Friday, December 15, 2017

Happy 44th Anniversary to WDW's Pirates of The Caribbean: My Wish List For Refurbishing This Classic Attraction

(Lee on Flickr)

Today sadly marks 51 years since the passing of Walt Disney, but it also marks the 44th anniversary of one of WDW's greatest attractions, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Plagued by a harried construction and ride length half that of Disneyland's version, WDW's Pirates is consistently the lowest rated of all the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions throughout the world. But nonetheless, it has some wonderful, unique elements that set it apart from the rest of the Pirate rides. For one thing, it has the magnificent Caribbean Plaza as its home, a wonderful work of terraces, hidden courtyards, and wrought-iron details that truly set the Caribbean stage for the Pirates. The facade of WDW's Pirates is the stunning Castillo del Morro, an impressive recreation of a Spanish fortress, complete with the iconic clock tower. The dark and sublimely detailed fortress and dungeon queue nearly make up for the shortcomings the ride has, and in fact was an important part of the entirely different story the WDW Pirates once told. In the original WDW Pirates of the Caribbean, there was no time travel; guests traveled to a Caribbean town, entered a fortress under attack by pirates, boarded longboats to escape the marauders as a pirate ship sails in the distance, and then ended up back in the same Caribbean town as the pirate ship arrives and attacks. Unfortunately, both the queue and ride have been altered greatly over the years and not necessarily for the better, from political corrections to the arrival of Jack Sparrow to the questionable addition of Fastpass+. These changes have impacted not only many of the iconic scenes but also the experience itself; now it is possible to infer time travel in the story, and much of the pirates ransacking of the Spanish Main has been turned into a Where's Waldo-esque search for Captain Jack Sparrow. On top of all of this, there is at least one more controversial change yet to come. From February 26th to March 18th next year, WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean is set to have a refurbishment for the primary purpose of politically correcting the classic auction scene. I have already wrote a lengthy post about why I feel this is a bad idea, so needless to say I am hoping above all else that this does not happen (unfortunately, it did). However, seeing an upcoming refurb for Pirates got me thinking about what I'd love to see Disney do during the three-week refurbishment or a similarly short refurb of the ride, and what long-term things that I think Disney should do to restore Pirates of the Caribbean in time for WDW's 50th anniversary. So without further ado, here's my wish list for both this short refurbishment and long-term refurbishments for WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean:

What Could and Should Be Done in 3 Weeks*

* I've made my most educated guesses on what could actually be done in a three week refurbishment, but it is possible that one or more of these things could require more time to accomplish.
  • Turn back on the firing cannons on the fort facade. Before Jack Sparrow invaded Castillo del Morro, the cannons on the top of the facade used to loudly fire across Caribbean Plaza and Adventureland. Restoring the firing cannons would not only add texture to the sounds of Caribbean Plaza, but also restore an integral part of the story that the pirates are actively attacking the fort, and of course the fort must defend itself!
  • Restore the original queue music and soundscape. The queue is already a visual masterpiece, but it also used to be an auditory one. At the entrance tunnel of the fort, an eerie piece of music called "Fortune Red" played, and then faded out into a mixture of silence, the voices of the Spanish soldiers as they prepared for the pirate attack, and choruses of "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me" implying that the pirates were already in the fort and could be around any corner. In both sides of the queue, a lonely invisible man strummed the gentle chords of a Spanish guitar into the darkness. On the right path of the queue, as guests prepared to make sail, the sounds of someone digging with a shovel and drunken singing and laughing emanated out of a cave, where no doubt pirates lay just out of sight digging for treasure. The cumulative effect of these sounds was an incredible introduction using sound to the experience that awaited guests as they prepared to escape from the besieged Spanish fortress and into the murky, eerie caverns. All of this was drowned out in 2006 by the loud playing of the gentle flutes in Disneyland's "Pirate Overture" which has always played in their queue. This poor decision reduced the once impressive audio atmosphere of the queue to mere whispers all but silenced by an ill-fitting piece of music. Restoring the sound systems in the queue and the original compositions to boot would be an excellent idea.

    (Brian Hammond on Flickr)
  • Restore the Pirate Barker Bird to his rightful place at the entrance of the ride. This wonderful fellow was originally located above the unloading dock of the attraction, cautioning guests to watch out for the "moving gangplank". His delightful appearance quickly caused a bottleneck there, and so he was moved to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean, and he became the Barker Bird. For over 30 years, he was a wonderful sight to see, a feathered and salty squawking and whistling "pirrot". He was also quick to tell guests about the adventure with salty old pirates that awaited them if they passed through the old fortress and didn't miss the longboats waiting to take them to Pirates Cove. The Barker Bird became an iconic character and absolute fan favorite at WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean. Inexplicably and regrettably, he flew the coop during the 2006 film-based refurbishment, and he has only shown up as part of displays in special events elsewhere. It has now been over a decade since he disappeared for no good reason, and it is way past time for him to return to the perch at the home he should've never left.

