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Monday Mouse Watch : Lights out at Pleasure Island

Jim Hill

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Monday Mouse Watch : Lights out at Pleasure Island

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As you drove west on I-4 at night, they were one of the main signs that you had finally arrived at the edge of Walt Disney World property. Those spotlights that swirled in the skies over Pleasure Island.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Well, late last week, PI's signature light system went dark. Why For? Because WDW Property Control put this nighttime entertainment district's eight Sky Trackers up for bid. According to documents that JHM received this past weekend, Disney was hoping to get a minimum of $16,500 for the Island's four 4,000 watt units & the four 2,000 watt units.

With Disney suddenly selling off Pleasure Island's Sky Trackers ... Well, this made the Island's staff (Who were already spooked in the wake of the abrupt closing of Rock 'N' Roll Beach Club back in February) even more nervous. Which is why -- when WDW Property Control began stripping speakers & stage lights out of "Motions" -- rumors began to fly that this PI dance club would be the next to close.

Well, in this particular instance, that wasn't actually the case. The real reason that all this older audio & lighting equipment was being removed from "Motions" was so that it could then be replaced by newer speakers & stage lights that Pleasure Island's tech department had just harvested out of the now-empty Rock 'n' Roll Beach Club. So -- truth be told -- this is actually a cost-effective effort at upgrading "Motions" 's facilities. Rather than a deliberate attempt by Disney to undermine the popularity of this PI dance club.

That said, the people who work on Pleasure Island are still extremely nervous these days. They seem to see signs of gloom & doom wherever they look. Take -- for instance -- this week's contract renewal talks with all of the DJs that work on the Island. If those talks don't go well ... Well, what does that mean for the future of PI's dance clubs?


Photo by Jeff Lange

Speaking of the future of PI's dance clubs ... One of the more intriguing rumors currently making the rounds on the Island suggests that "Mannequins Dance Palace" & "8 Trax" could soon be closing.

"And why would Disney do something like that?," you ask. So that the Mouse can then knock down the walls that currently separate "Mannequins" & "8 Trax." Thus creating a single super-sized club which could then be used to service all of the Pleasure Island visitors who were looking for a place on property to go dancing.

And since operating one large dance club would obviously be a whole lot cheaper to do than having to staff two smaller venues ... Well, that just plugs into with PI's new contain-costs-at-all-costs operating philosophy.

But this continual cost cutting does have a pretty hefty price tag. At least when it comes to the people who actually work on Pleasure Island. From what I hear, morale at PI is now at an all-time low. Which is why many of the cast members who staff the Comedy Warehouse, the BET Soundstage Club and the Adventurers Club are wondering aloud if they should start looking for new gigs elsewhere.

After all, if Disney's just unplugged Pleasure Island's signature outdoor spotlight system (Which used to help Orlando visitors find Downtown Disney's nighttime entertainment district) ... How long can it be 'til the rest of the Island go dark?

Your thoughts?

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  • "The real reason that Mickey is pulling the plug on those spotlights as well as stripping those speakers & stage lights out of "Motions" is because they're now hoping to make Pleasure Island seem that much less appealing to WDW guests. So that attendance levels will continue to drop for WDW's nighttime entertainment district."

    That's just completely and totally insane!  How is this any way to run a business?  "I want to fail so I'll have an excuse to put in something I think will work better."  

    MEMO TO MANAGEMENT:  You aren't losing Virgin, Cheesecake and BET because the West Side is so much more successful.  Maybe if somebody actually thought about improving or innovating instead of living on diminishing returns every year we wouldn't have this problem!  Instead we're building yet another tacky restaurant selling overpriced food with poor service and a volcano on top!  Whoop de doo!

    And Jim this article frankly sucks.  You're not reporting anything people don't already know or can find out by talking to one of us cast members.  There's no real analysis or depth.  Are things really that bad up north?  Because if you want we'll get some blow-dryers and come visit.  

    Don't mind me...  I'm just sad I don't get to watch the lights dancing in the sky as I get off from work anymore...

  • I'm disappointed to hear this, but not all that surprised considering all the other moves Disney's made at PI for the last couple of years. But hey, why spend your own company's money providing new and exciting entertainment opportunities only for adults when you can contract with other companies to open the same boring shops and restaurants that people can find elsewhere, and then let the whole shopping area get overrun with bored teenagers?    

