Alexander: for over 50 years, Pirates of the Caribbean has dazzled Disney parkgoers with its uncanny ability to transport riders into a seamless environment of excitement and danger. As the last ride whose construction was curated by Walt Disney himself, Pirates is often regarded as Walt’s Magnum Opus, as well as his parting gift to the industry.
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Following the addition of Pirates to Walt Disney World in 1973, the ride would go on to anchor Disney’s international resorts, debuting proudly along with Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Euro Disney in 1992. While a Pirates project for Hong Kong was delayed, shelved, and eventually cancelled, Treasure Cove would finally see life at Shanghai Disneyland, featuring the resort’s star attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
Five decades of Pirates yielded unique design quirks tailored to each experience, but regardless of where on the planet you find yourself taking in a Disney day, there’s no understating the unified significance that these five Pirates rides have curated.
5. Walt Disney World Resort – Magic Kingdom (Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA)
While there’s no such thing as a bad Pirates of the Caribbean, there is one installation that suffered from a lack of foresight. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Pirates was noticeably absent (the resort’s proximity to the Caribbean was believed to hinder the ride’s exotic appeal), and a hasty course correction during a financially constricted era for Disney lead to an abridged Pirates for new Spanish wing of Adventureland (located behind an already exhaustive mishmash of Polynesian, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African themes).
4. Tokyo Disney Resort – Tokyo Disneyland (Arayasu, Chiba, Japan)
For most of its attractions, Tokyo Disneyland’s only crime was an utter lack of originality – a resort catering specifically to the people of Japan had no operational need to be different from its US counterparts, so why bother? Tokyo Pirates is no different, bringing to life the more extravagant of the two US rides (in this case, Disneyland’s, of course) with little to no editing – same basic layout, same Blue Bayou restaurant, and so on. What makes Tokyo Pirates special, however, is that it serves as a time capsule of the Anaheim ride; major changes like the 1987 remodel of the entrance and the updating of the “pirate auction” scene are, for better or for worse, nowhere to be found on the Japanese ride.
3. Disneyland Resort – Disneyland Park (Anaheim, California, USA)
Of course the original Pirates of the Caribbean serves as the standard by which all other Pirates are judged. While some wouldn’t find a spot anywhere but #1 appropriate for the Pirates Walt himself developed, the later-era Pirates installations should be regarded as a great evolutionary accomplishments – appealing broadly to Anaheim purists and new audiences alike. Aside from being the OG, Anaheim has another special claim: the longest Pirates, clocking in at 15+ minutes compared to the 8-10 minute run time of all other installations (a lot of this has to do with separate disembarkment stations before the lift back up to the loading station, but still – who doesn’t relish in that long lift ride back to the surface on the Anaheim ride?).
2. Disneyland Paris Resort – Parc Disneyland (Chessy, France)
If the Euro Disney project was Michael Eisner flying too close to the sun, Paris Pirates was a particularly radiant feather on his wax plumage. A wildly reimagined layout with a new restaurant, different drop sequences, and state-of-the-art audio animatronic sequences that elevated classic Pirates moments while bringing new moments to life, are just some of the accomplishments of French Pirates, which remains a crown jewel in not only Disney’s dark ride accomplishments, but among the impressive array of dark rides throughout Europe.
1. Shanghai Disneyland (Pudong, Shanghai, People’s Rebuplic of China)
For many readers, one has to know that Shanghai Pirates would land squarely at #1 almost by default – to know this ride is to comfortably regard it as one of the top accomplishments within Walt Disney Imagineering as well as the theme park industry in general. While Paris Pirates handily wins the award for “Best *Standard* Pirates” and Anaheim’s no doubt reigns as the most important and influential, there’s no doubting that Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure is objectively the best ride of the 5, and easily the best ride in Disney’s global roster.
The only similarities that Shanghai Pirates shares with the 4 before it are a concept and a name – the rest is a dramatic mutation of technological applications from a variety of different ride types, including flying theaters, roller coasters, and next-generation transit systems. Pirates in Shanghai isn’t even a flume ride: gone are the pumped waterways of classic Pirates rides, and in their place an electromagnetic, multitrack matrix that manipulates vehicles as they “float” through an otherwise stagnant series of pools – truly a thing of fairytales, regardless of one’s understanding of the technology at work.
And so concludes our Pirates of the Caribbean countdown. Do you agree with our picks? Be sure to weigh in on our social media platforms and check out some of our other recent articles: