Now we’re talking! It’s the ultimate Disney “dark ride” mash-up! Haunted Mansion vs. Pirates, which is better?

Haunted Mansion

Honestly, we could probably write an entire book about Haunted Mansion history. But we won’t do that here. Instead, we will just give you the basics.

Walt Disney wanted to build a haunted house-style attraction at Disneyland long before the park even opened. It wasn’t until the end of his life that the development of the Haunted Mansion actually began. Even so, Walt would not live to see the attraction completed. With that said, after Walt’s passing, Imagineers struggled to figure out what the ride should be like. Without Walt’s final say in the matter, it was difficult to decide what should be and what should not.

For example, one of the biggest conflicts came from differing opinions on whether the ride should be genuinely “scary” or more lighthearted and fun. The side headed mostly by Imagineer Marc Davis aimed for lightheartedness with sight gags and hilarious puns. But the opposing side captained mostly by Claude Coats wanted real jump scares and creepy things instead. Eventually, the Marc Davis camp won out, as we see today in the ride’s more jovial theming. Some spookier elements can still be found though, particularly in the Stretching Room and during the first couple of scenes. So really, both sides got to add their own pieces of Disney Magic to the final product.

Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump are most famous for their work on the development of this ride. Yale Gracey was nicknamed “the father of illusions.” And that title was well deserved. It was Gracey who came up with many of the effects that still amaze guests of the Mansion today. He learned about the Pepper’s Ghost effect in a book he read as a young boy and was able to create it (beautifully, may we add) in the attraction. His outstanding work on the attraction likely inspired the name of Master Gracey in the 2003 Haunted Mansion movie.

The exterior of the Haunted Mansion building in Disneyland is based on the real-life Evergreen Mansion in Baltimore, Maryland. It is set in the era before the United States Civil War. The exterior of the Haunted Mansion building in Magic Kingdom is based on the Harry Packer Mansion in Pennsylvania. This version of the ride is set during the Colonial period of American history–right around the United States Revolutionary War.

The outdoor queuing area is perfectly subtle in its theming. It is unusually quiet for a Disney Park line. Some might say it portrays an aura of foreboding. A black hearse that is being pulled by an unseen ghost horse sits in front of the queue. Morbid gags and jokes can be found with a keen eye throughout the surrounding graveyard.

Upon entering the dimly lit mansion, the iconic attraction theme music plays as the famous Ghost Host speaks. Eventually, we enter the Stretching Room. In Disneyland, this room not only functions as a storyteller but it also helps transport guests to the loading dock. Since the building we see outside is technically too small to house the entire attraction, it’s mostly decorative. The Stretching Room takes guests underground. After that, the portrait hallway takes guests underneath the berm (the hill surrounding the park to keep the magic inside) and into the sound stage where the ride itself takes place. The Stretching Room in Florida is slightly different because it does not take guests underground. Under the ground in Florida is a ton of water and swamp. Instead, the ceiling actually does move. It is not your imagination, this haunted room is actually stretching.

Depending on the size of your party, 1-3 guests hop inside a black Doom Buggy (omnimover vehicle). You need not lower the safety bar because the Ghost Host lowers it for you. In Disneyland, the vehicle climbs up the stairwell and into a dark hallway. In Magic Kingdom, we pass by it in our Doom Buggy. There are three extra scenes in the Magic Kingdom version. First, we venture into the library. It is stacked wall-to-wall with books on bookshelves and several items moving of their own accord. Then the Ghost Host introduces us to the piano room where a shadowy figure is playing hauntingly beautiful music. Perhaps the most confusing room of all, next is the stairwell room. Glowing, ghostly footprints walk all over the various upside-down, sideways, and winding staircases. Several chandeliers hang from not only the ceiling but also the walls and floor!

Once in the dark hallway, mysterious knocking sounds can be heard. Some of the doors seem to be breathing. Most terrifying of all, there is a man trying to escape his coffin before being buried alive, shouting “Let me out of here! Let me out!”

Next is the Seance Room with Madame Leota. Madame Leota is the name of the floating female head inside the crystal ball. She is summoning more spirits. Musical instruments are suspended in the air around her, and they obey her every command. On the table in the middle of the room sits a giant spell book. The Raven can be found sitting on top of the chair behind Madame Leota.

