The site is most often thought to be named for the fictional 'Pleasure Island' in the book Pinocchio, of which the Disney studio made a film adaptation. In the book, children on the island are allowed to play and never work. However, these unsupervised children smoke, drink and generally misbehave (sometimes in adult-like ways), and are eventually punished by being changed into donkeys that have to work in salt mines.
The fictional backstory of the Florida site has nothing to do with the Pinocchio story, however. According to the lore created by Walt Disney Imagineering, the island's nightclubs were once home to a shipping company owned by adventurous businessman Merriweather Pleasure. A great storm destroyed the business and Mr. Pleasure disappeared with the warehouses remaining behind. Years later, these warehouses were refurbished and converted into nightclubs.
From 1990 through New Year's Eve 2005, Pleasure Island celebrated New Year's Eve with a fireworks show every night at midnight.
On June 27, 2008, the Walt Disney World Resort announced that over the next two years, Disney will replace all of Pleasure Island's night clubs with new stores and restaurants. Disney denied rumors that the changes are due to a drop in attendance at Pleasure Island, stating instead that the company is responding to guest feedback asking for more family friendly experiences. The entertainment venues (night clubs and comedy clubs) ceased operations on September 27, 2008.
The restaurants and shops on Pleasure Island are expected to stay open during the renovations that are required in order to shut down Pleasure Island's entertainment venues.
Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant - operated by Great Irish Pubs Florida. Opened in October 2005 replacing:
For many years, a number of small shops and boutiques were located between Adventurers Club and (the now-closed) Rock 'n' Roll Beach Club. Many of these shops closed in March 2006 as part of the renovation of the island.
Disney has begun to reintroduce selected stores on the Island:
Orlando Harley-Davidson - a "gear shop" operated by Orlando's Harley-Davidson franchiser. Located near Raglan Road, it opened in 2005.
Curl by Sammy Duvall - a surf-themed retail establishment operated by Florida-based surfer Sammy Duvall. Curl opened in 2008, replacing:
Fuego by Sosa Cigars - a cigar bar that opened in 2007 near the center of the island.
Disney announced on June 27, 2008 that over the next two years, Disney will replace its clubs with new stores and restaurants. Disney officials stated that the Pleasure Island nightclub closures are in response to customers who desire more broad-based dining and retail opportunities.
Portobello Yacht Club - a restaurant featuring regional Italian cuisine operated by Levy Restaurants. Opened with the clubs in 1989.
There were plans in 1997 to open a Planet Movies by AMC entertainment complex at the site by combining the Planet Hollywood restaurant with a re-branded AMC megaplex, but these were scrapped with Planet Hollywood's continual financial problems.
The new docks constructed allow boat transportation links between West Side, Pleasure Island, Marketplace and Disney resorts across the lagoon and up the Sassagoula River. Construction of a T-Rex Restaurant began in October, 2007 near the current location of the pedestrian bridge between Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney Marketplace. Completion is scheduled for late 2008.
In late June 2008, Disney announced that the six remaining nightclubs at Pleasure Island will be closed by September 28, 2008, to make room for additional family-oriented entertainment.
On Sept 27th 2008 Pleasure Island held it’s last night. Among the capacity crowd were many of the islands past actors and cast members, some of whom started to line up at 9am to ensure entrance to what would be a very emotional and busy night.
Highlights included Frankie and the West End Boys playing on the waterfront stage. The members of the Adventures Club being unable to raise enough money in their nightly RadioThon fundraiser, lost the lease on the club. This caused the club president to remark that they would hold their meetings "somewhere, probably in someone's basement." The club's long lost Ape returned (having made a ton of money in the stock market) to take them away on a 1 year world adventure.
At midnight NYE was celebrated one last time, complete with a fireworks show put to music (using popular songs heard on the Island over the years.) The final song played in Mannequins was "Everybody’s Free, To Feel Good."
With that, PI was officially shut down and by the next day, many of the clubs signs and logo’s were being removed or painted over.
Effective June 27, 2008, customers who purchased annual passes to Pleasure Island can receive a pro-rated refund for that purchase due to the September 2008 scheduled closure of all of Pleasure Island's nightclubs.
On Facebook, the Stop Disney from Closing Pleasure Island and Save the Adventurer's Club groups have garnered 10,000 members since launching. One Disney supporter, Roy Hicks agreed to pay for the printing and postage of an online petition, Save a Part of Walt's Legacy Petition which asks Disney executives to reconsider the decision to close Pleasure Island, with specific emphasis on The Adventurer's Club.
An Internet radio station, SAVE P.I.: THE RADIO REVOLUTION was launched by Brandon De Hoyos, writer for the New York Times Company and former Walt Disney World College Program intern. The one-hour program features callers sharing their favorite Pleasure Island memories in addition to direct addresses to Disney CEO Bob Iger, among others.
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