Friday, May 18, 2012

Dreaming Disney - Real Pirates

Since 1967 with the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, Disney fans have been suckers for Pirates.  The addition of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise has both reinforced this tendency but also brought pirates into the public eye and pop culture.  Being Disney fans, when the Between Family saw that The Science Museum of Minnesota was hosting Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship sponsored by National Geographic, it was a no brainer that we would be attending.  Of course attendance in this family means with tricorn hats and spyglasses for the kids. 
My first word of warning is this traveling exhibit is somewhat pricey.  For those looking to take in Real Pirates at The Science Museum of Minnesota, the cost can easily be $36 per adult on the weekend.  I recommend seeking out discounts, determining if an annual pass (much like the Disney parks) may provide a discount, or touring during times when the price may be decreased like the weekdays.  As we Disney fans know, time and money are likely two of your most valuable commodities when looking to make family memories. 
At The Science Museum of Minnesota guests are provided a timed entry ticket to the Real Pirates exhibit.  Guests enter from the queue as a group into a small movie viewing room that provides background information about piracy, the pirate ship Whydah, and the discovery of the sunken ship off the New England coast.  At the conclusion of the film the screen rises to unveil the original bell from the Whydah carefully preserved in a water tank.  I hope this revelation does not spoil your visit, but the sight itself is remarkable and puts the audience in a nautical state of mind as you begin to wander the exhibit.  
Bell of the Whydah
Guests then walk through an exhibit that starts with a history of the African slave trade including artifacts.  The oldest Between Kid was especially struck with the fact that items on display were used to hold people in forced captivity.  The heaviness of it hit the Kid right between the eyes.  For something that the kids thought was only going to be fun, I think the lesson about treating each other humanly was unexpected. 
Real Pirate Life
The exhibit then leads guests through the story of how Captain Sam Bellamy of the Whydah chose to make his fortune as a pirate and grew his reputation as a pirate captain.  The exhibit shows a number of recovered items from the Whydah including cannons.  As part of the exhibit an actor portrays Bellamy, who to the pride of any Disney fan stays convincingly in character.  Bellamy discusses the use of cannons on the Whydah including his strategy for defeating another ship.  Later in the exhibit is a walk through replica of the Whydah showing life aboard the pirate ship.  Before stepping onto the ship with their right foot, infamous pirate Blackbeard spoke with the Between Kids about pieces of 8 and making change in the pirate world.  Again, the actor never left character and the Between Kids gave the pirate full attention.
Real Pirates including kid pirate John King
Reproduction of the Whydah

Like Pirates of the Caribbean, I thought the exhibit was over with the treasure room.  The exhibit displays the only recovered pirate treasure in a room filled with pieces of silver and gold.  This includes a chest full of Spanish pieces of eight.  I could imagine Jack Sparrow sitting in the middle of the chest counting his treasure.  After leaving the room, guests are providing information on the final fates of members of the Whydah crew including Captain Bellamy and kid pirate John King.  The exhibit also tells guests of the end of piracy.  And as I walked past these final plaques I thought it was time for the Between Family to run out into the rest of the museum.
Real Pirate Treasure
But I was wrong, and we still had a figurative waterfall to climb.  I was quite impressed that the final room was actually a display of recovered artifacts.  The exhibit showed actual water protected recovered blobs of artifacts.  The display showed how these collections of metal are preserved, identified and recovered.  It was a piece of working history that I did not expect to see in this exhibit.
As part of the exhibit each guest was provided a free audio guided tour.  The tour included narration from actors portraying Whydah crewmen and helped provide a flavor of what being a pirate is, along with education.  Walt Disney would have probably signed off on this form of Edutainment. 
Out here Between Disney you find connections to your Disney experience and make the most of it.  In the end, others may have found it odd that the Between Kids were wearing pirate hats but honestly we entered this educational experiment with a sense of fun.  All in all every member of the family learned from and enjoyed this exhibit.  We may not look at Pirates of the Caribbean completely the same again, filled with facts of real piracy.  If it’s in your budget and near you out here Between Disney, Real Pirates may be a fun way to spend an afternoon. 

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