In March of 1967, Disneyland unveiled a new pirate-themed dark boat ride to add to their roster of attractions. This is, of course, the ever-popular Pirates of the Caribbean. For many visitors at Disney parks, it’s a nostalgic ride and a must-do for many families, but relatively few of those visitors know the long history of this beloved attraction.
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride gave rise to a popular film franchise spanning the early 2000s to 2010s. With a cast full of enjoyable characters and the telling of riveting stories, the attraction maintains a heavy presence in merchandising and theming as Disney parks to this day. This attraction is undoubtedly worthy of its legacy. Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into the rich history of this fan-favorite ride.
The ride was based on the antics of bands of pirates around the West Indies islands during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the ride’s planning phases, the ride was initially intended to be a walk-through attraction, but Disney decided to reuse the boat-style attraction utilized in It’s A Small World following its success.
The original Pirates ride opened in Disneyland in 1967 with over fifty animatronic animals and seventy five animatronic humans. The ride itself is flooded with over 600,000 gallons of water, which takes three days to drain and fill for repairs and refurbishment. It was actually the last ride Walt Disney himself had a hand in conceptualizing and creating before his passing in December the year previous.
The ride opened in March and was an instant success. Guests raved about the unique sets and attention to detail, and it was quick to rocket to the height of popularity at the park.
When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, many popular rides from Disneyland were recreated in Orlando. Pirates of the Caribbean, however, was not. Fearing that the reception of a pirate-based ride would not fare as well due to its proximity to the actual Caribbean, the ride was left to entertain riders in the West. However, Disney fans were quick to show their displeasure and expressed enough of an interest that a new incarnation of the attraction would be added to the new park in 1973.
Other incarnations would follow in Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Disneyland Paris in 1992.
After taking a dip down a short drop, guests passed by pirate ships, an explosive battle, and a city being looted by a crew of pirates. In one of the most controversial scenes of the original, the crew of pirates were seen auctioning off the village women and boasting about their success.
Next, a group of trapped pirates try to tempt the prison dog closer to the cell door as it holds a ring of keys in its mouth. As the ride nears its climax, guests witness a shootout between pirate gangs, and, later in the ride’s lifetime, an ending scene was added during which Captain Jack Sparrow lounging on a chair surrounded by piles of treasure and drunkenly singing to guests as they pass on their boat. Finally, the boat is taken back up the lift hill and guests are directed to exit.
Throughout the years, the ride has received numerous refurbishments and changes. In 1997, the scene in which pirates chase village women was changed so that the pirates were chasing plates of tasty food carried by the local women instead. In 2006, the ride was changed again to tie in the film franchise.
This refurbishment saw the addition of multiple Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics (such as the one mentioned above) as well as cameos from Davy Jones and Captain Barbossa. In 2012, Disney attempted to add a projection of swimming mermaids in the water alongside the boats, but the effect did not work as envisioned and was later removed during a 2015 refurbishment.
In April, 2017, one of the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics was temporarily removed, and actor Johnny Depp, in full costume and in-character, took its place interacting with guests as part of a promotional campaign for the upcoming release of Dead Men Tell No Tales.
In June of the same year, Disney made the decision to change the auction scene in Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, and Disneyland Paris. In the original scene, the pirates were auctioning off the local women to each other, but after the change, the pirates are auctioning off the village valuables and various kinds of loot.
After decades of history, this beloved attraction remains a popular spot for Disney fans of all ages. For some, it is a nostalgic trip on an old classic–for others, it’s a new, exciting adventure to embark on. If you have ever been to one of the Disney parks, odds are that you’ve been on this ride for yourself.
Thank you for joining me on this dive into history on one of the world’s most famous theme park rides. We’d love to hear any of your stories involving the ride and your thoughts about it and its changes throughout the years. Let us know by leaving us a comment below or on our Facebook page.