Funmeister logo for Pleasure Island, Walt Disney World, Florida

place: pleasure island, lake buena vista, florida
time: c. april 2002

Hey, party people! Who’s ready to have a Good Time out there? Pull on your pleather pants and platform sandals ’cause we’re hitting the clubs downtown tonight and partying like it’s 2002! Sorry, that should read that we’ll be hitting the clubs in Downtown Disney. Best put on a shirt, too.

After a long day of doing whatever it is that brings people to the greater Orlando area, nighttime unites visitors and locals in their quest for dining, drinking, dancing, and doing all the things deemed too spicy for daytime. In 2002, Orlando has several nighttime entertainment destinations scattered along the I-4 corridor. The downtown core has an assortment of clubs, pubs, and gastrolounges for anyone willing to scour the streets for cheap parking. Universal Studios’ glimmering new CityWalk is filled with celebrity-branded eateries and hip, modern music venues. And Walt Disney World has Pleasure Island, its one-stop entertainment hot spot in the middle of Downtown Disney.

Most of Downtown Disney is devoted to shopping and eating, with the quaint village-style Marketplace filling tourists’ need for snacks and souvenirs during the day and the up-and-coming West Side strip stepping up the battle against CityWalk with celebrity restaurants and after-dark attractions. Pleasure Island exists solely to give people a Good Time. With seven distinct nightclubs, two outdoor stages, countless drink windows staffed with crafty bartenders, and a nightly midnight fireworks show, it’s almost like they’re daring you to not have fun here. Challenge accepted.

In its 13th year, Pleasure Island is the awkward middle child of Orlando’s evolving night scene. The theme park for nightclubs opened in 1989 as Disney’s alternative to downtown Orlando’s popular Church Street Station and Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium, a “wholesome” turn-of-the-century-inspired dining and dancing venue with different themed rooms for live performances of early 20th century entertainment like parlour and music hall, Appalachian folk, and diluted Dixieland jazz. The Church Street Station complex began as a railroad depot and hotel in the Gilded Age that fell into disuse and disrepair as the Industrial Revolution went on revolutionizing industries. The station and neighbouring buildings were scooped up by a developer who extensively refurbished the joint, transforming it into an elegant and refined centre for a variety of old-fashioned nighttime activities. Rosie O’Grady’s flung open its grand saloon doors in 1974, thus revolutionizing the nighttime entertainment industry, and kept audiences amused well into the mid-1980s, despite its staff looking like the road company for Godspell thrust into a last-minute production of The Music Man. Legend has it that the Disney bean counters noticed that their resort guests had nighttime dollars to spend and were going all the way up the interstate to Church Street Station to do it; an important executive said, “Hey, we like nighttime dollars!” and verily Pleasure Island was unearthed. In theory, Pleasure Island is also a shining example of what happens when developers breathe new life into abandoned properties. In reality, Disney’s Imagineers imaginated a former waterfront warehouse district freshly revitalized as a dazzling nighttime complex from whole cloth. By the late ’80s, aesthetics were shifting away from hokey saloons and can-can girls with Farrah Fawcett flips and the barbershop quartet couture was strictly Squaresville, USA. As Rosie O’Grady’s Gilded Age Whoopee Tymes tarnished, Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island stood waiting on the shores of Lake Buena Vista with bright lights, modern entertainment, and promises of fewer glaring anachronisms. From the moment they flipped the switch on their SkyTracker spotlights in the early ’90s, Pleasure Island lured tourists and residents to its assortment of clubs virtually unchallenged and raked in a respectable amount of nighttime dollars. Enough to keep those lights on and the fireworks popping anyway. Just before the turn of the millennium, Universal Studios unveiled CityWalk to keep their resort guests on property. Now, even International Drive is a player in the nighttime game with its string of bars, restopubs, and after-hours diners. Time will tell if Disney’s own boulevard of booze can survive a little friendly competition.

Shall we, as the slick new PI billboards command, Carpe this P.M.?

Let’s say it’s 6:45 pm on a Tuesday and we’ve just been dropped off by our cab at Downtown Disney’s West Side entrance. To our left is the AMC 24 movieplex, and to our right — Yes, there is a giant rotating dinosaur on top of the Planet Hollywood gift shop. Yes, this Planet Hollywood restaurant is a blue, multi-storey planet-shaped building plonked in the middle of Pleasure Island Lagoon. Yes, that is Jenny, Forrest Gump’s shrimping boat moored in the lagoon. Is that the real boat? It’s not even a real lagoon, friend.

Look, questioning reality and authenticity is really gonna harsh the buzz on our Good Time here. Can we get a couple of cocktails first?

Before we head in, forget everything you half-remember about Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, with the naughty boys and donkeys playing pool and an enchanted marionette getting drunk at a sinister amusement park. This is not that. Although, we will have plenty of opportunities to behave like a real ass before the night is through. A-hyuck!

We’ll start at the West Side entrance, passing under the colourful Pleasure Island gateway arch, not yet illuminated as the April dusk just begins to spread. Sunset-kissed pink clouds drift over the looming green industrial-style building on the left side of the lagoon, where a neon-wrapped larger-than-life Jessica Rabbit swings her leg seductively, beckoning all who wander to enter Pleasure Island Tonight! The ticket booth on our right is a repurposed train car from the Fort Wilderness Railroad, a short-lived train route that served WDW campsites. Set around the main entrances onto the Island, these modified cabooses are painted to coordinate with the Island’s late ’80s colour scheme, a mixture of teal, hot pink, golden yellow, deep maroon, and royal purple. Cast members selling single-night admission and annual passes to Pleasure Island man the cabooses’ teller windows, answering questions about club openings, showtimes, accessibility, ticket prices, whether an enchanted marionette could even turn into a donkey under an additional spell, and if this is Church Street Station. A cast member breaks the news to a couple looking to buy tickets that, not only is it not here, Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium officially closed its grand saloon doors for good months ago.

