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2013 Theme Park Insider Tournament: Pirates of the Caribbean vs. Haunted Mansion

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Published: March 4, 2013 at 12:15 PM

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 of the Caribbean

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.

Haunted Mansion

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.

Disneyland's Pirates:

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:


Let's get the debate going in the comments.

Tomorrow: Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man vs. Revenge of the Mummy

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Readers' Opinions

From Brian Emery on March 4, 2013 at 12:18 PM
Capt Jack Sparrow… “But you have heard of me”…
From Michael Owen on March 4, 2013 at 12:21 PM
Got to go for Pirates in this one, though both are fantastic examples of quality dark rides.
From Jay Ubilla on March 4, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Yo ho yo ho... A pirate's life for me..
From Dan Heaton on March 4, 2013 at 12:24 PM
This is nearly impossible. Disneyland's Pirates is such an amazing ride and one million times better than Florida. Of course, Paris might top them both. Even so, I have to pick Haunted Mansion here. The effects and immersion into the story is beyond anything else.
From Dominick D on March 4, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Can only speak on the MK counterparts, but Haunted Mansion is my favorite dark ride, so I'm going with that.
From Mike Gallagher on March 4, 2013 at 12:31 PM
I said I probably wouldn't do much voting, but I did here, since I've been on both rides in Florida...actually, I might even have been on both at Disneyland too, but if I did, it was on my only visit in 1979, so they've faded from memory. They're my two favorite attractions at MK...since 20,000 Leagues is gone. I voted for HM.
From David Kirby on March 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Did you HAVE to start the tournament with my 2 favorite rides? You're a cruel man.
From Joe Schwartz on March 4, 2013 at 12:43 PM
A very tough vote. I love them both. I went with the Haunted Mansion only because I think the story line is a little better and I love the begining of the attraction a lot better than Piretes.
From 85.150.173.168 on March 4, 2013 at 12:47 PM
I love them both a lot but the additions to Pirates killed the ride for me. I love the movies but I don't care for the butchering of the original ride where I was able to tell my own story.
Haunted is updated and changed over the year but they kept the essence. Not even the terrible interactive que could spoil that for me.
From 157.22.10.131 on March 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM
I like the Haunted Mansion and am always happy to go on it, but it isn't a trip to Disneyland without riding Pirates at least once, if not multiple times.
From 68.7.218.217 on March 4, 2013 at 12:56 PM
The Disneyland version of Pirates is incredible and was my favorite ride as a little kid, and the Florida version is really not that much in comparison, however, I had to vote for the Haunted Mansion for incredible mixture of dark and funny. If you take both rides from both parks the Haunted Mansion definitely wins.And to this day if I look back and try to think of one thing that truly amazed me when I first went to Disneyland it was the ghost effect in the Haunted Mansion. Pure brilliance!
From 66.117.236.162 on March 4, 2013 at 1:38 PM
In the era of "story story STORY" at WDI, where everything down to the urinals needs to have a background narrative, it is worth noting that these two undisputed classics are (as Robert noted) more impressionistic and dreamlike without a distinct storyline. It would be interesting to see the current crop of Imagineers attempt something more along these lines.
From Andrew Carrieri on March 4, 2013 at 2:21 PM
Voted for the Haunted Mansion because I like the pacing and sets (effects) better. Both are great attractions though, with great soundtracks :D.
From edwin roman on March 4, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Haunted mansion. Scared my kids for years! I love the scares and trust me a tuff vote as I love the pirates...2 of the best..
From James Rao on March 4, 2013 at 2:39 PM
Sadly, most voters in this contest have likely only experienced WDW’s lame version of Pirates which absolutely does not hold a candle to any version of the Haunted Mansion.

