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The Story of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean: A Yo Ho, Yo Ho Recap of the Beloved Ride

While there are many famous attractions at Disneyland, one of the most popular is certainly Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s an attraction so popular that it spawned Disney’s first successful film franchise based on one of its rides. And while the ride has remained essentially the same for over 50 years, it has gone through many changes to become the ride it is, and more than a few since then.

On March 18, 1967, 56 years ago, Pirates of the Caribbean started at Disneyland. It was the first major attraction in the first country added to Disneyland after it opened, New Orleans Square. It’s the ride that Disney CEO Bob Iger calls his favorite ride. So let’s hop aboard our boat and sing along as we dive into the story of Pirates of the Caribbean.

(Image credit: Disney Parks)

Two attractions from the 1964 New York World’s Fair inspired Pirates of the Caribbean

Originally, Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t supposed to be a ride at all. The first concept for what became Pirates of the Caribbean was a wax museum that guests would just walk through, not ride. This evolved into a plan for a series of small scenes that would tell a story but would still use simple wax figures.

It was WED Enterprises’ work at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair that changed things. Imagineers worked on four different attractions for the show, two of which would have a major impact on Pirates of the Caribbean. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln proved that a full-size human animatronic was possible, and It’s a Small World developed the boat system that would become the driving mechanism. Together, the attraction we know today was born.

(Image credit: TWDC)

It was the last attraction in which Walt Disney was directly involved

Claude Coats and Marc Davis were the two main designers of Pirates of the Caribbean, and Walt Disney tended to let his people do their job if he trusted them enough. However, Walt always had his own opinions and everyone paid attention and wanted to know what Walt thought.

Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean would be the last attraction anyone would know what Walt wanted. He made one of his last public appearances at Disneyland when New Orleans Square opened in the summer of 1966 and Walt passed away in December of that year. He never actually saw Pirates in all its glory, as the ride only opened three months after his death.

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Walt Disney World was never supposed to get Pirates of the Caribbean

When Magic Kingdom was being developed for Walt Disney World, several attractions from Disneyland were carried over to the new park, but one attraction that didn’t make it east was Pirates of the Caribbean. The feeling was that Florida, located in the real Caribbean, had enough actual history related to the age of piracy that a fictional ride had little to offer.

Instead, Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland would get the Western River Expedition, a new concept that would celebrate the classic idea of ​​the American West in Florida the same way Pirates gave guests a taste of Gulf Coast history in California.

However, the Western River Expedition was not built in the original Magic Kingdom due to the decision being made to wait and make it part of a future expansion. Before that could happen, however, guests began complaining that the new park didn’t have a version of Pirates of the Caribbean, and the idea was so popular that the attraction was built in instead.

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

The ride has changed over time

While the main Pirates of the Caribbean ride hasn’t undergone any significant changes in over 50 years, the ride has undergone a variety of small updates to address issues that have arisen as new generations have enjoyed the ride. In 1997, a sequence showing pirates chasing women (suspected for violent reasons) was changed to pirates now chasing the food the women were carrying.

In 2017, the “Wench Auction” scene, in which a pirate sold women, including an attractive redhead, to another group of pirates was changed and the redhead victim became Redd, a female pirate character.

The film based on The Ride inspired The Ride to record the film

(Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

However, the biggest changes to the ride took place in 2006 when elements of the Pirates of the Caribbean Movie franchises have been added to the attraction that originally inspired them. The ride now tells the story of a group of pirates trying to track down Captain Jack Sparrow while Sparrow is on his own quest for hidden treasure.

A particular exhibit in Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean that is worth mentioning in connection with the films is the chest of gold coins from the first film. At the start of the ride, you’ll find the recognizable chest with its gold among the treasures surrounding one of the long-dead pirates. While one might assume the chest is a replica, it is actually the actual golden chest it was used in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

(Photo Credit: Shanghai Disney Resort)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Battle for the Sunken Treasure at Shanghai Disney Resort is a whole different ride

The three versions of Pirates of the Caribbean, found at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Disneyland Paris, are largely the same, but the Shanghai Disney Resort version of the ride is something entirely different. It has a totally original storyline based on that Pirates of the Caribbean Film franchise starring Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones. While there are animatronic characters, from a technological point of view the focus of the attraction is significantly more around computer effects designed by ILM.

The original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction used state-of-the-art technology that is still impressive today and is widely considered one of the best Disney attractions of all time. Even looking at video footage of the ride, it’s difficult to argue.

Nothing is forever at Disneyland, and the attractions are always changing and evolving, but Pirates of the Caribbean has stood the test of time better than most other theme park attractions. It’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon, and while the ride is likely to see more small changes in the years to come, it’s unlikely to change so much that fans won’t be able to spot it.