the town, the bidders cry out for the “redhead,” a flirtatious woman waiting in the wings for her turn to go to the highest bidder, with apparent delight.

This scene is one of the most complex, with Audio-Animatronic magic everywhere. The intricate “auctioneer” pirate moves and speaks with realism, and the drunk bidders respond to him with merry glee. When one of them shoots his gun, props across the waterway respond as if hit by the shot, and Audio-Animatronic chickens and goats respond with alarm. And, of course, the dialogue pulls everything together.

The auctioneer: “Do I hear Six? Who’ll make it six?

The drunken bidder: “Six it be… Six bottles of rum!”

The auctioneer: “I’m not spongin’ for rum! It be gold I’m after…”

Drifting onward, we see that many of the women of the town didn’t take kindly to being sold off and have escaped, leading to them being chased through town by their pirate suitors. This scene was accomplished by placing the frozen “chasing” characters on rapidly spinning carousels. One woman did chase a man, in an attempt to establish the harmless fun in the scene. It would buy it a pass for three decades.

One infamous tableau from this scene featured a “pooped” pirate reminiscing about the “lively lassie” he wished to “hoist his colors” upon. Holding her slip as he prattles on, the innocent victim peers out from inside an oak barrel behind the pirate’s back as he keeps boasting, unaware.

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As the boats drift further into the heart of the town, the pirates get more frantic and the mayhem gets more dangerous as the town is set ablaze. Meanwhile, the pirates have become too drunk to care, as they sing the theme song blissfully and go about their looting of the village, unaware of the threat that the flaming town has become…

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Burning the Village and Escape

The “flaming town” is one of the most startling effects in the entire attraction. Some wary visitors thought that real flame was used for the scene. Lighting effects, dancing shadows, and flickering “flames” give the viewer pause. 

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As the town burns brighter, the pirates grow dimmer as the alcohol takes its toll. Pirates stand around with their lit torches burning in their hands, unaware of their surroundings. Others wallow in the mud with pigs and stray cats. The guests’ boat drifts through a stone archway under the glazed gaze of a stupefied pirate.

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The Audio-Animatronic pirates were created with exaggerated features and facial expressions, but they are still amazingly lifelike. The cartoonish features are believable and appropriate amidst the extreme drunken behavior of the pirates. The following excerpt from “Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean” souvenir guide explains:

In [the WED sculptors’] clay modeling, they were first confronted with the problem of composing heads which were typical of real persons, and not merely cartoon characters. Features were exaggerated to provide characteristics recognizable instantly, and to facilitate three-dimensional animation…. Just as actors are chosen for roles in motion pictures, so also were the heads ‘cast’ to the figures. Dialogue, body size, and part in the show dictated which heads were to be used.

POTC jail scene concept art
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The boats continue their trip through the melee, drifting into the foundations of the town and passing prison cells that are threatened by the looming flames… as are the captive pirates trapped inside, some of whom are frantically trying to bribe a guard dog into bringing them the keys to the cell, which he holds tauntingly in his jaws.

Finally drifting into a burning building, guests are suddenly thrust into the midst of burning embers and flaming pillars. From above, ominous creaking sounds echo through the subterranean chamber as the foundations of the buildings above sway and burning beams crack and groan under pressure. The boats then enter the town’s underground arsenal and armory.

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Guests drift between stockpiles of weapons, cannonballs, and stacked barrels of gunpowder. The drunken pirates are oblivious to the imminent threat, as they take potshots at guests in the boats, the casks of gunpowder, and each other while their shots ricochet off of the walls and armor stored in the room.

With this final scene, guests’ tour of the world of the pirates comes to an end. Before the inebriated salts can blow the arsenal into pieces, our boats make their escape by heading “up” a waterfall.

1971 – Walt Disney World

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When the master planning of WDW kicked into high gear in late 1967 — after Walt Disney’s death and the securing of vital legislation from the Florida State Senate that granted Walt Disney Productions control over its 27,443 acres of property — the company had no intention of building Pirates of the Caribbean for their new venture’s theme park component. They believed pirate lore was too close to Florida’s history to warrant such an attraction at the Magic Kingdom. The prevailing sentiment was that southeastern U.S. audiences would be better entertained by a taste of something less familiar and more removed from their geographic region.

