Walt Disney World has announced a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge coming to Adventureland in Magic Kingdom. This post shares everything we know so far, with concept art and full details–plus comprehensive commentary about how this compares to Oga’s Cantina and where this tavern is likely to be located.
This news was announced during the “A Celebration of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” presentation at the 2023 Destination D23. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
This was one of many announcements and reveals at the 2023 Destination D23. Others include a reimagining of Test Track at EPCOT, new scene with Ahsoka in Star Tours, a first look at the Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and much more. And that’s just what was revealed for Walt Disney World!
A new Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge is coming to Adventureland at Magic Kingdom Park in Florida. This first-of-its-kind experience will extend the story of Pirates of the Caribbean. Imagineers are in the design process now and more details are coming in the future.
The one big detail that was shared by Imagineer Chris Beatty during Destination D23 is that the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge will bring back the Barker Bird, also known as Peg-Leg Pete. The Barker Bird was an Audio-Animatronics figure stationed outside the entrance to the attraction that, as its name suggests, was a ‘barker’ who used lines and lyrics to attract guest attention.
The Barker Bird was removed in 2006 during the ride reimagining that added Jack Sparrow and other elements from the hit film franchise. The Audio Animatronics figure’s return has been rumored many times over the years, but this is the first time that Imagineering has stated the Barker Bird will make its triumphant return to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here’s a look at the concept art released by Walt Disney World, which contains a lot of little details that merit closer inspection:
In terms of commentary, my initial reaction to this is excitement. In part for the lounge itself and what I think will be a popular addition to Magic Kingdom and an excellent love letter to the attraction. It’ll almost certainly be like Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto with tie-ins to S.E.A. and nods to other extinct attractions, but mostly a tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Beyond that, I’m also excited for what the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge represents. This is another recent example of treating the theme parks as their own intellectual property, and expanding that universe or whatever you want to call it.
Parks IP isn’t inherently good and the results bear that out–and there can be issues with excessive fan service. But in general, I’m so happy to see the company start treating the parks as their own thing of value, rather than just a promotional vehicle for Disney+ or the studios.
I also know that there are a ton of tremendously talented Imagineers who also have great appreciation for the iconic attractions. Passing the baton to this younger generation and letting them work on projects for which they hold great reverence is very much a good thing.
Trust me on this–Imagineers are largely not the problem. (Sometimes there are creative shortcomings, but that is usually not the reason for bad outcomes.) There’s still a ton of talent at WDI and the current generation of Imagineers are more than capable of creative and awesome things. If given the chance, I think the can nail a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge. But it probably also helps that this should be relatively low-hanging fruit.
There’s a lot that can be mined from the Archives, with the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge drawing upon volumes of Marc Davis art and a treasure trove of unused or retired ideas for Adventureland and other lands like it. Again, a lot like Trader Sam’s or even nearby Skipper Canteen. Then there’s the Barker Bird, who will basically be this lounge’s version of DJ R-3X at Oga’s Cantina, the centerpiece entertainment of the experience. Basically, a lot of opportunities for pulling from the past and present, while also bringing to life new ideas and lore for Pirates of the Caribbean.
The big question is where the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge will go. When this was first announced, I thought someone 0n stage used the word tavern, leading to the logical inference that it would replace Tortuga Tavern. Frankly, even in the absence of that suggestion, Tortuga Tavern is the obvious location for the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge.
However, there are a couple of other possibilities based upon closer inspection of the concept art. The first is that the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge would replace the back dining room of Pecos Bill–the one that abuts the backside of Tortuga Tavern. This is honestly a bit outlandish, and I’d put the chances of it happening at under 5%.
The other is that the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge will replace the Pirates League. This is far more…uh…landish of a possibility than the lounge somehow being tucked away between Pecos Bill and Tortuga Tavern.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Pirates League debuted back in 2009 and was, essentially, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique…for boys! (But also for girls who prefer pirates. It’s Disney, they’ll happily take anyone’s money!) It opened at a time when Walt Disney World was big on the pirate/princess dichotomy–right around the same time as Pirate & Princess Party summertime hard ticket event.
