Disney Springs Heritage: Part II–Pleasure Island
We return to our multi-part series on the heritage of Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. In this podcast we look at the advent of Pleasure Island. Here we look at its history since opening in 1989 adjacent to the Walt Disney World Village. Running next to the Empress Lilly this attraction took on the role of competing against Church Street Station in downtown Orlando. We look at the attractions, restaurants and shops that were part of this experience, and we bring you personal memories of the Pleasure Island in its hey day, both as an annual pass holder, and also as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World.
Disney Springs Heritage Overview
Our seven part series will look at how Disney Springs has evolved into what it is today, and breaks down the details, the backstory and themes of its present look.
- Part I: Downtown Disney Marketplace
- Part II: Pleasure Island
- Part III: Disney’s West End
- Disney Springs
- Part IV: Marketplace
- Part V: Town Center
- Part VI: The Landing
- Part VII West Side
You can find Part I on the Disney Village Marketplace here.
Pleasure Island Overview
Below is a map that gives you a sense of the layout during Pleasure Island’s prime:
Why Call It Pleasure Island? It’s two words, Pleasure and Island. The land Pleasure Island sits on is first and foremost not an island. Water has simply been carved out around the land to build up the space. The idea of the island came largely from the popular Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia which was a public market that added entertainment offerings in the 1980s. And what about the title’s comparison to a dangerous fun fair in Pinocchio? Disney liked the innuendo, but would always claim it was based on Merriweather Pleasure.
Mannequins Dance Palace. The largest gathering place, dancers posed as mannequins dance along side of you on a massive turntable inside a three storied building. Music was the hottest contemporary sounds. You get a complete sense of this in this video here. On Thursday nights, this was the hottest place for Cast Members, because it was payday. (E.P.C.O.T. Every Paycheck Comes On Thursdays).
Adventurers Club. Explore rooms of extraordinary explorers where members recall tall tales and adventures. Kungaloosh!
Comedy Warehouse. Improv comedy featuring a show titled “Forbidden Disney”. With repeated guests, it became more improv than a structured comedy routine.
Neon Armadillo Music Saloon. Country and western music. This would eventually be replaced by BET SoundStage Club as the group moved to the Fireworks Factory, and the name was changed to Wildhorse Saloon where it was operated by Levy Restaurants and Gaylord Entertainment.
XZFR Rockin’ Roller Dance Club (pronounced Zephyr) What happens when you add a skating rink, liquor, music and a UFO? Lots of law suits on the run. It would eventually become the XZFR Rock & Roll Beach Club in 1990 as bands and DJs offered music from the ’50s to the ’80s.
Pleasure Island Jazz Company. Reminiscent of a 1930’s jazz club with guests seating at small cocktail tables.
Videopolis East. This was new wave music played out on 170 video screens. It would later change in 1990 to more progressive alternative music, and renamed as Cage. Finally 8Trax replaced it offering music from from the Seventies.
AMC Theaters. This began in 1990 as a ten screen theater. It’s greatest moment during this period was the world premiere of Dick Tracy on June 14th, 1990.
West End Stage. Live bands performed nightly as well as the Island Explosion, Pleasure Island’s own dance troupe. And every night there was New Years Eve, though not necessarily at midnight.
Jessica’s – A store featuring the character Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her signage was the most iconic, though moved to the West End Stage in later years.
Superstar Studios — A long-time “make-your-own-video” studio.
Front Page–Star on the cover of your favorite magazine.
Suspended Animation – Disney animated cels, posters, prints and lithographs
Empress Lilly. More apart of the Disney Village Marketplace for many years, but was attached as part of the “offering” at Pleasure Island. It would be taken over and renamed Fulton’s Crab House.
Fireworks Factory. Operated by the Levy Restaurant group until 2001. It featured American “dynamite” barbecue.
Portobello Yacht Club. The one thing that has essentially remained over the years, though Levy Restaurants dropped the Yacht Club, and then retitled it as Terralina Crafted Italian as it became part of Disney Springs.
Merriweather’s Market. A food court that operated from 1989–1993, and was replaced by the Pleasure Island Jazz Company, and then ultimately by Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant in October 2005.
Planet Hollywood – It was a Pleasure Island attraction when it opened in 1994. In 1998 it moved to West Side as part of that offering along with AMC.
In our next podcast, we’ll talk about what saved and ultimately killed Pleasure Island. Be sure to join!
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