The attraction was originally conceived as a wax museum and a walk-through adventure. But following the success of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney and his team of Imagineer decided that Audio-Animatronics, his latest animation technology, was the most imaginative way to tell a rousing pirate story.
On April 19, 1967, Pirates of the Caribbean opened at Disneyland. Thanks to the many highly detailed environments, lavish special effects, and memorable characters, it earned rave reviews and has remained a beloved classic ever since.
Pirates was not initially planned for the Magic Kingdom, as designers felt that a pirate story in a state with a large history with pirates would be less interesting, with the unproduced Western River Expedition for Frontierland being conceived as a unique Pirates counterpart. Due to popular demand though, an abridged version of the attraction opened at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort on December 15, 1973 alongside the surrounding Caribbean Plaza subarea.
Further duplicates of the attraction opened at Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Disneyland Paris in 1992.
Wander a meanderin’ alleyway within a Spanish fortress and board a small barge for a spellbinding high-seas adventure. Escape through a shadowy grotto past the ghostly catacombs of fallen pirates and swoop down a small rushing waterfall—your passageway to the Golden Age of Piracy.
Behold boisterous buccaneers drunk on the spoils of plundering during a 9-minute cruise amid the Old World. Sing along as windswept pirates serenade you with their classic anthem, "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)". And even spy a sly Captain Jack Sparrow from the film series along the way!
Take off on a treacherous voyage to the 17th century, when rowdy rogues and rapscallions ruled seaport towns along the Spanish Main under the watchful eye of the “Jolly Roger”.
Popular sites you will encounter include:
Pirates Grotto - Home to Dead Man’s Cove and Hurricane Lagoon, this haunted realm recalls the struggles pirates endured on the open seas.
The Fort - Navigate through a shadowy bay, where a foggy Caribbean fort and a striking 12-gun galleon, helmed by Captain Barbossa, are locked in battle.
Town Square - Sail straight past a crowded marketplace of rambunctious scalawags, gleefully bidding in an auction for a bride.
Burning City - Looters and buccaneers sing a song of jubilation as flames engulf a seaside town.
The Dungeon - Trapped in a jail cell, freebooters attempt to lure a confused dog within reach to nab the prison keys he has in his mouth.
Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland
The ride begins amid glimmering fireflies during an evening abuzz with the croaking of a bullfrog in a quaint Louisiana bayou. Daring adventurers board their boats at Laffite's Landing and are at once afloat in the heart of bayou country. On one side is an actual working restaurant, Blue Bayou, made to look like the backyard dinner party of a southern plantation. It takes three days to empty and refill the "bayou" for renovations. There are 630,000 gallons of water on the attraction.
Once past several rickety houseboats, the soft strumming of banjo melodies (including "Oh! Susanna" and "Camptown Races") can be heard over the peaceful symphony of nature as guests pass by one houseboat, on the porch of which an old man calmly rocks back and forth in his rocking chair. But then a talking skull and crossbones, voiced by Xavier Atencio, above an archway provides this taunting warning:
“Psst! Avast there! It be too late to alter course, mateys. And there be plundering pirates lurking in every cove, waiting 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 seeking 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.”
Then a more chilling sound becomes audible: the thundering of a waterfall, down which guests plunge. When they reach the bottom of the waterfall guests then get to enjoy the theme for the ride briefly. Then they hear the frightening echo of: "Dead men tell no tales!" After a second hair-raising plunge (absent at Tokyo) further into the depths of an underground grotto, guests behold the skeleton remains of an unfortunate band of pirates, guarding their loot and treasure with macabre delight.
The boats glide gently past a thunderstorm tossing an old pirate ship about, though its pilot is nothing more than a skeleton. The boats pass through the Crews Quarters, complete with skeletal pirates playing chess, the captain looking up treasure on his map, an old Harpsichord playing the theme, and a huge amount of treasure being guarded by another skeleton pirate. The Aztec chest from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl sits in the corner of the Treasure Room and is the last thing guests see before entering a dark tunnel. There are 40,000 gold coins in this scene.
A waterfall with a projection of Davy Jones then appears, and the riders seem to float through without getting wet. He invites guests to proceed if "they be brave or fool enough to face a pirate's curse".
