Exploring the Connection Between Pirates and Guest Experience

When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales hits theaters Friday 5/26/17, it’s not just the latest Pirates movie from Walt Disney.

It’s the latest stop of a long and very successful “voyage” that Walt Disney personally began in 1927, and the company that bears his name continues today. The journey we are invited to join along on has been one of entertainment, delivered through various media: silent cartoons, animated shorts, live action films, full-length animated features, immersive theme park attractions, and coming full-circle, the blockbuster series Pirates of the Caribbean – inspired by the attraction, but only full-realized in the character of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Ninety years of pirate adventures! What secret is behind such success, when the subject matter was inspired by the lives and actions of some of the most notorious individuals ever to live?


While practically no one in their right mind would want to actually be a pirate, almost everyone wants to dream of the experience of a pirate – freedom to come and go as you please, subject to no one save maybe your crew, adventures and danger guaranteed, the chance to become wealthy beyond your wildest dreams…

Walt Disney, a genius in so many definitions of the word, astutely recognized that his cartoons, films, and theme park attractions captured the already-present fascination of buccaneers and the thrilling, dangerous world they inhabited (Singer, p15).

Walt Disney’s question to Disneyland’s first Ambassador, Julie Reihm, was the leading question to a sneak preview of a brand new, yet-to-be-built attraction then called the “Blue Bayou Lagoon” which aired on Disney’s weekly television show in 1965. It may have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but it clearly conveyed Disney’s belief in pirates as a vehicle not only for movies but a new type of entertainment where the Guest is invited to become a part of the attraction – stepping into (or in this case, floating into) multiple scenes of a rollicking, humorous adventure of a gang of pirates.

We know it as The Pirates of the Caribbean. Since its opening in 1967 at Disneyland, millions of Guests have made their way through the queue, boarded their bateaux, and sailed into the fun, adventures, and supernatural mystery of the pirate’s life. An instant and continuing success, similar attractions have been built at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando; Tokyo Disneyland; Disneyland Paris; and most recently, Shanghai Disneyland.

With Dead Men Tell No Tales, Disney continues a 90-year journey with pirates. But what does all this pirate stuff have to do with Guest Experience?

Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, comes close with this comment:

Pirates as a form of entertainment were resurrected for the Disney parks and for motion pictures in a way which was both familiar and completely new. Story is everything, but it’s not about telling the same old story. It’s about finding new ways to tell that story. We’re all looking for that horizon, just like Captain Jack. The trick is to always keep looking not only towards that horizon, but beyond it.

The Guest Experience at your church is about taking something familiar (welcoming) and making it completely new (experience). It’s about the people, place, and process that come together in new ways to create and deliver an amazing experience for everyone who comes to your campus.

As this Guest Experience – Pirates series draws to a close, I hope you have enjoyed the journey. If you have missed out on one of the trips, here’s the entire voyage:

If you would like to learn more about how the Guest Experience – Pirate connection can be delivered to your church, contact me for more information.

this post inspired by Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology, by Michael Singer



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