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Pirates of the Caribbean Ride History

Of all the rides at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean is among the most famous. Let me show you this ride’s unique history so you can see why.

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The Pirates of the Caribbean movie series holds a special place in many of our hearts. From swashbuckling pirates to hidden treasure to a captivating historical setting, there is something in the film series for everyone to appreciate. In fact, the ride incorporated several movie characters into its design after the first film came out in 2003, and the design of the ride continues to evolve today.

The Original Pirates of the Caribbean Ride

The very first Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened Disneyland’s New Orleans Square at Anaheim, California in April 1967. Opening three months after Walt Disney’s death, Pirates of the Caribbean was the last ride that Walt himself personally helped design. The ride is 15 minutes long, making it Disneyland’s longest attraction.

A little-known fact is that originally, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was not meant to be a ride at all. It was going to be a wax museum that visitors could walk through at their own leisure. But when the It’s a Small World boat ride was a success at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney decided to turn Pirates of the Caribbean into a boat ride. Much more fitting than a wax museum, considering that it was about adventurers who sailed the seas.

It's A Dogs Life! (Postcard) Pirate rogues, caught looting and burning, try to entice the dungeon master’s dog to bring them the key to their jail… All part of Adventureland’s swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean.

It’s A Dogs Life! (Postcard)

Pirate rogues, caught looting and burning, try to entice the dungeon master’s dog to bring them the key to their jail… All part of Adventureland’s swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean.

The ride used audio-animatronic technology. Developed by Disney and his team of Imagineers, audio-animatronics were robots controlled by means of hydraulics, radio, and floor cables. The robots used movements and sounds that are prerecorded, and while they could not walk, they were able to sit and stand. This technology has been updated over the years. At the time of opening, the ride was the world’s largest audio-animatronic project, with 53 birds and animals and 75 villagers and pirates.

Disneyland’s Design

The creators took inspiration from Disney’s 1950 hit Treasure Island when designing the ride, but much of the inspiration for the setting came from the history and geography. The original design brought to life mid-17th century New Orleans, with a 31-star United States flag on the façade to show that the ride was set in the 1850s.

Across from the ride’s boarding area is the Blue Bayou Restaurant, which sells New Orleans and Cajun style cuisine. The restaurant was designed to feel like visitors are having a dinner party at a plantation backyard, with sounds of crickets and frogs playing in the background to create a pleasant nighttime ambience. The restaurant opened on the same day as the ride, and part of the ride passes underneath the restaurant.

A Privateer’s Party (Postcard) Lost forever in deep dark caverns, two souls have all the “comforts” of home at Adventureland Pirates of the Caribbean.

A Privateer’s Party (Postcard)

Lost forever in deep dark caverns; two souls have all the “comforts” of home at Adventureland Pirates of the Caribbean.

The boat dock is named Laffite’s Landing after Jean Lafitte, a famous pirate who fought in the US Army in the War of 1812’s Battle of New Orleans. The ride uses the spelling Lafitte himself used, rather than the standard English spelling common today.

After boarding the ride at the bayou, visitors listen to a talking skull warning them that it was too late to turn back and to hold on tightly with both hands. The ride contains two plunges, between which guests hear the famous phrase “Dead men tell no tales.” Rides pass through a waterfall with a Davy Jones projection. After that, they hear the sounds of cannonballs and explosions, a battle between pirates and a Caribbean fortress. They then ride past scenes of a town overrun by pirates. At the end, visitors see Captain Jack Sparrow in a room full of treasure before coming back to the bayou. The ride itself consisted of 630,000 gallons of water.

Buccaneer raiders dunk captured citizens and attempt to learn where the town's treasure is hidden. It's just one part of the action of Adventureland's Pirates of the Caribbean.

Where Be The Treasurer? (Postcard)

Buccaneer raiders dunk captured citizens and attempt to learn where the town’s treasure is hidden. It’s just one part of the action of Adventureland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Spread to Other Disney Parks

Many of the rides in Disneyworld at Orlando, Florida are modeled after successful rides at Disneyland. However, originally there were no plans for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride to cross over to Disneyworld. This was because Florida is located close to the Caribbean, so Disney believed people there would not be interested in the ride.

It turned out that the public actually wanted Pirates of the Caribbean in Florida, so the ride opened at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in 1973. The design of the Disneyworld version is slightly different. The waiting area is housed in Castillo del Morro, a Spanish fort inspired by the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in Puerto Rico, and the loading area is called Pirate’s Cove. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is now at Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland, too.

Controversy Over the Ride’s Design

Some of the imagery of the ride included depictions of misogyny. When people started calling these out, Disney had to make changes.

In the mid-90s, people began to criticize the way women are portrayed as objects to fulfill the men’s desire. The ride featured an auction where men can buy brides, with the most coveted prize of the auction being a redhaired woman—the scene had a voiceover in which someone shouts “We wants the redhead!” Other misogynistic images included a lustful pirate chasing after a woman who was clearly scared and hiding in a barrel, and a group of pirates chasing women in a ravaged town.

Take A Wench For A Bride (Postcard)

After looting and plundering a captive city, fun loving pirates hold an auction… pirate style.  And everything goes to the highest bidder, from five bawdy wenches to two skinny goats.

Take A Wench For A Bride (Postcard)

After looting and plundering a captive city, fun-loving pirates hold an auction… pirate style. And everything goes to the highest bidder, from five bawdy wenches to two skinny goats.

Although this is historically how pirates behaved, Disney realized that as a family-friendly theme park, it had a responsibility to design the ride in a way that the countless young girls visiting the attraction would not be made to feel inferior, scared, or ashamed. Disney addressed these concerns by having the pirates looking for food rather than women. Women now chase pirates who carry stolen goods. Disney also decided to turn the redheaded woman at the auction into one of the pirates, and instead of selling brides, the auction sign would read “Surrender yer loot!” Disney is known for updating its rides with the times while maintaining the magical atmosphere that makes them so popular. This means the Pirates of the Caribbean ride may see more changes in the future. By keeping the attraction fresh and attuned to the desires of the modern visitor, Disney ensures that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride will continue captivating imaginations for years to come.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

I enjoy collecting postcards as a way to inspire my own adventures. Over the years, I’ve found them incredibly valuable in sharing memories — places I've been and places my loved ones have sent cards from.