 Long-Term Things to Refurbish and Restore

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)

  • Take Pirates of the Caribbean off of the Fastpass+ attraction roster and undo the physical changes to the queue made for Fastpass+. When Disney ludicrously decided that Fastpass was needed for Pirates of the Caribbean, a high capacity boat ride, they made two physical alterations to the queue that weakened its effectiveness. First, a new merge point was created, meaning the two separate queues not only now meet each other, but now have an open view of the loading dock where there was once walls. Keeping this merge point if Fastpass+ was discontinued for this attraction would be as unnecessary as Fastpass+ is currently for Pirates. I would close back up the walls and return the queues to the state where neither one could be seen from the other until after exiting the "fort". The other change made was the knocking down of a wall near the entrance of the tunnel to turn the righthand queue into a Fastpass queue. The resulting expansion of the left Standby queue resulted in the loss of the original passageway into the right queue, which cleverly declined after the incline of the entrance ramp to produce the illusion of descending deep into the dungeons on that side. Again, as Fastpass is unnecessary for this attraction in my opinion, I would restore this original passageway and incline and decline illusion to the queue.

  • Reconsider the political correction of the pirates. I've already covered much of this ground in my previous post about the future changes to the auction scene, but I wanted to note once more that political correctness does not do any favors to an already family friendly attraction about pirates. Despite the romanticized portrayal of pirates in the attraction, it is important to remember that the Pirates of the Caribbean is not a fun tale of the ransacking of a town by pirates; it is a morality play that uses scenes of skeletal pirates in desolate coves to remind us that those who are greedy, cruel and selfish will pay the price in the end. The original pirates chasing women scene and the auction scene are two of the most effective enforcers of this story. The Pooped Pirate's original dialogue, along with the petticoat and slipper that he held, the two turntables of pirates chasing women culminating in the gag the third turntable with a fat lady pursuing a shy pirate and the lady in the barrel should be brought back. And of course, keep the auction scene in its original form. 

(Norm Lanier on Flickr)

  • Begone Captain Jack Sparrow, and take your friends and foes with you! I'll admit I was excited when it was first announced that Jack Sparrow would be joining the Pirates of the Caribbean. I had seen Johnny Depp's remarkable performance as Captain Jack in Curse of the Black Pearl, and I was right among the chorus of 7-year old boys who were out of their mind happy that Jack Sparrow would soon be in Disney World. When he finally did arrive, it was really wonderful and cool at first, especially with how lifelike the Jack Sparrow animatronics were. But as I got older, I started recalling more and more often things that I dimly remembered had been in the attraction before Jack that I had loved but had gone away. I started to miss the Barker Bird and the talking skull (kudos to WDI for recently returning the latter), and the new narrative in the attraction involving the movie characters made less and less sense. I have now come to realize just how nonsensical and poorly thought out the movie additions to WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean really were from a narrative and logical standpoint, especially since this confusing search for Jack Sparrow replaced a linear non-narrative experience of pirates ransacking a town that didn't need elaborate explanation. WDI should unfetter this iconic ride and give it the care and respect it deserves by giving movie tie-ins the boot and focusing on what made the original Pirates of the Caribbean a truly classic attraction.

I hope you've all enjoyed my thoughts on what should happen in both short and long term refurbishments to revitalize and restore WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean in time for WDW's grand 50th anniversary. Haunted Serenade wishes Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World a very happy 44th anniversary!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Happy Birthday Walt: Where His Presence Can Be Felt Most at Walt Disney World

(Tom Simpson on Flickr)
 Yesterday would've been the 116th birthday of Walt Disney. He was a man beyond his time, seeking to make better his own, driven to unimaginable success by his desire and ability to make people's dreams come true. While others sought only or primarily financial gain in the operation of their businesses, Walt simply wanted to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he happened to have a great imagination and the talent of bringing together the right group of people to make his visions a reality. Nothing stopped him, not even financial difficulties or the "sharp pencil boys" that Walt always made sure worked for him and not the other way around. Visionary, optimal behaviorist, leader, game-changer, creator, and human, he all was. He made possible some of the greatest animated and live-action characters and films the world has ever seen, and then went on to make an entirely new and prosperous business for himself when he invented the world's first true theme park. Disneyland changed Walt's company and the world for the better, but it wasn't long before Walt set out on his grandest and most ambitious dream yet. Sadly, he passed away before he could see it to completion. His Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow died with him, but his Vacation Kingdom shines in the hot Floridian sun to this day, and within lies the final incarnations of Walt Disney's last and greatest dreams: the Magic Kingdom, the wonderful resorts and their amenities, and what's left (not much) of EPCOT Center. Walt may have never stepped foot in the complete World that is named after him, but he has a powerful presence there nonetheless. To honor his birthday and the incredible life that it represents, I will now take a look at where Walt Disney's presence can be felt most at the World that he would've been proud of.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

(Norm Lanier on Flickr)
 Walt's hands may have never touched this first recreation of his Tiki Room, but even without Walt's physical presence, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room is nearly every bit as nostalgic and filled with Walt's spirit in Florida as it is in California. As it is, WDW's Tiki Room contains much of the essence that made the original show at Disneyland an instant classic. The same delightful avian banter and spellbinding songs that enchant guests in Disneyland play in abridged form at Disney World's Tiki Room. Although the tiki birds at Disneyland will always be the first true audio-animatronics, the birds that sing and the flowers that croon at the show that used to call itself Tropical Serenade represent in spirit that same momentous achievement that Walt made all those years ago.

