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Floating Through the Blue Bayou: A Thrilling Boat Ride

Meanwhile, Arrow Development was busy creating the transportation system that would carry guests through the caverns and seas of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. After the success of their boat system for "It's a Small World" at the '64/'65 World's Fair, Arrow felt confident that their boats would be an excellent solution for POTC. Arrow had created many "flume"-style water rides for theme parks around the country, but the Disney boat systems offered many challenges.

The "Blue Bayou" was Walt's idea for a grand opening to the POTC attraction. This concept art shows how the feeling of a warm evening stroll along the Louisiana shore was audaciously planned to be contained within a building. The effect, in fact, has proven to be startlingly effective.

Ed Morgan, a theme-park-engineer, found working on the Disney boat systems (first "Small World," and later, POTC) to be an exercise in true showmanship: "[Disney] founded the theme ride business, no question of that. Nobody in the world can beat them at it. They're just superb at putting on a show."

As a sidebar: Robert Reynolds has written a book called "Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers" which details the experiences of Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon, two pioneers with Arrow that are responsible for much of the technology that launched the modern theme park era. The story of their involvement with Disney's theme parks (including POTC) is well documented in this book, and it is highly recommended for anyone interested in the mechanics and history of modern theme parks. You can order it by clicking the button to the right.

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was built with side guide rails to direct the boats. It is powered by water, and the system contains over 750,000 gallons of water in all to create the flume and the scenic water areas of the ride. For an added thrill, two 21-degree drops were put into the track to take the ride "underground," so that the main show building could be located beyond the berm of the park.

The drops proved to be a bit of a problem, in fact. In the '60s (long before "Splash Mountain" was even a dream), getting wet on an attraction was not considered a plus. Walt Disney himself took many trips down the simulated waterfalls (such as the one pictured to the left, which is the first drop in Disneyland's POTC) in Arrow's boats as the system was being tested. After a lot of adjustment, the splash at the bottom of the drops was minimized to nearly nothing. Dana Morgan, who worked on the POTC ride system right out of college, recalls the situation:

"We went in and did a bunch of modifications to it... and made a dry ride out of it, basically. They opened it to the public, and of course people reached into the water and spashed themselves. So they called us to come back and put about 80 percent of the splash back into it. I remember spending several days down in that cave..."

This brightly-lit photo of the "Blue Bayou," which is where the POTC attraction begins its adventure, clearly shows the side rails underneath the shallow water. The bayou is only 24 inches deep in this upper level of the attraction. Animatronic fireflies were added to the bayou for a touch of realism... and many California natives had never seen such creatures before, and thought they were a Disney invention! Marc Davis recalled Yale Gracey (WED's extraordinary creator of practical illusions) as having come up with the original effect, but in 1985, Tim Carter (who later went on to become a Disneyland Cast Member) came up with a superior design with more life-like behavior. His idea was accepted and utilized by Disney, and the effect was updated. (He recently licensed a similar effect that you can use in your own yard.)

The Pirates of the Caribbean boat system also had one remaining challenge—getting the boats back up to ground level once the ride was completed. Ed Morgan recalls that "the lift was one of the most difficult things to achieve, since no one had done it before." Arrow Development ended up tackling the problem by using technology similar to the chain that lifts roller coasters uphill, so now in Disneyland, riders are carried "up" a final waterfall before disembarking back where they began, at the shore of the Blue Bayou. At the time, the novelty of a technology that could carry a boat uphill may have made the concept seem worthy of an attraction that was being heralded as a technological masterpiece, but in reality, the effect can seem disconcerting, while breaking the storytelling flow of the attraction. Marc Davis, while speaking to The "E" Ticket magazine, recalls his impressions of the final trip up the waterfall:

"I don't like the fact that when the ride is over, you have to sit at the bottom of that ramp and then go chug, chug, chugging up this hill and then out, wondering what the hell you're going to do next. In Florida we got the people out of the boats, and then they go up a speedramp and then out."

So the system was revised for Florida's POTC, so that guests didn't have to ride with the boats as they were returned to the upper level of the ride.

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