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Pirate Fun at Sea, in Port

October 5, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent



Buccaneer Mickey Greets Disney Cruise Line
Buccaneer Mickey greets Disney Cruise Line’s guests heading to the top deck for the Pirates IN the Caribbean festivities.


From 1690 to 1720, known as the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, cunning pirates preyed on merchant ships and stole gold and other treasures before disappearing into idyllic protected harbors, where they lived the good life. Port Royal, Jamaica; the island of Tortuga near Haiti; and Nassau, in the Bahamas, were among the infamous pirate towns.

Today, pirates still rule when it comes to family cruising in the region. From attractions at ports to onboard pirate parties and from children’s activities to themed events and screenings of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, consumers just can’t get enough of pirate-themed fun.

Exploring Ports of Call: Just a few blocks from Nassau’s cruise piers, Pirates of Nassau is an interactive museum that blends animatronics, historical vignettes, educational content and colorful imagery to depict pirate life. Upon entering, cruisers find themselves on a dark dock with a pirate ship on one side and a town with pirate haunts on the other. The museum welcomes families and couples exploring downtown Nassau on their own. Cruise lines also sell a shore trip combining this attraction with Nassau’s historical forts.

On a Key West port call, pirate lovers may head for the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum to ogle gold, silver and priceless Spanish artifacts brought to the surface from the hulls of shipwrecked galleons.

Reveling at Deck Parties: Nothing afloat beats Pirates IN the Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line’s pirate-themed evening. At dinner, the servers are dressed like pirates and a special menu has pirate-themed dishes. Disney even gives guests red bandanas. On the decks, the party includes kids’ games, pirate tales, dancing and character skits with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Captain Hook. Ultimately, Captain Jack rappels down the funnel and the line shoots off a fireworks display, choreographed to music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Discovering Film Locales: Movie buffs enjoy visiting locales where movies were made. One resource is For example, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were among the locations utilized in making the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Shopping for Pieces of Eight: Gifts that Caribbean cruisers typically buy ashore include the pirates’ drink of choice, Caribbean rum, as well as Tortuga Rum Cakes, made from a fourth-generation family recipe. Shops with a pirate theme abound. At Caribbean Pirate, George Town, Grand Cayman, cruisers can browse T-shirts, pirate costumes and designer scarves. 

Booking a Port Adventure: Cruise lines organize pirate-themed boat rides at select islands. On Grand Cayman, for example, Carnival Cruise Lines offers the Cayman Pirate Encounter excursion, priced at $39.95 per adult, $34.95 per child. Guests board a pirate ship, watch their kids scrub the deck or have a spouse or kids tied up for a pirate’s tale. At a swim spot, tour goers walk the plank to plunge into the ocean.

At the new cruise port of Falmouth, Jamaica, Royal Caribbean International now fields a new pirate-themed experience called the Captain Hook Adventure. After going ashore, guests board the 286-passenger Captain Hook, an exact replica of an 18th-century Spanish galleon. Guests enjoy an exciting onboard pirate show and attack featuring live cannons, sword fights, costumed corsairs, tales of buccaneer escapades, contests, entertainment and Jamaican dancing. The 93-foot-long air-conditioned vessel features dining, bar and disco areas.

Finding Child’s Play: Children’s programs supervised by cruise lines typically incorporate pirate activities such as dress-ups and face paintings. On Holland America Line, kids ages 3-7 in Club HAL participate in a lively treasure hunt. At Princess Cays, Princess Cruises’ private isle experience in the Bahamas, little ones play in the supervised Pelicans’ Perch, outfitted with a pirate ship playground and sandbox. At Royal Caribbean’s Labadee, kids may become corsairs for a day at Luc’s Splash Bash, battling with water cannons onboard a pirate ship.

Communing With Pirates: Cruisers on a Grand Cayman port call in November may get into the swashbuckling spirit at the annual Pirates Week Festival, with its many free events over a 10-day period.  The celebration features costumes, parades, a “pirate invasion,” street dances, music and treasure hunts. For those sailing from Tampa in late January, the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival attracts 400,000 revelers who celebrate the life and times of buccaneer José Gaspar. Brigands “demand” the keys to the city from the mayor, a flotilla of pirate ships and pleasure boats sails with great fanfare into Tampa’s harbor and visitors watch costumed parades, including one of children.

Diving for history: Divers love exploring shipwrecks and undersea sights. In the Dominican Republic, the submerged wreck of Captain Kidd’s ship, Quedagh Merchant, is now the protected Living Museum of the Sea. It was discovered just a few years ago, only 70 feet from shore and 10 feet underwater, where signs now guide divers and snorkelers around the wreck.

Exploring Pre- or Post-Cruise: Port Canaveral cruisers may opt for a pre-cruise stay in St. Augustine with a visit to the historical Spanish fortress and the interactive St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. Or, they may head for Orlando. At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park, cruisers often can’t wait to board a small boat on the rousing, dark Pirates of the Caribbean ride. They listen to Yo, Ho, Yo Ho, watch animatronic scenes of cannon blasts, burning buildings and carousing pirates, and get a glimpse of Captain Jack and Blackbeard.

If cruisers sail from New Orleans, they could explore sites related to Jean Lafitte, the gentleman pirate who aided General Andrew Jackson in battling the British during the War of 1812. Lafitte reportedly owned a blacksmith’s shop on Bourbon Street. Another option is to book the Creole Queen’s day cruise from New Orleans to the National Park Service’s Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.

Get Your Clients Hooked: While pirate fare, in and of itself, probably won’t sell a cruise, it’s an enticing promotional hook. A window display that gets people in the door, a web sales video of families at a pirate deck party or a targeted mailing to divers or history buffs may stir up some client interest. So tap your database, work your sales magic, and, if you close the sale, think to yourself, “Yo, ho, yo ho.”


Animatronic Corsairs Entertain
Animatronic corsairs entertain at Pirates of Nassau in the Bahamian capital.


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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | October 5, 2011
Cruising families can seek out swashbuckling adventures afloat and ashore. Travel Agent checks out pirate-themed options, including attractions in port, children's activities and themed events.