Some of the finest experiences at the Disney Parks have been those that truly immerse guests into other times and places, taking them on amazing journeys to far-off lands. From attractions to restaurants to large areas of parks, Disney has created intricate, amusing, and intriguing lore that create worthy stories in their own right. But one of the best, most original storylines, one that continues to influence Disney attractions and more today, is Pleasure Island’s Adventurers Club.
Looking back at the real and fictional history of the Adventurers Club, we see a humorous, nostalgic, zany, bittersweet celebration of the very spirit of adventure.
The (Real World) Origin of Pleasure Island
The Adventurers Club was a key component of Pleasure Island, which used to be part of the area that is now Disney Springs. The area was meant to be an onsite shopping district for Walt Disney World. The idea was that guests no longer would feel the need to leave Disney World for shopping and dining. However, there were considerable issues to deal with. Since the area lacked Monorail connections to the rest of Disney World, it was out of the way for most visitors to the parks. And with Orlando’s Church Street area becoming a popular shopping and nightlife center, Walt Disney World Village (as it was called back then) faced strong competition.
Therefore, starting in the late 1980s, Disney World began significantly revamping its shopping area to make it more appealing to tourists. To do so, Disney focused on a couple key changes. First, the area would gain more adult shops and restaurants so grown-ups could enjoy shopping and exploring them just as much as kids. Second, the area would get more immersive theming, making it seem like an original, exciting place much like the different lands within the parks. Both of these goals coalesced with the construction – or “rediscovery” — of a new part of Walt Disney World Village: an island in Lake Buena Vista to be called Pleasure Island, first opening in 1989.
The Bizarre (Fictional) History of Pleasure Island
According to the intricate mythos created by Disney Imagineers, Pleasure Island’s fabled history actually began just after the turn of the 20th century. Intrepid and eccentric explorer and entrepreneur Merriweather Adam Pleasure settled on the then-wild island in 1911 with his family and made it the site of his global enterprise Pleasure Canvas and Sailmaking. A spirited (and somewhat kooky) dreamer, Mr. Pleasure concocted all sorts of crazy ideas for new inventions and adventures on the island, from sending signals to UFOs to developing “thermomagnetic” machines. However, Pleasure Island’s boom came to an abrupt end when Mr. Pleasure vanished on a sailing expedition around Antarctica in 1941, with his family abandoning the island.
The various warehouses, labs, greenhouses, and homes on Pleasure Island lay “undiscovered” until Disney brought them to life in 1989. The “old” buildings were converted into adult nightclubs with various themes and attractions. For instance, a greenhouse that once housed Mr. Pleasure’s cactus collection (and some wild armadillos) became the Neon Armadillo nightclub, while an ill-fated fireworks plant became the Fireworks Factory barbeque grill restaurant. The rich and wild history of the island, with a sense of multiple stages of development, made Pleasure Island unique and fun. It was a fascinating, original attraction that adults could enjoy not only for the nightlife but also for the classic Disney storytelling at work.
Welcome to the Adventurers Club
Like the other Pleasure Island buildings, the Adventurers Club had an amazing backstory, but it was perhaps the most unique and fun of the island’s many “historical” sites. Mr. Pleasure just loved collecting various knick-knacks and bizarre souvenirs and relics from around the world, much to his wife’s displeasure. So she told him to do something about all the junk collecting in their home, or else. Being an obedient husband yet also incredibly stubborn, he agreed and removed all the treasures from his house – and swiftly relocated them to a library built on the island. Not only did the library serve as a stash for all his random possessions, but he also made it into his private retreat, where he could chat and have fun with his old explorer buddies.
This motley band of determined, crazy, and friendly globetrotters became the secret society known as the Adventurers Club. Shouting the battle cry of “Kungaloosh!”, these intrepid adventurers would gather at the club to carouse and make merry throughout the night. As the club’s creed/motto boldly declared, “We are reckless, brave, and loyal, and valiant to the end. If you come in here a stranger, you will exit as a friend.” And unlike other Pleasure Island attractions, you weren’t seeing the club refurbished and remodeled after its closure. Instead, you traveled back in time to Adventurers Club’s glory days, right on New Years Eve of 1937.
The Adventurers Club had multiple areas, each with its own fun themes and activities, and travelers’ journeys began by walking through the main entrance into the Zebra Mezzanine. The top floor of the club, the Zebra Mezzanine overlooked the Main Salon, with a large hole in the center of the mezzanine to look down at the salon. With all sorts of unusual artifacts lining the wall – even a zebra – the mezzanine offered a great introduction to the club’s vibrant atmosphere.
