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A Not-So-Modest Proposal On Disney Nightlife (Part I)

A note to those who control the fate of the now-shuttered Pleasure Island – STOP! PATIENCE!

Now I love the nightlife.  I like to boogie.  In fact I was once a stalwart attendee to Pleasure Island on Cast Member Thursdays (and in 2000 Millenium Mondays), but I wish the Mouse House and WDI would take their time in getting the once popular nightclub district right.

One of the favorite Disney specials of Tangaroa and I is “Disneyland After Dark,” included in the Walt Disney Treasures collection “Disneyland, USA.”  In it, Walt ushers us around his “favorite time in the park,”  where we see Louis Armstrong performing on the Mark Twain, Annette in Tomorrowland at the Bandstand, dancers and firewalkers in Adventureland….. you get the point.

In the mid-70s when the “Vacation Kingdom” of Walt Disney World was in its stride, nighttime entertainment could be found at each of the major resorts on property:  at Luau Cove at the Polynesian, the Top of the World dinner show at the Contemporary – and my favorite, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Pioneer Hall in Fort Wilderness.

For those of you who know the tale of Pleasure Island, you know that Church Street Station created quite the stir in the 80s, and Eisner and Co moved swiftly to create a nightclub district to keep the night owls on property, and even take away some of the local luster that Church Street had developed.

And I think that was a great idea!  I do get frustrated when looking for after dark activities on property and having everything shutter on family time.  I’d like to shake a leg, have a pint, and enjoy continuing on in the Disney magic.

The problem with Pleasure Island (with noted exception of the Adventurer’s Club and Comedy Warehouse) is that even if they had a somewhat innovative concept at first, they quickly lost their luster in carrying the Disney magic to the bar.  At the time of the closing of Pleasure Island, even more innovative clubs and restaurants such as XZFR Rockin’ Rollerdrome (later becoming Rock n’ Roll Beach Club – once home to a Michael Jackson skate party) and the Fireworks Factory had been toned down or changed into bland nightclubs – blandest of all being Motion, where I would often catch an ABC star who shall remain nameless molesting college kids with glow sticks in their mouths.

Everything at Downtown Disney took a crushing blow when West Side was built and the whole complex was changed in name to Downtown Disney – in another kneejerk reaction to Universal, Disney recklessly built giant architectural disasters all in a row full of third party businesses to combat the upcoming Universal Citywalk – which is equally if not more lame.

Disney’s Boardwalk (which I always thought was built in an awful spot), at first seemed to offer more themeatic promise, but quickly disappointed with more third party restaurants, and an attempt at a dueling piano bar that comes across as a warehouse version of Rum Runners (a piano bar I can go to here in North Carolina, but choose not to).

Pleasure Island was concieved with a wonderful story that Jim Hill profiles in another wonderful article here.  In it was a more ambitious Adventurer’s Club, a great seaside bar called Madison’s Dive which I would have LOVED, and a seemingly more in-depth themed experience.   This is all I’m asking for. The world has caught up to the Downtown Disneys of the world, I can go to a mall here and go to all the same stores –  the strolling mall revolution has made West Sides all over the country with Rainforest Cafes and Virgin Megastores and the like.  Whatever happened to the Disney Difference?

There’s no reason in my mind why Disney could not create a night district (complete with dancing and carousing) that could be more innovative, more themeatic, more escapist just like the rest of their resort.

So instead of building a link between two malls (Marketplace and West Side), take some time and use the space wisely!  There are several ideas floating around Disney history (to be profiled in Part II) that can be used as jumping off points, plenty of synergistic possibilities as well.   Again, as stressed in this earlier article – I think it’s imperative for Disney to not try and be “hip” or “cool,” but instead assert itself with confidence, not bowing to trends — or the god-awful Frankie and the West End Boys (sorry faithful fans).

Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll float some suggestions from Disney History that may prove as stepping stones for a new Walt Disney World Nighttime District.

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4 comments to A Not-So-Modest Proposal On Disney Nightlife (Part I)

  • Zach

    You’ve been prolific lately, keep up the good work!

    Disney desperately needs to come up with SOMETHING for nighttime entertainment. PI had a lot of problems, but at least it tried. My suggestion is to work with entertainment at integrating night time entertainment into the parks (ala Disneyland). Plenty of opportunities available where you could have spaces undergo transformation when the sun goes down, and keep a select number of attractions running at the same time.

  • I agree with your thoughts – it’s not necessarily imperative for WDW to build a one-stop center for nightlife, although it was not a bad idea either. In the next piece I’ll review some options that Disneyland shows, as does the early resort life at WDW pre-PI. But events such as E ticket nights and the dinner shows clearly illustrate that movement towards Disney branded night entertainment are wildly successful as compared to empty bland dance clubs.

    Stay tuned, and thanks for the feedback.

  • I love where you are going with this series.

    Even in October, when the parks were light, DD was still packed.

    People need something to do at night. Especially if they close MK early for parties and off-season reasons!

  • I think it’s even more important to have things to do at night since cutbacks always seem to come first in late-night hours at the resorts. Used to be you could at least hang out at the Fiesta Fun Center 24/7 and get a snack – now try getting into the Contemporary after hours if you’re not a guest, and even then there’s nothing to do. Roaring Fork – used to be open all night. And so on and so forth. Disneyland under Walt had the right idea. WDW in the 70s and early 80s had the right idea. Even Pleasure Island was a good idea, although execution faltered outside of the AC and Comedy Warehouse. I think West End is an embarrassment, and wish they could be rid of it. Or at least do a complete head-to-toe revamp with a single unifying theme.

    With all the encroachment of development on Disney boundaries since 1990, Disney *will* lose guests and guest dollars if they don’t have some interesting evening entertainment to offer. People don’t have to drive all the way to Church St. Station anymore to find an alternative to Disney entertainment.

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