Colin Nagy | February 7, 2023

The Pirates of the Caribbean Scent Edition

On bromide, ambience, and memory

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A candle inspired by the unique smell of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, crafted to capture the essence of bromine-treated water, swamps, old wood, and boats.

Colin here. One of my first memories was being terrified on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. My guess is my parents brought me on it a little too early because those subtle waterfalls and the animatronic pirates hit differently. I recently re-visited Disneyland and could still remember that first plunge where I lost my mind so many years ago. Also, the ride manages to hold up despite being pretty low-fi—cannonball splashes and all. Another sensory element that hits you as you return after 35+ years is the scent. Turns out I’m not the only one to notice.

The unique smell of Pirates of the Caribbean is owed to the chemicals the park uses to keep things sanitary (as sanitary as a bunch of pirates can be— aarrr). Instead of using chlorine, they use a chemical called bromine, which has a unique damp and musty odor. But given the surroundings—swamps, old wood, and boats—somehow, it doesn’t seem all that off. 

According to Fodors:

…The smell is due to how the water is cleaned. It is not cleaned like regular pools. Regular pools usually disinfect the water inside of them using chlorine–but not Disney. They use bromine, which is a fancy, more expensive, and much milder smelling chemical (and is not as harsh as chlorine when it hits your skin or clothing). This is important because if you ride this ride, you usually end up getting a moderate to large amount of water on you at some point in its duration. Also, bromine generally cleans the water better.

Why is this interesting? 

Disney is known for being hyper-attuned to small details in its theme parks and is said to pump certain smells into rides, restaurants, and booths. 

We will likely never know if the scent was custom-tuned to its environs or just a byproduct of time and memory. But it turns out the “Pirates” smell is a cult thing. A fan of the ride turned the scent into a candle, which you can buy. 

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There are Reddit threads that go deep on how to re-create the scent. One user commented, “When I switched from chlorine to bromine for my hot tub chemicals, I realized POTC was the exact scent. It smells a little like wet wood planks after a rain. My hot tub also has an ozone generator, so that's probably part of it.”

Regardless of the intent and the alchemy or accident behind it, it is interesting to see that the scent behind one of Disneyland’s favorite rides is so deeply discussed and dissected. Even if it is only the simple chemical bromide as the culprit. (CJN

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Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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