At the turnstiles, a cast member swipes our annual pass, checks our ID, stamps our hand, and pulls a paper wristband taut around our right wrist. The stamp gets us into the clubs. The wristband, which will inevitably get stuck and pull on arm hairs over the course of the night, allows us to buy alcoholic drinks. Wristbands are printed with the sleek Y2K PI logo and solid stripes of colour so that cast members can quickly determine whether guests are trying to sneak in with last night’s wristband. Because the World Trade Center was attacked a mere nine months ago, for the safety of WDW guests and cast, some large dudes with badges and flashlights need to poke around ladies’ evening bags, scrutinizing our tampon cases, Altoids tins, and just-in-case overnight kits. Sufficiently satisfied that our panties and toothbrushes pose no threat to national security, we’re finally on our way across the bright yellow wooden bridge over the lagoon and ready to hit the clubs! Music! Comedy! Dancing! Adventure! Booze! Whoo!

Up the short flight of stairs, we reach the West End Plaza and find that Jessica Rabbit is seductively swinging her leg on the backside of the West End Stage, where local bands grow their international fanbases and famous bands appear in between casino comeback tours and state fair reunion tours. Tonight’s band and techs are on stage prepping for the first set of the night. We’re also at the top of Hill Street, the main drag through PI. From this spot, we could hover around the entrance to BET Soundstage Club and wait for their 8pm opening, see what kind of zany antics are already underway at the Adventurers Club, join the queue for Comedy Warehouse’s first show of the night, or proceed down the hill and explore this manmade Island with its phony warehouses and vaguely nautical theming and implausible origin story.

There are hundreds of guidebooks dedicated to helping tourists plot and plan their short vacations around the massive, sprawling behemoth that is the Walt Disney World resort area. Every attraction and its adjoining gift shop gets 50–75-word blurbs and these tomes are some 500 pages each. The guides explain about how employees here are called cast members and which rides use FastPass and where to get cheap refills in souvenir mugs. All of the guidebooks tend to reduce the entertainment provided on PI to keywords — Fireworks! Live music! Improv comedy! Spinning dance floor! Not for babies! And none of them can properly encapsulate the concept of the Island — Laboratories? Eccentric millionaire? Factories? Sailing! Mannequins! Aliens? Industry! Nighttime = funtime for not-babies! Even the official marketing brochures for Pleasure Island can only hint at the Island’s lore, encouraging visitors to seek out the “historical” plaques scattered around the park. Ugh. Plaques? About fictional people supposedly doing important things? Nobody wants to do nighttime learning, they just want to drink nighttime juice!

So, what’s it supposed to be then?

Okay. Apparently, according to Historianeers — or the “Pleasure Island Histerical Society” — this six-acre patch of land was claimed in 1911 by Merriweather Adam Pleasure, an eccentric, globetrotting businessman who spent his leisure time doing adventurous things like trophy-hunting big game in Africa with Teddy Roosevelt, playing poker with Tarzan, or delivering giant iron cauldrons to cannibal villages. As the ersatz legend goes, Mr. Pleasure had his wife and kids out on holiday in his big-ass personal steamboat tootling around the streams and ponds of Central Florida when he pulled up alongside the shore and determined this was the ideal spot to spend the back half of his life playing innovator and Grand Funmeister. Having made his fortunes in stocks and steel, he set his sights on sails and started a canvas fabrication and sailmaking plant. He built workshops, laboratories, a greenhouse, and a posh clubhouse for his rich globetrotting friends to come hang out. As the Machine Age shifted into high gear, the wind was taken out of Merriweather’s sailmaking business and he pivoted to yacht building and renovation. He and his team also reportedly dabbled in fireworks, motion pictures, and interplanetary communication. Ultimately, Merriweather was a man of the sea and just took off on his yacht whenever the mood struck, which was often. He left his wife Isabella and two sons, Stewart and Henry behind, but took his daughter Merriam on sailing cruises around the world. The father-daughter yachting enthusiasts were presumed lost at sea around the Antarctic in 1941. In 1955, a hurricane destroyed the Island. The Pleasure heirs couldn’t be arsed to rebuild and presumably went back to the mainland to squander the remains of the family fortune. The whole place was abandoned for 30 years, until the WDW company suddenly stumbled on this long-forgotten patch of land that nobody noticed, not even in the 1970s when they were building the Village Marketplace mere metres away and that big-ass steamboat was just sitting there. But look at it now! Factories and labs transformed into fabulous clubs for jazz music and disco and improvisational comedy and rock ’n’ roll and techno and pop music and posh globetrotters who do novelty numbers from the 1930s! Really, it’s no stranger than the authentic heritage of some sites. And, thankfully, it’s not vital to know how the Imagineers had to justify building this place in order to have a Good Time.

It’s 7 o’clock and the PI DJ has started his “Welcome to Pleasure Island” mix, a medley of snippets from “Gonna Make You Sweat (Ev’rybody Dance Now)”/“Get Ready For This”/“The Rhythm of the Night”/“Get Down Tonight”/“What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)”/“Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” From his booth at the foot of Hill Street, Pleasure Island’s house DJ serves as emcee, keeping the crowd on the street engaged and amused by spinning party anthems from the last 40 years over the Island-wide sound system. As disembodied concierge, he guides guests to must-see shows around the Island, providing countdown to the next street-level performance by the Pleasure Island Explosion Dancers, and announcing showtimes for live bands at the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club and the West End Stage. “Celebration”/“This is How We Do It”/“Pump Up The Jam”/“Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” Alright, party people, we’re pumped up! Good Times ahoy! Let’s keep this energy up…by standing in this winding line to get into the 7:25 show at Comedy Warehouse.

Lilac and coral clouds race from one side of the Island to the other to outrun the blanket of darkness slowly creeping westward. The electric lights gradually fade up across the beams and trusses above Hill Street as warm glows emanate from the shop windows below. Palm trees stand guard along the street, defending against the Spring breeze playfully ruffling the fronds.

For an early Tuesday night, when the population around the rest of the Island is small, the queue for comedy grows rapidly and there’s no Fast Pass on PI. We’re all looking to get the funny out of the way so the rest of the night is free to drink and carouse aimlessly. Despite its name, the Comedy Warehouse is really more of a Laff Factory as audiences are put on a metaphorical conveyor belt — line up, perch on a stool, watch, laugh, then get out and make room for the next crowd. For the folks who’ve been cranked through the attractions at the theme parks all day, this is simply more of the same. The nightly showtimes are listed on an orange road warning sign posted at the club’s entrance. It’s not impossible to see all the shows in one night, and one might be tempted to take on that challenge given the improvisational nature of the shows, but it ain’t easy. The unspoken rule of Pleasure Island is that once you exit a club, you have to rejoin the queue to get back in. And with the Comedy Warehouse, the crowd has little choice but to exit at the end of a show. Seasoned pass holders have learned how to game the schedule, timing bathroom breaks and determining which queue position gets them in the most optimal seat for to beat a hasty exit at the end of one show to get into the next. It’s exhausting but it’s somebody’s Good Time, so we’ll let them enjoy.

Let’s quickly maneuver through the maze of steel stanchions to claim a primo spot in line. The door minders are on hand checking party sizes and wristbands and fielding questions about the show with vague answers that indicate they don’t want to spoil the show format or reveal they haven’t actually ever seen a show here. Most of the uniforms worn by Pleasure Island cast members are made up of a combination of sensible slacks or shorts with a boxy button-up short-sleeved shirt themed to their assigned venue. The PI bartenders called Islandwide dibs on the cool black polo shirts. Comedy Warehouse workers are clad in denim-coloured slacks or shorts and dusty salmon button-up shirt with the club logo.

While waiting for the doors to open, servers come around with the club’s specialty drinks menu to take orders. For the sake of efficiency, we’ll go ahead and place an order for Giggle Water (spiced rum, lime juice, Sprite, and grenadine). The less time we spend distracted by transactions with servers inside, the more attention we have to dedicate to the show. There will still be distractions during the show as our fellow crowd-mates mumble and fumble through the multi-stage process of procuring their cups of Punchline Punch (rum, pineapple juice, and grenadine) and Cheeky Monkey (banana daiquiri and grenadine). Our Giggle Water arrives in a bright yellow Solo cup with the old Pleasure Island confetti design printed on the side. Say, now this feels likes a street party!

Along the exterior aluminum wall of the Comedy Warehouse is an industrial track lighting fixture with its spotlights pointed at a row of framed caricatures of the improv company, known as the Who, What and Warehouse Players. The black and white caricatures depict the company members involved in wacky activities like waterskiing on lava and building a snowman on the beach and flying an aeroplane over EPCOT and performing open-heart surgery on Goofy. Such whimsy!

So, if Pleasure Island had actually been a former warehouse district, what did this Warehouse supposedly store? Well, according to the Histerical Society plaque — yawn! — the Comedy Warehouse was originally a steam power station built in 1912, then became a storage space in 1928 when the Island became electrified. From 1934–1949, it was the playhouse for Mrs. Isabella Pleasure’s Pleasure Island Thespian Players, which staged “elaborate Central Florida Historical Pageants.” The building was closed up in 1949 following Isabella’s death, the cause of which was presumably boredom from being stuck on this tiny Island pining for her husband and/or daughter to miraculously return from the sea. Fast forward to 1989, when the joint was then outfitted as a warehouse for funny props and Disney ephemera. In addition to the nightly shows with the stable of improv-ers, the Comedy Warehouse served as the backdrop for E!’s Stand-Up/Sit Down Comedy, a half-hour show in the early ’90s where the road comic du jour would do a set on the Warehouse stage and then have a little chat with host Robert Klein. Stand-up got less popular, the TV show was cancelled, and all that’s left are framed photos of comics posed with Warehouse performers lining the walls just inside the building’s entrance. As we’re led in single file and waiting to be seated, try to identify all the comedians.

The doors are open and we’re briskly herded in. It is too bad if you wanted to spend a while admiring all the junk on the wall, because there’s really no opportunity. As the host guides us down the aisle, catch quick glimpses of Mouseketeer photos, the posters for recent direct-to-video buddy comedies, memorabilia from Buena Vista pictures — Herbie the Love Bug’s hubcap, Roddy McDowall’s bedknobs, Pete’s Dragon’s pink toupee, and various incarnations of Donald Duck from his RKO Picture days. From our seat, we can get an overview of the decor surrounding the stage — vintage signs from around WDW property nailed to the wall, plushies of assorted Disney characters sat on shelves or tucked around three-dimensional vintage toys, Prince John’s leonine visage stretched on some trampoline-type banner, and a dollhouse model of Cinderella’s castle set on a shelf high above the stage with other objets du Disney. Distributed along the wall facing stage left are telephones, which are not, apparently, from the lost animated short Dial Any Donald, where Donald Duck and Don Ameche team up to show America how to use the push button telephone. Countless strands of twinkly white fairy lights are strung across the width and depth of the Warehouse walls. Are we sure this wasn’t an abandoned Christmas light warehouse?

The seating is divided into tiers defined by wood-panelled bars. Each tier has two rows of vinyl barstools, crammed in as close as possible as if the fire marshal’s maximum occupancy allowance should be the goal. The patrons perched in the front row of stools in each tier have the privilege of setting their cocktails on the narrow bar, where the back row patrons are stuck clutching their sweaty cups. Rope lights are tacked discretely under the railing of the bar-tops to provide subtle illumination for the privileged patrons perusing the printed drinks menu.

The house lights dim and a pianist appears to prepare the audience for a Great Show with some upbeat jazz which segues into riffs from recognizable party anthems then to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major”, and finally, a medley of Disney theme songs to remind us where we are, in case the plush Mickey Mouses glaring down at us weren’t enough. The pianist cheerleads, “We’ve got a Great Show tonight! Are you ready to have a Good Time? I caaan’t hear yooou…Cheer louder, goddammit, or they’re going to replace me with the animatronic gorilla from Showbiz Pizza!”

Shh! It’s starting! Someone has emerged from the swinging stage doors and the crowd hushes. Wait, they’re dressed in corporate casual attire…has the show been cancelled? No, they’re just explaining how improvisational comedy works. But first they have to make a phone call? Well, that’s just sloppy business — one of the phones rings on the wall! It’s part of the show! We’re learning about retired businessman Paul and his wife Kitty from South Carolina who are travelling the Southeast in an RV. Why are we wasting valuable comedy minutes learning about these bland white people?! Because there’s going to be an improvised comedy song about them, silly.

The first performer hangs up the phone and suddenly a whole cast of trained improv performers burst onto the stage dressed in corporate casual wear — black slacks, jewel-toned button-up shirts, the occasional button-up vest — as if they’ve come straight from their cubicle jobs, tossed their lanyards aside, and are ready to pursue their true passion for making up songs about sunburnt tourists fresh off their Caribbean cruises. Then, taking the bellowed suggestions from the bold and inebriated, the performers launch into a manic series of one-of-a-kind sketches with you-had-to-be-there moments. Some wacky characters are talk show panelists, a couple of fast food employees battle aliens and fall in love, wackier characters participate in a popular quiz show rip-off. We see that the wardrobe is an intentionally neutral base over which over-the-top accessories are whisked on and tossed aside as the scenes evolve. The hats are wacky, the wigs are ridiculous, the content is relatable, the zingers are zingy, and the 25-minute show is over sooner than you can say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The show closes with a blues song by the cast, sporting bluesy sunglasses, about a young audience member’s embarrassing vacation experience with projectile vomiting on an animatronic hippo on the Jungle Cruise. The speed with which the cast finds rhymes for “hippopotamus” indicates that perhaps puking on the hippos is an ordinary occurrence here.

The cast disappears, the house lights come up, and a recorded voice delivers a whole spiel about Great Shows and Good Times with big “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” energy. The audience rises, the exit doors are flung open, and everyone slowly stumbles back out onto the Island. Guests grouse about the stools and grumble about the brevity of the show. Women discuss the levels of attractiveness of the performers; men declare that anybody with a vest and a rhyming dictionary could do improv. An older couple reminisces over the scripted show they saw back in the early days of the Comedy Warehouse and how it was much funnier but maybe it was too mean about Disney. Everyone agrees that it is time to dance and get more nighttime juice.

The exit from the Comedy Warehouse empties directly onto the quiet back alley of Pleasure Island, a wide waterfront walkway that connects to the main entrance at the foot of Hill Street. To the left of the exit door is Lombard Promenade, a long staircase with a zig-zag accessibility ramp purportedly modelled on the San Francisco’s Lombard Street, leading back up to the top of Hill Street. From the West End Stage, one of PI’s popular cover bands rocks out to “Radar Love.” The crowds are drawn up towards the sound of the music, leaving the walkway clear for a brief, contemplative stroll alongside the lagoon under the dusty lavender sky.

This sedate walkway offers no hints to the imagined origins of the Island or its inhabitants. There’s no blatant theming or hidden gems to be discovered by hardcore Disneyphiles. The mostly windowless backsides of the buildings are surprisingly bland, with only the occasional fire escape jutting out from a high, lonely doorway providing visual interest. A small octagonal pavilion shelter stands at the railing overlooking the lagoon, its purpose undefined. Farther down the path is small stage constructed almost completely out of wooden shipping crates indicates something could be happening on this side of the Island. Has Stewart Pleasure, Merriweather’s ne’er-do-well eldest son, gotten involved with the syndicate, sneaking crates of rum onto the Island and into the back alley speakeasy? There’s no one here to set that scene; no burly dock worker characters or post-war gangsters dealing in underhanded underground activities, not even a wayward sailor in port for the night in search of his Good Time. Maybe it’s too much to expect tipsy tourists to follow that kind of high-concept Streetmosphere.

Wait! Here’s something fun floating in the middle of the lagoon! Check out the little dollhouse model of Pleasure Island with its wee bridge and replicas of the clubs. It’s not to scale and the building placements are wrong but the miniature windows are aglow from electric lamps within and there’s what looks like a tiny plaque on the model’s street probably about the time Merriweather Pleasure’s ship got stuck in a bottle after angering a vengeful sea witch, likely trying to exert white colonialism over them, as wealthy explorers are wont to do.

Across the narrow lagoon stands looming trees and thick bushes that separate the Island from the sprawling asphalt sea that is the Downtown Disney parking lot. From the gritty real world, only the Island’s roofline is visible above the treetops, which may explain the dearth of decor at street level and why P L E A S U R E I S L A N D is writ atop the largest building in jumbo marquee letters, guiding lost tourists to their nighttime destination.