  • Having all the college program kids go to Pleasure Island all the time wasn't good for it. Disney and clubs didn't make much sense in the first place. The employees can all move to other places on property pretty easily, pretty random people get placed at Pleasure Island anyways.

  • As some have already said, the trend has been visible for quite a while so this story is not exactly earth-shattering news. However, what IS astounding is something we've already discussed in the stories about rebuilding the bridge to Liberty Square at the MK--TIMING!

    Look folks--it's about to be APRIL, which means SUMMER is en route. This is what's known as "peak season" when, no matter what you've got open, its FULL of bodies spending money. The time you shut down or refurbish or reroute parades to do rebuilds or the like is....well, JANUARY or OCTOBER, when there's less traffic and thus the reduction in potential money-spending/body-filling places is less of an impact. Because not only does reducing your capacity when your peak is coming make no economic sense, having the REPEAT visitors who come looking for their "favorite" places get there just in time to be told "Oh, sorry, you missed it--we hocked those lights and shut that place you love down to save a few bucks a few weeks ago. Too bad. Go spend money somewhere else, willya? And see you NEXT year when MORE of your favorites will be kaput! Have a Disney Day!"

    This company is showing serious management malfunctionality again, which leaves everyone who dared to dream that the end of the Eisner Wars and the arrival of Lassiter and Jobs to Disney management would perhaps inspire a return to the good old days which weren't just good 'cause they were old, but were actually about QUALITY and EXCELLENCE and ONE-OF-A-KIND experiences, not shuffle-and switch and re-paint and re-brand and kill capacity at PEAK stuff like this. Its not only amateurish, it's counter-productive business-wise.

    SO...if Disney is willing to be just one of MANY themed-entertainment/resort companies in the world (and especially one of several big and good ones in Florida) then I guess this is fine and dandy, but if they want to maintain their UNIQUE standing as the one that's a cut above, this kind of amateur-night antic is deadly and permanently terminal.

    Once upon a time, I was talking to a very experienced hotelier who was the F&B manager of a VERY famous hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills. What we were discussing was the fact that a big hotel in San Francisco had recently "franchised out" its entire food-and-beverage operation to the Wolfgang Puck company, which gave Puck even more status but basically ended the hotel's own rep in that arena. My friend was bemoaning his huge food costs and high staff costs and the fact that he could NEVER buy a slightly lower grade of beef or a slightly less classy set of tableware or do ANYthing to slightly lower his famous place's reputation, even via the expedient of bringing in a separate operator with its own brand name. Whyfor (to use Jim-ese)???? "Because, " he said, "You can only lose your reputation once."

    Well, Disney is pressing its luck in so many, many ways on this score, and has been for quite a few years now. Again, if it is CONTENT to be "just another themepark/hotel/waterpark/golfresort/familyentertainment company" in a world of very good ones, that's fine. But you can't do that for long and then say "Oh, hey, let's go back to being special again!" with a wave of a magic wand. IT just will not work.

    You can only lose your reputation for excellent marketing/management ONCE too. Stunts like this PI sell-off/shutdown and the MK bridge fiaso are huge leaps down that road to oblivion...or, worse...mediocrity.

  • Personally, although I find the machinations a little odd, I'm fine with them shutting down PI. I love Adventurer's Club, because it's very Disney, but the rest of the clubs quite honestly always felt kinda low-rent to me. They also attracted a distinctly non-Disney element to PI.

    I mean I would guess this is a decision that is NOT motivated by profit. I gotta believe selling all that high-profit booze was bringing them in more cash than some new restaurants and retail. I think they're trying to move away from something that was a bad idea in the first place ... turning a portion of Disney World into a mini-Mardi Gras.

    I'm good with it. I hope they salvage the Adventurer's Club somehow (and no ... not through that cockamamy Night Kingdom idea Jim keeps propagating), but that's about it. The rest can go and I'll lose no sleep over it.

  • Yes, the "entertainment district" of PI is changing.  It is melding in with the other two sides of PI around it.  The remaining clubs will be interwoven with more upscale dining and drinking establishments and specialty shops.  (Think RAGLAN ROAD, for example.)

    The lights being pulled out are to give the area less of a "Las Vegas" feel and more of a family friendly environment.  Consider also the upend lodgers staying at the DVC Saratoga Springs just across the water who may not be so totally happy with the folderol and lighting going on across the lagoon from where they are staying.  This, too, could be a factor in the decision.

