Review of Shanghai Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean Ride

Shanghai Disneyland Pirates ride battle

 Shanghai Disneyland

TripSavvy rating: 5 STARS (out of five)

When the original Pirates of the Caribbean debuted at Disneyland in California in 1967, the landmark ride was jaw-dropping and an instant hit. Decades later, it remains a beloved classic and still merits its "E-Ticket" status. In fact, it is one of a handful of theme park attractions that TripSavvy has reviewed and awarded five stars. In rare cases, sequels manage to outshine the originals (The Godfather: Part II, Toy Story 3)Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure is one of those rare cases. The tour-de-force follow-up is jaw-dropping in its own right and takes its place among the planet's best rides.

  • Type of attraction: Boat-based dark ride
  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 2
    Small splashdowns, reverse motion, mildly frightening content and images
  • Ride time: About 7:50
  • Height requirement: None

Yo Whoa!

Battle for the Sunken Treasure is based on the enormously popular Pirates of the Caribbean film series featuring Captain Jack Sparrow. Just as the movies hark back to the Disneyland ride that inspired them and include some homages to the attraction, the Shanghai Disneyland Pirates incorporates some references to its predecessor, mostly near the start of the experience.

Passengers pile into boats that look similar to the ones used in Disney's previous Pirates rides. (It quickly becomes apparent that they have quite different capabilities, however. More on that in a moment.) As the boats leave the station, they pass under a talking pirate skeleton head (who, like the rest of the ride's characters, speaks in Mandarin) and float by diners in Barbossa’s Bounty. It's reminiscent of Disneyland's "waterside" restaurant, Blue Bayou, but instead of that eatery's relatively upscale fare, the Shanghai restaurant serves tasty, quick-serve barbecue along with Asian dishes.

The boats enter a grotto and encounter static scenes with pirate skeletons. There is some chatter from an echoey, unseen narrator. While we don't understand a lick of Mandarin, the narrator clearly references "Jack Sparrow." In the most direct connection to the original ride, the Shanghai attraction depicts the famous scene in which three jailed pirates whistle at and try to lure a dog that is holding the key to their freedom in its mouth. However, these pirates, as well as the dog, have atrophied into skeletons.

Rounding a corner, the ride's first yo-whoa moment occurs when a skeleton pirate transforms into an an animatronic Jack Sparrow. To create the impressive effect, Disney’s Imagineers used the tried-and-true magic and theme park illusion known as Pepper's Ghost. The innovative ride vehicles enable Disney's Imagineers to precisely stage and time the impressive metamorphosis.

Instead of passively floating along in a current of water as is the case for the original Pirates ride and other boat-based theme park rides such as it's a small world, Battle's boats include underwater magnetic motors—a theme park design first—that can precisely control their movement. They can speed up, slow down, move sideways, rotate, and even move backwards. Some have described the first Pirates ride as a floating cocktail party in which passengers randomly eavesdrop on the buccaneers as they sack and pillage the town and go about their dastardly, yo-ho-ing business. But the new boats allow the Shanghai ride to tell a carefully orchestrated, linear story about a reanimated Jack Sparrow on the hunt for Davy Jones' sunken treasure.

Speaking of yo-ho-ing, Battle does not include the original Pirates of the Caribbean's catchy theme song. Instead, the ride's engaging, cinematic score, inspired by the POTC movies, helps drive the narrative.

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Great Animatronics and Immersive Media

Davy Jones character in Shanghai Disneyland Pirates ride
Shanghai Disneyland

The Jack Sparrow animatronic is quite fluid and expressive. Its hand gestures mimic the effete, swizzled performance of Johnny Depp. The original Disneyland Pirates are perhaps the most famous ambassadors of the animatronic technology that Disney's Imagineers pioneered. It's fitting that Shanghai's next-gen ride honors the tradition and features its own band of animated pirates.

Unlike the preceding Pirates, Battle mixes the animatronics and lushly adorned practical sets with projected media. The first such media-enhanced scene takes place before an enormous, enveloping screen. Unlike Universal's groundbreaking Spider-Man ride, which introduced the notion of a media-driven, roving motion base ride, Pirates is not presented in 3D. It is nonetheless convincingly immersive.

Despite the fact that the ride vehicles float on top of the water, and passengers don't feel the tactile effects of being underwater, it is still an eye-popping, giddy experience when the boats "dive" down to the bottom of the ocean. Instead of finding gold and plunder, however, the crew encounters a massive, threatening Kraken monster standing guard at the wreck of Davy Jone's ship.

Whereas attractions such as Universal's Transformers: The Ride 3D rely almost exclusively on media and screens, the combination of real sets and virtual projections helps make Shanghai Disneyland's Pirates a richer experience. Disney has gone to great lengths to enhance its storytelling. For example, most passengers may not immediately notice it, but instead of the matte-black tiles that line the ceilings of most attraction's show buildings, there are screens above some of the underwater sets in Pirates. It's subtle, but by showing virtual water above the ride vehicles, it reinforces the illusion.

What Goes Down Must Come Up

Mermaids beckon the vehicles farther into the sunken ship and passengers see huge stashes of glittering gold and other pirate booty. Holding court inside the remains of his vessel, Davy Jones greets the passengers. With his lobster claw hand and tentacle-filled beard, the animatronic is one of the most impressive that the Imagineers have created.

Using a second huge screen, the ride vehicles as well some of the virtual armada on the ocean floor seem to rise and pierce the surface of the water. It's another spectacular effect. That's followed by a rollicking fight sequence, complete with cannon fire and swordplay, between Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones. The ride passengers are quite literally caught in the middle of the battle. Guess who prevails?

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An Entire Pirates Land

Shanghai Disneyland Sirens Revenge in Treasure Cove
Shanghai Disneyland

The Pirates ride is a remarkable achievement and, along with Tron Lightcycle Power Run, one of the highlights of Shanghai Disneyland. But it is not the only way that Disney has hoisted the Jolly Roger at its mainland China park.

Following the precedent that Universal established with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and that Disney continued with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and Toy Story Land at Disney Hollywood Studios, Shanghai Disneyland includes an entire land dedicated to one property. In addition to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, Treasure Cove immerses visitors in Jack Sparrow's world with a variety of attractions and other things to do. 

Guests can explore the Siren's Revenge ship which is tricked out with some nifty interactive features. They can also paddle along with fellow mateys aboard Explorer Canoes. Shipwreck Shore offers water play areas. Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular is a corny show that features a hurricane finale that uses a wind tunnel effect.

Might a version of Battle for the Sunken Treasure replace Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom in the States? It is unlikely, as the rides are classics and still draw enormous crowds. Shanghai Disneyland's other standout attraction, Tron Lightcycle Power Run, however, is slated to be reproduced at Florida's Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom.