2013 Theme Park Insider Tournament: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Haunted Mansion
Written by Robert Niles
Let's kick off the 2013 Theme Park Insider Tournament with a match-up of Disney classics. Both Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion debuted in the late 1960s in Disneyland's New Orleans Square. Over the years, they've grown into entertainment franchises, with Pirates inspiring a billion-dollar-plus film series, and duplicate attractions opening all over the world.
Pirates debuted in 1967, the first major attraction to open after Walt Disney's death in 1966. Over the years, Disney's tweaked the ride here and there, most notably to add characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, in 2006 and again in 2011. Based on the ride's overwhelming popularity, Disney killed plans for a Western River Expedition attraction at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, in favor of building an abbreviated version of Pirates for that park in 1973.
Mansion opened in 1969, following a six-year delay after its facade was completed in 1963. But it's the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom version of the Haunted Mansion, which opened with that park in 1971, that wins Theme Park Insiders' votes as the best of the Haunted Mansions. While I love walking into the front door of Disneyland's antebellum mansion (as well as the descending stretch rooms), I've got to concede that the additional scenes in the Magic Kingdom's version give it an edge. Perhaps that's why when it was time to bring the Haunted Mansion to Tokyo Disneyland, Disney chose the Orlando version.
Of course, Disney also chose the Anaheim version of Pirates for Tokyo, although Disney did choose to have riders exit before the lift, as in Orlando. Perhaps this is the heuristic we should use for answering whether the Disney World or Disneyland version of a ride is the better one: Which one did Disney install in Tokyo? In other words, when we debate Anaheim vs. Orlando, the answer pretty much always should be… Tokyo. But I digress. ;^)
Along with It's a Small World, another 1960s Disney product, Pirates and Mansion defined for generations of theme park fans what a dark ride could be -- immersive setting, richly detailed scenes, strong characters and engaging music tying everything together. Fans often also throw strong narrative onto that list, but I believe that it was the initial absence of a strong narrative on Pirates and Mansion that helped make both attractions so compelling. These are impressionistic attractions -- a collection of active scenes that invites, even demands, that you impose a narrative upon them. And that is what draws us so deeply into these rides -- they inspire our imaginations. Just why the heck are they dunking Carlos, anyway?
Over the years, Disney hasn't been able to resist the lure of imposing narrative on these rides, and we've seen the official backstory for each ride grow over time (not to mention the addition of film characters). But that's not kept these rides from continuing to inspire new generations of riders.
Magic Kingdom's Mansion:
Despite Pirates consistently placing above Mansion in the Theme Park Insider reader ratings, Mansion holds a two-to-one lead in head-to-head match-ups in previous Theme Park Insider tournaments. Who will win this year's contest? It's up to you to decide:
Tomorrow: Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. Revenge of the Mummy
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