Meanwhile, a giant expansion pad laid dormant in Frontierland for what would be the replacement for Pirates of the Caribbean in Florida. A western boat ride known as the Western River Expedition was planned as a late phase 1 project.

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Amid work on Western River Expedition, Walt Disney World opened to enthusiastic crowds in October 1971. Many visitors fully expected to enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction from Disneyland, which they had heard so much about and seen promoted on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” the company’s Sunday-night television show. When these people arrived in the Magic Kingdom to find nary a buccaneer, there were, to put it mildly, a few complaints.

They bombarded Guest Relations, wrote letters, and even called Burbank. Where were the Pirates of the Caribbean?

So now there was a problem. While Imagineering still felt that building the Pirates-like Western River Expedition and promoting it on its own considerable merits was the appropriate route, there was no doubt that this would be a more costly and more risky option than simply repeating Pirates, especially when Pirates was a sure-fire success with great word-of-mouth. That’s certainly how Walt Disney Productions’ management saw it, specifically Walt Disney Productions President Card Walker. He insisted the Pirates be added to the Florida park post haste, which it was — in an abbreviated form built for a rumored half of Western River Expedition’s projected $60 million price tag.

The decision to build Pirates was made in early 1972, at which time the future of Thunder Mesa and Western River Expedition was immediately up in the air. With Pirates on its way to the park, the urgency to build another major attraction on its west side (especially considering Tom Sawyer Island was also slated to open in 1973) was massively diminished. If the key component of Thunder Mesa hadn’t been a boat ride, placed so close to Pirates, there may have still been a compelling argument to proceed. There were still various peripheral attractions like the train ride and the mules to consider, but in the eyes of management, there were enough factors to table the project in its entirety.

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With no New Orleans Square, a vacant plot in Adventureland was chosen for the project. This wouldn’t just be the addition of a new ride — It would add shopping, entertainment,  and dining as well to create a sub-land of sorts. The land would also complete the dead end in Adventureland, leading to less traffic between the small corridor near the Country Bear Jamboree and Sunshine Tree Terrace. The new area would be called Caribbean Plaza.

The land would include:

  • A more intricately themed facade and queue for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction resembling a fort, “El Castillo Del Moro”
  • Two large show buildings connecting under the Walt Disney World Railroad
  • A shopping plaza and restrooms at the attraction’s exit
  • An arch for the passage between Adventureland and Frontierland
  • An undercover market area (which would eventually become more restaurant seating)
  • An extension of the facades near Pecos Bill’s
  • And a new restaurant called El Pirata Y El Perico

Marc Davis wished to correct what he saw as the problems of the ride on the West Coast, borrowing from some things he intended for Western River Expedition. In a rush to please the Orlando guests, many of these things were cut for time and budget. One concession made was for a completely new finale. The treasure room would be made the finale of the ride. Otherwise, the middle of the ride’s layout is mostly the same as in California. The beginning and ending were reworked, removing several scenes and shortening the ride.

Marc didn’t get to add everything that he wanted. One addition that was lost was a pirate who would turn into a skeleton. This wouldn’t be realized until the Shanghai Disneyland version of the ride in 2016. It also became an interesting premise for the later film series.

With no need for two drops, only one was installed. They also had guests exit before the ramp that returned the boats upstairs to the load area, so they didn’t have to explain how the boats travel up a waterfall. 

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Construction began in September 1972. Ground was cleared, foundations poured, and backstage roads and bridges rerouted and rebuilt. The Walt Disney World Railroad would also be rerouted not even one year into its existence. The utilidors were not expanded for the project and it was built at normal ground level, which is why you descend downhill into Adventureland from the pathway near Pecos Bill’s.

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The queue would feature two lines with completely different set pieces leading to two different load platforms, helping with the overall ride capacity. In one area is a set of skeletons left in an eternal chess battle, a stalemate. When the attraction was remodeled in the 1990s Imagineers swept the board clean, but then couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back. Luckily, Marc Davis had made a diagram.