As guests walked into the mezzanine, Graves the butler would greet them and present them with “mail” he had kept for them. These unique souvenirs contained humorous letters between the various characters of the club, recounting the many zany misadventures happening behind the scenes. The stories ranged from people dancing with lampshades in the club to news of bungled jungle expeditions. Many of the characters mentioned in the letters, such as Library Committee President Pamelia Perkins, Curator Fletcher Hodges, and downstairs butler Marcel (a gorilla), could be seen wandering the premises and talking to guests, especially in the Main Salon below.
Once you traveled down the mezzanine’s staircases into the Main Salon, the adventure really started to kick off. Not only would in-character Cast Members congregate in the central lobby, but it served as the hub for member initiations. Each night, new members would learn and recite the club’s creed, give the official salute, and experience other key parts of membership into the Adventurers Club. And to lead the club through the creed and other songs, you could always rely on good old Colonel Critchlow Sunchbench (if he woke up from his nap). A live puppet situated in small balcony on a wall, the Colonel would only wake up if offered a free drink.
In addition to all of the actors and events taking place, the Main Salon continued to display all sorts of fun and strange decorations. Most notable of them all was a parody of the world-famous Artemision Bronze – with the noble god Zeus now sporting a fishing pole of all things. Then there was a giant stone face called Babylonia, along with a half-yak, half moose taxidermy called the Yakoose – both of which would sometimes come to life and talk. But things were just getting started. Every 20 minutes, announcers would let partiers known about special events happening in the other fun rooms of the club, encouraging everyone to take part in the upcoming activities.
While the whole club contains a miscellany of various artifacts and souvenirs from across the globe, they are especially prominent in the Treasure Room. Though as the resident maid would sometimes comment sarcastically, it sometimes seemed more like the “Crap Room” with odd items – the sort you might find at a rummage sale – scattered here and there.
As with the rest of the Adventurers Club, the biggest appeal of the Treasure Room was the comedic moments throughout the night with club members such as the maid and the curator. These members would enter the Treasure Room and ramble on about certain artifacts, often slipping in jokes along the way. But the real fun started when someone would inevitably awaken Genie Beezle – a wise-cracking genie head trapped in a box in a cabinet. The various antics between the genie and the cast members was yet another highlight every night.
This room was perhaps inspired in part by the Enchanted Tiki Room and its singing tiki masks. For the Mask Room was lined wall-to-wall with all sorts of unusual masks. The masks seem to have come from all around the world – from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Pacific, and more. Each mask had its own interesting story to tell, and apparently gave blessings or curses like constipation to those sitting nearby – as club members were happy to share with curious guests.
You could see many different masks in the room, but two particular masks stood out from the rest: Arnie and Claude. Styled after Greek Bacchanalian masks, the two masks often came to life as witty and sarcastic jokers, always heckling the club members and guests. These interactions were improv and changed with the reactions of audience and cast members. As a result, you never knew quite what to expect when you sat down and talked with the masks.
With everything else going on at the Adventurers Club, you might have forgotten that this was originally supposed to be a library, before Mr. Pleasure made it the dumping ground for all his random travel collections. But the club still had a Library Room – and boy, was it big! This was the club’s largest area, and it had two floors filled with bookshelves. However, the real purpose of the Library wasn’t reading – it was performing! From the very opening of the club to the final hours of the night, the Library’s stage hosted a wide variety of fun and entertaining live performances, hosted by key club members such as Club President Pamelia Perkins and Club Treasurer (and ichthyologist) Otis T. Wren.
While the first show was usually just a singalong welcoming guests to the club, a lot of other shows would occur throughout the evening. And some of these shows involved audience participation. For instance, the “Tales of the Adventurers Club” serial radio drama ran into a hitch when nearly half the cast didn’t show up, leading to calls for volunteers to fill in the parts. Another radio performance was a talent show, as the cast scrambles to put on a last-minute, desperately needed fundraiser. And who could forget the famous Balderdash Cup Competition, a wild contest of tall tales as each explorer tried to up the others with the best adventure story (with modest, humble Emil Blehall a strong contender for first place)?
Drink and Be Merry
And of course, there were plenty of alcoholic drinks to be had throughout the carousing. The main bar was located in the central Main Salon, with extra bars in the Library and the Zebra Mezzanine (the latter was only open on extra-busy nights). The bartenders (all answering to the name “Nash” during early years) could serve a diverse mix of exotic drinks. These cocktails often took their names from the lively cast of club members. For instance, Samantha’s Passion Potion – a tropic mix of cranberries, pineapple, and melon liqueur – was named after local cabaret singer Samantha Sterling, who purportedly came up with the recipe while exploring South American jungles.
