Disney’s Pleasure Island: A Requiem

I never thought I’d be writing this, but here we are: Disney is closing the Pleasure Island entertainment district at Walt Disney World after tomorrow night.

For me, that really can be read as “the Adventurer’s Club and Comedy Warehouse are closing”.  I never got into the dance clubs, especially after Disney gave up on live music and closed the Rock’n’Roll Beach Club.

For those who don’t know what those are… the Comedy Warehouse was an improv club whose performers seemed to enjoy brushing up against, but not crossing, the line between “Disney” and the real world.  Warehouse shows were good for a quick 45 minutes of high-level improv.

And then… the Adventurer’s Club.  For lack of a better term, call it “living comedy”, where the entire building and performers are the set.  Customers interacted with performers playing the members and staff of a ’30’s era club for explorers and… well… adventurers.  It was the kind of place where you kind of had to just sit back, relax, and let the insanity take hold.  If you didn’t know better, it just looked like a themed bar.  Until the moose head started talking… or the club president inducted you (with help from a handsome aviator and the security chief, who was safely bolted to the wall — yes, audio-animatronic)… or you visited the club Library for a radiothon, or the Balderdash Cup competition.  That’s when you realized you weren’t necessarily in Kansas anymore, Toto.  It was interactive theatre on a scale nobody else has tried.  And, it’s likely, nobody else will try again.

Of course, the tale of the closure of the Warehouse and Club conflates with the closure of Pleasure Island.  Dead after 2 decades, at the hands of Disney “management”.

For years here in Virginia’s pro wrestling community, we’ve laughed at promoters who believed that all you had to do was open the doors and a crowd would just materialize for their shows.  Advertising?  Who needs that?  Well, Disney’s taken that tack with Pleasure Island for years — no real effort was made to promote it as a distinctive entertainment value.  Basically, each night, they opened the doors and expected a crowd would materialize.  That doesn’t work.

So, unadvertised and unappreciated, Pleasure Island closes this weekend.

But it’s been closing for years, and not just from lack of advertising.  The theme for a long time was “Every Night Is New Year’s Eve”… with a live band, dancers, and an elaborate New Year’s Eve party each night at midnight.  First, Disney dropped the band (replaced with a video wall).  Then, the dancers went.  Finally, a couple of years ago, so did New Year’s Eve itself.  Each move a cost-cutting measure.  Each move led to attendance drops, that led to more cost-cutting, that led to attendance drops… and finally, to tomorrow night’s closure.

Disney’s going to replace it with yet another shopping mall.  Frankly, if I want to shop when I visit Orlando, I’ll go to the Mall of Millenia or the Florida Mall.  Or, more likely, I’ll shop here at home.  And if I want entertainment, I guess I’m going to Universal CityWalk.

What Disney has lost sight of is that their stock-in-trade is supposed to be unique experiences one can’t get anywhere else.  The Adventurer’s Club was one of them.  So, to an extent, was the Comedy Warehouse.  Replacing them with yet another shopping mall takes away yet another reason to visit Disney.  More cost-cutting… more attendance drops… what gets cut next?

In the end, that’s really what Disney has missed.  You can’t cost-cut yourself out of declining sales.  Ask your favorite local newspaper how well that’s going.  No, you invest in what makes you stand out.  And Disney is failing to do that.

Will it cost them?  Not really.  Not right away.  But it’ll lead to more cost-cutting… more attendance drops… more cost-cutting… and what gets cut next?


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