    Adventurer's Club has no worry, Comedy Warehouse has no worry.  They are two of the major money makers on the entertainment complex route. And, the money that is made from private corporations being able to buy out the AC speaks much in the budget book to the bean counters as well.  

    Mannequins is expanding and will become the prime dance club of the district.  It was the club that held the largest number of guests going to it to dance, and, it makes sense to combine it's area into a larger operating base in order to provide that arena of social interaction and still allow for an expansion that will attract a wider aspect of family members, affluent spenders, and, get away from the "night-club" district aspect that had been unwieldy for WDW to handle...especially in the last few years with the escalated bad press of crime and social friction that has been reported from there.  Add to the meld that Universal has City Walk a few miles away, and, that City Walk has the clubs and lounges that pull the demographic that once graced Pleasure Island, well, Disney has had to re-think their "high impact entertainment district" into more of a upscale entertainment district that better aligns with the "family friendly" image the mouse is known for.

    By the way, as for the "Night Kingdom" - again, the best bet is to keep watching the Animal Kingdom expand out into a secondary entrance area to have it happen.  That concept of "North by Northwest" from the Magic Kingdom is too soggy...literally...the ground is a marsh out that-a-way and is protected under an environmental act that is written in such a way that it will take an arm and a leg off a secondary Disney animated character to afford reclaiming.  Consider also the thought that the cost of transporting wildlife to and from the one park designed for maintaining that wildlife, and, the park that such wildlife has ecologically and emotionally adapted to....that transport on a daily basis would be a real shaker to the creature's mental and emotional state.  

    Just some thoughts....

  • When I walked into Pleasure Island, I was immediately brought out of my "Magic Disney Induced Fog" and sucked down to reality...NOT what I go to Disney for. It was loud, obnoxious and tacky and it had no place in my Disney vacation. I walked through and out and never returned. Lock it up, tear it down and sell off all the tackiness to Universal, where it belongs.

  • The BIG disadvantage that WDW has over most of the rest of the Walt Disney Company, is that WDW is NORMALLY a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for MOST people. So if someone goes to PI and some club that was there last year is not there, they won't know nor will they care.

    We as Disney fans need to step outside of our "Disney box" and realize that MOST people don't "do" Disney like we "do" Disney.

  • I think the company has legitimate reasons for making the changes that they are doing, but the way they are handeling it seems unfair.

    I hate companies who demand loyalty and hard work but care enough tho inform the people that it most effects what is going on. The Cast Members of PI have a right to know what is going on to thier park and the specific bulding they work in. I thought Disney was beter tan that.

  • {I wish we could go back and edit the typos we make here.  How about adding that function !}

    It should read and "DON"T care enough to inform....." ALso it should state that "I thought Disney was BETTER THAN that." Sorry!

    I concur with the notion that PI would not be missed. It is so non-Disney anyhow.

  • I blame Pressler.  No.  Wait, he's gone.  I blame Eisner.  Oh, no.  He's gone too.

    Gee.  Who else....um....I blame Barry Braverman!  Yeah.  That's it.  Oh.

    But, hey, Roy Disney certainly wouldn't allow this if he were back at the company!  Oh...

    But certainly now that Steve Jobs and John Lassiter is there, this sort of thing won't happen!  

    Hmmm....

    Perhaps maligning these people for the sort of thing that's still going on years after they have left was not the most appropriate thing.

    Perhaps acting as if these others are somehow going to be some sort of godsend for Disney freak cases is not, either.

    Perhaps they're all the same, and they will all continue to be the same.  When Iger and Rasulo and whoever else gets replaced, it will be by people who all do the same things anyway.

    Trying to foist every bad thing that ever happened onto Eisner and Pressler was the height of idiocy.  Claiming they were some evil duo out to destroy everything seems kind of silly now.  At least to people who actually want to think about these things.

    I realize that may make some people's brain ache, but the fact is that since the BAD BAD people went away, almost nothing has changed.  Nothing probably will change, either.

  • Let's take this really slow so everyone can understand, shall we?

    Companies have cultures.

    They are set by leaders.

    When leaders make massive changes in those cultures, they do not magically vaporize and change just because those leaders leave. This is doubly true when those former leaders were in charge for a LONG time and made MAJOR changes.

    The people they hired...and the people they hired...and so on down the chain of attitude/command remain. And so do the cultural changes and attitudes they left behind.

