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By now, you've probably heard the news: Pleasure Island as we know it at Walt Disney World will be dismantled on September 27th, when all the clubs will close their doors forever. That includes the sometimes-deserted dance clubs, of course, but also the more frequented Comedy Warehouse (live stand-up comedy) and the wildly popular Adventurer's Club, a kind of atmosphere improv and comedy environment where patrons move from sketch to sketch, while role-playing as adventurers.


The Comedy Warehouse: no line right now.

October 1st marks the start of the new fiscal year for Disney, and September 27th represents the last "end of pay period" Saturday before the new fiscal year, so that explains the date of the closure. The workers are being told that Disney will try to find them jobs elsewhere on the property, but it's anybody's guess whether that's just lip-service to pleasantries or will mark an earnest effort on the company's part.

What's going to happen once the clubs close? Well, Pleasure Island will just become another outdoor mall, a process already started a couple years ago and now simply reaching its inevitable conclusion. New shops will be moving in, including Hanes T-shirts, and a hot air balloon ride will be duplicated from Disneyland Paris to form a new attraction. Let's not mince words. It's not an upgrade. The clubs and adult entertainment will give way to more shops, more restaurants.

Frankly, we shouldn't be too surprised. This has been a long time brewing. Pleasure Island started life as a separate-ticket area: you couldn't even enter the zone without a ticket. In this, it was trying to mimic (and outdo) the nearby Orlando attraction, Church St. Station, which similarly charged a single amount to access numerous clubs. As we've pointed out here repeatedly, Disney has a history of reactionism in Orlando, imitating the latest successful competitor to the point where the competitor no longer matters. Indeed, Church St. Station is no longer a draw. (Ever heard of Club Paris? It was there at one point).

After some initial successes, PI stopped feeling relevant. Originally, they celebrated the New Year's moment every night at midnight, with fireworks and revelry. Two stages hosted live bands, and the entire area was festive. But slowly, people stopped coming. Apparently, once they had seen it once, they didn't feel the need to drop by on subsequent visits to Orlando.


The West End Stage, before its demise.

The company experimented frequently with different pricing schemes and club admission. The notion of a single charge and a restricted zone was dropped in favor of letting anyone wander by, but only granting admission to the clubs to those with the paid wristbands. First underage people were let in the clubs, and then they were denied again. In 2006, the stages were destroyed, and a new bridge was constructed to let people pass more easily through PI. Nothing helped. The dance clubs especially stayed fairly empty, some of them even on the weekends. These facilities were nowhere close to the profitability of other Disney shops or restaurants. The clubs were also hemorrhaging money.

Meanwhile, the locals in Orlando stopped coming. The Downtown area of Orlando, several miles to the north, has in recent years seen a real revival in its nighttime scene and club presence. The Pleasure Island area, however, has only really been popular on the midweek Cast Member night, when admission is free. Informally, this "meat market" became known as a great hook-up place, if only because the international exchange students and interns would be certain to be there. Walt Disney World was, in essence, subsidizing date nights for its workers. Not ideal from a profit perspective.

All this while, the tourists were either staying away from the Downtown Disney zone entirely, or they were skipping over the PI area in the middle. PI is sandwiched between the hip West End shopping/dining district, and the more sedate (but family-friendly) Marketplace, which once upon a time had been all by itself, and named the Disney Village Marketplace (PI came in 1989, and West End in 1996). The PI area has always been something of a misfit, particularly back when special admission was required. Anyone not wanting to shell out extra bucks skirted the whole territory to visit the other side of the Free Downtown Disney, and some of that attitude has persisted since 2004, once the island became free to wander through.


8-Trax was once for 70s, and is now for 70s and 80s music.

Another side-effect might have been at work as well. In recent years, WDW theme parks have been closing in the mid-evening (9:00 or 10:00 pm), whereas before many of them had closed at midnight or 1:00 in the summer. The extra hours--a decline by degrees if ever there was one--were recouped by the company in terms of labor savings. Patrons were assumed to head to Downtown Disney in the late evenings, since the parks were closed, but the crowds never really materialized. It seemed people were just going back to their hotel rooms instead, planning to start early the next day rather than stay out late. Was it possible that the very dream of "night club life" and "family vacation" were incompatible? And it just took 20 years to recognize this hard fact?

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2008 Kevin Yee

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