The Florida attraction would move directly into the caves and Dead Man’s Grotto/Hurricane Lagoon, before dropping guests down one 13-foot drop into the bombardment scene. They would then travel through the town, which is almost identical to that found at Disneyland. 

After the jail scene, the burning timbers scene and the room of drunken Pirates shooting explosives would be replaced with the Florida-exclusive treasure room. In the room, two guards were tied up while Pirates pillaged and their parrot sang. Guests would then unload at the lower level, and take the “moving gangplank,” or Goodyear Speedramp, up to Caribbean Plaza.

The Florida ride has 133 Audio-Animatronic figures, some of which didn’t even arrive in Orlando until just three weeks before the ride opened. The ride would be 8-and-a-half minutes long (provided boats did not back up). There are 1,140 feet of track and the boats travel at roughly two feet per second. There are 155,00 gallons of water in the ride, with the average depth being 29 inches. Each boat can hold 23 guests in five rows of four and a rear row of three. They can load roughly 2,063 guests with single-load and 2,750 with dual-load per hour — if the circumstances are right.

The attraction opened on December 15, 1973, unveiled by Christi and Rock Hudson.

Guests on the Florida attraction were greeted by Peg Leg Pete, an Audio-Animatronic bird with a pirate hat, eye patch, a wooden leg, and a tattoo of an anchor on his chest. He would sing “Yo ho, yo ho, a parrot’s life for me.”

Even though the ride opened in December 1973, the shops in Caribbean Plaza were not fully opened until May 1974. The original shops included:

  • The House of Treasure
  • Plaza del Sol Caribe
  • La Princesa de Cristal
  • The Golden Galleon
  • El Pirata y el Perico

The Caribbean Arcade opened later in 1974. 

1983 – Tokyo Disneyland

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The 1970s were a tumultuous time for The Walt Disney Company, but during this period, Tokyo Disneyland became a reality. The first international Disney resort would open on April 15, 1983. 

To make the project a reality, Imagineer Marty Sklar brought with him legends such as John Hench, Ken Anderson, Herb Ryman, Marc Davis, Claude Coats, Blaine Gibson, Sam McKim, and X Atencio. New recruits on the project included Randy Bright, Eric Jacobsen, Michael Sprout, John Horny, Bob Weis, and Chris Tietz. 

For Adventureland in Tokyo, a French Quarter section was created to host Pirates of the Caribbean and the second Blue Bayou restaurant. The ride would be mostly the Disneyland version with only one drop and the removal of the Captain’s Quarters from the cave scene.

1991 – Florida Modifications

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Safety concerns prompted Walt Disney World to remove its twin load stations. Guests would too often stick their hands out, and the underwater switch that would send boats into the channel could easily lop off a hand. A single load channel was built, but it would continue to load from two separate queues and two sides.

1992 – Disneyland Paris

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It was decided in designing EuroDisney that a Pirates of the Caribbean ride would open with the park. The plan was to take what existed, put it in a new order, and add new scenes and effects to tell the best possible story, fixing any and all issues from the past versions of the ride.

Construction began in 1989 and the ride was ready for opening day, April 12, 1992. The ride system was built by Intamin. 

A winding exterior queue would lead guests into an eternal nighttime harbor, complete with the Blue Lagoon restaurant. The ride here begins with guests sailing through a long-abandoned pirate galleon, filled with creatures now overrunning it.

Skirting the coast, boats sail with views of a moonlit ocean as they approach a lift hill. The hill appears to be some sort of lift, with a winch spinning in perpetuity to complete the effect. Sailing through the fort, guests see the attack scene they are about to careen into before it happens. Pirates are scaling the walls and even swinging above guests to attack the fort. Here, guests float through the jail scene and down the first drop into the battle. This includes the Wicked Wench firing upon guests.

The town portion of the ride is mostly the same but with the latest in Audio-Animatronics technology. There is also one of the greatest innovations of all time, a set of AAs who sword fight. At the end of the town, guests enter the arsenal and the explosion sends them down a second drop.