The Pirates League was a seaside hideaway in Magic Kingdom adjacent to Pirates of the Caribbean, and offered guests of all ages a “swashbuckling pirate transformation” that can include a hairstyle, facial makeup, and other special treasures & accessories. Guests may also choose a head-to-toe mermaid makeover.
We have no firsthand experience with the Pirates League, but reader feedback about it was generally positive, and the experience was at least reasonably popular. Prices were generally more reasonable than Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, with a wider range of options and a fun show component, as well. Its closure was announced back in January 2020, so this was not a COVID thing, and we reported at the time that it was “unclear what is motivating the Pirates League closure, or if Walt Disney World has different plans for this location.”
I’m thinking that now we might have the answer to that. There’s a pretty good chance that the Pirates League is about to perform one final transformation…itself! My money is on this for a few simple reasons. First, the concept art looks like the inside of Pirates League more than anything else, so there’s that.
Second, the interior of Pirates League is already beautiful and it’s the same kind of intimate space as Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto or Oga’s Cantina. This is really the big one. The other obvious options–Tortuga Tavern or a portion of Pecos Bills–all have logistical hurdles. Although Tortuga Tavern could easily be converted into a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed restaurant, it’s absolutely massive.
One “solution” to that would be letting Pecos Bill annex more of Tortuga Tavern. And honestly, I think that is likely to happen. Even though it wasn’t announced at Destination D23 for some reason, there’s an incredibly high probability that Pecos Bill will become Tiana’s Palace Restaurant.
When that inevitably occurs, Walt Disney World might want more seating for it–and that could easily be pulled from the Tortuga Tavern side (it’s a shared space/kitchen). That’s also why it’s crazy to think that this Pirates of the Caribbean lounge is a dining room in Pecos Bill. It just isn’t.
That also hints at why the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge probably isn’t Tortuga Tavern. Although it’s underutilized now, turning that colossal counter service venue into a lounge would be shortsighted. Magic Kingdom needs more dining capacity, and that could be doubly true when Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens and whatever else happens with the Beyond Big Thunder plans (and something will happen).
Setting aside Tortuga Tavern for future development or keeping it as a seasonal space is probably savvy. As much as I’d like for it to get some love now, I think it has a better future down the road. In all likelihood, this Pirates of the Caribbean lounge won’t actually need the infrastructure that Tortuga Tavern could offer. This is very much going to be following the Oga’s Cantina blueprint, with mass-produced drinks and only the lightest of snacks. It certainly won’t need a full kitchen.
Not only that, I question what type of “love” Tortuga Tavern would get if transformed into a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge now. It’s a fun restaurant with great bones, architecture, and themed design…but it just doesn’t strike me as lending itself well to a lounge.
When I think about this, it reminds me of the Diamond Horseshoe. That once-great venue has been reduced to a shell of its former self by being misused and underutilized as, essentially, overflow for Liberty Tree Tavern.
I can’t help but think that Tortuga Tavern as a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge would be a similar story. Instead of fitting themed design in an immersive and fun setting, I’m guessing it’d feel like a retrofit. It would likely only use a portion of the seating area, with temporary partitions, view of the outside world, and a lack of intimacy.
I just can’t see Walt Disney World taking the time or spending the money to turn Tortuga Tavern into a really well-done Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge. Perhaps I’m wrong. Frankly, hopefully I’m wrong, as Tortuga Tavern has the size advantage and if it were reimagined right, it possibly could be something special.
The thing is, Pirates League already is something special. Adding the Barker Bird to that will take that to the next level–a lot like the Adventureland answer to Oga’s Cantina, right down to the Audio Animatronics centerpiece. Producing an ornately-themed, detailed, and flat-out fun Pirates of the Caribbean lounge should be relatively low-hanging fruit for Imagineers.
