Travel – Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates - entrance at night

Our family has been enjoying Disneyland for almost sixty years and we have so many memories of spending wonderful times at the park.  One of the first things we do on a visit is head over to New Orleans Square to ride one of the most popular rides in the park … Pirates of the Caribbean.  We also enjoy eating at the Blue Bayou which is the restaurant located within the ride and is famous for its Monte Cristo Sandwich.  In this post I will discuss the history of the Disneyland attraction, the many changes to the ride over the years and some fun Pirates of the Caribbean trivia.

The history of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland

The idea for a pirate themed attraction dates back to the early 1950s, when Disneyland was being planned, and there was a ride concept for a walk-through wax museum featuring scenes with famous pirates for history, but that idea was put on hold and never built.  Instead, at the time that Disneyland opened Anaheim, CA in 1955, there was a Pirate themed attraction located in Fantasyland and it was Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship Restaurant sponsored by Chicken of the Sea and later in 1960 Skull Rock from the 1953 Disney animated movie “Peter Pan” was added.  Both attractions remained at Disneyland for several years until the 1982 refurbishment of the New Fantasyland, the Dumbo attraction now stands where the former Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Skull Rock where originally located.  (Currently, Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship Restaurant and Skull Rock can be seen again in Adventureland at Disneyland Paris in France)

By this time, the Disney Company had a separate division that was responsible for the creation and construction of the Disney theme park; it was originally known as WED which are the initials of Walter Elias Disney.  The staff of visual artists and engineers was collectively known as imagineers, a name meaning employees that combined imagination and engineering to design and build rides for the Disney theme park.  Several years later, when Walt was considering creating a new “land” called New Orleans Square at Disneyland he decided the time was right to finally create a pirate ride.

New Orleans Square - concept artwork

When the It’s a Small World attraction was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair it featured a new ride technology using water propelled boats but more importantly it was very successful in moving a large number of guests through the attraction in a timely manner and this was exactly what Walt needed for the new pirate ride that he envisioned.  So, Walt and his imagineers decided to utilize the same boat ride system that would take guests through the ride to see various scenes featuring audio-animatronic pirates. The relatively new technology of audio-animatronics was basically a type of robotics that was able to make figures move in a realistic way, this was accomplished by means of pneumatic and hydraulic valves used inside the figures and controlled by sonic impulses with a vocal track recorded on a magnetic tape.  With these two new technologies as the basis for the new ride concept the imagineers quickly moved forward with ideas.

Herb Ryman, the famous Disney artist that created the original drawings for Disneyland, drew some preliminary sketches that would eventually determine the overall design of New Orleans Square, another Disney artist named Sam McKim also helped with creating the final designs.  The new pirate ride would be located in one of the buildings in New Orleans Square and this determined the amount of space allowed for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.  Marc Davis, a former Disney animator, was now working as an imagineer for WED and he is responsible for the overall interior design of the ride and created numerous sketches, drawings and paintings depicting the various scenes of the pirates attacking, raiding and eventually setting fire to a village.  The next step in the process of creating the ride was for the imagineers to utilize storyboards to create a cohesive storyline as guests would move from one scene to another scene; this same technique of storyboards was used frequently by the Disney Studios when plotting out their animated movies.  The storyboards of the pirate ride were constantly being revised as scenes were added, changed or eliminated.  Once the storyboards were finalized, the next step was to create working small-scale models of the various scenes which would be used for the ride.  Using small inexpensive models was a better way to keep building costs down by making changes on the models instead on the more expensive full-sized structures.

Pirates - concept artwork    Marc Davis developing Pirates concept boards

Now that the Pirate of the Caribbean ride designs where finished it was time to build.  The new ride would be located in New Orleans Square which was designed with several antebellum-style buildings containing shops and restaurants.  The main building where the ride would be located is a multi-level structure with the majority of the ride located under the building and streets of New Orleans Square.  The first step in the ride construction was excavating a large area to accommodate the space for the ride’s various village scenes.   The next step was laying the guide rails for the pirate boats that would take guests through the ride, eventually the ride would use 750,000 gallons of water to propel the boats and also create the scenic areas of the ride.  Two 21-degree drops were required at the beginning of the ride to take guests underground and into the main show building located beyond the berm of the park.  At the end of the ride, the boat needed to get back to the ground level and this was achieved by the guests remaining in the boats as a chain pulley system, similar to the technique used to pull a roll coaster uphill, was used to return guests to the loading/unloading area of the ride.  (When the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was added to Walt Disney World in Florida, the boat path was revised so that guests unloaded before the ascent)

Please note that some of the photos of the New Orleans Square and Pirates of the Caribbean construction shown below were originally used on the website.

