"Set sail with the wildest crew that ever sacked the Spanish Main!" - Disneyland promotional poster for Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean, a perennial favorite attraction at the Disney theme parks, is a dark ride, which basically means that the entire ride housed inside a building. Disney's dark rides (Haunted Mansion is another example) are a cut above those I've seen elsewhere, and Pirates is no exception. It's incredibly popular, probably because the whole family can go on with no worries. It's not too rough for little kids, but is also fun for adults - this is a hard balance to achieve.
The basics of the ride are the same from park to park. After passing by some eerie pirate skeletons, you plunge down a waterfall or two. Suddenly, you're on a 14-minute journey through a Caribbean town being ransacked by pirates. There's a battle at sea, a bride auction, lots of animatronic drinking, buildings on fire... it's a great ride, with lots of attention to detail.
Pirates at Disneyland
Disneyland's version is the original. It opened in 1967 in the New Orleans Square area of the park, and was one of the last Disneyland attractions that Walt himself envisioned. The concept started out as a walk-through attraction that would feature famous pirates through history. The walk-through concept was scrapped early on in favor of the boats currently in use, and the Imagineers came up with a story for the ride that involved fictional pirates; real pirates were a bit too murderous and venereal disease-ridden for a family theme park. The animatronic characters were created by the Disney robotics team, while the ride's boat system was designed by Arrow Development, the same group that designed It's A Small World.
Most of the ride is actually below ground level in a large warehouse. This is where the two flume drops at the beginning come in. Combined, the two drops put the boats almost 32 feet below boarding level, allowing the boats to pass underneath the Disneyland Railroad and then into the ride building on the other side of the tracks. These two drops were problematic when Pirates first opened; people at the time weren't used to getting wet on rides. The drops were tweaked to minimize the splashes, but then Disney had to add the splash back in when people began reaching out of the boats to splash themselves.
The queue for Disneyland's Pirates winds through the Blue Bayou, an indoor effect that very realistically portrays twilight in bayou country. (Side note: The Blue Bayou restaurant is tucked away in this area, and is a unique dining experience; the departing Pirates boats are visible from the restaurant.) However, the peaceful bayou is soon a memory, as a swarthy voice tells riders to "hold on tight, with both hands if you please... there be squalls ahead!" Soon after this, riders pass under a talking skull and crossbones who echoes the warnings; after passing under the talking skull, the boats go down the two flume drops into the main part of the ride, beginning with the Grotto of Lost Souls. Pirate skeletons populate the Grotto; the skeletons seem to become more animated as the boats pass through scene. The boats then pass through a battle between a pirate ship and a fort, and into the town that is being raided. The boats go by a number of detailed scenes, including:
Pirates dunking the town's mayor in a well;
Pirates auctioning off the women of the town;
Pirates singing "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)";
The town on fire (an effect created with cloth and backlighting);
The pirates in jail cells, unable to escape the approaching fire;
Drunk pirates in the town's armory shooting at each other (and at the boats)
After the final scene in the armory, the boats go up a ramp to the disembarking area and the guests exit their boats.
Pirates at WDW's Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom's Pirates of the Caribbean opened December 15, 1973. While Disneyland's Pirates entrance building is a grand New Orleans mansion, the Magic Kingdom has "Caribbean Plaza," a subset of Adventureland. The entire Caribbean Plaza area is themed to look like a Caribbean fort. Once inside the building, the queue is significantly different from the one at Disneyland; here, you wander your way through tunnels in a fort, and the serene Blue Bayou area is nowhere to be seen - there is also no Blue Bayou restaurant. The ride itself is much shorter than the one at Disneyland; the Grotto of Lost Souls section is almost non-existent.
Some logistical aspects are different as well. There is only one flume drop at the beginning, and at the end of the ride, guests get off the boats at ride level and then go up a motorized walkway to get to ground level. The empty boats, meanwhile, go up a ramp to get back to the boarding area.
Pirates at Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo's Pirates attraction opened in 1983. Since one of the goals of the Tokyo Disney officials was to take the best elements from each of the existing parks, Tokyo's Pirates is almost a duplicate of Disneyland's. However, they also used some of the Magic Kingdom's more practical aspects; guests also exit the Tokyo attraction at ride level, using a motorized walkway to get back to ground level while the empty boats go up another ramp back to the boarding area. Also, there is only one flume drop.
Pirates at Disneyland ParisQueue/Loading area is a Caribbean island
Animatronics are newer models
The order of the scenes is different. Right after loading, the boats go UP a ramp into a fort being raided by pirates, then down a flume drop into the battle scene, then the prison scene. After the scene with the town burning, the boats go down a second flume into the armory, narrowly escaping an explosion.
No overhaul to make the ride more PC; pirates here chase the women for lecherous purposes, while at other parks they're trying to get food, or are actually being chased by the women.
Similar to Disneyland, The Blue Lagoon Restaurant (no relation to the Brooke Shields movie) has a view of the ride.
Some Famous Pirates:
Dread Pirate Roberts
Things associated with pirates:
Types of pirates:
Other nodes about piraty things:
Pirates of Penzance
Talking like a pirate is fun but annoys people
Resources: http://www.tellnotales.com / numerous rides on the Disneyland and WDW attractions