Frankly, Walt Disney World could spend a few months and a relatively insignificant amount of money to transform Pirates League into an intimate lounge with spot-on themed design that truly felt like an extension of the attraction’s story…because it kind of already is. They need to add the bar area, create backstory, and source more props to reinforce the new lore. The foundation is all there. It’s a home run idea that could turn into a grand slam with the right creative execution.
The biggest question for me is capacity. No matter how you slice it, Pirates League is much smaller than Tortuga Tavern. With that said, there might be the potential for it to be larger. I know there are a bunch of merchandise stock rooms over in this area, so it’s really a question of whether there’s the ability and appetite to relocate them and convert them into seating for the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge.
Even if there isn’t right away, the good news is that expanding the lounge will be a possibility down the road. My bet is that this is how Walt Disney World will do it–not wanting to “overinvest” or “overbuild” the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge in the beginning.
I can already hear the grousing about this to come when ADRs for the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge are extremely competitive and guest interest far outstrips capacity. That Disney was “too cheap” or “oblivious to demand” and would’ve made way more money by investing a bit more in the beginning.
On the one hand, all of that is (potentially) true. On the other hand, this is all a delicate balance. A lounge themed to Pirates of the Caribbean is a niche concept, and popularity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But so too is an abundance of availability. Put the exact same thing into Tortuga Tavern and have capacity for everyone who wants to do it…and maybe it’s not very popular. But make it exclusive and a highly-coveted ADR, and the hype machine does its thing.
The bottom line is that I can appreciate Walt Disney World’s position here when it comes to capacity decisions and trying to drive demand. Also, all of this is entirely speculative, and I don’t have any inside info telling me that this is coming to Pirates League.
As you can probably tell, I’m very bullish on the idea of a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge in Pirates League, and really excited to step foot in here…hopefully sometime in 2024. Not to the point that I’ll be downright disappointed if it ends up going elsewhere (I really don’t think it will), but it’s just very clearly the best option.
For me, a big part of that is the potential for restoring at least some of what’s been lost to time in Caribbean Plaza at Magic Kingdom. In the past, we’ve lamented how many of the beautiful fountains in Caribbean Plaza that existed from the 1970s through 90s have become planters or are concealed entirely from guest view.
This lounge won’t necessarily fix that on its own, but potentially repurposing space that has been underutilized or entirely abandoned for decades could breathe new life into Caribbean Plaza. It’s not just getting back inside these former shops–many of which still retain their original Imagineering to this day–although that certainly is a big thing.
It’s also about restoring an area of Magic Kingdom that was purpose-built for the Florida version of Pirates of the Caribbean. So many diehard Disney fans complain about the shorter version of the attraction, but it wasn’t supposed to be “just” a ride. This whole area up to Frontierland was conceived as its own Pirates of the Caribbean mini-land in the 1970s, and was really great in its prime. (So yeah, Imagineering has been building one-ride minilands for a while!)
Ultimately, the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge is arguably the most “underrated” piece of news from Destination D23, both for its standalone potential and the new life it could bring to neglected areas of Caribbean Plaza. I don’t want to let myself get too carried away, but I could see this leading to a bonafide buccaneeraissance. After all, this year’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party already brought us the return of the Rusty Cutlass and free-roaming pirates in Caribbean Plaza.
Is it really too much to ask for live pirate performers and a steel drum band, retail revival, as well as a full transformation of Tortuga Tavern and the addition of this Pirates of the Caribbean lounge? Okay, perhaps so. But this is a good step in the right direction, and with Tiana’s Palace/Bayou Adventure poised to come online in the next couple of years, plus whatever’s on the horizon Beyond Big Thunder, this sleepy corner of Adventureland could soon become much busier. Investing in Caribbean Plaza to improve its capacity and utilization would be a savvy forward-thinking, but still relatively low-cost move for the company. It’s also something guests and diehard Walt Disney World fans would love, so also there’s that!
What do you think about Magic Kingdom getting a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge? Would you prefer to see this replace Tortuga Tavern and have an abundance of seating that would make it easier to access? Or would you prefer the intimacy, exclusivity, and challenging ADRs that would come with the Pirates League? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!