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!

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