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The Adventurers Club that we almost got

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

The Adventurers Club that we almost got

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It's still hard for all us Adventurers Club fans to fathom that -- just seven weeks from now (give or take a day or two) -- that Pleasure Island will be no more. That on September 28th, WDW will permanently pull the plug on PI.

Having spent many pleasant nights at the Club, I just can't imagine a Disney World vacation that doesn't include a visit with Miss Zenobia. Who does such a great job of telling fortunes and spinning tales from the past. Or -- better yet -- grabbing a drink at the "Illusions Bar" and then watching with amazement as a ghostly apparition materialized in the seat right next to you.

What's that you say? You've been to the Adventurers Club dozens of times and you've never met Miss Zenobia? And you know for a fact that this PI favorite doesn't have anything like the "Illusions Bar"?

Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I'm confusing the Adventurers Club that we got with the Adventurers Club that was initially announced back in July of 1986. Which was a significantly different animal.

Of course, back then, the whole Pleasure Island project was far more ambitious. According to the Eyes & Ears article that officially announced PI, this "magical nighttime entertainment island" was going to be " ... a totally refreshing and innovative concept that we believe will set a new standard in contemporary entertainment." Or so said then Disney-Chairman & CEO Michael Eisner.

Michael Eisner with a model of the original version of Pleasure Island.
Copyright 1986 Disney. All Rights Reserved

In Disney speak, the Pleasure Island project was greenlit to answer " ... a recognized need for more evening activities catering to vacationers, conventioneers and Florida residents." In simpler terms, Disney built PI because -- at that time -- far too many WDW visitors were going off-property at night to spend time (more importantly, their money) at Church Street Station.

The only problem with PI was ... well, the Imagineers had never built a waterfront entertainment center before. And given that Pleasure Island was supposed to have this elaborate backstory, all of these newly constructed buildings had to be weathered & aged. So that they could then seem like the proper setting for the sail-making & ship-building empire of Merriweather Adam Pleasure, an adventurous Pittsburgh entrepreneur.

And detailing like that takes time and costs money. Which is why -- even though Pleasure Island was originally supposed to open in the Spring of 1988 -- by January of that same year, this project was the topic of some rather intense meetings at WDI. Where -- according to a presentation that Marty Sklar gave on January 15, 1988 -- " ... Pleasure Island is 102% over its original budget, 67% over its revised budget, eight months late and ... creatively compromised."

To get the PI project back on track, obviously some cuts had to be made. So the "Illusions Bar" at the Adventurers Club (which was to have made use of a Pepper's Ghost effect to make you think that a ghost was sitting next to you sipping cocktails) disappeared. As did Miss Zenobia and her private room for fortune telling.

In fact, the entire Adventurers Club (as it was originally planned) was scaled back. The footprint of this elaborately themed nightclub was reduced by a fourth. Which explains why the AC -- particularly when it's full of tourists & conventioneers -- sometimes seems pretty tight.

So -- yes -- it's a real shame that the Adventurers Club (as the Imagineers originally planned it) never got built. That the version that we know & love today was " ... creatively compromised."

Concept art for Madison's Dive, a waterfront restaurant that was originally
supposed to have been an opening day attraction at WDW's Pleasure Island.
Copyright 1986 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But at least the AC did actually get built. Thank goodness that this nightclub didn't suffer the same fate as "Madison's Dive." This boisterous seaside saloon was originally supposed to have been one of PI's signature restaurants with its sawdust-covered floor and its brown-paper covered tables. And as WDW guests dined on crab, Captain Spike was to have entertained the crowds by singing sea chanteys & telling tales of his lost love, Madison the mermaid from "Splash."

In an effort to contain costs on Pleasure Island, "Madison's Dive" wound up getting cut from the project's opening assortment of restaurants, shops and attractions. The Imagineers had always hoped that -- once PI proved to be a success -- that they'd then get the chance to revive their plans for this waterfront eatery. Though that was not to be.

That said, one illusion that WDI created for "Madison's Dive" still survives today. Have you ever seen the "Balderdash Cup" show in the Library at the Adventurers Club? Do you recall that moment when -- as Professor Otis Wren is spinning out his the-one-that-got-way fish tale -- where the ship-in-a-bottle that's behind the bar suddenly breaks apart & sinks out of sight? That particular effect was originally supposed to have occurred as Captain Spike was telling one of his tales from the sea.

But come September 27th ... That ship-in-a-bottle will sink one last time. And then it (along with all of the other props & masks that line the walls of the Adventurers Club) will be pulled down. And then ...

Well, as to their ultimate fate ... I'm told that Joe Rohde (Who helped design & concieve the Adventurers Club. In fact, some of the items on the walls in the AC are from Joe's personal collection) will reclaim a few knickknacks. As for the rest of this comical collection ... I've heard that a good portion of them will be shipped overseas, where these odd artifacts will then be used as props for Hong Kong Disneyland's soon-to-be-officially-announced version of the Haunted Mansion. Which (given that this attraction will be located in the Adventureland portion of that theme park) will borrow a page from Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror and feature a Great White Hunter who brings a cursed artifact home from the jungle.

