Performance Review: Christmas at Pirates Voyage

While planning our trip to Myrtle Beach I was aware that my mother-in-law had reserved tickets for a “pirate show” but hadn’t really considered it much until I looked up directions to the dinner theater and saw the following description:

A 4-course BBQ feast is served while pirates perform battle sequences to music by Dolly Parton.

I suddenly realized that I was getting myself into something that could be awfully good or awfully bad.  Most likely a combination of both.  It would be AWESININE!

And if that description wasn’t mind-blowing enough, we ended up seeing the Christmas version of Pirates Voyage, in which pirate Capt. Scrooge learns the real meaning of Christmas. And then there’s a Nativity play.

This is very much the type of kitsch that requires turning off the higher function of the brain and enjoying the spectacle.  For while the crass nature of the consumerism surrounding this whole venture, not to mention the idea of pirates finding inspiration in the Christ child, is a big turn-off, I do love spectacle. I determined that with Pirates Voyage the parts are far better than the whole.  So I shall break down the parts for you.

Upon arriving and having pirate ushers escort us to take the inevitable photograph in front of a green screen and then into the gift shop.  Adjacent to the shop was a large beer hall-like space with a dozen long wooden tables and people gathered singing along with Christmas carols re-written with pirate lyrics.  I thought once the group ahead of us finished up singing that we would move into this space for the show.  Instead, after a couple of carols, everyone – both those in the large beer hall and others gathered in the gift shop – were invited to move into another venue for the main show.

As large as the pre-show area is, it pales compared to the main dinner theatre where two crescent-shaped tiers of stadium seating surround an enormous pool of water with a full-sized ships hull at each end and a floating barge-cum-stage in the middle.  Our seats were at long tables that alternated with walking space for the large crew of pirate servers.  The food was brought to us piecemeal as the pirate wait staff walked down the aisle with a basket of bread, a bucket of corn on the cob, a vat of soup, etc.  I did not have high expectations for food prepared for the masses but it was quite palatable, and I was pleased that they even made a decent pasta dish as a vegetarian alternative.

The show began with teams of scarlet and blue-and-yellow macaws flying low over the audience.  We were informed that one ship was for the emerald pirates and we were part of the emerald crew while the other ship was for the crimson pirates who sat opposite us.  All the pirates were excited to celebrate Christmas except for one: Capt. Scrooge. A rather awkward pirate adaptation of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” served as a framing device for spectacular performances of acrobatics, juggling, diving, and other surprises, including:

Review continues after the photographs.


  • Dancing, swinging on ropes, and for lack of a better term “pole dancing” but on very high poles.
  • Juggling.
  • High diving.
  • Jumping off of a big swing.
  • A sea lion performing tricks. My nephew told my daughter “That was a very talented sea lion.”
  • A really spectacular competition of pirates jumping on trampolines seemingly defying gravity.
  • A somewhat freaky toy land dream sequence, but also beautiful sequences of neon-lit dancers suspended by long pieces of clothe (there’s probably a term for this too).
  • A fire juggler who eventually set the barge and the entire lagoon on fire.  I may have been looking for the fire exit during this part.
  • And of course, the Nativity play.  I missed much of this while taking my son to the restroom, but returned in time to see the Magi riding live camels across a pontoon bridge to pay veneration to baby Jesus on the pirate barge.

Once the real meaning of Christmas converted Capt. Scrooge to join in the revelry, the show turned into a series of competitions between the crimson and emerald crews.  Some of them actually brought audience members down to participate which was a lot of fun.  There was a race to chase live geese, a race for live dogs to retrieve balls from the lagoon, and a race in which boats full of live children were pulled along by ropes by their parents.  BIG SPOILER: At the end the angel returns and says both sides win, which was a disappointment for my son, but lead into a singing, dancing, banner-waving, cannon-firing, mermaid-opening-treasure-chests grand finale.

As we’re reminded throughout, this is a Dolly Parton production, but if you expected pirates singing “Jolene” you’ll be disappointed (I feel that they missed a brilliant opportunity to reinterpret “Islands in the Stream).  I don’t know what a typical show is like, but for the Christmas version most of the music is traditional Christmas songs, sometimes with piratical lyrics, sometimes played straight.  Original tunes for the show seem to be most serviceable tunes about pirates celebrating Christmas to accompany the dance and acrobatics.  It was fine, but nothing memorable.

And so, I confess, I enjoyed this show.  If I have any concerns its about whether all the performing animals are treated humanely.  For that matter, I hope all these human performers doing daring tricks are given good salaries and health benefits.  Otherwise, if you’re in Myrtle Beach and looking for a heaping plate of cheese with a huge side of kitsch, Pirates Voyage is your thing.  And if you don’t think you’ll enjoy Pirates Voyage, you’re almost certainly correct.