I expect the average park guest riding on Disney's signature dark ride, Pirates of the Caribbean experiences it something like this: we're riding through a cave full of dead pirates. That cave leads to an area of open water where we see a pirate ship. That pirate ship is attacking a town. In the town pirates are looting and auctioning off captured women, burning the place down, and generally creating mayhem. We escape from the burning town. The end.
And that's a fine way to take it. It's the way I experienced it as a kid and never thought more of it. It is, however, not entirely what the creators had in mind. Experiencing it that way misses one important detail, and also the little bit of a moral the attraction is trying to convey.
What you might be missing is an element more associated with science fiction stories than salty old pirates: The Pirates of the Caribbean ride involves time travel.
In the opening scene of the ride, you're in the present day. This continues all the way through the cave scenes. The skeletons you see there are the remains of pirates long since dead and left to rot in this dark, abandoned place among their weapons and spoils.
To start with: the ending.
When we travel down the waterfall and into the open sea where we see that majestic pirate ship (named The Wicked Wench, by the way) we're also traveling back in time, back to the time when those skeletons we just saw were very much living active pirates.
It's kind of like the way the Star Wars movies were released. We see the ending first, then go back to the beginning.
We see these pirates all pillaging, fighting, and generally living it up, but we already know how they're going to end up: rotting and unmourned. They may die sitting on a huge pile of gold doubloons, but they'll never get to spend them.
Except... one character's story is kind of the opposite. You have to be a keen observer (and ride the attraction more than once) to pick up on it. She's the beautiful, buxom redhead we first see smiling wryly in the auction scene. She'll be next up for sale and the boys can't wait to start the bidding. She doesn't exactly look like she's dreading it herself. Ever wonder what became of her after she was sold?
The Redhead. We wants it.
We get a pretty good indication in the opening cave scene. There, among the spoils is a painting of a beautiful, buxom redheaded pirate woman smiling wryly. Surely that's the same redhead, years later. She seems to have very much taken to the pirate's life. In fact, the painting almost suggests a figure to be worshiped: a queen among pirates.
The painting of the Redhead as seen in the attraction.
Things may have ended up badly for most of the pirates, but one of their intended victims certainly seems to have learned to enjoy herself!
Oh and the title of this painting? A portrait of Things to Come.