However, in my humble but pompously and nasally blathered opinion, Disneyland's PotC is the greatest theme park attraction ever built (and the last one overseen by Walt himself). Longer than WDW's version, a little more thrilling, and traversing the Blue Bayou with its not-so-healthy Monte Cristo sandwich, DL's PotC is a true whole-family experience - a veritable masterpiece of animatronics, story, and song. It is an attraction that transcends age, gender, nationality, theme park bias, and time. Of all the attractions in this tournament, PotC is the only one that I am sure will still be standing in 2067 (its 100th anniversary). If you look up the word "classic" in the dictionary, DL’s PotC is used as an example.

This contest is easy. I'll take Disneyland's Pirates and a Monte Cristo without a second of regret (and just a tiny bit of indigestion).

From Rob Pastor on March 4, 2013 at 2:49 PM
Very tough choice. Two excellent attractions. But, it seems I discover something different I didn't notice before, each time I ride Haunted Mansion. So a vote for repeat rides takes it over the top.
From Bryce McGibeny on March 4, 2013 at 2:50 PM
Having experienced the WDW Haunted Mansion, but not the DL Pirates of the Caribbean, my vote may seem off. However, I did watch the video of Pirates, which led me to vote for it. The attraction is long and rich in detail. I love, love, love the beginning as the boat goes through the bayou. Though, the two drops really is what gives Pirates the edge for me. Even though I would not deem the attraction as "thrilling", I still love a little thrill, and Pirates seems to supply that.

I long for the day that I can experience Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.

From Jay R. on March 4, 2013 at 3:04 PM
Hmm, this is tough. I guess I'm a bit different because while I enjoy both of these attractions, neither rates near the top for me.

I actually prefer the nightmare overlay for mansion over the original.

With all that said.....I'm going with pirates!!

From Brent Moody on March 4, 2013 at 3:30 PM
Went with HM on this one. Sorry but I just do not get that PotC is the greatest ride ever built thing. I have been on both the WDW version and the DL version and neither one do I think is the greatest ride ever. I think if a lesser known theme park like Siver Dollar City tried to build that exact ride today (assuming Disney had never build it) nobody would think twice about it and it certainly would not get the greatest ride ever title. I think it was an awesome ride for the time it was built and still a classic very good ride today. But IMO not best ever, not even as good as HM.
From James Rao on March 4, 2013 at 4:47 PM
So, rip on my beloved Pirates and my beloved Silver Dollar City in the same post! Those be fightin' words, me heartie! Arrrrrrrrr!!!!

I would counter that after almost 50 years of continuous operation, if another, non-Disney theme park company could capture the timeless wonder of DL's PotC and build their own version, they would have. The phrase, "like trying to catch lightning in a bottle" comes to mind.

(Incidentally, SDC does have an attraction called the Flooded Mine that is a budget variation on the PotC theme - and while I LOVE SDC, the Flooded Mine pales in comparison. It is hard to capture that Disney Magic without that Disney bank account).

From José María Sandoval on March 4, 2013 at 4:03 PM
Pirates for high capacity and duration.
From Jack Curley on March 4, 2013 at 5:12 PM
A few things:

1) PotC at DL may well have been a better ride before they forced the movie narrative on it, but it isn't now.

2) The best thing that ever happened to HM was that the movie based on it flopped. Adding Eddie Murphy animatronics to the ride would have destroyed it.

3) Whoever called PotC the greatest theme park attraction ever built has obviously never been on Stitch's Great Escape.

From Daniel Etcheberry on March 4, 2013 at 5:11 PM
I wonder if most people are voting based on the Pirates' MK version. Otherwise, the difference shouldn't be that wide!
From TH Creative on March 4, 2013 at 5:19 PM
I voted for the Jungle Cruise.
From Melanie Howe on March 4, 2013 at 5:55 PM
You're a cruel man, Robert, to start the vote off with these two. But I'm gonna have to go with HM, for a few reasons...:

1. I was just at WDW two weeks ago and came off HM thinking it is simply the most perfect dark ride ever.

2. HM is the ONLY ride at Disney I could ever hope to hold a job 'cause you don't have to smile all the dang time.

3. I've always LOVED pirates, but it's lost a little something for me now with the movie over-lay. It cheapens it a bit. I'll echo the other poster who said the best thing to happen to HM was the fact the movie flopped!