Much of the menu heavily featured rum in the ingredients, such as the Fletcher Hodges Fruitsation, a Cruzan orange and pineapple rum combo said to have been a favorite among ancient Pharaohs of Egypt. Even the Colonel’s Keoke Coffee had some brandy added in for good measure. But there was at least one non-alcoholic drink: Emil’s Strawberry Colada, coming from Emil’s hometown of Sandusky, Ohio. Whatever you chose to drink, the wild beverages further accented the untamed nature of the bombastic Adventurers Club.
All across Pleasure Island, the “New Year’s Eve” celebrations culminated at midnight with spectacular fireworks. But the fireworks perhaps had the most meaning at the Adventurers Club, trapped in time right between 1937 and 1938. As the club members led the countdown, anticipation was intense until fireworks would launch from the roof of the club. It was a spectacular finale to each New Year’s Eve night at the club and a true highlight in the Pleasure Island experience.
The Decline of Pleasure Island
However, over the course of the 2000s, Disney began to shift away from Pleasure Island’s adult theme and immersive storytelling. The last big Pleasure Island venue continuing Mr. Pleasure’s backstory came in 1990 with the AMC Pleasure Island 24, which supposedly originated as Mr. Pleasure’s canvas fabrication factory (and the site of experiments for thermomagnetic, renewable energy). For future additions and replacements to the island, Disney would outsource the properties to outside companies, with little if any connection to the Pleasure Island mythos. In addition, the downturn in tourism following September 11, 2001, decreased activity at the parks and at Pleasure Island.
Around the same time, Disney began to take Walt Disney World Village through another transformation in 1997, this time into Downtown Disney. The new shopping area would be more family-friendly and focus more on hip stores and restaurants than a cohesive storyline. This led to gradual neglect of Pleasure Island, which continued to party on but with dwindling popularity and support. In the last few years of the island’s operation, the fireworks shows stopped, further deteriorating the area’s appeal. Even the large sign of Jessica Rabbit, who was an unofficial mascot for the nightclub-themed island, got taken down in 2006. From then on, things only went downhill.
One Last Kungaloosh Hurrah
Finally, in 2008, Disney announced the upcoming closure of all Pleasure Island nightclubs – including the Adventurers Club. Fans vocally protested the loss of the Adventurers Club, even starting online and written petitions to save it; the main petition gained over 2,500 signatures in its first three days. Even so, Disney didn’t back down, and the last night the club welcomed members was September 27, 2008. The demolished nightclubs sat vacant for years, until Disney began remaking Downtown Disney into its current form, Disney Springs. In the process, the island became what is now The Landing neighborhood of Disney Springs, with new shops and restaurants.
But despite the declining attendance the last few years, the final night of the Adventurers Club ended not with a whimper but with a triumphant bang. Guests arrived as early as 9:00AM just to get into line, packing the club to the brim. Tons of former Cast Members also attended, playing their former characters at the club. The Adventurers Club even had a special surprise for attendees. For years, the cast had alluded to past Balderdash Cup champion Sutter Bestwick, but on the last night, he finally showed up, leading one last induction ceremony for new members. Afterward, he and Marcel the ape butler invited the main club members on a year-round safari. The night even had fireworks once more, as the explorers celebrated their last party with gusto.
A New Line of Explorers
While the Adventurers Club lost its building and place in Disney lore, its ideals of spirited adventure and globetrotting curiosity sparked a similar, worldwide Disney society that remains part of Disney parks to this day. The Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) has gained a multi-park mythos, stretching from Tokyo DisneySea to Walt Disney World to Disneyland Paris and more. While some of its members have proved to be rather disreputable, S.E.A. continues the Adventurers Club’s devotion to exploring the world and making remarkable new discoveries.
While the Adventurers Club was only founded in the early 1900s, S.E.A. is said to stretch back to the Renaissance, as seen at Tokyo DisneySea’s Fortress Explorations area. Since then, it has gained a diverse range of notable members, who often have their own attractions at the parks. Members include Dr. Albert Falls from the Jungle Cruise, Lord Henry Mystic from Mystic Manor, Barnabas T. Bullion from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Harrison Hightower III from Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror, and many more. And many of these attractions actually feature artifacts left behind after the Adventurers Club’s closure.
Mystic Manor and the Explorers Club
Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor seems to be heavily inspired by the Adventurers Club. Much like Merriweather Pleasure, Lord Mystic collected a wide range of strange artifacts from around the world, only he never had to take them out of his house. Lord Mystic also somewhat resembles the sleepy Colonel Sunchbench. And in fact, a number of decorations from the Adventurers Club became props at the manor, where a cursed treasure brings them all to life in a harrowing adventure. But that’s not Hong Kong Disneyland’s only tie to the Adventurers Club.