Next, cannonballs whistle overhead and explosions throw water into the air — a fierce battle between a marauding pirate galleon and a Caribbean fortress is in full swing. Captain Barbossa leads the assault from the deck of a pirate vessel named the Wicked Wench, while The Medallion Calls also used in the film series. From the deck of the Wicked Wench Barbossa yells: "Strike your colors ye blooming cockroaches. Surrender Captain Jack Sparrow or by thunder, we'll burn the city to the ground. Fire at will! It's Captain Jack Sparrow we're after and a fortune in gold. Give them a brog side! Pound 'em lads! Pound em'!" When a cannon is shot, guests may feel a powerful blast coming from the cannon, accompanied by a large splash and underwater lighting effect to simulate cannon fire. The Geoffrey Rush version of Captain Barbossa is no longer commanding the Wicked Wench. The original generic and unnamed AA Captain is back in place. The more recent Captain Barbossa voiceover remains. The movie version of Captain Barbossa may have been removed/replaced within the last few years. Although, there is no indication as to precisely when or why the character change was made or if the movie version of Captain Barbossa will ever be returned.
The village on the Isla Tesoro beyond is overrun with pirates in search of the Town Treasure. The first sight is the town square where some pirates have kidnapped the mayor and threaten to drown him in the well if he doesn't tell where Captain Jack Sparrow and his Town Treasure is. Carlos' wife tells him to be brave and not listen to them, but the attempts are useless; she is shot at as the mayor continues to repeatedly get dunked in the water, while several other city officials tied up look on. Jack is seen hiding behind some dresses looking to see if anyone sees him. Followed by that is the famous auction scene where the Auctioneer auctions off the town women while the drunk pirates hoot and holler for a redhead who is next up for bids.
But unfortunately for them, the only person the Auctioneer wants to sell at the moment is an overweight woman that seems not to care what the others think of her. There is a pirate by the name of "Old Bill", who wants to share rum with terrified cats. The next scene is the chase where pirates run around holding treasure, chasing girls, and two foolish buccaneers have stolen some snacks and are chased by an angry woman holding a rolling pin. Just beyond is the infamous "pooped pirate" drunkenly waving a map and key to a treasure vault, boasting that Captain Jack Sparrow will never see it. Little does he know, Jack is hiding in a barrel just behind him, popping out and getting a good look at the map over the pirate's shoulder.
Carefree, tipsy pirates succeed in ravaging the town and setting it aflame, filling the night air with an orange glow. Riders next float past a jail cell where imprisoned pirates are doing their best to escape as flames draw near. A small dog just out of their reach holds the key to their escape in his teeth; he seems all but immune to their pleas trying to coax him closer with a bone. One of them holds a noose, hoping to trap him.
Timbers are smoldering and cracking overhead as riders sail through a storage room filled with gunpowder, cannon balls, and rum-filled, gun-shooting pirates singing "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me". A shootout between the inebriated crew and captain of the pirate ship in a flaming ammunition warehouse threatens to demolish the entire village.
Finally, Captain Jack Sparrow is seen in a room full of hidden treasure. Slightly drunk (as usual), he is draped over a large throne-like chair and waves his new treasures around happily while chattering to himself (and passing guests). Every once in a while he will sing "Drink up me hearties yo ho!". At Tokyo, Florida, and Paris a small parrot, Beauregard, talks with him. Riders then return to the sleepy bayou where the journey began, passing by Beauregard viewed from the queue.
The attraction, guarded by the Caribbean watchtower Torre del Sol, is housed in a golden Spanish fort called Castillo Del Morro, inspired by Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With the attraction starting directly in a Caribbean fortress, the "time travel" aspects of the attraction were dropped. Prior to the 2006 modifications, cannon fire could be heard outside, to suggest that a battle was taking place, alongside a barker parrot explaining the various adventures to be found within.
The exterior of the attraction was slightly altered during the 2006 modifications. Included in the changes were the removal of the barker parrot and original attraction sign. A new sign was placed on the outside corner of the fort facing towards the entrance of Adventureland. The design of the new sign is the mast of a ship with the attraction name written in its black sails, and a skeleton of a pirate up in its crow's nest. The barker parrot was eventually moved to the Pirates of the Caribbean section of the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney.