4. I'll give James R. the point that Disneyland's pirates is probably, originally, the best of the bunch, and I'd love to ride it someday. But since it also suffers from movie over-lay, that kills its edge.

Haunted Mansion deserves to win this round.

From James Rao on March 4, 2013 at 6:16 PM
For a movie franchise (Pirates of the Caribbean) that has banked over $3.7B, and an actor (Johnny Depp) who has accounted for over $7B as an actor, there is a lot of angst over their inclusion in the PotC attraction.

Are Theme Park Insiders really that out of touch with the mainstream world? Are we really that much of a niche crowd that we hate everything that is popular?

I, for one, love the overlays and changes that have been incorporated into PotC - they keep the ride relevant even as it embraces the classic stature that it so richly deserves.

Keep up the great work, WDI, and ignore the niche crowd of museum lovers on this site! ;p

And Jack, that comment about Stitch was HILARIOUS. Kudos, bro.

PS I voted AGAINST the Jungle Snooze in this tournament and FOR its removal from all Disney parks that still feature that relic.

From Melanie Howe on March 4, 2013 at 7:09 PM
Aww, James R., don't give me too hard a time for being a "museum lover". I totally rolled with it when they attempted to tell more of a story in the HM and added the "black widow" idea in the WDW attic. It took a couple rides, but I'm fine with it.

I think my main problem with POTC goes back even a few years before the movie over-lay, when they tried to down-play the whole "rape and pillage" thing. Yeah, I get it, but they're pirates for god's-sake, what do people expect?? And I can't help it that I was raised on the lyrics of "Pirate's Life for Me" that didn't involve Jack Sparrow. I don't think I'd mind it so much if the ride hadn't been so great without it....

From 24.159.8.250 on March 4, 2013 at 7:14 PM
As a native So Cal girl (now sadly living far away), I have been on DL's versions hundreds of times but WDW only twice. I still vote for Haunted Mansion. POTC is a little weird to me, long parts where it's just dark and nothing is happening. That long first drop which I hate because I hate drops like that. I hated when they changed it to make it more PC in the 90s. HM seems to be better paced, love the narrator's voice, love the music, love the elevator ride at the beginning, especially love the hitch hiking ghosts at the end. They haven't changed it much over the years because it's so good to begin with. And I don't even like scary movies but I love that ride. Neither one of them are my favorite, but I would still vote for HM over POTC.
From Denis Del Bianco on March 4, 2013 at 7:21 PM
Best dark ride vs Pirates? Easy choice! Haunted Mansion FTW
From David L. on March 4, 2013 at 7:24 PM
Pirates by far. My judgement? I love the Haunted Mansion, but WDW's Pirates is my favorite ride in the park. The Idea that there is a better Pirates in California, Paris, and Japan makes my head spin with glee. I just love Pirates more. The Haunted Mansion, while amazing, isn't that scary, and it's not supposed to be! However, pirates captures the essence of a pirate life better than Mansion does with a haunted house.
From 206.29.182.153 on March 4, 2013 at 8:37 PM
James rao you are 100% right...truly WEDs magnus opus
From Max LaZebnik on March 4, 2013 at 9:15 PM
As much as I love the California version of Pirates (the Florida one was pretty underwhelming for me), I might have to go with the 999 Happy Haunts for this one. Pirates is a wonderful ride in its own right and considering Jack Sparrow is an icon along with Indy and Luke Skywalker, I think Disney had all the right reasons to add Sparrow to the ride, and they didn't destroy the classic ride at all. However, I've always been amazed by the Haunted Mansion's effects and instead of simply placing zombies, skeletons, and most bad animatronics you would see on a fairground ghost train, Disney really had their own great creative approach with the Mansion. I might have to agree with you, Robert, that Florida's mansion is better than California's and I especially love that new endless stairway scene Florida has, which really makes you feel like you are in MC Escher's psychedelic nightmare.
From James Rao on March 4, 2013 at 9:29 PM
Don't get me wrong, Melanie, for all my pompous platitudes for the perfection that is Pirates, there is no wrong answer in this debate. Haunted Mansion is a classic in its own right and could end up making it to the finals... just as it did last year.