Pirates - exterior construction 2Pirates - exterior construction 1    Pirates - interior constuction 1

As the building process was going on, imagineer Blaine Gibson was heading up a team to create the pirate figures for the ride.  The look of the figures changed from fierce looking pirates to more whimsical ones to be used in some of the more humorous scenes of the ride.  Before the figures could be added, the various ride scenes needed to be constructed.  These scenes ranged from the quiet bayou scene located after the guest load area and before the two drops, to the dark and mysterious caverns after plunging down the waterfall, to the misty scene where the pirates attack the village, to the numerous scenes of the pirates pillaging the village just before the ride comes to a fiery end.

Then in 1966, as the ride was nearing completion, Walt Disney suddenly died.  Walt’s health had severely deteriorated after years of smoking.  Always concerned more for the good of his company then his personal health, Walt kept his condition as quite as possible telling only his family, a few close friends and co-workers that he need to be hospitalize to have one of his lungs removed.  The company’s employees and stockholders were told that he was receiving treatment for an old polo injury so as not to effect the daily and long term operation of the Disney Company.  Sadly, Walt died on December 15, 1966.  After a brief period of mourning the work on the Pirates attraction resumed and was eventually completed three months later with an official opening date of March 18, 1967.

Pirates - Captains quarters    Pirates - the loot

Pirates - the auction scene 1    Pirates - looting scene

Pirates - jail scene

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was a success from the day it opened and over the years it has become one of the most popular rides at Disneyland.  Later, other versions were built in the Disney theme parks using different facades but always with the interior ride being very similar to the original one.  The Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World) Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened in 1973, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, Disneyland Paris in 1992 and currently one is under construction at the Shanghai Disneyland with a projected opening date of December 2015.

Pirates - Walt Disney World    Pirates - Disneyland Paris

Pirates of the Caribbean ride trivia

  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was the last Disneyland attraction that was personally supervised by Walt Disney from ride concept and design through to construction, he died three months before the official opening.
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride cost approximately $8 million dollars to build in Disneyland which is almost equal to the amount paid to France when the United States negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which included the city of New Orleans.
  • The Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride is contained in two large show buildings covering a total of 112,826 feet.  located beyond the berm of the park. 
  • The ride uses 750,000 gallons of water which flows through the 1,838 feet length of the ride’s canals.   
  • There are approximately 122 audio animatronic characters (68 pirates and villagers and 54 animals) used on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride
  • The façade of the main building to the attraction is said to have been inspired by the architecture of the Cabildo building located in Jackson Square in New Orleans, the building was the site where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803.
  • Atop the tall tower of the main building of the Pirates attraction a 31 star United States flag can be seen, this corresponding to the 1850s which is the time period that New Orleans Square is supposed to be set.
  • The Laffite Landing sign which hangs over the Pirates of the Caribbean boat load/unload area is for the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, who fought with the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans.  (The name is spelled as the pirate originally used it and not the later English version which is how it is written in the history books)
  • The Pirate of the Caribbean ride features the memorable song, “Yo-Ho, a Pirates Life for Me”.  The music is by George Bruns and the lyrics are by Francis Xavier Atencio.  Bruns is best known as the co-writer of another Disney classic, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”.  Atencio wrote the theme song for the Haunted Mansion attraction, “Grim Grinning Ghosts”.  Atencio voice can also be heard on the Pirates ride as the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones just before the boat plunges down the first waterfall.
  • In the battle scene of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride cannonballs seem to be flying over the guests as they ride through, but it is only a Disney illusion using recorded sounds and flashes of light are used to create the effect that cannon are firing from the pirate ship and also on land from the village fortress.  A splash of water gives the effect that the cannonballs are missing their targets and landing in the water, recently puffs of air have been added to create the addition effect of the cannonballs flying past.
  • In the village pillaging scenes, the original version of the ride featured several pirates chasing giggling ladies, on was even seen chasing after a pirate!  When guests complained about the “sexual implication” of the scene it was altered to reflect a more “chaise” behavior.  The ladies now carrying cakes, pastries and other food items that the starving pirates want.  An interesting observation is that the bride auction scene remains unchanged.
  • Toward the end of the ride, the pirates set fire to the village.  The fire effect created by the Disney imagineers was so realistic that prior the attraction’s grand opening the Anaheim Fire Chief almost shut down the ride until he realized that it was only an illusion. (The fire is basically created by pieces of fabric, lights and fans!) The Anaheim Fire Department did request that the ride should be altered so that in the event of a real fire the simulated fire effect would automatically shut off.
  • On the upper level of the building of Pirates of the Carribbean building was originally planned for a private apartment for the personal use of the Disney family.  Located at the front of the building, slightly to the right side, is where the front veranda for the Disney apartment would have been and there is a wrought iron railing which incorporates the intertwined initials of Walt Disney (WD) and Roy Disney (RD).  The Disney apartment which was never fully completed was eventually converted into the Disney Gallery which was a retail store and showroom featuring Disney artwork and collectible items.  In 2007, the space was refurbished and reopened as the Disneyland Dream Suite which is the only overnight guest accommodations located within Disneyland.
  • In 2003, Disney released the “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” movie which was inspired by the original Disneyland ride.  Some scenes in the movie featured iconic ride scenes, such as the jail scene with the pirates trying to get the keys from the mouth of the dog.  Even the famous “Yo-Ho, A Pirates Life For Me” song was used in the movie.  The film’s world premiere was held at Disneyland and featured the longest red carpet in history; it went from Main Street to New Orleans Square.  The movie proved to be very successful and additional sequels have been filmed, in fact the fifth installation of the Pirates of the Caribbean series is currently being filmed.
  • Following the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, several characters from the movies have been added to the ride.  The character of Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, appears several times in various village scenes and Captain Barbossa, played by Geoffrey Rush, can be seen on the pirate ship as it attacks the village.  Additionally, one of the most impressive effects of adding the movie’s character into the ride is when the faces of Davy Jones (from “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”) and Blackbeard (from “On Stranger Tides”) were projected onto the mist before the second waterfall drop.  Recently mermaids from “On Stranger Tides” have also been added to the ride.

