Forty-four years ago, Disneyland opened up the waters of the Caribbean to those brave enough to come face to face with pirates. Yes this day, 44 years ago Pirates of the Caribbean opened in Disneyland.
Originally, Pirates was suppose to be a walk-through attraction with wax figures, that also included vampires and voodoo, as outlined in very early notes for the New Orleans Square expansion. This later turned to more of a pirate centric attraction after Marc Davis had a conversation with Disney, but still maintained the idea that it would be a walk-through attraction that would be located underneath the new land. But in typical Disney tradition, it would not be all that passive, and the figures would be displayed in detailed scenes including a tavern, burning seaport among other locations. But then Disney decided he would like to incorporate movement, akin to what was going on in The Jungle Cruise and the Mine Train Though Nature’s Wonderland. The idea would reach new heights after the debut of Audio-Animatronics through The Enchanted Tiki Room and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
The projects for New Orleans Square (and most notibly the Haunted Mansion) were put on hold again as Disney shifted his focus to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. For the World’s Fair Disney shared his vision of the world with the boat-ride It’s a Small World. This ride gave the Pirates attraction exactly what it was missing and added a lot to the ride’s atmosphere. Heading up the design for the ride and its motley crew was legendary artist and Imagineer Marc Davis who also teamed up with Claude Coats to bring the ride to life. X Atencio also joined to write the lyrics for the now beloved song “Yo Ho” which was then teamed up with George Bruns music.
After the characters were decided and the scenes designed, models were made and an entire small scale was created for the ride, followed by the larger, finished Audio-Animatroics which reside in the ride. New Orleans Square itself opened prior to Pirates and of course the Haunted Mansion, on July 24, 1966 and cost $15 million, about $8 million of which was Pirates alone. While the Blue Bayou, the restaurant located inside the Pirates attraction was operational at the opening of New Orleans Square, Walt argued against it being open since Pirates had not yet opened, “if the boats wouldn’t be cycling through, the guests shouldn’t be in the restaurant eating.”
By the fall of 1966, Disney’s health began to take a turn for the worst, and in December he passed away. But Pirates was nearing completion and the Imagineers knew they had to finish and during the final phases kept Walt’s memory alive. Then, spring 1967 rolled around and Pirates was ready to welcome passengers. Opening day celebrations included a pirate take over of the sailing ship Columbia (footage of the events as well as post-opening images can be found here) with a parade to the ride and pirates plowing their way in.
Today, Pirates has remained as luring as it was the day it opened, but has seen its fair share of changes. In 1997 the ride underwent some changers with regards to the “pooped pirate” who originally held up a woman’s undergarment, wondering where a “sly lassie” got to and how he’d like to “hoist his colors on the likes of that shy little wench” as the girl popped out from a barrel behind him. Then after the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow and other characters from the films joined in the fun adding touches to various scenes throughout the ride.
To learn more about the Pirates attraction, I recommend reading Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by Jason Surrell available on Amazon.