Suddenly, as if by magic or a sophisticated lighting system, colourful stencilled designs of fireworks and palm trees are projected onto the flat exterior walls, swirling and bouncing around the surface like it was the world’s largest screensaver. Well played, Illumineers.

We’ve reached the end of the walkway and the official entry point to Pleasure Island. The lines are growing at the ticket cabooses just the other side of the bridge with guests waiting to be stamped and wristbanded and have their purses ogled at the turnstiles. The twin Funmeister moon faces beam down on the new arrivals from the top of the illuminated archway. Clusters of clueless tourists hover around the large way-finding sign, reading the brief blurbs about each of the clubs, checking the map for washrooms and snack carts.

It’s not even eight o’clock yet. The night is so young, it’s barely legal.

Turning left onto Breeze Way, the street leading to the base of Hill Street, we join the rest of the Tuesday night revellers. This is the hub of the Island, with four nightclubs mere steps away, each loosely devoted to a particular subgenre of American popular music. There’s a feeling a duty to visit every club and low-key paralysis in choosing where to start. Fortunately, fate, or the Operations Manageteer, has intervened this evening with staggered opening times. To our right, Pleasure Island Jazz Company, the sit-down club to enjoy live performances of jazz and blues, is featuring a wildly popular regional jazz quartet and the seating is already at capacity. On the left is Mannequins Dance Palace, a techno-trance club with a rotating dance floor, and it doesn’t open until 9 PM. Down at the end of Hill Street is the newest dance spot, Motion, which is closed for a private corporate event until 10:30. That leaves the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club, which sounds pretty self-explanatory.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club is a large industrial-style building with a mural of a guy riding the wild waves on a surfboard as a grinning shark wearing rad ’80s sunglasses looks on from his position inside the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club logo. Is this place gonna be totally bitchin’ or gnarly to the max? Did Merriweather Pleasure bring surf culture to the shores of Lake Buena Vista after one of his expeditions? What does the plaque say?!

Per the legend, this was the site of Building X, Mr. Pleasure’s workshop for a super-secret airboat he built in 1937. Some TBD things happened that the Imagineers haven’t elaborated on but apparently involved outer space and Pleasure beaming Morse Code messages to space off the roof of this building. He even designated the West End Plaza as a potential landing pad for alien ships. When PI was opened, Building X became XZFR [zephyr] Rockin’ Rollerdrome, an ambitious sci-fi-themed nightclub for dining, dancing, early rock music, and…roller skating. It sounds like an Imagineer fell asleep watching Xanadu on late night HBO before the big PI presentation in 1986 and took a chance with this pitch. The club opened with the roller skating concept but it was eliminated soon after and the site was rebranded with a laidback surf theme. Nobody bothered to revise the history, to say Merriweather took up the newfangled trend of surfboarding off the coast of Cardiff or that Stewart Pleasure, despondent over his seven failed marriages and loss of his family at sea, became a certified beach bum, squandered the family wealth, fell in love with a Greek mermaid in Tarpon Springs — whom he thought was a manatee — and then turned this old workshop into a bunkhouse for transient surfers.

Regardless of theming, the public entrance to the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club is up the three-storey metal staircase running up the height of the building. The stairs are covered with a protective awning to keep Florida nighttime drizzle off queued clubhoppers. The towering white lifeguard chairs flanking the entrance are roped off to prevent whimsical photo ops and lawsuits. If only that Imagineer had fallen asleep during Grease 2, the insurance premiums wouldn’t be so high on this place.

A brief trudge up the stairs and we’re greeted with the sounds of Poison’s “Nothing But a Good Time.” The all-caps glam rock blasting through the stereo system of what is ostensibly a chill surfer shack is jarring. It sounds like the T-Birds finally won the turf war against Frankie and Annette’s beach party gang at the rockin’ hula luau. At first glance, it does look like a roller rink that was hastily decorated with junk from salvaged shipwrecks and cast offs from the Ron Jon Surf Shop, lots of hardwood floors and surfboards and rope randomly wrapped around poles. It’s no Big Bamboo Lounge, which is where the locals go for that kitschy Americana Tiki bar vibe. The air stings from fresh cigarette smoke and thirteen years of tobacco musk seeping into porous surfaces. A gauzy nicotine fog sets a dreamlike mood, softening the details of our surroundings and dulling the adjacent senses.

The Beach Club has a bar on every level to accommodate any cocktail request no matter how outlandish and lots of interactive games to keep the lads busy between drink rounds. As the club DJ spins a block of hits from the likes of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, bored girlfriends watch their boyfriends battle over foosball and air hockey. Wannabe hustlers fix studious glances over the pool tables as the balls propel across the felt and clack into one another instead of sinking into pockets. Older couples in matching tropical prints sip elaborate cocktails at small tables scattered around. Barstools line the railing of the top two floors; optimal seats for keeping an eye on the dance floor or watching local cover bands do their best Van Halen and Smash Mouth impressions on stage. A haggard man in frayed shorts and a barely buttoned linen shirt leans pensively over the one of the railings, arms outstretched with a lit cigarette precariously swaying between his left index and middle fingers, its ashes drifting onto floor below. The ghost of Stewart Pleasure, perhaps, deep in bitter rumination over his thwarted plans to start a mermaid roller derby.

At the third floor bar, patrons and bartenders are engaged in serious discourse regarding the State of Music at the Dawn of the 21st Century. A patron pooh-poohs boy bands. A bartender trivially mentions that several of the pop boy bands came out of Orlando. The other patron attempts a clumsy joke about Florida’s role in the 2000 election and a boy band called Hanging Chads. Another bartender serves up the fun fact that *NSYNC tried out their act on the Beach Club stage in ’95, after it became clear that the New MMC wasn’t going to launch their sketch comedy careers. This turns into a discussion about other Mousketeers made good until Britney and Xtina are mentioned and the conversation drifts to midriffs and hips.