This leads to a few scenes of skeletal remains of the pirates, showing what became of all of them for their wicked lives. The Disneyland Railroad passes through this scene, something not present in any of the other versions of the ride.

1997 – First Politically Correct Modifications

Magic Kingdom Pirates of the Caribbean Pirate Cat
(C) Matthew Cooper Photography – www.thetimethespace.com

Refurbishments on both coasts came about in late 1996 and carried into 1997 for the 30th anniversary of the attraction. The plaque that now greets guests outside was added at this time, marking the occasion. The main focus was to remove the scenes with Pirates chasing women as it might be deemed offensive.

Though the setting is the same, the scene was altered to feature the “pooped” pirate reminiscing about the culinary wonders of the town, as hunger seems to have taken the place of a lusty libido in this pirate’s mind. Rather than a frightened maiden peeking out of the barrel, now an alley cat would peek out, trying to steal a meal off of the gluttonous pirate’s platter. A horse and a goat also tried to rob him. Why this group of animals? Because they were in the recently shuttered World of Motion at EPCOT Center. After the ride closed, a number of these figures and others were sent to WDI to be repurposed into various attractions. All those added to Pirates were removed in the 2006 overhaul.

At the Magic Kingdom, the chase scene was altered to show the pirates making off with various treasures as the formerly “chased” women attempt to thwart them. The “pooped” here holds a treasure map in his lap and a magnifying glass in one hand. His lines include: “This map says X marks the spot, but I be seein’ no Xs afore me.” The woman in the barrel remains, although this time she is hiding a small treasure chest in the barrel with her.

At Disneyland Paris, however, these changes had not been made.

These modifications garnered criticism from longtime fans and some of the attraction’s original Imagineers. In Jason Surrell’s book “Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom to the Movies,” show writer Atencio referred to these “softening” touches as “Boy Scouts of the Caribbean.”

2000 – DisneyQuest

In 2000, Pirates of the Caribbean II: Battle for Buccaneer Gold opened at DisneyQuest at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort. At this attraction, which was located in the Explore Zone of Disney Quest, up to five players board a virtual pirate ship to sail around a small 3-D world. Players may fire cannons at other virtual pirate ships; if opposing ships are sunk, their treasure will be “stolen.” The experience leads up to a final showdown with Jolly Roger and his ghost ship to defend their treasure.

To make the experience immersive for guests, WDI developed 270-degree wrap-around screens, realistic firing cannons, and a synchronized motion-based platform. Combined with surround sound and a 3-D environment, guests could really feel as though they were swashbuckling pirates.

2003 – “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”

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In the early 1990s, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio conceived a supernatural spin on the pirate genre after completing work on “Aladdin,” but there was no interest from any studio. Undeterred, the writing team refused to give up the dream, waiting for a studio to pick up their take on a pirate tale. Disney had Jay Wolpert write a script based on Pirates of the Caribbean, which producer Jerry Bruckheimer rejected, feeling it was “a straight pirate movie.” Bruckheimer brought Stuart Beattie in to rewrite the script in March 2002, due to his knowledge of piracy, and later that month Elliott and Rossio were brought in. Elliott and Rossio, inspired by the opening narration of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, decided to give the film a supernatural edge. As the budget rose, Michael Eisner and Robert Iger threatened to cancel the film, though Bruckheimer changed their minds when he showed them concept art and animatics. 

In June 2002, Gore Verbinski signed on to direct “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush signed on to star the following month. Verbinski was attracted to the idea of using modern technology to resurrect a genre, one that had disappeared after the Golden Age of Hollywood, and recalled his childhood memories of the ride, feeling the film was an opportunity to pay tribute to the “scary and funny” tone of it. Depp was attracted to the story as he found it quirky: rather than trying to find treasure, the crew of the Black Pearl were trying to return it to lift their curse. Also, the traditional mutiny had already taken place.

Verbinski approached Rush for the role of Barbossa, as he knew he would not play it with attempts at complexity, but with a simple villainy that would suit the story’s tone. Orlando Bloom read the script after Rush, with whom he was working on “Ned Kelly.” Keira Knightley came as a surprise to Verbinski. He had not seen her performance in “Bend It Like Beckham” and was impressed by her audition. Tom Wilkinson was negotiated with to play Governor Swann, but the role went to Jonathan Pryce, whom Depp idolized.

