Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC*) is a classic favorite for many Disney Parks fans and one of the original dark rides at Disneyland. While additional versions at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Park in Paris and Shanghai Disneyland Park have opened, this article will focus in on the history surrounding the very original at Disneyland Park in California — taking you all back to where the magic began for Pirates of the Caribbean. So sit back, fill your cup with rum and enjoy this boat ride through a treasure trove of history.
Walt Disney’s Last Hands-On Ride Creation
The Disneyland version of Pirates of the Caribbean was the last park attraction that Walt Disney was able to design himself as it opened on March 18, 1967, just three short months after his death. During the construction, Imagineers rigged a chair up to a dolly for Walt so that he could experience the ride personally. While the workers were initially worried that you couldn’t hear each pirate, Walt was delighted and equated the experience to being at a cocktail party.
Walk-Through Wax Museum to Audio-Animatronic Boat Ride
The original concept for the attraction was a walk-through wax museum with close up encounters of famous villains throughout history and was eventually narrowed down to just famous pirates. After It’s a Small World boat ride debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, its immediate success and popularity led Walt to explore a similar boat ride concept for Pirates of the Caribbean. Additionally, the audio-animatronic success of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln finally resulted in the abandonment of the entire wax museum idea and thus – Pirates of the Caribbean became a dream into reality.
Historical Details in the Setting
Pirates of the Caribbean is located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland and is intended to be in the antebellum era of New Orleans. To add to the historical accuracy, the United States flag that tops the façade of the ride is a 31-star flag, accurate to the time frame of the 1850’s. Additionally, the ride queue features portraits of real notable pirates as you make your way to the boarding area known as “Lafitte’s Landing.” Another overlooked detail as Lafitte was a French pirate who assisted in turning the tide at the Battle of New Orleans. Once you’ve boarded your boat and are traveling through the bayou, you’ll pass by several rickety houseboats where you can hear the soft sounds of “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races,” both of which were songs that were popular during that same era.
Disney Top Talent
The voices of the pirates and the villagers came from some of the Disney Parks regulars such as Paul Frees, Ludwig Von Drake, Jay Ward and Thurl Ravenscroft. Pirates of the Caribbean also included of the top talents in Imagineering such as Marc Davis, Francis Xavier Atencio, Claude Coats, Yale Gracey and Blaine Gibson. The song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life or Me” was written by Xavier Atencio (also known as X) and became the basis for the modern day Pirates of the Caribbean film series. X is also the eerie voice you hear booming down from the talking skull and crossbones in the first archway with this warning:
Psst! Avast there! It is too late to alter course, mateys. And there be plundering pirates lurking in ev’ry cove, waitin’ to board. Sit closer together and keep your ruddy hands in board. That be the best way to repel boarders. And mark well me words, mateys: Dead men tell no tales! Ye come seekin’ adventure with salty old pirates, eh? Sure you’ve come to the proper place. But keep a weather eye open, mates, and hold on tight. With both hands, if you please. Thar be squalls ahead, and Davy Jones waiting for them what don’t obey.
Blue Bayou Restaurant
The Blue Bayou Restaurant within the ride opened the same day as the attraction and is considered to be one of the original theme restaurants in Disneyland. It was designed to look like the backyard dinner party of a southern plantation and the glimmering fireflies, peaceful sounds of nature and banjo plucking create one of the most iconic Disney dining experiences in any park. However, this restaurant almost wasn’t so as the original plans that Walt Disney had in place were to create a dinner theatre experience where pirates would entertain guests while they dine on Creole cuisine. However, after the first dress rehearsal, the idea was reimagined, and Walt told his executives, “in this restaurant, the food is going to be the show, along with the atmosphere.”
Fact or Fiction: The Skeletons are Real
When the attraction opened in 1967, all of the skeletons were genuine and donated by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center. Imagineers felt that fake skeletons were not believable enough for the attraction but as technology improved, the real skeletons were replaced and returned to their original countries for proper burial. Only one original skeleton remains, on the headboard in the bed scene where a skull and crossbones is featured.
Disneyfication and Political Correctness
When the original ride opened in 1967, it included a scene where pirates chased after giggling women which was an accurate portrayal of piracy in the early 18th century. The attraction has been changed several times to keep up with what modern times felt was appropriate for Disney. Eventually, this scene was changed to the women chasing the pirates and shifted the desire of the pirates from women to the goods they were carrying. This clip features the original scene from 3:58 to 5:30:
An additional scene that has caused controversy over time is the “wench auction” that depicts a group of women on the auction block, with a banner overhead reading “Auction, take a wench for a bride.” In June of 2017, Disney executives announced that this scene would be getting an overhaul and the banner would now read, “Auction, surrender ye loot” and that some of the women on auction would be recast as pirates overseeing the submission of said, “loot.” “Our team thought long and hard about how to best update this scene,” said Kathy Mangum, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, in a statement obtained by The O.C. Register.
Another scene that has undergone several alterations is the Tired Pirate, also called the Pooped Pirate. When the attraction opened, he was holding a petticoat and spouting all manner of pirate-themed innuendo about the young woman hiding in the barrel behind him. Once again, lust replaced with gluttony and the pirate switched to talking about the delicious food he had eaten.
Pirates of the Caribbean Historical Timeline
Film Popularity and Attraction Incorporation
Following the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, the attraction has been altered to include a favorite character from the movies. Jack Sparrow can be seen hiding throughout the ride and prominently featured at the attraction’s conclusion. In the town attack, it’s now Captain Barbossa who is leading the pirates. The original “waterfall” has the face of either Davy Jones or Blackbeard warning boat riders of the dangers ahead.
Pirates, Forever a Disney Classic
From 1967 to today, Pirates of the Caribbean has continued to be a park favorite as well as a successful movie series that shows no signs of waning in popularity. Even though Disney continues to make adjustments to the ride over time, this is one attraction that will forever be a unique part of Disney history and a “must-do” anytime you visit Disneyland.
What is your favorite version of The Pirates of the Caribbean?
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