Back when Disneyland Paris first opened as Euro Disneyland in 1992, one restaurant was meant to capture the world traveler vibe of the Adventurers Club while also adding in some European refinement. L’Explorers Club [The Explorers Club] was set up to be a colonial gentlemen’s club in the heart of Africa, complete with engaging animatronics and actors, spectacular waterfall views, and gourmet cuisines. However, it proved to not be popular with European tourists, leading to its closure. However, the idea was retooled in Hong Kong with the Explorers Club. A Quick Service restaurant based around the adjacent Mystic Manor, the Explorers Club maintains the spirit of the Adventurers Club with exotic rooms filled with all sorts of strange artifacts from around the world – including masks from the original club.
Links to the Jungle Cruise
The idea of adventurers exploring the unknown has always been a key theme at the Disney parks, even with one of their earliest attractions, the Jungle Cruise. So it was only natural that the Jungle Cruise included references to the Adventurers Club in its wait queue. As you stood in line for the ride, you might have noticed various items documented as being “loaned” by the Adventurers Club. And the luggage forming the FastPass distributor belonged to Emil Blehall and Pamelia Perkins.
Later, when S.E.A. replaced the Adventurers Club lore, the old club still inspired a new extension of the Jungle Cruise story: the lively Skipper Canteen. Opening in the Magic Kingdom in 2015, the Skipper Canteen maintains the feel of an explorers’ hangout, with many different treasures lining the walls and specially themed rooms much like those found at the old club. The restaurant even includes references to the Adventurers Club: two of the menu items are the Perkins Thai Noodles and the Kungaloosh dessert cake. Not only that, but one of the fake books in the library alcove was written by Mr. Pleasure himself: “”Another New Year.”
Club Member Reunions
Even after the Adventurers Club closed, its Cast Members stayed in touch with each other, and they have come back together for multiple, one-time performances over the years. In 2014, they held a membership renewal at the Contemporary Resort, as part of the D23 Disney fan club’s Pleasure Island: Rewind event celebrating the long-lost nightclubs. Colonel Sunchbench even appeared on a projection screen to help lead the festivities. For those twenty minutes at least, the Adventurers Club was reopened, and the zany cast made the most of that time with lots of comical jokes and fun songs.
Disney World’s Beach Club in particular has been a popular site for these reunions. On December 31, 2015, the Beach and Yacht Clubs celebrated their Countdown to Midnight in part with a club member reunion for the Adventurers Club. Together, the cast members counted down to the new year. But by far the best reunion was in 2019 for Pleasure Island’s 30th Anniversary. Taking place on the Beach Club’s sandy shore on April 29, 2019, the event featured both former performers from the Adventurers Club and some of the original drinks like the Kungaloosh. The returning cast members even recognized some former patrons. Those lucky enough to attend this one-night event got the chance to be inducted into the club, continuing the proud tradition.
The Story Lives On
One other still-thriving legacy of the Adventurers Club is its expansive, engaged fanbase. While the Adventurers Club started out as a fictional club, it became so popular that fans from around the world started to write letters to the club. To put these letters to good use, the Adventurers Club started a semi-frequent newsletter called the Adventurers Almanac. In it, fans got replies their questions, and even more stories were invented about the club. To further deepen the illusion that this newsletter was a longstanding club tradition, the newsletter jumped between volume numbers, making it seem like it had been around much longer than just a few years.
After the Adventurers Club closed, the many fans who bonded over the wild club activities kept the explorers’ spirit alive with ongoing fan communities. Even today, fan groups like Facebook’s Congaloosh Society still share happy times at the club with each other, and they also sometimes have in-person reunions. Fans have even collaborated to make virtual recreations of the club in its heyday. These are touching demonstrations of the Disney magic behind the Adventurers Club, which still inspires Disney fans from around the world to be hearty, friendly, and curious explorers. As long as that spirit of adventure never dies, the Adventurers Club’s 1937 party will carry on forever in our hearts.
Have a favorite memory of the Adventurers Club? Feel free to share it in the comments.
One Reply to “Disney Worlds Adventurers Club: Why Did They Destroy This Beloved Secret”
One night, back in the 90’s, my husband and I (longtime members) were sitting in the mezzanine having a drink and waiting for the show to start (it was very crowded downstairs). A slightly drunk blonde and her date came in, took one look around and said ” oh – this looks like some boring intellectual-type club. Let’s go find a disco”. We were laughing so hard. Intellectual? ok. Boring? Never!!