Shooting for “The Curse of the Black Pearl” began on October 9, 2002, and wrapped by March 7, 2003. Before its release, many executives and journalists expected the film to flop, as the pirate genre had not been successful for years, the film was based on a theme-park ride, and Depp rarely made a big film. However, “The Curse of the Black Pearl” became both a critical and commercial success.

It has been followed by four sequels: “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006), “At World’s End” (2007), “On Stranger Tides” (2011), and “Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), with the second installment winning an Oscar for Best Special Effects in 2007.

2006 – The Film Inspires Changes in the Attraction

Jack Sparrow on PotC

As the sequels to the first film were being developed, rumors swirled that Jack Sparrow and other characters from the film would be added to the classic attraction.

The attraction closed March 1, 2006, at Walt Disney World, but reopened for three weeks in April before closing again to complete the work.

The attraction officially re-opened to guests at Disneyland on June 26 and in Florida’s Magic Kingdom on July 7. The enhanced attraction opened in time for the highly anticipated major motion picture release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” in theaters nationwide on July 7. 

Captain Jack Sparrow appears in the attraction on three different occasions. His first appearance occurs during the familiar “Dunking Scene” where one of the pirate leaders is interrogating the village’s mayor, trying to find out Captain Jack’s whereabouts by consistently dunking the poor magistrate in the well. Captain Jack Sparrow appears again in a barrel next to a salty old pirate who is reviewing a treasure map.

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And lastly, Captain Jack can be spotted in the finale of the attraction relishing in his good fortune to be the first to find the town’s cache of treasure. Above is concept art of the scene.

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Additionally, the treacherous Barbossa can now be seen as the Captain of the Wicked Wench in the attraction’s famous battle scene. An apparition of the ghostly Davy Jones, a prominent character in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” could be seen in the attraction’s mysterious grotto labyrinth, materializing via a fantastic waterfall effect.

In addition to weaving the characters of Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Davy Jones into the attraction’s storyline, the Iagineers enhanced the attraction experience with an all-new dynamic digital sound design, the addition of musical cues from the movie soundtracks, enhanced theatrical lighting designs and an improved battle sequence between a pirate galleon and Spanish fortress.

Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa are great new Audio-Animatronics figures, and we’ve featured them in ways that fit into what’s already happening in the attraction but expands the story just enough to include their personalities. We want it to feel like they were there all along.

Michael Sprout, WDI senior concept writer

One of the largest scenes to be enhanced is the impressive “Treasure Cache,” found in the attraction’s mysterious grottos at Disneyland. Imagineers removed the scene entirely and fabricated more than 400,000 new shimmering gold coins and set pieces. The scene at Disneyland contains original movie props from the hit 2003 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

In Florida, the attraction received a larger marquee, removing the original signage and the Peg Leg Pete Audio-Animatronic. The exterior music loop was also changed to music from the film series.

Inside, the talking pirate skull before the drop was removed and the drop now took place in the dark, in silence. 

2007 – Mickey’s Pirate and Princess Party

Mickey’s Pirate and Princess Party was a hard-ticketed event held from January through June at the Magic Kingdom. This event combined two of The Walt Disney Company’s franchises: the Disney Princess line and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Starting in January 2007 and ending in 2009, the event was created after Cast Members at the park saw many children dressed either as pirates or princesses at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Because of that, Walt Disney World decided to create a new event, which took two years of planning.

