Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the original classic Disneyland rides that’s still going strong today, turned 50 earlier this month. It’s still one of the Mouse’s most popular attractions, its longest (16 minutes!) and among the longest-running attractions in the world. In fact, it's possibly the most famous ride or theme park experience of all time, across all cultures, and is a rite of passage for millions — possibly billions — of young people and adults alike.
While the Pirates films are disposable (in your humble scribe’s opinion), the ride is a living document of Americana and pop culture history. And, as the ride has evolved over the years, it has developed a fascinating lore of its own, much like the Haunted Mansion.
Pop a bottle of rum and sing “Yo Ho” as you read these bits of trivia and lore — in no particular order — of Pirates’ weird and wonderful 50-year history.
20. There are five incarnations of this attraction throughout the world.
In addition to the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, there’s also Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland. Shanghai is heavy on projections and probably the least faithful to the original.
19. “You’re in a dead pirate’s dream.”
On the WDW Radio show, historian Jim Korkis describes the narrative of the Pirates ride as being that of a dead pirate whose life is flashing before his eyes. You’re reliving a pirate’s last moments of his life, and this loop of his life is what the pirate is forever trapped remembering. This “being inside a dead man's head” is much like the experience of going to a Disney park in general, in that you're entering a dead man's (Walt's) memory of being a child in the early 1900s. You're inside a (fictional) dead guy's head, inside another (real) dead guy's head. Meta on meta.
17. It’s the final attraction Walt was alive to see through from design to production.
But Walt didn’t live to see it open to the public. He died in December 1966. Disneyland opened in 1955, but Pirates wouldn’t open until March 1967. The Imagineers famously led Walt on a dolly through the sets as they were being produced in Glendale to give him a sneak preview of what the ride experience would be like.
16. The desexualization of the “Pooped Pirate” and the women chasing men.
There have been several waves of changes to the Pirates ride to make it less racy or sexual in nature. Two classic examples are the “Pooped Pirate,” who was pooped because of all the sex he was having with wenches. He is now pooped from eating too much. The other example is when the pirates used to chase women around the balconies (for sex, presumably). This was all changed so that now the women are chasing the pirates for stealing pies and other snacks. Lust has been displaced by gluttony, a more family-friendly sin.
15. Rumor has it that real human bones were once included in the ride.
Rumors persist to this day among die-hard Disney aficionados that real human remains can be found in at least the Disneyland iteration of the ride, which we think is edgy by anyone's standards, let alone the Mouse. At one point there were real human remains used, but Disney claims they have all been returned.
14. The Voice of the auctioneer is the Pillsbury Doughboy.
The auction scene is nuts and many fanatics' favorite tableau of the ride. Paul Frees is one of the legendary voice actors in the Disney system, and he voiced the auctioneer. He's also the voice of the original Pillsbury Doughboy.
13. Tony the Tiger is all over the ride, too.
On that note, Thurl Ravenscroft (what a fucking name, right?) is another classic Disney voice actor who's the guy hanging on the lamppost and the minstrel playing the accordion. You might recognize him as the voice of the original Tony the Tiger from the Frosted Flakes ads.
12. Pirates was originally conceived as a walk-through wax museum attraction.
But, thankfully, due to the success of It's a Small World and many of the Imagineers insisting, the ride became a flume-based water attraction.
11. A few weeks after the attraction opened, a fire broke out in the section where the fire breaks out.
Again: meta. Many of the animatronics were damaged by the sprinklers. Luckily, costuming goddess
Alice Davis had previously gone behind the accountants' backs and ordered extra cloth to make backup costumes, so when this happened, the ride was shut down for only a day, instead of months. Now all Disney attractions are required to create three copies of all wardrobe items when a ride or character is created.
10. Several animatronics from the World of Motion (in Epcot) were transferred to Disneyland's Pirates in the '90s.
Animatronics are really expensive, so when a ride is shuttered, the Imagineers typically try to not let anything go to waste.
9. Disney originally wasn't going to open a Pirates ride at Walt Disney World.
The reason was that there were already a bunch of real, historical pirate-related sites in Florida. Instead, they were planning to launch a Wild West river ride attraction called the Western River Expedition. But that was eventually scrapped because the demand for the Pirates ride was too strong.
8. There used to be an amazing arcade with unique, antique, pirate-themed games.
Alas, it's no more. Like many of Disneyland's defunct attractions and park elements, you can read all about them on the wonderful Yesterland.
7. Walt's ashes are not under the Pirates ride.
Walt was never cryogenically frozen and his ashes never scattered somewhere around the park. His remains are in Forest Lawn in Glendale.
6. Jean Lafitte's landing is a reference to one of the most insane real-life stories you'll ever hear.
Jean Lafitte is way more interesting than any name-brand pirate you probably learned about as a child. This dude owns. Or owned, I guess. To wit: They should have made the Pirates movies about Jean Lafitte instead of Jack Sparrow.
5. It cost $15 million to build New Orleans Square ($8 million of which was spent on Pirates of the Caribbean). This is equal to the amount the United States paid for the real New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
While purely coincidental, there's some sort of spooky synchronicity going on here in the eeriest section of Disneyland.
4. Blue Bayou Restaurant was opened as a response to critics of Disneyland’s food.
Or as a way to charge higher prices. Either way, this was the beginning of higher-end dining on the park grounds for those who want more than corndogs and churros.
3. The guy who wrote “Yo Ho” had never written songs before.
Xavier “X” Atencio was an artist for years before he was promoted to Imagineer to work on the (criminally underrated) Primeval World diorama and later to write the script for the Pirates experience. He also wrote “Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)” and was the voice of the skull at the ride's beginning, which has unfortunately been replaced by the inane Davy Jones from the films projected over the waterfall.
2. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Disneyland is selling lemon-flavored beignets with “gold shimmer dust” at the Mint Julep bar.
And a gold-dusted churro at the churro cart. Smart.
1. There is not currently nor has there ever been fire in the attraction.
It’s all an illusion. Smoke and mirrors, minus the smoke part. Plus fans. The Anaheim fire chief found it so realistic, he thought there was a real fire. In the event of an actual fire on the ride, the fire effect automatically turns off.