As guests entered the fortress, the sounds of Spanish soldiers mobilizing to fight the pirates invading the village could be heard, though these voices have mostly been muffled out by a louder queue musical score introduced in the 2006 refurbishments. Guests pass by cannons, artillery, supplies and various dungeons within the fortress complex.
One of the most notable parts of the queue is a gag of two pirate skeletons that died playing a game of chess in their prison cell. Designer Marc Davis carefully arranged the pieces so that any move will result in a neverending game - hence the skeletons who have been playing it since 1973. The pieces were accidentally moved during a minor refurbishment and were not returned to their proper positions until someone found Marc's original sketches.
At the load area of Pirates' Cove, guests board boats to escape the fortress under siege through a series of tunnels leading out to the bay. A pirate ship can be seen floating out in the distance from the load area. Only two of the skeleton scenes from Disneyland were brought to the Magic Kingdom: The Treasure Chest Beach and Hurricane Beach. As part of movie additions in 2006, the ghostly waterfall images of Davy Jones were added to the front of the caves, with Blackbeard arriving in 2011 to promote On Stranger Tides and eventually alternating. Other movie additions in 2011 would add the mermaids of Whitecap Bay to the Treasure Beach scene, with a sacrificed mermaid skeleton being added to the beach. All the movie additions in the caves were removed in 2017 when a new talking skull cameraman debuted.
In the original 1973 version, the talking skull appears on the wall to deliver a very brief safety warning. He was removed as part of the 2006 refurbishment, until a new talking skull was introduced in 2017 to serve as an on-ride photo cameraman, with the flash of his eyes preceding your drop. The ride drops and you go down 14 feet, in the process, passing under the Walt Disney World Railroad and dropping down to ground level (the ride actually begins on a second level, and the surrounding Caribbean Plaza is graded to match the rest of the park).
At the bottom, guests pass through a dark passage and pass a battle between a pirate ship and an island fortress. The ride continues as you pass through a town being ransacked and see a woman shouting down to her husband who is being dunked multiple times into a well in an attempt to get information from him on the location of Captain Jack Sparrow and the treasure. You then see Jack hiding behind some women's clothing looking back over his shoulder at the pirates who are searching for him. The boat next passes a scene where guests see women being auctioned off as brides. Pirates can be heard yelling, "We wants the red-head!" Guests go under a bridge and see pirates stealing a treasure chest, and being chased by angry women. A pirate sitting beside his dog holding a key and a treasure map saying that Jack will not be able to find the treasure without his map and key. Guests then see that Jack is behind him hiding in a barrel and looking right at him. On the right is a very drunk pirate drinking rum and talking to cats. Guests then pass under another bridge and see that the town is on fire. There are three singing pirates, a donkey and a dog who are singing along to "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)." Guests see more pirates stealing treasure, singing, and carrying the torches which set the city alight. You then begin to pass under a bridge. On the right, there is a pirate on the right passed out and surrounded by pigs and above a pirate dangles his hairy, dirty leg down. As in the Disneyland version, guests see prisoners trying to escape from their jail cell by attempting to lure a dog who has keys in his mouth over to them.
Leaving the jail, guests enter the town's treasure room. In the original 1973 version of the attraction, the pirates had seized the treasure room and tied up the guards, while drunkenly shooting their guns in the air in triumph, much like the Arsenal scene in other versions of the attraction. In 2006, this was replaced by Jack Sparrow having used the key stolen from the Pooped Pirate to open the door, drinking rum and singing "Yo Ho" in victory. The ride then ends as the guests exit by going left, taking a speedramp back up to the surface.
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland Paris was the only installment not to feature the film characters until in July 24, 2017 when the ride reopened with characters from the film series. It is housed in a battle-scarred fortress and is much different than the originals. The ride begins as guests depart on boats from a landing and enter a lush lagoon at nighttime with the thundering of waterfalls everywhere. The boats pass through a shipwreck and enter an old fortress nearby. Inside gun noises and sword clanking are heard in the back as the boats climb up a large lift hill used to haul cargo throughout the fort. At the top flames are engulfing the fort and the shadows of fighting pirates and soldiers are seen. Up ahead the guests see the pirates in jail trying to coax the key out of the naughty guard dog. The boats go down a waterfall in the side of the fort caused by a cannonball and pass the bombarding-the-fort scene, where the soldiers and the pirates fire at guests. Entering the relative safety of the town, guests see all the original scenes from the Disneyland version except for a new pair of sword-fighting men who duel for a girl in the chase scene. After passing the burning town, darkness fills the air and red flashes and hot air appears as the arsenal of the town has blown up sending the guests to Davy Jones' Locker. They pass all the grotto scenes from Disneyland and exit the boats after a parting thought from the talking skull.
