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
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.
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
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
The Pirates of the Caribbean boat system also had one remaining
challengegetting 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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