Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, what should guests expect?

Disney’s classic attraction, Pirates Of The Caribbean is a water ride that takes passengers in shallow boats down a flume through entertaining show sets. There are very few working parts essential to a functional attraction, a small lift and conveyer belt into the load and unload area, some gates around the attraction’s one water fall, safety indicators, and a bunch of pumps/jets to propel the boats. A few years ago many of the systems were upgraded, but even then, things do break down.

That’s what happened yesterday at the Magic Kingdom. And some guests were forced to stay in their boats for over two hours and the end of a long day while cast members first tried to restart the attraction, then manually restarted the attraction. At least that is the way this story reads. Was there no evacuation?

In all, this is not a tragedy. No one was injured, guests were ‘compensated’ for losing the end of their evening in the park, and usually that would be that. Not really newsworthy. But something about this rubs me wrong.

I have actually been evacuated off Pirates before, not the WDW version, but Disneyland’s. We sat in one spot for about 20 minutes before some cast members in waders came along and pushed us to an evacuation zone. A procedure like this is more common than you think. So I have to wonder why that didn’t happen last night?

Did safety procedures change so that as long as there is a chance the ride can be made operational again there would be no evacuation (there might be good reasons for this)? Were there not enough trained cast members available to perform an operation like that? What if the building was somehow made unsafe, (fire, gas leak, etc) would they have been able to perform an evacuation? How long is too long before policy dictates the ride is not recoverable and an evacuation must proceed?

These are the sorts of questions to which there is no public answer because Disney World self-regulates when it comes to safety. Buildings must meet code, and basic safety standards. Disney claims it always exceeds these. But there is no one saying, after x number of minutes you must evacuate, or you must always be ready to perform a full attraction evacuation safety and in less than x minutes. I would like to see some sort of standards here and would prefer the industry set and publish them itself instead of an outside group (like the courts or government) forcing them to.

I’m reminded of a similar story where a man who was wheelchair bound sued Disney after being stuck on it’s a small world for 40 minutes. 40 minutes seems like the getting toward the limits of acceptable time to be stuck on an attraction like ‘iasw’. 2 hours is definitely surpassing those limits.

I’d love to your thoughts on what Disney could have done better here. How long would you tolerate being stuck on an attraction? Also, would you like to see the theme park industry form a set of standards they follow in terms of attraction safety?

22 thoughts on “Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, what should guests expect?”

  1. I probably would have been making a noise after about an hour, what were you supposed to do if you needed the toilet, fine for adults who can hold it but what about children?

  2. I think the amount of time it takes to evac a ride needs to be taken into consideration when figuring out how long is too long. I was stuck once on Splash Mountain for 45 minutes, on the lift hill at a steep angle, but I was ok with it. I was in the very last boat to be evacuated because we were in the worst spot, furthest away from the load area. I think they started evacuating after about 15 minutes of trying to restart the ride. But if a full evac takes half an hour, then 45 minutes is about the minimum you could legislate for that ride. Giving them 15 minutes to restart is completely reasonable. On a ride like Pirates, there are a lot more people, so a full evac would take longer than half an hour, especially since, unlike Splash, many of the boats would not be immediately adjacent to an area where they could safely unload guests. So in that case, allowing more time to restart the ride is probably a good idea due to the difficulty in unloading all the passengers. I don’t know how long a full evac of Pirates would take, but it could easily be in the range of an hour or more. In the event of fire or other unsafe situation, guests could simply climb out of their boats into the water which is not that deep, and thus the evac would be much quicker.

  3. Yesterday must have been breakdown day at MK. We were there in the late morning/early afternoon, and while we were there Space Mountain went down, then Splash Mountain went down. The park wasn’t crowded, but it’s still tough.

  4. It’s frustrating, but ride breakdowns are part of the game.
    I’ve had to walk off the Matterhorn and Indy Ride at Disneyland.
    And I’ve been stuck on DL’s Space Mountain and WDW’s POTC for over 45 minutes as well.
    I do remember being compensated with Fastpasses on a couple of those occasions, and probably could have worked guest relations for more.
    But why get upset? Things happen, and it’s not like Disney wants people stuck on a ride for so long.
    They sometimes have to make tough decisions on whether to immediately evacuate a ride or try to start it again.
    That decision isn’t so obvious at the time of the incident.

