Published May 21, 2011
The fourth installment of Disney's Pirates franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, will hit theaters May 20. Although Captain Jack Sparrow and company draw their roots to a theme park ride, real pirates of yore did haunt the Caribbean and beyond. But, it wasn't all adventure and plank walking on the high seas.
These ocean outlaws needed somewhere on land to which they could retreat.
So what if Jack Sparrow, Barbossa and the rest really existed? Where would swashbuckling travel writer Jack Sparrow send his cohorts?
Filled with pirate essentials such as treasure chests, bottles of rum and wenches aplenty, these historic pirate playgrounds cater to the inner Sparrow (or Blackbeard) in us all.
Port Royal, Jamaica
Captain Jack certainly knew of Port Royal--his pal Elizabeth Swann's father was the governor of the fictionalized version of this real life Jamaican city. This late 17th century shipping hub proved attractive to pirates as they could easily access and hunt main shipping routes.
Pirates weren't turned away from Port Royal by the island's English lords as they were enlisted as a defense against French or Spanish takeover attempts. In return, pirate celebs like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan could be spotted in this so-called "wickedest city in the world," where there was one pub for every 10 residents. A pirate never needed to ask "where's all the rum gone?"
Though much of the town was destroyed by an earthquake, modern visitors can get a glimpse of the glory days at historic Fort Charles and its museum. Lodging options are abundant in nearby Kingston, or visitors can rent a room or dock their vessels in Port Royal proper at the Morgan's Harbour Hotel and Marina.
The real Tortuga might have been just like Captain Jack found it in Pirates. Located off the northern coast of what is now Haiti, Tortuga had been a pirate stronghold since the early 17th century. Pirates based out of the island took to calling themselves "Brethren of the Coast" and initiated a pirate code of conduct. Meanwhile, Jean Le Vasseur, one time governor of the island, sought to make Tortuga the pirating capital of the Caribbean.
Nevertheless, the French, English and Spanish tried to stamp out pirate activity. One curious tactic involved bringing more than 1,000 prostitutes to the island to encourage the unruly men to settle down. Not sure how that wouldn't actually attract more, but whatever floats your boat.
Most visitors today will have to approach the island just like their pirate predecessors: by boat. But with lack of government presence and infrastructure, this might be a trip for only the most stalwart adventurers.
New Providence, Bahamas
Being located in the path of many shipping routes, the Bahamas were a popular hangout for buccaneers when not out pillaging on the high seas. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, the island of New Providence was especially teeming with pirates. Jack Sparrow could have rubbed elbows with the likes of Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, all of whom called it their playground.
The geography of the Bahamas made an excellent hunting ground for pirates. First, there were plenty of natural resources to support the crews. Additionally, the numerous islands, shallow waters, reefs and complex narrow channels made perfect grounds to snare prey.
These also provide the perfect environment for modern day pirates to sunbathe, snorkel, or set sail on one of those newfangled cruise ships. Or, after forking over a bit more booty, visitors can stay at the famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island just over the bridge from New Providence.
Newport, Rhode Island
It's not often that pirates are envisioned frolicking about the New England coast, but Newport was a regular pirate playground in the late 17th and early 18th century for the likes of William Kidd, Henry Every and Thomas Tew. With the colonies' foreign trade restricted, pirates and their goods were welcomed as a way of boosting the local economy.
But, all good things must come to an end, and the tides of public opinion turned against the pirates. The colony saw an influx of honest merchant vessels in the early 1700s, and piracy was thought to hurt more than it helped.
To follow in the footsteps of pirates, visitors to Newport can take a Pirates and Scoundrels Walking Tour. For even more history, check out famous mansions like Rosecliff where scenes from The Great Gatsby were filmed. Follow that with a stay at the turn of the century Hotel Viking.
Bath Town, North Carolina
The coast of North Carolina was once a pirate hotspot, with ports like Ocracoke, Beaufort and Bath being popular hangouts. Bath was a particular favorite of Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, who once made his home there.
Jack Sparrow and company might have enjoyed the fratty atmosphere at one of the many wild parties Blackbeard threw. But, this is also solemn ground, as Blackbeard was murdered off the coast. So, visitors should be sure to pour out a shot of rum for their departed brethren.
Visitors to the area can make a stop at Plum Point where the foundation ruins of a historic house are rumored to have belonged to Blackbeard. And, they can see real artifacts from his shipwreck at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. The ruins of his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, lie just off the coast of Fort Macon in 20 feet of water. Lodging can be found in historic quarters at Beaufort's B&Bs like the Langdon House, which dates back to the 1730s.