Pleasure Island Today: The Changing Sceneby Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist
Last modified 04-26-2010
There's one thing that's always constant at the Walt Disney World Resort and that's the fact that it's always changing. Even now, attractions that people love and hold dear are slated for major changes. Just think of the plans for the expansion of Fantasyland and what that will mean for the Toontown area of the Magic Kingdom.
Downtown Disney - West Side
The view through to the West Side from Pleasure Island.
One part of the World that is in the midst of massive changes is Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney. Until September 2008, it was the place to head to if you wanted an adult night out, packed with a wide variety of nightclubs. It was one of the only places that you could escape to where you knew the entertainment may not exactly be child-friendly. That was one of the great attractions to those who enjoyed Pleasure Island and I include my husband and myself in that group.
Sadly, while many of us loved our nights out there and behaved totally responsibly, it became apparent that not everyone did that. Disney's decision to close Pleasure Island didn't say anything along these lines, instead referring to the company's desire to "provide guess with new and exciting experiences" and the decision had been based on guest feedback. However, conversations we've had with Cast Members since the closure of Pleasure Island reveal that the complex did suffer from problems. We've heard stories of what's been described to us as an "unpleasant" atmosphere as a result of too much drinking and that was affecting the feel of Downtown Disney.
So what's happening to Pleasure Island now? Disney's says it will be, "an extraordinary mix of dining and shopping," a promise which didn't impress everyone, with some commenting that Downtown Disney is already packed with such things.
It was therefore with a bit of trepidation that we visited Pleasure Island on our last Disney vacation. It was certainly an odd feeling walking through the place on a Sunday morning. Even when the clubs were thriving, this would have been a quiet time to visit, but this time, it seemed almost spooky. I don't know what I was expecting, but as it's Disney, I think at the back of my mind, I thought we'd find an area that's almost complete. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
We entered from the side closest to Downtown Disney Marketplace, passing Fulton's Crab House and Portobello Restaurant, before entering Pleasure Island. Portobello was one of the first parts of Pleasure Island to get a makeover, and very smart it now looks, too. There was certainly nothing wrong with how it looked before, but the mock brickwork on its exterior now is exceptionally striking.
The next thing you come across is Raglan Road, which has already become a firm favorite with many as a place to dine, offering Irish specialties in an authentic setting. As you round the corner, you can see the next change to the area, Sosa Cigars, and the view so far is a very classy and refined one.
However, carry on walking and the image changes completely to one that feels almost derelict and, to a certain extent, it is. The building formerly known as Mannequins Dance Palace, which used to play the latest dance music, is still there, complete with the entrance that the clubbers would have used. It looks exactly as it did when it was open, with the neon sign still in place, but obviously not illuminated. Right next door is another new addition, one of the most famous names in motorcycling, the Harley-Davidson merchandise shop.
Look to your right and you'll see what was once the Rock'n'Roll Beach Club, with facades once again still in place, but look to your left and it's a totally different story, with the newest restaurant to Pleasure Island, Paradiso 37, offering cuisine from North, Central, and South America and a selection of 37 tequilas, hence the name. The building is a mahogany one and with clean cut lines. It fits in remarkably well and it's the same story for Curl by Sammy Duval just opposite, a surf and skate shop that cuts a similar smart line. Next door to it is the former Comedy Warehouse building, now looking old and shabby by comparison to its newer neighbors. It looks as if it's just waiting to be torn down, making way for something new.
Walk up from Paradiso 37 and, further along on the same side of the walkway, you'll find the most beloved club of them all from Pleasure Island, the Adventurers' Club, which still lives on in the hearts of many Disney fans, ourselves included. As we walked past it, we couldn't help but think that nothing here has changed. It still looks ready to open for a fun night of madcap antics, but of course, it won't. Everything is still in place in terms of theming. I'm not just saying this because of the many wonderful nights we spent there, but it really does still feel like it could be part of the new Pleasure Island.
The same can't be said of the BET Soundstage Club next door, which just like the Comedy Warehouse, really looks like it's had its day and is ripe for replacing. Planet Hollywood, which was never entered directly from Pleasure Island itself still remains, an iconic sight as always, as does the nearby huge AMC cinema complex.
The sad thing is the way that some of the nightclubs are still sitting there, with nothing happening to them. It's something you don't often come across at Disney. Even the latest announcements of additions and changes to Downtown Disney all seem to focus on the West Side area or the Marketplace, with the latest news for Pleasure Island only being upgrades to the entertainment system of the AMC Theaters.
For the foreseeable future, it seems that you will still be able to wander through Pleasure Island and get a glimpse into the past of what it once was. Although the future of the area is known, it's certainly slow to arrive and I look forward with interest to seeing what more shops and restaurants will be added in there to replace the now sad looking nightclubs that were once a great attraction for many.
Downtown Disney - Portobello
The newly remodelled Portobello.
About the Author: Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to Disney, and they have made numerous visits to destinations across America and Europe. They recently completed their tour of every Disney theme park around the world, which culminated in their visit to Japan, including the Tokyo Disney Resort. Click here to view more of Cheryl's articles!
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Interesting article, Cheryl. My one & only experience with being in Pleasure Island at night when the nightclubs were open was during my first trip in December 2007. I had an 8:30 dinner reservation at Raglan Road after seeing the 6:00 La Nouba show. It was probably about 9:30 when I got out of Raglan Road so not very late. I have to say that I didn't linger & was very glad to reach the bus stop. There were at least 6 very drunk young men being really loud & obnoxious & the whole feel of the area made me uncomfortable & extremely aware of the fact that I was by myself & concerned about my safety. I've been riding public transit for a long time & it's very rare that I'm in a situation that makes feel uncomfortable & concerned for my safety. So, based on that one experience I can't say I'm sorry to Pleasure Island as a nightclub "district" go away. In fact I remember thinking it very strange that Disney would have nightclubs on property like that given the child & family friendly atomosphere & experience the work so had to provide & maintain.
My husband and I first enjoyed Pleasure Island in 2001 on our honeymoon, as adults without children( :( ) we loved the excitement of the clubs and the relaxed fun that the PI offered. We have been back 4 times since and are now planning our 5th trip in October and are very sad to know that we can't make a night out of enjoying the clubs and music.
I think for me Disney has forgotten how many couples come to Disney and it would have been nice to still have a little spot for us to go to let loose and be silly. I was surprised to hear that more stores for shopping would be added...i'm still trying to figure out how much more clothing and character merchandise is needed, but I do hope that they will find a way to come up with new angle to draw us back the PI.
It is sad to see the slow progress...We were in WDW for the Marathon in January, and I was really surprised to see really nothing happening. Hopefully they will quicken the pace to complete the new scene!
We were very sad to see Pleasure Island close. Well, there's always City Walk
Very interesting article!
We only went there a couple of times. The first time we went they had a outdoor stage with bands playing at night. We brought the kids and they loved the music. Maybe they can make some family areas and have live music like they did once upon a time.
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Updated 04-26-2010 - Article #468
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