Joe Rohde served as the model for the ill-fated adventurer
who gets trapped insideof Tokyo Disney Sea's Tower of Terror.
Copyright 2006 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And while it's nice to know that at least the props & masks that you now see in the Adventurers Club will live on at Hong Kong Disneyland ... Me personally, I'd prefer it if the Club itself survived. Which is why I urge you to join Peter David in his quest to save the Adventurers Club.

For further information of David's STAC map-mailing campaign, please check out Peter's website by clicking on this link.

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  • Great story and reminder. However, the idea that aging buildings takes either a lot of time or a hugely unexpected amount of money is an exaggeration. Marty may have worried about budgets back in the day, but the aging of buildings didn't cause the overruns nor the time delays. Not only do you have to remember that when you're building a themepark or set for a movie you are building to be "the age" intended, not building new and letting or encouraging nature to take its course, there are many paint and chemical and texturizing efforts that are relatively simple, time-honored (no pun intended--been doing it on backlots and soundstages for 75 years now) and even easy. I happen to have been at EPCOT one day a long time ago now when they were building the NORWAY pavilion and watched a brand new shiny copper dome on the tower there get painted by two Disney guys in white coveralls with some clear, sticky solution and a bunch of big brushes. Roughly 24 hours later, that shiny copper was blue-green with "age" patina thanks to the chemicals in that stuff and looked its proper several-hundred-years-old "age" as part of the show.  Ask any con-man "antique" dealer about how to hit soft wooden furniture with old tire chains and the like to "distress" it into aged appearance. And paint is about skill, not necessarily extra time or money.

  • Great article Jim.

    Way to do your part.


  • Wow, Madison from "Splash."

    Maybe it's better they didn't build that, as the movie is not exactly what I consider an all-time classic. I like the movie, but anyone my age (22) whose mother didn't force them to watch it as a kid would know nothing about it.

    As a related note, why were Daryl Hannah's two most famous screen characters (Madison and Darien (from "Wall Street") seemingly named after wealthy Connecticut towns? I'm still waiting for that romantic "Cheshire" or "Simsbury" to come roaring off the screen, or more appropriately for me, a middle-class girl named "West Haven" to capture some wealthy man's charm.

  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news and ruin the day of one of my favorite comic writers but I learned some things last night.  Some of the managers at my store went to a presentation on the "new" Pleasure Island and while I can't break the company's confidentiality agreement I CAN say they left VERY impressed.  WDI is very much involved with the planning here and the goal of tying DTD together seems to be accomplished by the plans.  They didn't hear about any new operating participants (although Build-A-Bear is a popular rumor) but Disney should also be a strong presence with new shops that may actually sell some of the more obscure and unique characters and items guests request.  

    And yes this is very much about numbers and that 70% of DTD guests spend no money whatsoever at PI according to the presentation.  Also I'm told the reasoning behind the closing of TCW and AC is that they aren't family friendly and, to say it coldly, they occupy valuable space.  Probably more the latter.  Plus the desire to have less drunk people around.  (I had to fill out an accident report the other day because of an "incident" in the parking lot.  Don't ask.)

    This is all to say this:  Plans have been made, money is changing hands, deals are being done and cast members are finding other jobs.  If you're going to send your maps you need to do so yesterday and in very high numbers because right now this is being seen as a sacrifice that must be made for the good of the company.  Terribly sorry to say it.

  • I'm working on a new feature on the doorstep of PI right between McDonald's and Raglan Road.  It's called T-Rex Cafe (http://www.trexcafe.com) and it's Landry's latest and greatest themed restaurant.  Our company, United Custom Fabricating (http://www.ucfab.com) builds animatronic features and we're responsible for the giant dinosaurs in the place.

    Working down there next to PI - a place in which I've spent MANY hours (and dollars ;) ) is like being around a friend that has been given a few months to live.  It's very sad to see the entire place go down - especially Adventurers' Club.

    A similar place, Jekyll & Hyde's Club, exists in New York City and about 10 years ago they tried to do the franchise thing under the company Eerie World Entertainment.  It was a magnificent concept with live performers (i.e. "streetmosphere") dressed as maids or safari guides or mad scientists who were "club members" and talked and interacted with the guests.  They also had several animatronic features that could be controlled live from a back room.  Each feature had cameras and microphones and the trained performers could interact with guests.  This was a project in which I LOVED to take part and control system I was quite proud of (at the time).  They managed to open two locations: Downtown Chicago and Grapevine Mills shopping mall just outside of Dallas, TX.  The general population, however, just didn't care for it.  I don't get it.

    I will certainly miss the Adventurers' Club (and XZFR Rock and Roll Beach Club where Panama would play) but it will be interesting to see the new changes as they happen.  I wonder if I can sneak over to pick up a few artifacts once the wrecking ball has reduced the Club to rubble... ;)

    BTW, great article.

  • There are Build-A-Bears in every mall in America. Why would anyone come to Florida to do things they can do at home?

    Disney isn't giving me anything interesting to do in the evenings. I don't want to shop. I don't want to go to Rainforest Cafe knockoffs. I don't want to eat with dinosaurs. I can go to movies at home. When I spend all day in the parks with my kid, I want to do something *different* at night. I want adult time. I want to do things I can't usually do at home.

