What Was Pleasure Island? Here’s a Look Back
Are you a relatively new fan of Disney? Have you heard about a fictional place that no longer exists?
Yes, there’s a real chance that even if you only recently started paying attention to Disney, you’ve heard about Pleasure Island.
So, what was Pleasure Island and why do we miss it so much? Well, it was a precursor to Disney Springs that closed on September 27th, 2008.
With the 13th anniversary of this sad day approaching, MickeyBlog wanted to look back at one of our favorite places ever.
Today, we’ll talk about what Pleasure Island was. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss all the things we miss about it.
Why Did Disney Build Pleasure Island?
Walt Disney World calls itself the Most Magical Place on Earth, and fans undeniably agree.
That’s why it’s arguably the most popular tourist destination in the world. Still, parents sacrifice a bit when they visit.
You commit to doing plenty of stuff for your children, who will throw tantrums anyway because they’re kids.
So, parents rightfully feel a bit unappreciated on vacation. Pleasure Island attempted to solve that problem, though.
Disney created the “nighttime place to be” in the same area that we now know as Disney Springs. Specifically, it’s what we call The Landing today.
In picking Pleasure Island, Disney used a name that, coincidentally or not, references a part of Pinocchio.
This cursed land turns naughty boys into donkeys. It’s what they deserve for drinking and smoking and otherwise misbehaving…which is what many people did at Pleasure Island.
Understandably, park officials shied away from that reference, claiming that Pleasure Island meant something else, something non-donkey-ish.
The idea of Pleasure Island centered on a bunch of nightclubs and other forms of adult entertainment. No, not that kind.
We’re talking about a place where couples could hang out and have fun.
Even parents enjoyed this option, as they could leave their kids safely at Disney’s various play areas, which were glorified free babysitting.
Then, they could pay the price of admission to visit the six clubs at Pleasure Island. Actually, in 2004, Disney made the place free for everyone.
That was the early warning signal that the place wasn’t doing as well as park officials wanted.
Before then, guests were head over heels in love with Pleasure Island, though.
The Basics of Pleasure Island
When Pleasure Island opened in 1989, it included six different nightclubs, all of which claimed its own unique theme.
As a whole, they tied back to the main theme involving a man with the unlikely name of Merriweather Adam Pleasure.
Disney gave him the nickname of the Grand Funmeister to drive home the point that everything at Pleasure Island celebrates his legacy.
That’s also part of the theme. In 1941, Pleasure and his wife mysteriously disappeared at sea and left their holdings to their sons, Harry and Stewart.
Those guys were…not competent. They ruined the business, which would have fallen apart anyway.
Fantasy mixes with reality here, as Pleasure Island left the public radar due to a very real hurricane that struck Florida in 1955, Hurricane Connie.
However, the fictional story continues during the 1980s. An archeological dig claimed the unlikely success of discovering this entire site.
Obviously, the massive weather event and decades of abandonment had done a number on the island. Local officials saw an opportunity, though.
Two years later, experts completed a wide scale reclamation project that restored Pleasure Island to its former grandeur.
According to the Pleasure Island Historical Society, it reopened under Pleasure’s personal mantra, “Fun for all, and all for fun.”
For guests at Pleasure Island, that premise proved accurate. Part of the reason stemmed from those delightful Imagineering touches.
The Theming of Pleasure Island
You may not realize this, but Disney Springs comes with its specific theming. You kinda have to look for it, though.
At Pleasure Island, the theming was harder to miss. Everything tied back to the premise of a madcap adventurer named Merriweather Adam Pleasure.
Mr. Pleasure believed that alien life existed. So, he attempted to make first contact with extraterrestrials. His plan…wasn’t great.
The inventor embarked on a trip on the X-Thing, an aircraft he specifically designed for this purpose.
Alas, there’s some Howard Hughes-based inspiration in this story. Much like the Spruce Goose, the X-Thing proved a better idea in theory than in practice.
During its maiden voyage to Orlando, Florida, the X-Thing predictably crashed at Lake Buena Vista. No, aliens didn’t cause the crash.
Weirdly, this fictional catastrophe is the basis for Pleasure Island, which means it’s the starting point for the Disney Springs you know today.
The Odd and Changing History of Merriweather Pleasure
The story goes that Merriweather joined a club during his global travels. He was a member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.).
Yes, Pleasure Island is also accidentally the genesis for the S.E.A. for reasons I’m about to explain.
This statement is somehow true even though the S.E.A. didn’t even exist when Disney built Pleasure Island. It’s confusing, so please allow me to explain.
The backstory for Pleasure Island suggests that Merriweather owned an entire island that he turned into an adult playground. No, not that kind.
In fact, he fell in love with and purchased the entire island in 1911, naming it after himself.
The plane crash wouldn’t occur until 1940. During this time, Merriweather grew disillusioned with S.E.A. and formed his own club.
The timeline here gets sticky because Disney has retconned the story several times over the years.
You see, when Pleasure Island closed, Tokyo Disneyland officials adored the idea and wanted their own thing. That’s S.E.A.
So, we have them to thank for the continued presence of S.E.A. at the parks. When Pleasure Island closed, the theming seemed dead forever.
Then, Japanese theme park fans spoke up for those of us without a voice. Their passion for one place, Adventurers Club, kept its memory alive.
But What Was Pleasure Island?
Here’s the part of this discussion that amuses me as a Disney historian. I have just described why Disney built this entertainment complex.
I’ve also detailed some of the intricate theming, although I swear I’ve really only scratched the surface. Read this if you don’t believe me.
What I haven’t explained is what Pleasure Island was to most guests. And that answer is pretty simple.
Pleasure Island was a place where Disney vacationers and Central Florida locals could get together and get drunk.
Now, the Floridians could have done this anywhere, but it’s always fun hanging out with tourists and weekenders, right?
For Disney guests, Walt Disney World was mostly a dry town at the time. None of the parks served adult beverages.
You generally had to leave the Disney campus to wet your whistle. That was impossible when you had traveled with kids.
Pleasure Island allowed people to meet in the middle, so to speak. Disney invented a nightclub-centric hangout area where people would literally dance in the streets.
You can check out this YouTube video if you don’t believe me.
Pleasure Island provided vacation escapism for singles, couples, and parents alike.
For many younger parents, this place provided memories that would last a lifetime. They could take their kids to Disney and STILL have a great time at night.
Pleasure Island represented the best of both worlds and provided the baseline for the Disney Springs entertainment we have today.
Next time, I’ll discuss the individual nightclubs in detail and also explain why Disney broke our hearts by closing Pleasure Island in 2008.
Oh, and I’ll also talk about that quirky New Year’s Eve thing…