Sunday, July 05, 2009

No comparison

I remember riding Pirates of the Caribbean on my first visit to Disneyland in 1982. Not everything I rode that day stuck in my memory, but this one did.

I’ve since been on the sister attraction in Florida several times, of course. Many people have said that the original here in California is better, way better even, but I don’t remember the ride in enough detail to compare based on my memories as a teenager. I'm curious about how they compare.

We enter the queue at the lower street level and walk past the chains that a longer queue would wind through, straight up the ramp to the ride level. We enter the building and see the boats right in front of us, returning to the loading area ahead of us. We continue walking right up to the load area – there are people enough flowing into the attraction that boats are fully loading continually, but not so many that any appreciable line forms. We are directed right into a load zone – we didn’t even have to wait the 5 minutes!

Becky, Brandon & I find ourselves in the first row – uh oh – while Benjamin, Bob & Linda are behind us in the second. The boat launches, and we float serenely ahead.

And speaking of “serene”... Wow. We first float through a dark body of water in a peaceful nighttime scene. Crickets are chirping, fireflies are dancing amongst the hanging branches of the trees. There’s an old shack with a man whittling on a porch. The tables of the Blue Bayou restaurant are off to our right. This is a stunning recreation of a Louisiana bayou.

Most impressive to me is the boat channel, or lack of one. Yes, there is a path that the boats all take – but the water extends off in the distance on either side, and the course ahead is only obvious if you’re looking for it. To the casual eye, it seems as if we’re floating freely across a body of water. It’s really cool – it makes the difference between feeling like you’re on a boat, versus feeling like you’re on a boat ride.

As we leave the bayou we start to hear screams ahead. Okay, that’s never a good sign, particularly for us in the front row. I know there are drops coming – the Disney fan in me remembers that the Imagineers solved the space problem by putting most of the ride building outside the berm, so the boats travel down and under the train tracks. What surprises me is that the first drop is in the dark.

We plunge down into the darkness and whoosh into the water into the bottom, screaming all the way. What fun! Hey, and I only got a little sprinkle! Oh, wait, no, the wave from our entry bounces back toward the boat and spills over the side, soaking my left leg. Oh, well.

The boat takes us through magnificent underground caverns with very high ceilings – it’s another impressive use of open space that’s not in the Florida version. Down again we go, and at last the familiar pirate scenes appear – the ship crewed by skeletons, the battle between a pirate ship (now commanded by Captain Barbossa) and the fort. That last is another impressive use of a really big room, and the path of the boat through the water not being obvious.

On we go into the town, with the pirates pillaging, spotting as we go the recent additions of Captain Jack Sparrow to the mix. The “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” song is at full blast as we enjoy all the classic scenes, culminating with the dog holding the jail keys in its mouth, forever just out of reach of the prisoners, and then of Jack Sparrow singing to himself in the room of golden treasure.

Great fun, and way more impressive than the Magic Kingdom version. Don’t get me wrong, I love that one too, but the original Pirates of the Caribbean here at Disneyland is longer, grander, and creates much more of a sense of place than its Florida counterpart.

I just wish it were light enough in there to take good pictures.

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