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The Grotto of Lost Souls

After passing under the talking Jolly Roger, Pirates of the Caribbean visitors are rushed down two misty waterfalls, launching the ride into a dark and mysterious grotto. All around the boats, towering stone cliffs direct the current to wind through various dank passageways, as the theme song to the ride sets the mood.

The audio throughout the grotto portion of the attraction is quite important to the atmosphere. After successfully navigating the waterfalls, the joyous theme song "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me" plays briefly... though the ominous stone walls of the caverns and the eerie moonlit scenery soon lend an air of mystery to the ride. The audio matches (and helps establish) these changes in mood, by changing to what might seem more of a "cinematic" soundtrack, simplifying the theme to allow for sound effects to take the lead, and adding to the guests' anticipation and/or dread of things to come.

An audio loop from the grotto demonstrates how variations on the original "Yo Ho" theme song have been used to create atmosphere. Click here to listen

After winding through the grotto for some time, visitors come across a grim tableau: three skeletons that appear to have been seeking treasure in a small cove have reaped their reward: two have been run through with their blades, and the remaining body lies dead next to the now-empty treasure chest... all three apparently the victims of another band of treachorous villains, or victims of fighting amongst themselves. Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean attraction doesn't shy away from the fact that the legendary life of a pirate wasn't a placid existence, and that there was a price to be paid for such a vile lifestyle... in fact, this first set piece in the ride demonstrates this clearly. However, the art and technology used in the attraction have propelled it into today's pop culture, stripping it of any real real menace or threat.

In issue 32 (Fall 1999) of The "E" Ticket magazine, Jack and Leon Janzen have published an extensive celebration of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and the article notes some of the subtleties of the grotto scenes:

"In the grotto, the first pirate skeletons are shown undisturbed where they lay. Further along, the skeletons are engaged in more 'lively' pursuits like steering the ship or gulping rum at the bar. Deeper in the caves, the dead pirates seem as if still alive, reviewing treasure maps or fondling treasure. This shift from the realisitic to the whimsical helps prepare the audience for adventures even more fantastic along in the attraction."

These observations will prove true as we move further into the attraction. In many ways, the grotto scenes are modern results of the lives of the historical pirates that we will see further on in the ride. The clear message driven home by this attraction is that "dead men tell no tales..."

Moving through the grotto, the crusty skeletons become more animated, as noted above. We pass a skeleton at the helm of a shipwreck, the rotting boards smashed on the rocky grotto shore as we see through the rocky walls of the grotto out into the stormy night sky. Shredded sails and old cargo remains scattered throughout the site of the wreck as the lone skeleton captain is doomed to eternally pilot the ship to a long forgotten destination. Moving onward, guests pass the "Crew's Quarters," a salty hangout where two pirates appear to have died enjoying their rum. Pirates seem to have once used this old inn as a homestead, as signs hanging nearby read "Stow yer weapons" and "Thar Be No Place Like Home!" Decorated with remnants from old ships and vessels, this hideaway is adorned with liquor, glassware, and lush artwork.

Adorning the Disneyland "Crew's Quarters" is an original work by Marc Davis... and in fact, Davis' original painting has hung inside the attraction for years. It pictures a lusty redhead wielding a pirate's blade, drinking nectar supplied by a cherub with a devilish grin. Some have suggested this represents the redhead we will meet later in the attraction after her abduction by the pirates... but who knows?

Drifting onward, the guests' boat passes the quarters of the captain himself, who is nothing more than a bony corpse propped up in his lush bed, studying a treasure map while his harpsichord plays a meloncholy rendition of the ride's theme song.

"A man o' delicate taste, the cap'n," reads an old Disneyland souvenir guide. "His quarters rigged with the finest furnishin's money did not buy."

And finally, leaving the cap'n behind, we come across the grand finale: the "cursed treasure" that every pirate dreams of. "Pretty baubles—and a king's ransom in gold," the guide continues. "Aye, blood money and cursed it be..." And indeed, the treasure cavern is filled edge to edge with sparkling jewels, piles of gold, and all types of trinkets and art.

Seated atop this cache of plundered wealth is a final skeletal pirate—to remind guests that even the finest riches and wealth are no match for death, which is the only reward any of these pirates could count on.

As the boat continues past the amazing treasure, the grotto narrows into a tunnel shrouded in mist as ghostly voices echo through the cavern:

"No fear have ye of evil curses, says you?" Arrrgh... Properly warned ye be, says I. Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders of this bewitched treasure? Dead men tell no tales!"

"Perhaps ye knows too much... ye've seen the cursed treasure, you know where it be hidd'n. Now proceed at your own risk. These be the last 'friendly' words ye'll hear. Ye may not survive to pass this way again... Dead men tell no tales!"

For trivia buffs, the first phrase is uttered in menacing tones by Disney's reliable vocal talent Paul Frees, who, along with Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft, also created many of the other pirate voices throughout the ride. The second "friendly" phrase was croaked out by Imagineering legend "X" Atencio himself, who was responsible for writing the script and dialogue for the attraction.

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