WEDWAY Peoplemover and the Monorail

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)

(CetusCetus on Flickr)
One of mankind's greatest dreams has always been the freedom and ability to travel quickly and comfortably to wherever they pleased. In that spirit, Walt showcased in his lifetime two marvelous and groundbreaking transportation systems at Disneyland; the Peoplemover and the Monorail. The Monorail was first; a gleaming, sleek, emissions-free train of the future gliding in the skies above on a roundabout trip through Tomorrowland at Walt's kingdom. The iconic Monorail trains would become the perfect mode of transport to and from Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel when a station was opened there, and well after Walt had passed a Monorail station was created at Downtown Disney. Advances in track and vehicle technology made by Disney during the creation of Ford's Magic Skyway for the World's Fair would lead to the development of another truly spectacular transportation system: the Peoplemover. This motorless, emissions free system of cars powered along a track with motorized wheels embedded in it was thought by Walt to be a revolutionary concept for future transportation, one that he was proud to use for a grand circuit tour of his Tomorrowland.

At Walt Disney World, both the Peoplemover and the Monorail were intended to play a much bigger role. Both were meant to be the primary means of getting out and about in Walt Disney's E.P.C.O.T., the first time that the two systems would have been used in tandem in an actual city anywhere. Although the city of tomorrow never came to fruition, the Monorail and Peoplemover still had starring roles in Disney World's grand show. In addition to transporting guests between the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Magic Kingdom, and the Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts, the Monorail line at WDW would later be expanded to include EPCOT Center and the Grand Floridian Resort when they were built. Deep within the paradise of the Magic Kingdom, a new and improved Peoplemover, now using magnetic linear induction motors instead of embedded motorized tires, sailed on a covered track high above the utopia of Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, neither line expansion nor update of the trains has happened for the Monorail since the late 80s, and while WDW's Peoplemover outlasted its Disneyland cousin, it has been somewhat neglected in recent years. Despite this, both the Peoplemover and Monorail remain wonderful examples of the innovative ideas and inventions that Walt so often showcased in his projects.

Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)
 If there ever was a theme song that could encompass Walt's life and who he was, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" would be it. As the Carousel of Progress has changed and moved over the years, first from the Progressland Pavilion at the World's Fair in '64 to its home in Disneyland's Tomorrowland, then to Walt Disney World when GE felt it was time to tap into a new audience on the East Coast, it has never truly lost its very real and very powerful connection that it has with Walt Disney and all it represented. Even though the final scene is outdated and the GE appliance advertisements have been replaced with a mediocre sitcom in the script, as long as that wonderfully unique theater is still rotating in Tomorrowland, Walt's presence will always be alive and well somewhere in the World dedicated to him.

Progress City and the Original E.P.C.O.T.

(Cory Doctorow on Flickr)
 At last, we come to the one thing in all of Walt Disney World that can claim the most powerful connection by far to Walt; a piece of the original Progress City model. The model that now resides in a dark and quiet corner of a Peoplemover showbuilding was once part of the magnificent Progress City model that resided on the second floor of the Carousel of Progress building at Disneyland. This powerful, bold, and delightfully kinetic model was filled with painstakingly detailed buildings and landscaping, moving cars and vehicles, and an electrician's cornucopia of lights. Only a fraction of this model exists today, but in the face of being overlooked and in need of some TLC, this part of Progress City that figuratively and literally has Walt's fingerprints on it continues to be a powerful physical and spiritual link between Walt Disney World and the man himself.

This model also represents one of the last physical conceptions remaining of Walt's most powerful yet unrealized dream; his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. An actual city never came to be at WDW, but the theme park that rose from its ashes was genuinely sublime. In its prime, EPCOT Center was an optimistic and futuristic force to be reckoned with, combining Walt's vision of American free enterprise and international cultures showcasing their very best with some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring work that WED Enterprises (the original Imagineers) ever did. EPCOT Center sought to be, and for a time was a transformative center of learning and culture for all the world. EPCOT Center lit the spark of many of today's great thinkers, inventors, and scientists. The tide has long since ebbed for EPCOT Center, but it will be hard indeed for the world to forget the brilliant attractions and concepts that resided there and the truly remarkable effect it had on today's society and livelihood. The theme park with the amazing geodesic sphere was not Walt's city, but the same brilliant concepts, themes and ideas that Walt had made the beating pulse of his E.P.C.O.T. were reincarnated beautifully in EPCOT Center.

I hope you've all enjoyed this look at just a few of the incredible things that Walt accomplished in his lifetime and beyond. May his spirit and soul live on, if not at the Disney company, in our hearts and memories of the experiences and dreams that Walt made come true for all of us.

Happy Birthday Walt

December 5th, 1901 - December 15th, 1966