The tech booth on the second floor is made up like a Lifeguard Station, with orange life preservers and vests tacked onto the wall in haphazard fashion. The lights in the club are dimming to create a more inviting atmosphere for self-conscious people to populate the dance floor. Flamingo and seahorse graphics are projected onto the floor as the DJ switches to older, mellower rock and gently goads the hibiscus-clad Boomers to “get out there and show the kids how it’s done.”

Let’s grab a two-top next to the window overlooking Village Lake and order another drink. Perusing the specialty drinks menu, it becomes obvious that a majority of the PI-branded cocktails are some combination of rum and pineapple juice. We can only surmise there were pineapple shrubs on the Island when the Pleasures arrived and they left behind an abandoned pineapple warehouse and grenadine factory. The Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club offers exclusive drinks like Shark Bite (spiced rum, light rum, blue curaçao, lime juice, and grenadine), Moondoggie (banana liqueur, cranberry juice, and white rum), and Beach Bucket (literally a plastic beach bucket filled with rum and fruit juices). How’s the adage go — Giggle Water before Moondoggie will make you soon groggy; Giggle Water plus Beach Bucket equals limericks re: Nantucket? By fate or chance, a server in a sporty yellow polo shirt appears and asks if we’re ready just as Rupert Holmes starts to sing about being tired of his lady and what is there to do but accidentally blurt out “Yes, I like piña coladas?”

The view over the lake faces the West Side of Downtown Disney, the skyline of flat, angular buildings broken up by glistening novelty façades. The globular blue and red Planet Hollywood joined by the colossal pineapple that forms the back of Bongos Cuban Cafe, Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s restaurant, and the white tent-like structure of Cirque du Soleil. Peering back towards the Disney Marketplace, we can see the Rainforest Cafe volcano periodically erupting and the Lego Loch Ness monster looking psyched to be in this lake and listening to Phil Collins’ Tarzan soundtrack for the bazillionth time. A couple of boats are out on the lake, carrying passengers between the Marketplace to the West Side, bypassing Pleasure Island. The night sky is as dark as it can get, permanently stained a dilute orange at the horizon from local light pollution. The waning crescent moon barely visible now, will soon be completely obscured by the haze from fireworks popping off from the large theme parks.

The Beach Club DJ gives the five-minute warning that the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band will be taking the stage. That’s our cue to catch the fastest wave out of here.

Back out on Hill Street with half a piña colada left. It’s still early. Plenty of P.M. left to carpe. In nearby gutters are remnants of last night’s Good Time — wet paper confetti plastered against the sewer grate, the slight aroma of stale beer and vomit lingers, yet to be overpowered by Drakkar Noir and Tommy Girl wafting off young revellers. The Pleasure Island DJ up in his booth presides over the mild, midweek festivities now spinning classic party hits from the ’60s to get the children and grandparents moving on the street. Why are there children here at this hour? The appeal of this place and its guarded turnstiles is the ability to drink alcohol outside and get stumbling drunk without tumbling over a toddler set loose from its stroller to wiggle to “La Bamba” for Daddy’s camcorder. Also, where are the strollers for intoxicated grownups?

The PI DJ booth is part of a larger building with a history that extends beyond the fictional. The plaque says that it was the Pleasure Island Administration Building in 1913, where all the bookkeeping and communications were done. Blah-blah wooden shack, blah-blah destroyed during Prohibition repeal party, blah-blah typhoon in 1944. Really…typhoon in Florida? Whatever. Creative world building is hard! What’s more interesting is how the ground floor was used in the early 1990s. Remember seeing Jessica Rabbit hanging out on the back of the West End Stage? She used to be all the way down here, luring people into what was a retail shop full of Jessica Rabbit merchandise. Jessica Rabbit shirts, jewellery, pins, coffee mugs, lingerie sets, magnets, makeup kits — the sultriest Disney cartoon was the primary focus in this shop. So…was there a bar on the Island like the Ink and Paint Club in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Ooh. That would make sense. The Accountanteers are about making dollars. Which Jessica, presumably, did not make enough to justify the shop’s continued existence. Circa the time roller skating was cancelled at the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club, Jessica Rabbit’s store was closed and replaced with a memorabilia shop for popular music. Music Legends was filled with vintage platinum records and signed instruments and glossy headshots from famous singers and musicians of the mid-to-late 20th century. This shop closed recently, presumably, because the demand was low for $300 guitar picks once used by BB King and $500 drumsticks signed by Phil Collins. Or maybe the place is haunted.

Bored cast members in black and purple PI polo shirts man the Midway games between the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club and Motion, waiting for bros keen to put their masculinity to the test with crooked carnival games to win stuffed neon monkeys for their dates. Their business usually picks up later in the night, when the young couples emerge from their movie date at the AMC multiplex and have I-don’t-know-what-do-you-want-to-do’d all the way down to the PI entrance. Could there be a more romantic night out for a 19-year-old girl in 2002 than seeing a J-Lo movie with a Justin Timberlake lookalike, getting an oversized teddy bear from him after some lite grinding in da club, and then kissing during the midnight fireworks? Don’t forget to invite that Midway cast member to the wedding, MacKynleigh!

We just missed a performance on the Hub Stage by the Pleasure Island Explosion Dancers. They’ll be back out later to do a little something to entertain the 10 o’clock crowds and then they’ll do a big dance number during the midnight “New Year’s Eve” fireworks show, which is really more of an impressive pyrotechnics display than an all-out fireworks spectacular. There are hotels nearby, filled with tourists that have a long day of theme-parking ahead of them and conventioneers here on business with conferences and networking to do. They cannot be disturbed by large, colourful late night explosions.

