A place of drinks, dance, magic, fun, and the past. Remembered fondly by most, my view of what Pleasure Island was and stands for is skewed by having never been in Pleasure Island in its heyday. When I really started down the path of Disney fandom, I soon ran into the many petitions and blogs about Pleasure Island and the hope for its return. I remember Disney’s failed attempt at an overhaul back in 2010. I remember reading about all these clubs and realizing how unique and intricate they were and how in the blink of an eye they were abandoned buildings. My growing interest in the clubs of Pleasure Island came too late. In the Spring of 2013, I was taken aback when Tom Staggs announced the next of many attempts to overhaul Pleasure Island, only this time they weren’t messing around. I had passed by Pleasure Island so many times, even walked through it. Unbeknownst to me was the history and memories in the buildings hidden by construction walls. When I finally got back to Walt Disney World with the intent of exploring it, I was sad to see Pleasure Island was already walled up and many buildings were gone. I documented everything I could in a construction update. When I was back a few months later, I was looking not for construction but for remains of what was once there. I found the Soundstage Club building sign, the back exterior of the Adventure Club, and even a shot inside the upstairs window of Soundstage Club. Seeing Disney history in plain sight was an experience unlike any other. Knowing these glimpses of once was party central of Walt Disney World were not going to stick around long. As we look ahead to all the excitement of Disney Springs, it is good to remember where it came from, and what once was.
Pleasure Island opened for business on May 1st, 1989. Heavily based on the widely successful Church Street Station, Michael Eisner saw promise in the industry of gated, ticketed night entertainment in Orlando. It was seen as a hit success and attracted many locals to come to Walt Disney World much more often. A few months in, it was decided that a nightly fireworks show would help to further make Pleasure Island the gem in Orlando night life. Given the Disney touch of a backstory for the clubs and fireworks show, having every night be ‘New Years Eve,’ Pleasure Island was unstoppable.
The years went by fast. Small changes were made. The dancing, music, drinks, and memories were a constant. Documentation is lacking in some short-lived clubs such as Videopolis East (closed 1993, replaced by 8TRAX), Neon Armadillo (closed 1998, replaced by BET Soundstage Club), Wildhorse Saloon (closed 2001, replaced by Motion), XZFR Rockin’ Rollerdrome (closed 1990, replaced by Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club). Then came the biggest revolution in the Walt Disney Company’s corporate history. As Michael Eisner transformed the Walt Disney Company into his corporate dictatorship, filling the board with more and more of his friends, Roy E. Disney felt he was being pushed out. When he was denied renewal as a board member, he resigned and went to work not somewhere else but rather on SaveDisney.com. This website pointed out all the flaws in Eisner’s leadership and what he was doing to the company. A silent but massive majority of the shareholders agreed and on March 3rd, 2004 at Disney’s annual shareholders meeting, the unthinkable came true, with 43% of Disney’s shareholders voting to not re-elect Michael Eisner to the board of directors. This very rare example of opposition within a public company would indirectly lead to the death of Pleasure Island when Eisner stepped down and Disney’s current CEO Bob Iger took the reigns.
Bob Iger is arguably the best CEO in the Walt Disney Company’s history. Having broadened Disney’s intellectual property with the acquisitions of Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. Once Bob Iger began to influence the parks and resorts, changes were made to stop the slow decline of profit at Pleasure Island. The main reason for the eventual closure may mainly be its location. Pleasure Island never lost its funk, and when attendance went down slightly mainly due to outdated buildings and theming, the problems began. It was hypothesized that if they opened up Pleasure Island as a non-gated island it would help people travel between the family-friendly Marketplace and newly created West Side. Pleasure Island would still be ticketed, just you would present your ticket for entry into each club. This increase in foot traffic caused disruptions with large groups of non-ticketholders occupying the streets to watch on-street entertainment. This further hurt the attendance of Pleasure Island. This problem was likely realized but bringing the hard-gates back up to enter Pleasure Island would cause problems with people getting between the Marketplace and West Side, causing both venues to suffer in revenue. Pleasure Island had become the failing, low-profit blockade between two high-profit areas. This is the likely reason for the closure of Pleasure Island on September 28, 2008.
The closure of Pleasure Island was bad timing with the stock market crash and slight halt on progress on many projects in the realms of themed entertainment. Before new restaurants and stores could take over the space, they decided to lease out the top clubs for private events. The loved Adventures Club was often occupied by business parties and events for the duration of 2009 and into 2010. This is when the future of Pleasure Island changed once more. In November of 2010, Disney announced Hyperion Warf, the new area to replace Pleasure Island. The new theme of the island would be an early 20th-century nautical warehouse district. Most of the clubs were slated for demolition as a part of this project. The project was kicked off with the demolition of Motion and Rock ‘n’ Roll Beach Club. Progress on the transformation was halted for unknown reasons.
Disney Springs, a redone version of the botched Hyperion Warf plans, was announced in March 2013. This epic doubling of establishments planned for Downtown Disney would result in an addition of 150 new experiences. As we observe Downtown Disney transform into Disney Springs, it is good to reflect on what once was.
The legacy of Pleasure Island will live on. Hopes of Adventure Club and Soundstage are all but gone as both have recently been visibly under construction. We aren’t sure the future of these buildings, but it is safe to say they aren’t going to be demolished. The cast of the Comedy Warehouse continues to share their humor and improv talent every holiday season in Hollywood Studios. Mannequins will live on as a restaurant, with the exterior appearing very similar to the original appearance. As long as these buildings survive, when you walk through a completed Disney Springs in the near future, enjoying the fully family-friendly environment you can look at these buildings and remember what once was and will always be.