The following scene is set inside the notorious ballroom. This is likely what most people first think of when they hear the words “Disney’s Haunted Mansion.” There are many people–well, ghosts–in attendance. They can be seen inside the moving portraits on the wall, sitting at the dining table, dancing together near the organ, swinging from the chandelier, etc. This scene is incredibly impressive and dynamic.

Another popular Mansion scene is next: the attic. The attic is cluttered with different relics that likely belonged to some of the former homeowners. As we slowly glide through the area, we see five different wedding portraits. They display seemingly happy couples, just before the groom loses his head–literally. Just before leaving the attic, we see her: the bride. She is holding an axe while reciting some creepy wedding vows. It is not hard to figure out that she is responsible for all five deaths of all five of her husbands.

The final scene is that of The Graveyard. If the Ballroom Scene is not the first to pop into your mind when you think of the Haunted Mansion, this scene probably is. All of the ghosts have come out of their graves to socialize with one another. Some are having more fun than others though. A few of these spirits like to jump up from behind their tombstones to give guests a little scare. Lastly, we drive right by the three Hitchhiking Ghosts. We soon learn that these hitchhikers did not need our permission to jump into our Doom Buggy with us. You can see them riding with you in the mirror reflections just in front of you!

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Park was the last ride that Walt Disney himself personally worked on. However, he would not live to see its opening day, either. The attraction was originally supposed to be a walk-through instead of a ride-through. It would have been a simple museum dedicated to the history of Pirates and Pirate-lore. Guests could take their time enjoying each display. The problem with that, though, is the fact that guests moving at their own speed is bound to cause some traffic jams. Also, whether Imagineers realized it at the time or not, ride-through attractions almost always have a longer shelf life than their walk-through counterparts.

After the massive success of It’s A Small World, it was decided that Pirates would also become a boat ride. Even though Walt never lived to see the final product, he had a pretty good idea of what it would be. Imagineers put Walt on a rolling office chair and pushed him through the attraction at about the same speed the boat would go. This happened just shortly before he died.

At first, Imagineers planned to make the attraction as historically accurate as they could. However, the truth behind a real pirate life was not very exciting. Unlike the movies, real-life pirates were boring, cowardly drunks who more commonly died from disease than from anything adventurous. Instead, Imagineers decided to create a new, more romanticized story about pirates. It worked out, obviously, given that the ride is now one of the most popular theme park attractions in the world with a successful movie franchise.

The queues for this attraction at both Magic Kingdom Park and Disneyland Park are relatively similar. However, each queuing area more strongly resembles the land it sits in. Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean queue showcases the brass stanchions and cobblestone floors of New Orleans. But the Magic Kingdom Pirates line matches the surrounding Adventureland area–with cannons and skeletons in subtle yet conspicuous locations.

While there may not be as many things to look at in this queue, there are still a few interesting, signature Disney details that you won’t want to miss. For example, in Florida, there is a scene in the queue with two skeletons playing chess in a dungeon. If you look closely at the game board itself, you’d see that the two opponents are deadlocked in a tied game…forever.

The ride sequence for each version of the attraction at both parks varies somewhat, but Disneyland’s version is longer and more elaborate. It’s also better than Disney World’s rendition (hate all you want, it’s the truth). For that reason, we will only be giving the rundown of the Disneyland version because there is little to nothing Disney World’s version has that Disneyland’s does not.

We start our adventure by floating through the Louisiana Bayou. On the right side are people dining at the Blue Bayou restaurant. On the left is a beautiful nighttime Bayou backdrop with fireflies, houses, and a man in a rocking chair listening to a disembodied banjo playing various folk songs. Some of which include, “Old Susanna” and “Camptown Races.” Our favourite part of this whole scene is the alligator floating half-submerged, snout pointed at the passing boats, waiting for the moment to strike. (If it counted, our favourite part of this scene would actually be just after leaving the loading dock when the narrator says, “When your boat stops please be steppin’ out to yer right.” And if any guests were to actually take that advice, they’d step right into the Bayou water itself! But since it is not actually part of the atmosphere or story, we won’t count it.)