Let’s see…Mannequins Dance Palace opens at 9 PM and their nightly light show starts at 9:30. We have a moment to poke around in the Island Depot gift shop before joining the modest lineup. Souvenirs? Oh boy!

In a storefront at the base of the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club, the Island Depot is stocked to the rafters with souvenirs from Pleasure Island’s nightclubs past and present. See, the XZFR Rollin’ Rollerdrome isn’t the only nightspot to get a conceptual makeover. Pleasure Island Jazz Company started out as Merriweather’s Market, a food court with gourmet sandwiches and whatnot. BET Soundstage Club at the top of the hill originated as the Neon Armadillo, an all-ages country music venue. 8TRAX began as Videopolis East, a futuristic hangout for teens who needed to escape their dorky parents. And Motion, which just opened a few months ago, replaced Wildhorse Saloon, a country-western dance-taurant — part dance hall, part restaurant, 100% cowboy-themed. Wildhorse Saloon, with its monstrous 3D horses frozen in mid-gallop and protruding from the exterior façade, was a short-lived venture and preceded by Fireworks Factory, a BBQ restaurant. Dig deep into the racks and you might unearth some rare souvenir of one of these long-gone places. Ooh — here’s a black shirt with the Neon Armadillos scurrying across the road as an 18-wheeler approaches. Nothing says Good Time like roadkill.

Here’s a bunch of Comedy Warehouse merchandise…with crime scene illustrations…because people died laughing, get it? A-hyuck-hyuck-hyuck! The Adventurers Club shirt has a compass on it — classy design but offers no hints about the place. Is it boring? Does Indiana Jones show up and rough up Nazis? There’s a whole rack of men’s tank tops with the various club logos. Get in on that new pin trading craze with a handful of PI club enamel pins. Ooh, Funmeister stuff! The Funmeister is the crescent moon-headed guy who was the Pleasure Island mascot and part of the branding in the ’90s. He looks so happy, like he genuinely hopes we have a Good Time. The new PI logo doesn’t seem at all invested in our nighttime enjoyment, being just two flat letters in a lime green oval with a tiny star at its base. The new PI logo has a tactical sensibility. Seize the night, soldier! This PI camouflage baby tee that says “Practicing my night maneuvers” on the back is…cute?

The trouble with shopping for souvenirs in the middle of the nightclub theme park is keeping up with all the shopping bags. Supposing we rent a locker to store it, there’s still the responsibility to not get Foster Brooks-style drunk so we can retrieve the stuff before going home. So, the shirt stays here.

Situated around the former Music Legends shop are kiosks selling the essentials for nighttime enjoyments. One kiosk offers PI-branded booze accoutrements — PI can koozies, PI bottle opener keychains, and PI coasters. Another kiosk is dedicated to the latest in glow stick innovation — glow bracelets, light-up star necklaces, flashing bouncy balls, blinking “Support Our Troops” ribbons, colour-changing fiber optic wands, and light-up shot glasses. The Future is here and apparently it is a Spring Break rave party.

Back to Mannequins to see if they can fit us in for the light show.

Mannequins Dance Palace…that means there are or were mannequins? Are they friendly department store mannequins or the creepy headless granite-looking things that are just human enough to model streetwear in mall boutiques? Supposedly there are lavishly-dressed mannequins inside and occasional dance shows featuring humans-as-mannequins performances. Don’t expect Jeff from Today’s Special to pop up with a little soft-shoe, though. Some say the dummies were brought in during the days when this building was purportedly operated as a soundstage for motion pictures in the ’30s. The Histerical Society plaque makes no mention of mannequins or dummies or statues, only that this was the second building to be erected on the Island and originally served the site of Merriweather’s canvas fabrication plant. It was last used as a workshop for a steam-and-magnet-powered locomotive, for which the rotating floor was constructed. Now it’s techno-trance dance club. That’s a pretty lame backstory, Historianeers. Well, it gives us something to think about while waiting to be granted entry.

The exterior of Mannequins more resembles a repurposed old movie house with its neon marquee sign and movie poster frames. The two-storey M A N N E Q U I N S neon lettering lit blue and pink in that Art Deco via 1986 style, evoking memories of Blade Runner or KIDS Incorporated or Tom Cruise or Andrew McCarthy and a faint longing to be at the mall. How cool would it be to go to an abandoned mall turned into a nighttime complex? Imagine neon signs blazing, gentle muzak versions of late 20th century dance pop playing over the sound system, courtyard fountains burbling under grand skylights. Every empty store would be themed to a different subgenre of music, every night would be ’80s Ladies Night, and teen movies in all their glitchy VHS glory would be silently projected on the walls. This is not that.

The closest thing to a mall is the turquoise building that houses the hip clothing store next door. Changing Attitudes — “histerically” known as Pleasure Perfect Upholstery, where seamstresses did refurbs for yacht interiors and the occasional lite taxidermy from 1923–1943 — has all the trendy garb for the dowdy tourist who’s turned up at PI by chance and needs to do a quick makeover before being subjected to the sort of ridicule that only really happens in a ZZ Top video. Headless mannequins in the window display model the assortment of baby tees and crop tops Fashioneers have decreed will help future Historianeers identify this era in the grand timeline. Inside are racks of overpriced streetwear designed to sit on smooth, straight bodies; not taking into account the naturally occurring shapes and textures of the actual human form. Most items feature some form of hidden Mickey — that is, a subtle design compromised of three circles sized to abstractly represent Mickey Mouse’s head, not a concealed dose of the date rape drug. As the sole fashion outlet on the Island, it’s cornered the market on selling replacement clothes for when an intoxicated tourist has tripped over a rogue toddler and tipped an entire tray of Jell-O shooters down the front of another tourist’s stylish ensemble.

