Friday, July 22, 2011

A logical plea to return to craziness: bring back The Adventurers Club!

Just a few months ago, Disney announced plans - big on hyperbole, short on details about Hyperion Wharf, the new title and concept for the area of Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World that had once been the center of nightlife known as Pleasure Island. Last week, they announced that those plans are on hold and being reconfigured.

With that in mind, I thought I'd post my hope that Disney reverses one of the worst decisions it has ever made.

On the whole, I don't really miss Pleasure Island that much. I never set foot in any of the dance clubs, though those places certainly had their fans and they were better than empty buildings. I did enjoy the Comedy Warehouse, though it wasn't an every-trip, must-see for me. But there was one other place on Pleasure Island that was like no other place on Earth - an incredible, hilarious, and inspiring interactive, immersive comedy/musical/theater/magic show/bar known as The Adventurers Club.

Visitors to the club entered into a parlor area decorated with exotic artifacts and photos of club members off on various expeditions (along with detailed, hilarious captions). Around the back was a staircase leading down to the lower level where the real fun was waiting. Decorations became even denser and wilder - a suit of samurai armor with a diving helmet, a T-Rex skull with the skeleton of an aviator in its mouth, a replica of The Artemesion Bronze that answers the old question about what was in his hand by placing a fishing pole in it.

But even better than the amazing décor are the members of the club themselves, waiting to greet you, interact with you, and initiate you in to the club itself. There's kooky club president Pamelia Perkins, dashing womanizing pilot Hathaway Browne, sourpuss club treasurer and ichthyologist Prof. Otis T. Wren, Sassy jungle explorer Samantha Sterling, and flustered know-it-all curator Fletcher Hodges. The club is served by dry-witted Graves the butler and a saucy French made (the only character whose name changes depending on the actress). Also on hand is nerdy Junior Adventurer Emil Bleehal.

Oh, and I nearly forgot my favorite character: lewd, drunken, elderly adventurer Colonel Chritchlow Suchbench, always ready with a song or an insult. The Colonel was a puppet looking down on the club's main salon. He wasn't the only non-human character present, either. The head of a Yakoose (a rare creature whose head is mounted on the wall) would occasionally wake up and comment on the action. A huge stone head of the goddess Babalonia would frequently come to live and talk and breath smoke too.

There were two small rooms attached to the main salon where mini-shows would take place - the mask room full of talking masks from cultures around the world, and the treasure room where Beezle the genie would appear in the armoire. Then there was the library, a larger room with audience seating where the adventurers would put on more elaborate, somewhat more formal shows, along with accompaniment from phantom organist Fingers Zambini.

Maybe you begin to get the idea. There was comedy and spectacle everywhere. There was constant activity and entertainment. There was also a bar ready to fill a glass with whatever drink you ordered, but specializing in the club's signature drink, the Kungaloosh.

Disney prides itself on creating attractions in which the audience feels full immersed, surrounded by interesting details, inspired by something new and creative, enthralled by illusions, and thoroughly entertained and delighted by the characters they encountered. Never has there been an attraction that more thoroughly accomplished all of these goals than the Adventurers Club. Never.

So what happened? I won't get into the whole story of what went wrong with Pleasure Island. Maybe the idea was always a bad mix with Disney's family appeal. Maybe it was mismanaged or just in the wrong spot (smack in the middle of the two shopping areas of Downtown Disney). Maybe Disney had to make changes to Pleasure Island.

What they did, though, was just dump the whole area. And the Adventurers Club was the baby they threw out with the bathwater. It was a shortsighted and wasteful decision, and clearly wrong to anyone who had spent a few minutes inside.

Some say the club wasn't making money. This is not shocking. Beyond admission, there were only the drinks to pay for the place. You couldn't even buy snacks there. If you wanted to stay in the club for hours on end to enjoy it's many nightly shows, you likely eventually got hungry. If so, you toughed it out or had to leave the club to get food. Even some simple appetizers and snacks could've made the club money and kept people around longer. Let's say you had a great time in the club and wanted to buy a souvenir - a shirt, a shot glass, a mug, a hat, a club pin... for most of the club's life, none of these things were available. Disney, so big on their gift shops, very rarely made Adventurers Club merchandise available.

But let's pretend for a moment that even snacks, merchandise, or even increased admission wouldn't make the club into a moneymaker. Just for the sake of argument, let's pretend nothing we could think of would turn the club into a direct moneymaker. Here's an important detail worth remembering: the club did not need to make money directly to make money for the company. There were people who so loved the club that it would be an important part of deciding to spend their next vacation at Walt Disney World. There are people who, wanting to take in each of the park's evening events AND a night at the club might make their vacations at Disney World last one night longer than they would've (or are now doing) with the club closed.

The good news is this: with outside companies still unwilling to sign on to fill up the vacant spots in Downtown Disney, the club is still standing. Rumors and online reports say it's not so pretty inside anymore - most of the décor has been stripped away, some we've even seen show up at other spots around Disney World. But the club still stands. Cleaning it up and redecorating certainly isn't beyond Disney's abilities. Many of the brilliant performers from the club can still be seen around WDW. Returning them to their best use and filling in any new openings would be easily done.

You know who else would come back in a heartbeat? The fans. We're still ready to heed the call to adventure. Open the doors, pour us our drinks, and sell us some souvenirs. We're ready to recite the club creed once more:

We climb the highest mountains,
just to get a better view.
We plumb the deepest oceans,
because we're daring through and through.
We cross the scorching desert,
martinis in our hand.
We ski the polar ice caps,
in tuxedos looking grand.
We are reckless, brave, and loyal,
and valiant to the end.
If you come in here a stranger,
you will exit as a friend.


  1. Here here, huzzah and Kungaloosh!

  2. And I have blogged about your post:

  3. Well said! Very well said! We occasionally visit WDW with the kids but our couples-only weekend excursions to visit the Club are over. Disney has lost out on a lot of our $$$ in the last three years. Deluxe hotel stays. Expensive dinners. Spa services. Without the Club, there's no "big draw" to get us on property to spend our adults-only $$$ anymore.

  4. My last visit to WDW was Thanksgiving, 2008, just after the close of the clubs. Can't tell you how desolate the Island was! I used to visit twice a year, two weeks at a time. Who knows how much money I haven't spent at Disney since. You are right about the loss of revenues due to the closing of the clubs, even if they themselves did not make tons of money.

  5. My last visit to Disney was a last minute trip for... The closing week-end. We used to pass up to 8 weeks a year in WDW. Since the AC closed, my daughter and I decided to visit all the places we've put aside in the past so we could go visit our 'friends' at the AC. We even pasted 12 days in Universal Studio's and the surroudings last year...