On July 24, 2017, the attraction reopened with characters from the film series after it went under renovation in June 2017 when Disney announced that they would be adding Jack Sparrow to two scenes in the ride identical to the Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland versions. Aside from adding Captain Jack Sparrow to the attraction, Captain Barbossa was also added during the Dead Man's Grotto scene before the guests exit the ride as well as images of the mist waterfall scene showing either images of Davy Jones and Blackbeard during the part where the boats climb up a large lift hill to lift cargo before entering the fort.
Spoilers end here.
At one point in the ride, pirates were seen chasing women. The intent of the pirate must be inferred; many interpreted it as attempted rape. A 1997 modification to the story has the women carrying food to suggest that the pirates are after the food, not the women. A woman who occasionally peeked out from under the barrel she was hiding inside was replaced with a cat holding a fish in its mouth. The "pooped pirate" who had been chasing her and had managed to get hold of her shoe and undergarments, was changed to holding a chicken leg to passersby. After the 2006 film showed up, the women are now chasing pirates who are carrying stolen goods, the "pooped pirate" was changed into a treasure hunter, and the cat in the barrel was replaced by Captain Jack Sparrow.
The auction scene was modified in 2018, no longer being a group of tied-up women sold off to pirates as brides, but instead townspeople giving up their most prized possessions. The Redhead, renamed Redd, is now one of the pirates and now talks in the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom versions of the updated scene, provided by Grey DeLisle. This change received heavy backlash for sanitizing history to appease today's increasingly-conservative moral guardians. Conversely, the mist screen in the tunnel before the fort battle was removed, and replaced with a pirate in a cage who turns into a skeleton via an optical trick as well as an octopus playing with some medallions, along with the original 1967 narration about cursed treasure being restored, likely so Paul Frees' voice wouldn't be eliminated from the attraction after the Auctioneer was redubbed by a new actor.
On July 10, 2014, a 12-year-old boy lost the tips of his fingers when dangling his hand over the back of the boat. At the end when the boats line up, one of them hit his hand. A similar accident happened to a 40-year-old man.
Ron Gilbert has often been quoted for having said that his inspiration for making Monkey Island came from the ride (this has since been refuted to 'merely' being a source of ambiance ). The ride has left its mark, however; the best example of this being the prison scene in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge with the key-carrying dog, who is named Walt (after Walt Disney).
Movie tie-ins to the attraction
The Disneyland version reopened after a lengthy refurbishment on June 26, 2006. In addition to the restoration of the original chase scene story and the removal of figures added during the 1997 change, the attraction now boasts a new audio system, upgraded solid-state lighting, additional treasure and tie-ins with the two movies to date. Extremely realistic Audio-Animatronic figures of Captain Jack Sparrow appear in the dunking scene, the chase scene and in a new finale. Another realistic AA of Captain Barbossa now captains the Wicked Wench in the fort scene and a digital Davy Jones from the latest film now appears on a mist screen. The attraction received the benefits of actual film props from Dead Man's Chest including the actual Aztec treasure chest. Engineers intended to re-theme the Wicked Wench into the Black Pearl, but permission was denied by producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The Magic Kingdom version has additional scenes as well, but not on the level of Disneyland's.
There is a hidden Mickey at the beginning of the ride. Once you pass the seating area for the Blue Bayou, three lily pads are placed in its shape.
In the Magic Kingdom version, mermaids appear. Currently, it is only a skeleton and a singing voice, but for a brief period, there were projections and pumps in the water to simulate mermaids swimming alongside the boats. These were eliminated due to multiple technical issues, including reported instances of what appeared to be Windows dialogue boxes showing Panasonic exception errors.
Despite being a mild boat ride, it has a brief waterfall drop, similar to Splash Mountain.