Swaggering, singing, brawling, and bawling “it’s a pirate’s life for me!!’ the rowdiest crew of swashbucklers ever to cheat Davy Jones’s locker finally have made a spectacle of themselves at Walt Disney World.
Pirates of the Caribbean, long one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland, opened its doors in Florida for the first time last December. Located in the brand-new Caribbean Plaza in Adventureland, the new show literally plunges adventurers into the 17th-century world of a Spanish seaport besieged by marauding buccaneers.
Setting the mood for the adventure to come, the Caribbean Plaza marketplace invites guests to wander in and out of tiny shops settled under red-tile roofs reminiscent of old Spanish architecture.
Once through the portals of the new attraction, guests find themselves in the musty dungeons of “El Castillo” — an old Spanish fortress. As they wander past arsenals en route to the landing dock where their flat-bottomed boats await them, the clank of steel and the occasional cry of a pirate echoes through the passageways.
Flickering lights on the walls of shadowy coves and an ancient ship riding at anchor on a moonlit bay greet seafarers as they prepare to cast off from the dock. The gentle sound of the surf and the lilting cries of seabirds are punctuated by the raucous laughter of unseen pirate crews, undoubtedly burying their ill-gotten loot.
Once underway, guests immediately find themselves in a misty grotto where a ghostly voice warns: “Dead men tell no tales!” And so it seems to be, for everywhere the eye can see rest skeletons in various stages of repose, some skewered through bony ribs with rusty knives of battles past, others collapsed alongside emptied treasure chests. A seagull, nesting on the cranium of his eyeless host, squawks angrily at the passing spectators.
As the boats pass into Hurricane Lagoon, howling winds, rain, and flashes of lightning startle even the most intrepid seafarers. And, as the eye adjusts to the spasmodically illuminated scene, a figure emerges at the wheel of a ship — steering no doubt into eternity, for his bones have lost all earthly thrust.
Suddenly, without warning, passengers plummet into a subterranean grotto and, as they disappear through a narrow cave-like passage, sinister voices warn them to “proceed at your own risk” for “ye may not survive to pass this way again!”
Once done cannot be undone, however. And for better or for worse, visitors who have ventured thus far soon will experience eye-to-eye confrontations with the rowdiest assembly of plundering blackguards since Blackbeard twirled his whiskers in ports of the Spanish Main.
Brought to life through the genius of the Disney-invented Audio-Animatronics® (an electronic system for animating three-dimensional figures), pirates of every description, Spanish grandees and winsome damsels, and a bevy of barnyard and domesticated beasts join together in an incredible re-creation of the sack of a portside town.
Guns thunder and pirates roar as a pirate galleon attacks a Spanish fort. With shells whistling around their heads and fizzles of steam escaping where hot shots hit the water near boats, guests drift through the initial battle for the taking of the town.
“Strike yer colors, ya bloomin’ cockroaches!” yells the pirate captain from the afterdeck of his ship.
“Aye! Take that you greengo peegs, you!” answers the Spanish defender of the fort.
The battle still rages as guests pass on to the next scene, where the magistrate of the town is being dunked unceremoniously in a well by pirates who want him to tell where the treasure is hidden.
“Do not tell heem, Carlos!” screams his wife from an upstairs window, hastily closing the shutters as pirates let go a shot in her direction.
Other pirates guard bound townsmen, still in their nightclothes, and one boisterous buccaneer pipes away at his flute, keeping time as the mayor bobs up and down in the town-square well.
In other parts of the city, the pirates are engaged in commerce of a dubious sort and other sport involving the fairer denizens of the city. One scene depicts a gaily bedecked rogue, blithely auctioning off the none-too-reluctant maidens of the town. In the foreground, a gorgeous redhead advertises her own charms, much to the chagrin of her less-endowed sisters.
“Strike yer colors ya brazen wench, no need to expose yer superstructure!” orders the pirate auctioneer, anxious to unload his less-attractive cargo.
“We wants the redhead! Pipe the redhead aboard!” yell his revelous mates, while goats, chickens, and a donkey add their comments to the occasion.
Laughing, singing, and shooting their guns into the air in sheer exuberance, the roistering pirates chase squealing maidens, harmonize with pigs, and try to tempt hissing cats to join in the fun.
As the boats pass through the burning city, the pirates join with a braying donkey and a howling dog to render their rollicking chantey at the top of their lungs.
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me!” they bellow, as flames crackle and piles of booty litter the street.
But not all the pirates are so fortunate. As the strain of the pirates’ theme song fades with the view of the burning city, guests find themselves in the dungeon area. Here, while charred beams overhead threaten to collapse, a group of jailed brigands attempt to get the keys from a friendly dog, which wags his tail and stands his ground, key ring held firmly in his mouth.
Swiftly, the boats pass through the town’s arsenal and into the brightest scene of all. For here, where two Spanish guards sit firmly trussed together, is the enormous treasure of the town. Triumphant pirates sit midst towering heaps of glittering jewels, golden coins, and ropes of milky pearls.
Gleeful and inebriated with success, the plundering pirates scatter the treasure about and fire their weapons into the air. Ricocheting bullets zing off walls, falling dangerously near the passing boats, as a drunken parrot perched on a trunk sings his own version of the pirate song:
“Yo ho, yo ho, a parrot’s life for me… so, drink up me ‘earties, yo ho!”
The pirate’s expedition has ended in triumph, and as guests depart the final scene, a peg-legged, one-eyed pirate parrot with a tattoo on his close-clipped chest, warns disembarking adventurers to “keep a lookout for the movin’ gangplank! Steady as she goes, lubbers! Ye’ll be needin’ yer sea legs on that rollin’ gangplank!’
Premiered last December as the climax of Walt Disney Productions’ 50th Anniversary Year, the Pirates of the Caribbean will remain the high point for visitors to Walt Disney World for years to come.
From Walt Disney World Vacationland Magazine, Spring 1974.