  5. NO! 2 hours is absolutely unacceptable! 1 hour on any attraction is even way too much. I too was stuck in Splash Mountain for over 45 minutes and since that time, I now
    avoid that attraction. Certain rides just don’t have easy evac options and that’s poor design. If there is a major issue like fire, even though a guest can get out of the boat, how do they KNOW they can?! Some guests can’t swim…some might be handicapped. When an attraction goes 101, there is supposed to be an army of CMs on their way to help. Guess all the supervisors were off-site and left the kids to fend for themselves. And this happened during late magic hours. By the time those folks got out, I’m sure transportation had stopped for the night. What a nightmare! I have a feeling that had this happened during the day, it would have been evaced much sooner. But since the park was closing soon anyway, the urgency seemed downgraded. There simply is NO excuse for this!

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  10. The ride broke down on my recent visit to WDW. I think it was the 2nd July. The ride reopened later in the day but even then there were some teething problems. There must be a problem with it.

    However waiting for 2 hours is ridiculous. There is simply no excuse for that lengthy wait. It doesn’t matter what compensation the guests recieved, this was very poor service on Disney’s behalf.

  11. I was once stuck on Pirates for 40 minutes – this would’ve been a good 15 years or so ago, but it was my first time in WDW. There was no evac then, and we got no compensation then either. We got an “I’m truly sorry” but that was it. Literally, it was 40 minutes watching that dog not bring over the keys – all we could think was, “seriously, give it up guys”…

  12. Was stuck on it way back in 1990 at Disneyland when it broke down, waited about 20 minutes before lights came on and they pushed our boat back to where we could get off. Luckily, we’d gone on earlier in the day so it wasn’t our only attempt and interesting experience.

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  14. I think they should not leave people on a broken ride for man than 30 minutes. Even if they can get the ride started again I’d rather have the choice of standing in line again than having to sit there trying to keep the kids entertained while they try to fix it. I think it would be great if they did have a general rule about how long to wait before an evacuation. “Compensation” is great and all, but most people who go to a Disney theme park are from out of town. It’s not like we can just go back any other day. I’d rather have my 2 hours, 1 hour or even 30 to 40 minutes in the park than be stuck on a ride. And again. It’s not ideal to ask kids to sit still on a ride for that long with out causing trouble or getting irritable.

  15. POTC broke down 2 weeks ago (aug 21) when we were there. It closed briefly during the day and then during emh at night it stopped right as we were at Captain Jack (at the end!) We sat 2 boats away from the unloading dock for 45 mins. No explanation came at all as to the problem. No compensation was made. The ride, once operational, remained open the rest of emh but was then closed all the next day. (couldnt ride it after a visit to the Pirates League the next day :( )Cast Members stood there saying they were working on the problem and were hoping to have it up soon. It remained closed throughout the day though. Might be time to close for refurb for a few days! glitches are happening way too often right now!

  16. Back when we opened D/L Splash we could do an evac in under 20 min. If the ride went down and could not be brought up right-away ops would do an evac. Then once the system comes up we would cycle the empty boats several times before loading.

  17. Thanks for all the great responses. What disturbs me the most are a few reports from cast members and former cast members that this is the new standard operating procedure for attractions like Pirates. They’d rather keep guests seated in the boats than risk a lawsuit should someone fall or get injured during an evacuation. Additionally, there is no need to pull cast members from other attractions to run an evac, and therefore less of a risk of overtime or workers comp claims. This sounds like the plan of someone who works behind a spreadsheet, has no idea of show or guest satisfaction, and never encounters the park as a guest. Needless to say, this is the worst possible policy should it be true.

  18. For the amount of money they are charging for admission, these rides should not be breaking down, period. Nothing irks me more than paying over $100 per person and find out that the ride you want to get on is closed.

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