Each of the lands within the Magic Kingdom received a royalty or piracy-related theme:

  • Adventureland – Princess Jasmine and generic pirates
  • Liberty Square – Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Fantasyland – Ariel
  • Tomorrowland – Space Pirates
  • Mickey’s Toontown Fair – Other Princesses such as Mulan and Snow White

There was also themed entertainment:

  • Disney’s Enchanted Adventures Parade – A parade featuring all of the Princesses and Pirates (including Peter Pan and Wendy)
  • Magic, Music, and Mayhem – A special fireworks show
  • Dream Along With Mickey – A nighttime version of the daily show
  • Dance Parties in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland

2007 – Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island

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Tom Sawyer Island opened in 1956, one year after the opening of Disneyland Park. The Island received major upgrades, new show elements, and a complete re-theming in 2007 when it re-opened as Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. The re-theming eradicated much of the previous Tom Sawyer theme in favor of characters and elements from and inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island’s opening coincided with the theatrical release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

2009 – The Pirate’s League

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On June 29, 2009, The Pirates League opened near the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom, offering swashbuckling makeovers. Participants received pirate names before getting decked out in a variety of accessories, including beards, eye patches, scarves, scars, earrings, and gold teeth. These were applied by a “pirate master” with sea-sailing tales. After taking a sacred oath and an official portrait, guests were officially part of Jack Sparrow’s gang.

Pirates League Magic Kingdom Stock

There were screen-used props from the films inside The Pirates League (which closed permanently in 2020), including maps to the World’s End, the Pirate King’s throne, a Jack the Monkey’s music box from “At World’s End,” one of Elizabeth’s dresses, and Davy Jones’ locket.

2011 – More Modifications

Blackbeard Added to Pirates of the Caribbean Magic Kingdom WDW

To coincide with the release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” a projection of Captain Blackbeard from the film (voiced by original actor Ian McShane) temporarily replaced the 2006 projection of Davy Jones in the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom version of the attraction beginning on May 20, 2011.

Mermaid Skeletons Added to Pirates of the Caribbean Magic Kingdom WDW

The Walt Disney World version also included changes to the grotto scene to include the mermaids from the film in October 2012. A skeletal mermaid was added to the beach, along with the “Jolly Sailor Bold” song from the film, and a projection of the mermaids with a splashing fin effect in the water nearby.

For unknown reasons, the projections were deactivated relatively soon afterward, but the music and the skeleton remained for longer. Surprisingly, the glass mermaid transport device from the film mysteriously showed up on the beach in 2016 but was never remarked on by Disney. These were later removed in 2018.

2012 – “The Legend of Jack Sparrow”

The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow was an immersive walk-through special effects attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort. The attraction opened on December 6, 2012, replacing the Journey into Narnia: Prince Caspian attraction that previously occupied the building.

Guests followed the story of Captain Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series and experienced several interactive sequences.

Guests were taken into an indoor theater themed to a coastal cove, where they were recruited by a talking skull (James Arnold Taylor) in hopes of becoming part of Captain Jack Sparrow’s crew. During the training process, static skeletons were reanimated from the dead, Davy Jones’ kraken appeared and mermaids attempted to coax guests by singing sea shanties. The talking skull informed the guests that they were ready to partake in Sparrow’s crew. Following his words, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) appeared via high-definition projection and engaged in a battle with Davy Jones, entrusting the newly inducted crew to help. Sparrow managed to defeat Jones by sinking his ship, the Flying Dutchman. Sparrow congratulated the crew and invited them to a celebratory singing of “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” Finally, Sparrow bid the guests farewell and the show concluded.

The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow closed on November 6, 2014. The attraction was so poorly received by guests who had no idea what they were waiting for, that it was decided best to just shutter it with no replacement.

The lead show writer on the project, Jason Surrell, would go on to work for Universal Orlando after this, leading Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon and Fast and the Furious: Supercharged.

2013 – FastPass+ Changes and A Pirate’s Adventure

In 2013, with the rollout of MyMagic+ at Walt Disney World, FastPass+ was added to Pirates of the Caribbean. The right side of the queue was heavily modified with additional walls, netting, fences, and more to accommodate the service. Guests had previously been able to pick a side to queue in.

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Meanwhile, the Crow’s Nest shop, once a Kodak film location, was being converted into the home base for a new Adventureland attraction, a new interactive quest called A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.

In A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, guests use a pirate map and magic talisman (eventually MagicBands or cards) to help them complete five different pirate raids throughout Adventureland. The goal is to help locate different Treasures of the Seven Seas and fight off pirate enemies like the Royal Navy and Captain Barbossa, among others. If guests help Captain Jack succeed in all the missions, they’ll be welcomed as part of his new crew. If not, they’ll face the wrath of the cruel sea – alone.