Really the only wrong answer in this tournament is the Bungle Cruise, but MOST of you already know that. ;)

From AJ Hummel on March 4, 2013 at 10:15 PM
A year ago, I would have said Haunted Mansion without a doubt, both because I think it is an exceptional dark ride and because the holiday version at Disneyland is my favorite dark ride anywhere. However, after riding Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris last summer (a ride that is very similar to Haunted Mansion but different enough that I don't consider them the same attraction), I've realized that while Haunted Mansion is still a top tier dark ride, it isn't really the best.

Pirates of the Caribbean, on the other hand, is just as high quality as Haunted Mansion, if not more so. I've been on two very different versions of the attraction (California and Paris), and it is one of my favorites at both parks (favorite in Paris and second to Indy in California). So I have to go with Pirates of the Caribbean.

For anyone who has only been on the Florida version of the attraction, I strongly recommend watching a video of California's Pirates of the Caribbean before casting your vote (assuming it isn't too late, of course). While I haven't been on Florida's Pirates, I have seen videos and it appears to be one case where WDW got the short end of the stick.

From Mike Gallagher on March 5, 2013 at 3:47 AM
James Rao:.."pompous platitudes for the perfection that is Pirates,"

Alliteration RULZZZZ!!!

From Mark Kausch on March 5, 2013 at 4:07 AM
I went to DLR last Friday. I absolutely *love* the Mad T Party and its Alice band (they say it's the Mad Hatter's, but I don't think so!). Since DL was open an hour later than DCA, I went over there and rode HM. Followed by PotC. Pretty much the only two rides I went on that day. Of the two, I think I have to go with Pirates for my favoriter. And so I did.
From Dominick D on March 5, 2013 at 6:08 AM
Looks like this is Haunted Mansion's to win!
From Brent Moody on March 5, 2013 at 6:18 AM
James
Trust me I wasn't ripping on Silver Dollar City. I LOVE that place. I grew up about 1 1/2 hours from there and had a season pass. I went about 10 times every summer when I was a kid. I was going there before any of the big coasters including Thunderation. So SDC holds a special place in my heart. I love it when you have the SDC posts on here giving it the love it deserves.
From Brian Bauer on March 5, 2013 at 7:47 AM
Instead of voting on this, can I just tell you which one of my kids I love the most? It would be easier.
From 174.125.22.99 on March 5, 2013 at 8:54 AM
Easily call....whenever it comes to the Haunted Mansion and anything else (even Pirates of the Caribbean), the Haunted Mansion always wins!!!!
From 155.7.153.223 on March 5, 2013 at 8:55 AM
I am a POTC purist and once the ride changed with the multiple additions from the movies (I still can't deal with Barbossa on that ship!), that made my mind up for me. Gotta go with Haunted Mansion now!
From James Rao on March 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM
No worries, Brent... was mostly tongue and cheek anyway. So, are you going to be at SDC next week for the opening of Outlaw Run? Let me know, we can do a mini TPI meet!

@Brian B I have a feeling most of these match ups will be like picking a favorite kid! Very appropriate comment!

@Mike That's why Robert pays me the big buck$!!!

From Don Neal on March 5, 2013 at 11:45 AM
Pirates Life for me! YO HO!
From Brent Moody on March 5, 2013 at 2:26 PM
No James I live in Benton, AR now which is about 3 1/2 hours away so it is a little further now. I am going to try to go sometime this year but probably will not be at the opening. But I am looking forward to your review of it!
From James Rao on March 5, 2013 at 3:51 PM
If things pan out, and the weather holds, I hope to have a review to Mr. Niles sometime on the night of the 13th (after the media preview event). We'll see how it goes....

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