It happened during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. A week when the parks are so crowded, you have to wait in line just to scoff at the latest DVC sales booth.
I’m pretty sure this was an “Apocalyptic Crowds Season” deal, and that this will not become a regular occurrence in Adventureland.
But for a brief time, on one glorious afternoon, the entirety of Caribbean Plaza was infested with pirates.
Normally when it comes to Streetmosphere, I’m a fan of the less-is-more approach.
Streetmosphere too often acts as the artificial sweetener for tasty three-dimensional placemaking. You’re at the mercy of someone with a theater degree — sometimes a perilous proposition.
It’s not that the performers aren’t talented (most are), and it’s not that they rely too much on zany I Love Lucy accents (far too many do). It’s that these unscripted encounter are taking place amid throngs of sweaty tourists, who in that particular setting are all too aware that the whole thing is fake.
Streetmosphere works best when it stays in the background. A perfect example is DeVine at Animal Kingdom, whose whole gig consists of remaining motionless so that guests won’t discover that a leafy space creature is planning to dine on their children when they turn their backs.
Front-and-center acts like the Dapper Dans blend in, because barber shop quartets were an actual thing. But snooty Hollywood Starlet Greta Glamourpuss is just somebody’s workshop character of the week.
And while we’re at it, a bunch of drumming janitors make as much sense in Future World as roving bands of stockbrokers in Dinoland.
But pirates are perfect for Adventureland.
On the surface, this is exactly the sort of cash-grab synergy you’d expect from Disney. They already have a pirate version of the Jedi Training Academy set up there, clogging up the Adventureland arteries like a brisket burger from Electric Umbrella.
Why not up the pirate quotient and turn this area into an everyday re-enactment of every single Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party I’ve ever been to?
But here’s the great thing about these pirates. They weren’t doing Johnny Depp impersonations or bandying about cliche pirate phrases. You know what they were doing? I’ll tell you what they were doing.
They sat for long periods on random barrels and planters, snoozing under their hats or draped over branches. Every single one of them looked hung over from whatever fort-sacking they had completed the night before. If there had been a patch of muddy pigs, one would have been snoring in there with them.
People would pose for pictures with them and they barely blinked. It was done with such understated laziness that they truly did blend into the background. The hundreds of people moving past the ride on their way to Splash Mountain or Big Thunder seemed hardly to notice them. It was a rare glimpse of pirates in their natural habitat. And every now and then you would spot another one — just as lazy as the last.
And yes, some even pillage their nostrils for a few gold doubloons.
These pirates truly did not give a rip what the tourists were doing. They had to rest up for another night of marauding, embezzling, and even hijacking.
The scene just kept getting better. At one point, an English naval officer, who might as well have been Commodore Norrington, wandered through the scene, accompanied by two red-coated guards. This character was more likely to interact with the guests, but with disinterested courtesy, as if he always had one eye on the various rascals, scoundrels, villains and knaves lounging in the courtyard.
Eventually Captain Barbossa himself showed up, searching for Jack Sparrow. This act played as more traditional Streetmosphere, but in reality was just an extended lead-in to the normal Jack Sparrow Trials of the Pirate Temple show that plays several times daily.
The whole effect was fantastic and struck exactly the right note. One can imagine too many dim-witted guests complaining to City Hall that the drunken pirate wouldn’t sign his autograph book, but I hope the reaction is positive enough that Disney keeps this idea going, even if it is only seasonal.
Also, if you can’t get enough entertaining reading about pirates, you should totally check out my book, Johnny Shipwreck. It’s available for a limited time discount on Amazon right now, and it’s awesome.