Pirates - Johnny Depp 2

Travel – Disneyland (Part Four)

In this next installation of the five part Disneyland series I will discuss New Orleans Square and Critter Country which are two “lands” that were added several years after the park originally opened in 1955.  New Orleans Square is a lively and festive area located on the banks of the Rivers of America where two of the most popular rides, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions in Disneyland can be found, while in Critter Country there is the exciting thrill ride, Splash Mountain.

New Orleans Square

New Orleans Square opened in 1966 and was part of Walt’s idea that Disneyland would always be forever changing and growing with new attractions.  At the dedication ceremony, Walt joked that creating New Orleans Square cost almost as much as the original price of the Louisiana Purchase but sadly this occasion was the last public appearance by Walt before he died in December 1966.  The almost three acre area located adjacent to Frontierland cost an estimated $18 million to complete and the design and architecture was inspired by the antebellum era of New Orleans with its classic ironwork and narrow streets filled with restaurants offering delicious creole food and small little shops selling all kinds of souvenirs.  Located on the second floor over the Pirates of the Caribbean show building there was once a large apartment that was built for the Disney family, look for the initials of both Walt and Roy Disney in the intricate ironwork on the balcony overhead.  Since that time, it has been used as the Disney Gallery store which also featured various ongoing exhibits of Disneyland and this area is currently available to special guests as the only “overnight” accommodations within the park; it is known as the Disneyland Dream Suite.

Orleans Street Jan 2002    Court of Angels Aug 2008 2
Le Bat en Rouge Aug 2006    L'Ornement Magique 1999

The next two photos are of the exclusive Disneyland Dream Suite

Dream Suite Jan 2008 2a    Dream Suite Master bedroom Jan 2008

The first attraction that guests will see upon entering New Orleans Square is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it was the last ride that Walt personally oversaw the development and construction and the attraction opened in 1967 three months after his death.  Pirates is a dark ride where guests ride boats through various scenes that feature a band of pirates that pillage and loot their way through small towns of the Caribbean while singing the attractions famous song, “Yo Ho, a Pirates life for Me”.  With success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series, in 2006 the character of Jack Sparrow was added to several scenes within the attraction, the audio-animatronic figure is very realistic and a perfect likeness to the character as played by Johnny Depp in the films.  Also if you have any pirates or wenches in your group while visiting the park, don’t forget to check out the 2007 refurbished of Tom Sawyer Island which is now the current location known as the Pirate Lair.  (Travel tips: #1. Located on the path from Adventureland into New Orleans Square, look for Lafitte’s anchor, which has infamously been said to be the one used on his pirate ship in the Battle of New Orleans, but this could be one of those urban rumors!! #2. While in the boarding area of the ride, look for the sign overhead that reads “Lafitte’s Landing” which is also a reference to the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, that once roamed the Caribbean.  #3. Located in the interior of the Pirates attraction is the adjacent Blue Bayou restaurant which is famous for their Monte Cristo sandwiches, be sure to make a reservation for this popular Disneyland restaurant prior to your visit through the Disneyland Resort Reservations line which can be reached at 714-781-3463 and reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance of a visit)  For more detailed information about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, please click on the link.

