How much does Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland reflect real historical events—and what parts are pure fiction? In this article, we’ll dive into six historical details in Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World and determine their accuracy.
When Disney Imagineers create attractions, they do an excellent job of placing guests in a specific time and space to assist our suspension of disbelief. Disney relies on period-accurate architecture, costumes, and language to make attractions more realistically themed.
One of my all-time favorite attractions at Walt Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean, is one such attraction. While it is full of romantic notions of piracy purloined from legends, it is also full of incredible historical details that bring the stories of the “rascals and scoundrels, villains and knaves” of the high seas to life.
Here are six of the most fascinating historical details in Pirates of the Caribbean that I have discovered while doing extensive research about the classic attraction.
1. El Castillo del Morro: The Pirates Exterior
As guests enter the open-air breezeway leading toward the entrance to the attraction’s interior queue, they pass beneath a sign identifying the ride building as El Castillo del Morro, which happens to be a 16th-century fortress perched on the precipices overlooking the Caribbean Sea near Puerto Rico’s San Juan.
While the fortress, its auxiliary buildings, and the interior queue are intended to resemble El Castillo, the architecture is more consistent with Spanish Colonial-style present in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
For instance, the breezeway in which the outdoor switchback takes place is a nave arcade, which was often used by Spanish colonizers in their haciendas as an exterior room to make their home feel larger than it really was.
Sitting above the entrance to the nave arcade is a feature known as a bellcote (or in Spanish, an espadaña). This aesthetic yet functional feature—often found in Spanish colonial churches or missions—would have held up to three bells that would have been used to signal different messages or events.
The clock tower to the left of the entrance is also a Spanish Colonial architectural feature commonly found in the Dominican Republic; however, these 17th- and 18th-century structures often held bells rather than clocks and served a similar purpose to the espadaña.
2. “Keep Yer Ruddy Hands Inboard”: The Ride Vehicles
After waiting inside the damp, dark corridors of El Castillo, guests find themselves “outside” the fort where a series of boats await in a canal leading toward a grotto.
The design of these ride vehicles is intentional: Not only do they convey guests through the attraction, but they are also designed after a bateaux—a shallow canal boat which would have been used to convey goods and crewmen from a larger ship to port.
A historical bateaux typically carried up to 20 individuals and was usually 6 feet wide by 45 feet long and 3 feet in depth. While the ride vehicles for Pirates of the Caribbean aren’t quite that long, they still resemble the bateaux used by pirates to travel into port in several ways.
3. “Pipe the Lubber Aloft!”: Pirate Articles of Behavior
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Walt Disney World portrays pirates as being marauders and “ne’er do-well cads.” However, this is likely not an accurate representation of the historical pirate.
While pirate crews were often obsessed with capturing treasure, this was often in work as a privateer, hired by one nation to capture the ships and cargo of rival nations. In fact, many pirate crews had “constitutions”—known as Articles—which regulated their behavior.
One such example, the Articles of the pirate ship Mars, explained that “if any [crewmen] … do assault, strike, or insult any male prisoner, or behave rudely or indecently to any female prisoner, he or they shall be punished.”
While each crew had its own version of the Articles, rival groups of pirates held each other accountable to decent behavior under “certain operative principles of equity, justice, and protection.”
Thus, the crew that is torturing Carlos the mayor for the location of Jack Sparrow and assaulting his wife are in violation of the accepted Articles of the pirate code of conduct.
4. “We Wants the Redhead!”: Redd the Pirate
In 2017, Pirates of the Caribbean went through an update, which resulted in the reworking of the auction scene. While previously the attraction showed the women of the town being auctioned off, Disney realized this was in poor taste and instead featured citizens of the Caribbean island town auctioning off their personal possessions to the raiding band of pirates.
Rather than being auctioned off as a buxom prize to be won, “the Redhead” became Redd, a bold, strong-willed pirate who was willing to challenge the head auctioneer. While some were disappointed that the scene was changed from its original incarnation, this update actually reflected history better than its predecessor.
There is some great historical evidence of prominent female pirates and pirate captains. This bold pirate is likely inspired by Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who were not only respected but feared by colonists and the British alike.
Want to learn more about the true history of Redd in Pirates of the Caribbean? Order our Pirates of the Caribbean attraction special, where we uncover little known details about the development and history of this classic attraction.
5. “Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!”: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Pirates are almost always depicted as intoxicated—and Disney pirates are no exception. Jack Sparrow is constantly questioning the absence of his rum while the pirates ransacking the attraction’s town are so drunk that they don’t even seem to realize the village is burning to the ground around them.
There is a very specific reason as to why this is the case. The Caribbean Sea has a climate of excessive heat and humidity, resulting in nearly constant thirst, especially for seafarers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Water onboard was often in short supply and wasn’t always the cleanest due to a lack of purification systems. Instead, crewmates often mixed alcohol into their water: This not only purified the water (with alcohol killing any bacteria) but also allowed the water to last longer with a higher liquid content.
As a result, a thirsty pirate was not only consuming water to quench his thirst, but alcohol as well, leading to a nearly perpetual state of drunkenness.
As for the Disney attraction, it may be that this particular band of pirates is not merely throwing a party, but has become so thirsty from all of their “kindl[ing], charr[ing], enflam[ing] and ignit[ing]” of the town that they needed something potable to drink, resulting in their inebriation.
6. “A Paltry Sum”: Pirate Treasure
At the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Walt Disney World, just before unloading, guests find themselves in front of the town treasury where Jack Sparrow has discovered the village’s riches. He is reclining in a throne, a parrot nearby as the two sing the attraction’s theme song together.
Scattered around the room are strings of pearls, jewels, golden coins, and other pieces of stereotypical pirate treasure. However, what historical pirates considered treasure is missing from this room. While all of these things were certainly valuable, Asian spices, chocolate and coffee beans, and human capital (i.e., slaves) were more often the true “riches” that pirates trafficked in.
Historical Details in Pirates of the Caribbean: Fact or Fiction
Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean is a timeless gem, a piece of Disney history, and a national treasure. Guests experiencing the attraction for the first time still marvel at the effects that Imagineers developed for Disneyland’s version more than half a century ago.
However, what makes this attraction truly special—in my opinion—is the fact that there is a deeper story being told, one that is real and historically accurate. Who says dead men can’t still tell tales?
For a more in-depth glance at the historical details that permeate Walt Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, check out Andrew Kiste’s A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, available on Amazon (affiliate link) or WDW Magazine’s Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction Special.