    I can go to Disneyland for a weekend to let my daughter ride the rides and save a lot of money. There's no reason to fly across the country if we're going to spend all day in the parks (that we've been to before) and then hang out in the hotel room watching TV at night.

  • No one is a bigger fan of the Adventurer's Club than yours truly.


    But didn't Jim Hill Media advise us that an expanded version of the club will be built at the entrance to the new, fifth theme park at Walt Disney World?

  • Night Kingdom seems rather unlikely at the moment.

    scutterbup:  Build-A-Bear is just a popular cast member rumor fueled by T-Rex having a small selection from the same company and the fact that the most successful Build-A-Bear in the world is the one at Disneyland's Downtown.  No other operating participants are known at this time and Landry's is only remodeling one of their own restaurants (thank God, Portabello needs it!) so don't blame them.

    Also I want to say something about the self-interest single mindedness of the internet.  Everybody I hear on this topic seems to be against it because it their mind Disney is taking away something they love just so they can make more money and that it's an awful decision.  I love Comedy Warehouse and consider several of the M's there to be friends but I have a sad submission for you:

    Just because this is a sad decision doesn't make it the wrong one.

    Some truths you don't want to hear but need to learn to accept:

    1. Pleasure Island is the most complained about part of Walt Disney World. (Yes, more then the Tiki room and Stitch's Escape.)  Parents just don't like having their kids around people drinking and smoking into the night.

    2. There really is requests for more dining and shopping at DTD.  I know it sounds cynical and wrong and you're rolling your eyes as you read this but it's very true.  Especially for dining because there's only a handful of restaurants that accept the dining plan and many places are crowded.  DTD has the most successful Rainforest Cafe in the world (despite the lousy service), a place that consistently has hour waits.  I wonder why Landry's would build the first T-Rex here and completely remodel Portobello Yacht Club with success like that?

    3.  I love the people complaining about the T-Shirt shop.  A few months ago we were complaining about the lack of variety of Disney shirts and when Disney comes up with a solution what happens?  How dare they allow you to make shirts with your favorite character in whatever color you want!  Shame on those money grubbers!

    4. Take the name "Disney" out of the equation for a moment and look at the situation from a completely unbiased position.  Say you're running a large shopping district that's split into thirds.  One third is making HUGE amounts of money and is incredibly successful.  Another third is doing OK business but isn't connected with the really successful third.  The middle third makes about 30% of the business of the other two and excludes about 90% of your target audience.  Now which of these thirds are you going to drastically change?

    5. I firmly believe that Walt Disney would HATE downtown disney, especially Pleasure Island.  The entire point of Disneyland was that families would be able to enjoy their vacations TOGETHER.  

    Maybe what really needs to happen is someone needs to get the capital to open a place like the Adventurer's Club where grown ups can play by themselves.

  • From Robert Niles' 'Theme Park Insider' site June 28, 2008:

    "Night Kingdom is not just a rumor. I've talked with enough well-connected people here in Orlando this week to convince me that the concept is a go, though it is not under construction yet."

    That and Mr. Hill's original article lead me to believe that the prospects for Night Kingdom seem to be pretty good.

  • <i>Maybe what really needs to happen is someone needs to get the capital to open a place like the Adventurer's Club where grown ups can play by themselves.</i>

    That would be great, if it were on the Disney transportation route. I don't want to have to rent a car for a couple of nights out.

    And Walt wasn't a parent. If he spent five days riding carousels and It's A Small World, he'd want to leave the kids with Gramma for an evening too. Just because Mom and Dad want a couple of meals that don't come with fries or a menu you can color doesn't make them bad parents, or negate the value of a family vacation. I don't understand why Disney seems hellbent on designing everything to appeal to eight-year-olds, and absolutely nothing for adults. I have money; my kid doesn't, and I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than eat with animatronic dinosaurs.  

  • "Walt wasn't a parent?"

    Um ... two daughter's Diane Disney Miller and Sharon Disney Lund.

    And then there's this infamous piece of company folklore (Note: This version of the story was published by The Lakeland [Florida] Ledger. I think the use of the phrase "the night before signing" is an exaggeration):

    "The tale takes place in November 1963. Walt Disney - who had seen his Disneyland in California become a hit since it opened in 1955 - was considering options for a second attraction. He was supposedly one day away from making a Midwestern city the nation's next tourist mecca.

    At a cocktail party the night before signing the deal, however, a local business leader made a rather loud pronouncement: "Any man who thinks he can design an attraction that is going to be a success in this city and not serve beer or liquor ought to have his head examined."

    Disney flew out of town the next morning without ever signing the papers that would make the attraction a reality.

    "August (Gussie) Busch Jr.'s insulting remark had killed the deal - Disney World would not be in St. Louis," Richard Foglesong wrote in "Married to the Mouse."

  • The interview took place late last month as a result of the book that Van der Eem is having an American journalist write. The maker of the programme Un Dia Den Bida said before De Telegraaf: “ I have taken two cameras with me. I had one turned off after

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