We then come to a bridge with a skull and crossbones mounted on its keystone bricks. As our boat drifts under it, the skull speaks with the powerful warning that “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Then we go down two waterfalls and into the caves. Skeletons of cursed pirates sit stuck in time, performing whatever activity they must have been doing last–drinking, playing chess, looking at the map, or admiring their treasure. The final skeleton we see transforms into a live pirate animatronic right before our eyes. Simultaneously with this transformation, our journey transitions from the story of idle skeletons to that of live pirates.

Exiting the cave, the scenery opens up to reveal a cannon fight between the pirates and the villagers. We are caught in the crossfire. A romp through the village showcases the pirates auctioning off the residents’ valuables, getting drunk, and setting the town on fire. A cruise through the town jail shows some of the prisoners trying to escape. Then we find ourselves caught in the crossfire again, this time in a more intimate setting. Finally, we venture back up a waterfall. On our left is Captain Jack Sparrow, who has finally found the treasure he had been searching for throughout our journey.

Competition Categories

  • Atmosphere: The “atmosphere” category encompasses the overall feeling of the attraction based on the music, decorations, etc. and how immersive they are. When it comes to Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, “atmosphere” may be a top quality for both. They are arguably the two most immersive rides in the entire park. (Rise of the Resistance might be the only other candidate). With that said, deciding which of the two has the best atmosphere is extremely difficult. For this one, we consider it a tie.
  • Story: The “story” category is pretty self-explanatory. How creative is the story? Is it interesting enough? If we were writing this article before the newer additions to Pirates of the Caribbean, this category would be harder to place. However, the new changes of Red and Jack Sparrow give the story specificity. In our opinion, that pigeon-holed the story instead of expanding it. On the other hand, with Haunted Mansion, there are tons of character stories to tell and experience–999, to be exact. While some may argue that the Pirates story is superior because it is less ambiguous, we disagree. We prefer the endless possibilities that come with ambiguity. And we make the rules around here! For that reason, we give this one to the Haunted Mansion.
  • Experience: For the “experience” category, we look at how people react to the attraction and whether it is generally liked. Both the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions are very popular. However, Pirates of the Caribbean is generally considered to be the most popular theme park attraction in the entire world. So, we Pirates take this category.
  • Thrill: The “thrill” category is self-explanatory. Which was the most exciting? Neither one of these attractions is exactly a “thrill” ride. Haunted Mansion may have a more spooky element, while Pirates has a couple of drops. Since the physical elements of a ‘thrill’ are more present in Pirates because of the drops, we give it to Pirates.
  • Technology: The “technology” category covers how up-to-date and innovative the technical elements of the ride are: the projections, the ride system, etc. This is another difficult category to assign a winner between these two rides. Each attraction was both groundbreaking in its early technology and innovative in its technological advances in recent years. The animatronics in Pirates are some of the most advanced in the theme park industry. However, the impact and use of Pepper’s Ghost in the Haunted Mansion has been almost unmatched. Plus, a boat ride system is the easiest to accomplish. Yet, the invention of the Omnimovers used in Haunted Mansion was a game-changer. Even though it is close, Haunted Mansion takes this one.
  • Show: “Show” is all about the literal show itself–including the queue, pre-show, and ride show. Once guests are on the ride itself, the show elements for each attraction are comparable to each other. However, Pirates does not have much theming in the queue, nor does it really have a pre-show. Haunted Mansion has a heavily themed queue with an amazing pre-show. So, Haunted Mansion wins here as well.
  • Longevity: For this category, we look at how well the attraction has or will age after several years. Once again, we come to another difficult category. It is impossible to predict which attraction will last the longest since each is deeply saturated in the lifeblood of Disney Theme Parks. We do not have a choice but to give this one a tie.

So, Which is Better?

When all is said and done, it looks like Haunted Mansion has taken the cake. It was a very, very close call though. To be honest, if it were up solely to the author’s biases, Pirates of the Caribbean probably would have won instead. Perhaps it was those same biases that pushed an over-correction toward the Haunted Mansion. You will have to let us know your thoughts and opinions on our social media. We are dying to know!