Pirates entrance 1999

002 - Pirates of the Caribbean    003 - Pirates of the Caribbean - jail scene

Haunted Mansion exterior 100

Located on the other side of the Disneyland Railroad New Orleans Station is the Haunted Mansion attraction, one of the most popular rides in Disneyland and features a ride on the patented Omnimover vehicles, also known as “Doom Buggies”, which take guests through a not-so-spooky haunted house filled with audio-animatronic ghosts and a variety of other special effects.  (For more detailed information on this New Orleans attraction, please click on the link, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, which was originally posted in October 2013)

Critter Country sign

Critter Country

Critter Country is located in the area of Disneyland that was formerly a part of the old Frontierland called Indian Village. The Indian Village was originally the site inspired by the Native Americans culture of the old western frontier and where there were daily demonstrations of their dances and other customs; it was also the original site of an attraction called the Indian War Canoes.  Indian Village closed in 1971, refurbished and expanded into a new re-themed four acre area that reopened in 1972 as Bear Country.  The Country Bear Jamboree became the main attraction in this area of the park and featured audio-animatronic bears and other animals that put on a fun musical show.  Also located to this new section of the park were the new Hungry Bear Restaurant and the renamed Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes.  In 1988, Bear Country was renamed Critter Country and a year later Splash Mountain opened and instantly became one of Disneyland’s most popular thrill rides.  Eventually the Country Bear Jamboree closed in 2001 and was replaced two years later by a new attraction called the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Indian Village

Country Bear exterior    Country Bear interior

As previously mentioned, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes were originally located in the old Frontierland Indian Village.  The 35 foot long canoes hold up to twenty guests, not including the two cast member guides at the front and the back of the boat.  The ride takes guests on a circular route that travels 2,400 around Tom Sawyer Island and, since the canoes are free-floating in the Rivers of America, the length of the trip depends on how fast the guests can paddle, the attraction operates seasonally and shuts down with inclement weather and also does not run at night.

Splash Mountain opened in 1989 and is based on the 1946 Disney film “Song of the South”.  As the $75 million cost of the attraction’s construction went severely over budget, there was an idea presented at that time to refurbish the characters from the recently closed America Sings attraction in Tomorrowland.  Splash Mountain takes guests on an fun ride in flume logs as they gently float past several scenes recreated from the movie, the basic storyline is that Brer Rabbit is on a search for his special “laughing place” but encounters some trouble from Brer Fox and Brer Bear along his journey, until the exciting 53 foot steep drop that takes guests into the briar patch and concludes with a final scene of all the audio-animatronic characters singing the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” in celebration that Brer Rabbit is safe!  (Travel tip: Located on the ride, shortly before entering the interior scenes of the attraction, listen closely for the sounds of snoring coming from Brer Bear’s cave, this is a tribute to the original entrance to the old Bear Country that had a bear named Rufus also snoring in his cave)

Splash Mountain exterior    Splash Mountain interior 1

Splash Mountain Brer Bear house May 2007

The most recent attractions added to Critter Country is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride which opened in 2003.  The Disney Studios has made several animated films based on the series of books by A.A. Milne about Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods and the ride features various scenes from the stories with colorful audio-animatronics and other delightful sights and sounds.  During the 1983 Fantasyland major refurbishment there was briefly a proposed Winnie the Pooh ride but it was never built and the attraction was eventually placed in Critter Country on the site of the former Country Bear Jamboree which closed in 2001.  Located just outside of the attraction, the Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger characters are usually available to greet guests, take photos and give autographs, but be prepared because the line is usually long and very slow moving.  (Travel tips:  Look for the figure of Winnie the Pooh floating up and down attached to the string of a balloon, this mechanism at one time lowered “Teddi Barra” from the ceiling in the old Counrty Bear Jamboree attraction.  Also when entering the final scene of the ride, look backwards and over the doorway the vehicle just passed through are the three “trophy” heads of Max the buck, Buff the buffalo and Melvin the moose that were once used in the Country Bear Jamboree that were placed there as a tribute to the former attraction)

Winnie the pooh exterior    The Many Adventures of Winnie the P

Pooh ride 1000

This post completes the tours of New Orleans Square and Critter Country but be sure to check out the four additional posts in the Disneyland series.  Part One – The history of DisneylandPart Two – Main Street and Fantasyland, Part Three – Adventureland and Frontierland, Part Five – Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown.