Voted Off The Island

It’s confession time.

Confession I: I started writing this the day the news was released of the impending demise of Pleasure Island.It suddenly seemed like everyone was writing about it and new information was coming in from all directions. I went back and rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again…and again. Then, I put it on hold for awhile so I could take a fresh look at it. Deb Wills has been quite indulgent, allowing me to stew and fret over this darned blog entry for over two weeks now. Even so, I find I don’t have a lot to add to what’s already been written all over the web. So…I’ll take a run at it from my own personal point of view anyway. Please feel free to roll your eyes and hit the Back button to read something far more interesting elsewhere on this wonderful website. This promises to be a snoozer. You’ve been warned!

Confession II:
I was never a frequent visitor to PI. On occasion, I would visit the Adventurer’s Club, or maybe 8 Trax, but that’s about it. I don’t drink, and I’m not what one would call a good dancer by any stretch of imagination. I went through my “Nightclub Phase” back in the late ’70’s and early 80’s, so I was already over it by the time PI even opened. I enjoyed the AC shows, but it still wasn’t incentive enough for me to attend as a regular like some of my friends. I do, however, have many fond memories of being at PI with my family and friends. They can take away the island, but they can’t take away those memories and impressions. I dare them to try!

Confession III: I certainly won’t miss Pleasure Island in it’s current state. The Pleasure Island that I will miss, and have been missing for some time, is the original Pleasure Island–The PI that was built and designed based on the very elaborate backstory of Merriweather Adam Pleasure and his family, and that’s where I’ll begin.

But first…An editorial comment since so many of my readers have asked my opinion of the closing of Pleasure Islands six clubs:

It seems that the Walt Disney Company always releases bad news late on Fridays. I’m not sure if that’s pure coincidence, or if it’s planned to allow angry people to cool down a bit before they run to their computers to dash off a scathing message, or maybe to give Guest Communications a couple of extra days to respond. My guess is one or both of the latter, but either way, on the last Friday in June, we were given the shocking news that all six clubs on Pleasure Island would be closing this fall, before the end of Disney’s current fiscal year. The press release informed us that this was due to “guest demand” for more dining and shopping opportunities and that the area would become more family-friendly in keeping with Disney’s family image.Whether that’s truth or spin or bits of both, I do not know, however I suspect the changes had to do with both guest demand and money. They’re not talking about the money part, and what company would? I wouldn’t expect them to. However, it’s been obvious for some time that Pleasure Island was not the big draw it once was, and it doesn’t take a math genius (which you know I am not,) to figure out that the clubs were not pulling their weight in Downtown Disney, and attendance had dropped. The release went on to mention a “bold vision” for the area, which sounded to me to be about as bold as my local mall. Maybe the person who wrote the release missed the really “bold” parts of the vision and left them out in error? One could only hope. Time will tell…

So, let’s talk about a truly bold vision; the one that the original Pleasure Island was built upon.
We have to go back to the beginning to do that, to the time of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells and the kick-off of “The Disney Decade”. The Disney Decade was a time of enormous growth at the company, and this included expanding the WDW resort. New hotels were planned and built, a new theme park emerged, and an entertainment district for adults was on the drawing board. According to some accounts, this was to keep guests from wandering off property to local venues like Church Street Station in Orlando. All of those old enough to remember the daily skywriting over WDW advertising Church Street Station, raise your hands. All of those who thought it said “Surrender Dorothy” raise your hands. I thought so…

Anyway, back on track. I’ve heard some delicious insider gossip about the original plans for the entertainment district which were allegedly put forth by Eisner himself, and which, after false starts, met an untimely and expensive end. I wasn’t there, and I don’t personally know if it’s true, but I have no reason to doubt my source, either. Plus, it really makes for an interesting piece of background for what came next. According to this story, Imagineering came riding to the rescue, and eventually developed an elaborate back story for everything that would be incorporated into what came to be called “Pleasure Island”.

A dear friend of mine supplied me with several pages of official press releases for PI from 1986. One, dated July 21, 1986, reported that Michael Eisner himself announced the plans for Pleasure Island while aboard the Empress Lilly. According to the release, construction was slated to begin in August 1986, although my other source says that it had allegedly already begun under the original aborted plans. This would certainly explain the short window between the announcement and the commencement of construction, but I digress. Of particular note in these old releases is that they attribute the creation of PI to guest demand for more nightlife! Guests are of a fickle nature, apparently, as in 1986 they wanted more nightlife, and in 2008 they want less nightlife. Go figure…Also of note to Major Geeks Like Me, Village Lake, often mistaken for Lake Buena Vista, which is actually behind the Buena Vista Palace, is referred to as “Buena Vista Lagoon”.

Deeper into the releases are hints about Pleasure Island’s back story. (Yes, I know I keep mentioning the darned thing, but keep getting sidetracked and haven’t told you what it is. I’m getting there, I swear!) According to the releases, the island originally belonged to early 20th Century entrepreneur and adventurer, Merriweather Adam Pleasure. I bet you youngsters thought it got its name from Pinocchio, didn’t ya? Well, it didn’t, and this is just one of the wonderful details of PI that got lost along the way. So, anyway, the legend goes that Pleasure set up his sail-making empire on the island, it attracted other sea-faring adventurers, and eventually, an entire town grew out of it. The buildings on the island included a fireworks factory, an electrical plant, Pleasure’s family home, his exclusive club, and much more. Pleasure still pined for adventure however, and was tragically lost at sea, leaving his empire to be run by his lazy sons. The sons allowed the empire to disintegrate, and eventually the island and its buildings were abandoned. In the 1980’s, the island was rediscovered, and the Imagineers re-invented the island and its buildings as an exciting and imaginative entertainment district.

Much has already been written recently about this, so I won’t go into excruciating detail about what each building became, but suffice it to say that each time a club or restaurant was replaced over the years, a little piece of the back story, as well as bits of Disney history were lost. Why? Because whatever new venture appeared had nothing to do with the original story. Once upon a time, there were actually plaques and “historical” markers on each building explaining what they were in Pleasure’s time. The last one I remember seeing was at the Portobello Yacht Club, which was supposed to be the Pleasure family’s home. Portobello is soon to become a restaurant with a Tuscan theme, so if that plaque is still there, it won’t be for long. The Adventurer’s Club, Pleasure’s personal club and arguably the crown jewel of PI, will soon be gone too. Designed by Joe Rohde, ths incredibly unique, clever and innovative (even after 20 years!) building–This piece of irreplaceable Disney Imagineering history–along with its wonderfully talented cast, will soon be lost forever, and that, my dear friends and readers, is what’s making me terribly sad.

Can anything be done to stop it? Probably not, however, if you feel strongly about it, it can’t hurt to express your feelings (in a polite manner) to the people who have the power to do something. I’m aware of several online petitions that have sprung up, but the sad truth is that petitions don’t work. If you want to be heard, write letters. E-mails are not as effective. It’s too easy to relegate them to a file somewhere or to hit “delete”. Spring for a couple of stamps and send your messages the old-fashioned way. This ensures that a person has to handle it in some manner. Addresses for Disney officials can be found here. Even if it ultimately doesn’t help, it definitely won’t help if you don’t make your feelings known now, and you and I will both feel better that at least we gave it a try. If you’re in WDW before the last week in September, try to make time for a visit to the Adventurer’s Club. Take a close look at the building, the theming and the props. Loudly applaud the cast for a job well done, and thank them for all the years they’ve put in entertaining us. Raise a final Kungaloosh! to Merriweather Adam Pleasure and his unique island, for it, like Pleasure, will soon be sailing off into the sunset.

Many thanks to my Sooper Seekrit Sources. You know who you are, and you are, quite simply, the best.


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