    It takes HARD work to turn company cultures around, and it takes time. No sensible person thinks it's easy or quick. All sensible people have patience with this reality, but all sensible people look for signs of progress--or the lack of it--to judge how well or how poorly that process is going.

    The even more difficult part about THIS company's culture is that, by chance or genius or just plain hard work, they got it RIGHT right from the start. When your origins are so essentially right-on, the urge to "innovate" and "modernize" and "change with the times" for its own sake is a deadly process because when you start out RIGHT, movement away from your roots is, by its nature, LESS right and oftentimes disasterously wrong. That goes for corporate cultures, national cultures, all kinds of cultures all over.

    I, for one, believe that the Walt Disney Company, I'm sure for what those former leaders THOUGHT was good reason and with what they FELT were good intentions, headed down a very, very wrong path several years ago and that it was not only detrimental to their creative output but to their potential as a business, too. You cannot divorce one from the other when your business IS creativity. I respect and revere the Disney culture that Walt, quite instinctively and without any formal intent I'm sure, established NOT because it was "WWWD" gospel or even because he was, after all, THE Walt Disney of "The Walt Disney Company"...but because it just plain WORKED. It created the most massive, concentrated, and utterly unique sustained output of entertainment greatness that, arguably, has ever been done by human beings on planet earth.

    It seems to me that before you radically mess with something that effective, you probably should park your ego and reexamine your methods and that, when you DON'T do that and things in that successful, effective culture get seriously deranged, sooner or later you have to expect the audience to...NOTICE.

    No sensible person expected an instant transformation back to what used to be the guiding principles of this once truly-innovative company, but all I'm saying (and others are too) is that these examples of managemental incompetence and foolishness such as this PI story and the one about the bridge only point out in their small-but-indicative ways that the hoped-for changes BACK to a more competent, creative, and traditionally-Disney corporate culture are NOT happening yet or, at least, that there are enough holdover-thinking folks in charge to show that the road ahead that we hope the new folks want to take is long, difficult, and that there are no signs of real progress and many of failure so far.

    The point of noting these indicators is to say to the people with good intentions who want to fix what's broken that they're not even close to being there yet, and that fixing these relatively small breakdowns in the process one by one is the way to accumulate momentum that can change the bad direction the larger ship has been steaming along in for a long time.....before they wake up one day to find they're even further away from their destination instead of closer to it.

    It is not about the "BAD BAD people" or the "Good" people. Its about the bad, bad RESULTS that are STILL happening because the "good" people haven't had enough positive effect yet. And if it really bothers you to have that pointed out or if you're really so cynical as to say "Nothing probably will change, either" then...why do you give a damn at all? Go to Six Flags and ride coasters and fuggedaboudit.

    Or maybe, just maybe, it is your own "culture" that needs examination, exploration, and fixing, too.

  • When Eisner came in, he turned around company culture almost immediately.  

    He's been gone for years.  Pressler has been gone for more years.

    Not only are they not going back to the way things once were, but their incompetence has been accelerating.  

    Stupid stuff like this should not be happening, period.  

  • Couldn't agree more with your last comment JohnWayne.

  • I loved Pleasure Island. When I lived in Orlando, my husband and I went nearly every week--we could have dinner at Raglan Road or Fulton's, see a band at the House of Blues, and then go dancing at Rock and Roll Beach Club. I loved being able to park once and walk to dinner, to a movie or show, and then to go dancing.

    We recently returned to Orlando on a vacation to see family. The grandparents offered to keep our daughter for a night so my husband and I could go to PI, and we were excited to be able to do dinner, a movie and then the Beach Club. Then we heard that the Beach Club closed, and, well, there are lots of places in Orlando to see a movie and have dinner, so there was really no point in going.

    We are in our late 30s, and we really enjoyed the bands and 80s/90s music of RRBC. We're too young for disco at 8Trax, don't care for the electronica at Mannequins', and I wouldn't go to Motion if you paid me. I've been to Adventurer's Club several times, and the act has lost its charm. Comedy Warehouse is a lot of waiting for not much entertainment. I don't really enjoy shopping for t-shirts, and I despise Cirque du Soleil.  

    We were planning to take our daughter to WDW, but now that there's nothing adult for us to do in the evenings without leaving the property, we likely won't take her until she's much older. Then we can do parks together in the evening.

    The demise of PI makes me so sad. It was my favorite thing about WDW. I'm not really motivated to go back since it's gone.

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