2016 – Shanghai Disneyland

Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Treasure Cove in Shanghai Disneyland

At Shanghai Disneyland, the first-ever land dedicated to Pirates of the Caribbean was built — Treasure Cove. The land includes the first completely new attraction based on the film series alone, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. The attraction uses a revolutionary ride system that’s a blend between the classic boat ride and the EMV system used in DINOSAUR and the Indiana Jones Adventure.

The land also includes a stunt show spectacular, “Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular.”

2017 – Pirates of the Caribbean Added to “Fantasmic!”

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In 2016, “Fantasmic!” at Disneyland closed for the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. When the nighttime spectacular returned in 2017, it featured a new “Pirates of the Caribbean” segment with the Sailing Ship Columbia representing the Black Pearl.

You can watch the show in its most recent form in the video below:

2017-2018 – Captain Redd’s New Auction Scene

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Redd in the original auction scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction

In the late 2010s, Disney decided it was finally time to change the auction scene, which Walt himself had been trepidatious about all those years ago. The change was first implemented at Disneyland Paris in July 2017, along with the addition of a new Barbossa animatronic.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom followed in March 2018. Lastly, Disneyland’s version received the updated scene in June 2018.

Magic Kingdom Pirates of the Caribbean Auction Scene new
(C) Matthew Cooper Photography – www.thetimethespace.com

The new version features Captain Redd, a pirate version of the previous redhead, as a completely new animatronic. She and the old auctioneer are now auctioning off animals and other property of the villages, with the women in line re-dressed in finer clothes and some turned into men. The auctioneer is now trying to sell a woman’s chickens, while the other pirates, with Redd’s agreement, demand rum.

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Captain Redd also began appearing as a walkaround character at Disneyland, alongside Jack Sparrow.

In 2019, the Walt Disney Archives revealed that they still had the old redhead animatronic from Disneyland intact.

2018 – Disneyland Refurbishment

POTC Cursed Treasure Scene

The June 2018 refurbishment of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland didn’t just bring about Captain Redd. It also included changes to the tunnel scene after the treasure room. The mist waterfall that had featured Davy Jones and/or Blackbeard was removed, the original 1967 Paul Frees narration was reinstated, and Marc Davis’ skeleton that turns into a living man was finally added after debuting at Shanghai Disneyland a couple of years before.

2023 – Tokyo Disneyland Ride Reopens from Refurbishment with Auction Scene Intact

In 2022, Pirates of the Caribbean at Tokyo Disneyland closed for its longest-ever refurbishment. Eight months later it reopened and, despite rumors, the original auction scene remained intact. Other sensitivity changes made in the 1990s also never made it to Tokyo Disneyland, although it did get the 2006 additions of Jack Sparrow.

2023 – Pirates of the Caribbean Tavern Announced for Magic Kingdom

Destination D23 Pirates Lounge Tavern

Peg-Leg Pete, a.k.a. the Barker Bird, will return to Magic Kingdom with a new Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired tavern. The news was announced during “A Celebration of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” at Destination D23 in 2023.

This experience will bring a Pirates-themed lounge space to Adventureland in Magic Kingdom, extending the story of the attraction, and bringing back Peg-Leg Pete. Imagineers are still in the design process and more details are set to come in the future.

2023 – Peter Pan Announced to Return to “Fantasmic!” Replacing Pirates

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The most recent piece of Pirates of the Caribbean news is that the franchise will no longer be represented in “Fantasmic!” at Disneyland. “Fantasmic!” has been on hiatus since April of 2023 after the Maleficent dragon used in the climactic sequence caught fire during the show. It is scheduled to return to the park on May 24, 2024. When it does, the “Peter Pan” sequence that Pirates replaced will return, too.

Here’s to the next 50 years of Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World and Disney Parks around the world!

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Author

  • Brit Tuttle

    Brit didn't grow up going to the Disney Parks, but had basically the next best thing: the Phantom Manor ride operations simulator flash game and the Disney Sing-Along Songs Beach Party at Walt Disney World VHS. You can email them at brittani@wdwnt.com.