Author’s Note: This article was originally published several years ago in The Caribbean Express, a newsmagazine that is out of business. I think the piece is appropriate because September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, a fun day created by John Baur and Mark Summers who came up with the concept for it when they started talking to each other in pirate lingo to liven things up. The date was selected because September 19 is the birthday of Mark SummersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife, making it an easy date for one of the dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s co-creators to remember. I can only wonder if he buys her pirate-themed birthday presents!
One of the most popular attractions at Disney World’s The Magic Kingdom is the Pirates of the Caribbean. At this ride, visitors climb aboard boats that sail through mysterious grottos and then plunge down a waterfall straight into a raging battle between rival pirate gangs for control of a harbor town! They see and hear burly singing marauders, saloon wenches, and plastered pigs, all brought to life through Disney’s Audio-Animatronics system. During this wild boat ride, they will be hearing — and probably soon singing — the attraction’s catchy theme song, Yo Ho, Yo Ho; a Pirate’s Life for Me. The Pirates ride enjoys the honor of being called a “Birnbaum’s Best” in Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World 1999, a guidebook that is available at major bookstores.
Ashlee Farris is a frequent visitor to Disney World and says of Pirates, “It’s one of my favorites! I have loved Pirates since I was a small child. I am now twenty-eight and make it a point to go on Pirates at least twice on every trip to The Magic Kingdom. I remember being fascinated by this glimpse into how things could have been. It’s a great example of how animatronics and a few special effects can transport you to another time and place.”
Her husband, Ken Farris, is also a big fan of the Pirates attraction. “One of the main things I like about the ride is the attention to detail,” Mr. Farris relates. “Everything is very authentic looking, especially in the town scenes. They, of course, tone it down a little (young children are riding) but they don’t really pull any punches with the fact that most pirates were alcoholic louts.”
For all the praise lavished upon it, Pirates of the Caribbean has not escaped controversy. Dave Schmidt is a critic of the attraction. “Although I like the ride for its technology and grand storytelling, it has always left me a little unsettled,” he comments. “I find it unbelievable that so many negative themes — drunkenness, thievery, rape, torture, destruction — are turned into something of amusement. Many people argue, ‘It’s history. That’s what pirates did.’ This is valid. And that’s why they are such negative images for an amusement park ride. I always ride Pirates of the Caribbean when I visit the Disney parks and enjoy the overall experience because it’s done so well. But the basic concept creeps me out.”
Moreover, like many other people, Mr. Schmidt has been troubled by the attraction’s apparent sexism. “Then there is the way women are portrayed in the ride,” he elaborates. “They are either spineless, unable to defend their families, or sex objects or unattractive enough to be happy to have any man at all in their lives. They are even happy to have a man who destroyed the town in which they live. In a time when many feminist groups complain about the subservient themes in Snow White, I am really surprised that more haven’t been more upset about Pirates at the Disney parks.”
As it happens, feminists have protested the ride’s approach to the horror of rape — and Disney has responded to their concerns. In California’s Disneyland, the Pirates ride was changed so that the Pirates now appear to be chasing big bags of food carried by serving wenches. Orlando’s Disney World takes a different new approach: the male rascals are now chased by disciplinary women wielding rolling pins!
However, you cannot please everyone and some fans, like Mr. Farris, take exception to this alteration. In his opinion, “The worst thing that Disney ever did was change the ‘chase scene.’”
Disney World’s Caribbean Beach Resort is visually themed to the islands. Set across 200 acres and surrounding a lake, the Caribbean Beach Resort is made up of five “island villages.” Each village is named after a place in the Caribbean: Trinidad, Martinique, Barbados, Aruba, and Jamaica. There are 64 guest rooms in each Caribbean village, most of which have two double beds and can accommodate four people. Mini bars and coffee makers are in every guest room.
As one would expect at anything run by Disney, much attention has been given to recreation. The lakeside recreation area boasts a slide, a boat rental, a game room, and a jogging track. Footbridges over the lake link the “mainland” to the Parrot Cay, a one-acre park with several play areas for children as well as walkways for strolling or bike riding by any visitor.
Standing in the middle of the Caribbean Beach Resort is the Old Port Royal. Pirates’ cannons, stone walls, and tropical birds and flowers lend it a dramatic Caribbean island flavor. Shops, a game room, a lounge, a food court, and several restaurants are in the Old Port Royal.
Those restaurants include a full-service restaurant called The Captain’s Tavern and six counter-service restaurants. The latter are the Cinnamon Bay Bakery where guests can get pastries and desserts; Montego’s Deli that offers soups, salads, and sandwiches; Bridgetown Broiler featuring “all-American” food like chicken; the self-explanatory Royal Pizza; more Italian food at Kingston Pasta; and the Port Royale Hamburger Shop. The Banana Cabana serves all kinds of drinks.
J. P. (an abbreviation for Junior Poushet) and the Silverstars are a steelband that provides Caribbean calypso music, most of it Trinidadian, at the Caribbean Plaza in Adventureland. From Sunday to Thursday, they start playing at 11:00 AM and finish at 7:00 PM. There are six men in the band; four of the six are originally from Trinidad, the other two are from Orlando. The band’s leader, J. P., says that Disney World offers his group an enormous audience: “Disney has 60,000 people a day and we play for those who pass by so we play for a lot of people.”.
He continues, “We’ve been working there since the opening day of Disney World, October 25, 1971. We like the atmosphere. It’s away from the stresses of life and it’s one of the best places to see Americans and foreigners together in a friendly manner.”
The atmosphere of Orlando’s Disney World is indeed famously upbeat — and it is enhanced by its lively Caribbean aspects.