After passing under the talking Jolly Roger, Pirates
of the Caribbean visitors are rushed down two misty
waterfalls, launching the ride into a dark and mysterious
grotto. All around the boats, towering stone cliffs
direct the current to wind through various dank passageways,
as the theme song to the ride sets the mood.
The audio throughout the grotto portion of
the attraction is quite important to the atmosphere. After
successfully navigating the waterfalls, the joyous theme
song "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me" plays
briefly... though the ominous stone walls of the caverns
and the eerie moonlit scenery soon lend an air of mystery
to the ride. The audio matches (and helps establish) these
changes in mood, by changing to what might seem more of
a "cinematic" soundtrack, simplifying the theme
to allow for sound effects to take the lead, and adding
to the guests' anticipation and/or dread of things to come.
The audio soundtrack
from the grotto demonstrates how variations on
the original "Yo Ho" theme song have been
used to create atmosphere.
After winding through the grotto for some time, visitors
come across a grim tableau: three skeletons that appear
to have been seeking treasure in a small cove have
reaped their reward: two have been run through with
their blades, and the remaining body lies dead next
to the now-empty treasure chest... all three apparently
the victims of another band of treachorous villains,
or victims of fighting amongst themselves. Disney's
Pirates of the Caribbean attraction doesn't shy away
from the fact that the legendary life of a pirate
wasn't a placid existence, and that there was a price
to be paid for such a vile lifestyle... in fact, this
first set piece in the ride demonstrates this clearly.
However, the art and technology used in the attraction
have propelled it into today's pop culture, stripping
it of any real real menace or threat.
A gull rests
atop the weathered captain's hat of a deceased pirate,
providing one of the few signs of life in this quiet
and eerie scene.
In issue 32 (Fall 1999) of The "E" Ticket magazine,
Jack and Leon Janzen have published an extensive celebration
of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and the article
notes some of the subtleties of the grotto scenes:
"In the grotto, the first pirate
skeletons are shown undisturbed where they lay. Further
along, the skeletons are engaged in more 'lively' pursuits
like steering the ship or gulping rum at the bar. Deeper
in the caves, the dead pirates seem as if still alive,
reviewing treasure maps or fondling treasure. This shift
from the realisitic to the whimsical helps prepare the
audience for adventures even more fantastic along in the
These observations will prove true as we move
further into the attraction. In many ways, the grotto scenes
are modern results of the lives of the historical pirates
that we will see further on in the ride. The clear message
driven home by this attraction is that "dead men tell
A mysterious storm
crashes through one end of the grotto, with lightning
stikes illuminating the unsettling diorama of a skeleton
at the helm of a wrecked ship.
Moving through the grotto, the crusty skeletons become
more animated, as noted above. We pass a skeleton
at the helm of a shipwreck, the rotting boards smashed
on the rocky grotto shore as we see through the rocky
walls of the grotto out into the stormy night sky.
Shredded sails and old cargo remains scattered throughout
the site of the wreck as the lone skeleton captain
is doomed to eternally pilot the ship to a long forgotten
destination. Moving onward, guests pass the "Crew's
Quarters," a salty hangout where two pirates
appear to have died enjoying their rum. Pirates seem
to have once used this old inn as a homestead, as
signs hanging nearby read "Stow yer weapons"
and "Thar Be No Place Like Home!" Decorated
with remnants from old ships and vessels, this hideaway
is adorned with liquor, glassware, and lush artwork.
Adorning the Disneyland "Crew's Quarters"
is an original work by Marc Davis... and in fact,
Davis' original painting has hung inside the attraction
for years. It pictures a lusty redhead wielding a
pirate's blade, drinking nectar supplied by a cherub
with a devilish grin. This may be an instance of clever
Some have suggested the painting represents the redhead
we will meet later in the attraction after her abduction
by the pirates... but who knows?
onward, the guests' boat passes the quarters of the
captain himself, who is nothing more than a bony corpse
propped up in his lush bed, studying a treasure map
while his harpsichord plays a meloncholy rendition
of the ride's theme song.
"A man o' delicate taste, the cap'n,"
reads an old Disneyland souvenir guide. "His
quarters rigged with the finest furnishin's money
did not buy."
And finally, leaving the cap'n behind, we come across
the grand finale: the "cursed treasure"
that every pirate dreams of. "Pretty baublesand
a king's ransom in gold," the guide continues.
harpsichord plays a familiar refrain as guests
float by on their way to the treasure cavern.
blood money and cursed it be..." And indeed, the
treasure cavern is filled edge to edge with sparkling jewels,
piles of gold, and all types of trinkets and art.
Seated atop this cache of plundered wealth
is a final skeletal pirateto remind guests that even
the finest riches and wealth are no match for death, which
is the only reward any of these pirates could count on.
As the boat continues past the amazing treasure, the grotto
narrows into a tunnel shrouded in mist as ghostly voices
echo through the cavern:
"No fear have ye of evil curses,
says you?" Arrrgh... Properly warned ye be, says
I. Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy
beholders of this bewitched treasure? Dead men tell no
"Perhaps ye knows too much... ye've
seen the cursed treasure, you know where it be hidd'n.
Now proceed at your own risk. These be the last 'friendly'
words ye'll hear. Ye may not survive to pass this way
again... Dead men tell no tales!"
For trivia buffs, the first phrase is uttered
in menacing tones by Disney's reliable vocal talent Paul
Frees, who, along with Thurl "Tony the Tiger"
Ravenscroft, also created many of the other pirate voices
throughout the ride. The second "friendly" phrase
was croaked out by Imagineering legend "X" Atencio
himself, who was responsible for writing the script and
dialogue for the attraction.
No fear have ye
of evil curses says you...? Perhaps ye knows too much...
declares an eerie voice carried through the darkness
of an enormous cavern, as the longboats float into a
In 2005, the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions
of Pirates of the Caribbean received a major overhaul, in
which elements of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise
were brought into the attraction. The misty cavern no longer
exists as such. Now, in its place, the boats seem to drift
straight toward a large waterfall, into which the visage
of supernatural pirate Davy Jones appears. Continuing toward
the illusion, the boats pass right through the vision and
find themselves exiting the grotto...