🎵These are the Good Times🎵 discos over the PI speakers.

We’re finally guided into the single elevator that carries guests to the second floor — how very chic and exclusive — with the door minders in their abstract masquerade-print shirts dutifully checking for stamps and wristbands. Part of Mannequins’ allure these days is that it requires guests to be 21 and over to enter. No worrying about impressionable young children witnessing the drunken stupidity of adults. No toddlers to tangle with on the rotating dance floor. No surly teens hoping to dissolve out of embarrassment over their parents doing the Macarena. No 19-year-old WDW College Program workers out for a taste of the nightlife, intoxicated by the freedom of being away from home — and the PBR their older college buddies picked up for them at the A.B.C. Liquor store and they surreptitiously drank in the parking lot beforehand. Were it not for an absence of chairs and an abundance of throbbing bass, well… The Euro-techno-trance-dance-pop is an acquired taste and some people come in, find themselves unable to process and appreciate the genre, and turn tail. For many, any beat is a good beat and they will bounce and contort themselves as the music dictates. Techno-trance is not really music for listening but for feeling. It’s almost like a therapeutic treatment using electronic vibrations.

Maybe there are chairs here. Maybe there’s an assemblage of bronze statues and wax figures and busted animatronic presidents strung together and suspended from the ceiling like some serial killer’s chandelier. There could be a 12-foot tall Goofy decked out in full gimp attire. It’s impossible to see much beyond our own hands in the near-total darkness. As we near the centre of the club, not even a pinprick of light pollution can be detected. We’ll have to use our imaginations as to what’s been nailed on the walls of this joint — besides the occasional amorous guest. A-hyuck!

Our techno-robo overlords are on a tight schedule and are keen to get this party started urgently and as efficiently as possible. Let’s have a Good Time, they say, but let’s keep it moving along at a brisk pace. Move your body to the beat. Thümp-thümp-thümp. Let the beat move you. Wompwompwompwomp. Try to keep the energy up as we know nighttime juice can make you a bit sleepy if you stay in one spot too long. Thümp-womp-thümp-wompwomp. The commands fall on thirsty ears as the nighttime juice-wanters beeline to the bar on the main level instead of the dance floor. If we claim a spot next to the railing nearest the tech booth we’ll be able to watch the luminous display.

The state-of-the-art light show starts at the stroke of 9:30, despite the distracted crowd with their collective backs to the proceedings. The mesmerizing presentation resists description. For starters, there are at least as many different types of lights as Bubba Gump could name shrimp dishes (approximately twenty-one). Motorized fixtures perform with uniform precision, flashing and panning and tilting and swooping, all perfectly synchronized with the Euro-trance track. Whether it’s by design or circumstance is unclear, but it’s nice to have the display unmarred by the distraction of gyrating white people. Individual beams pulsate to the beat. Red! Cyan! Magenta-magenta-magenta! Lime Green! Puuuuuuuurple. Ah-ah-ah-ah-orange! Prismatic pools of light on the floor expand and contract. Light beams frenetically swivel and dart around the room like five-year-olds sugar-high on moon pies and Mountain Dew. If Ludwig von Drake’s Wonderful World of Color were on speed, it might look a little something like this. Single beams multiply into blinking rows of light then divide into kaleidoscopic columns. Strobestrobestrobestrobestrobe! Soft focus circles and triangles do-si-do then morph into complex fractals. The wall of bulbs at the back of the stage flip through various shapes like an automated Lite Brite — flashing asterisks, chasing hearts, swirling circles. Colour! Distribution! Intensity! Movement! This is not what Stanley McCandless had in mind when he refined stage lighting. The lights get faster and more colourful as the Eurodance number reaches its climax. The wall of lights brightens to full power and floods the space with blinding radiance, curing three months of seasonal affective disorder.

Boom. It’s over. Plunged into darkness once again.

The club’s ambient lighting returns to normal dance club levels — light enough to see your toes but still dim enough to not be embarrassed about your lame moves. Spotlights swoop and swirl gently overhead. Thümp-womp-thümp-wompwomp. The music retains its spine-thumping, spleen-jiggling intensity. Wompwompwomp-pewpewpewpew-wompwompwomp. The crowd, if there was one, has dispersed to the shadowy corners or drifted back onto the street. We’re left with poetry in motion — the solo dancer working out his smooth moves as the dance floor spins him right round.

Out through Mannequins Dance Palace’s side exit and back onto the waterfront walkway feels like we’ve transported back to reality from another dimension, slightly unsteady and untethered. Every pore seems to exhale. Every nerve ungirds. Is this legitimate euphoria, the result from having a Good Time? Or is it merely relief following the escape from relentless pounding and thumping of electric sound waves? Have the cocktails kicked in or are we ready for another?

Back where we started two hours ago at the Funmeister’s archway. The street lamps seem to shine brighter, the music intensifies. The sense of duty to visit all of the clubs tonight wavers. It was a lofty goal and mere mortals are not meant to conquer the mandatory entry queues and disorienting exits and uncoordinated showtimes in just one night. Attempting to experience the totality of Pleasure Island requires a militant scheduling strategy and an iron bladder. One could spend days studying event calendars and coordinating map routes with regularly scheduled showtimes to achieve maximum PI exposure and still wind up here on a relatively quiet Tuesday night, thwarted by special events and closed clubs. Unbeknownst to the general public, sometimes the Event Coordinateers rent out spaces for parties and banquets to organizations that can afford private catered events on WDW property, at the risk of disappointing the few out-of-town guests who arrive with the expectation of having a Good Time in one specific club for six hours. Tonight, Motion is off-limits for another half hour due to a banquet and dance party for Multinational Technology Enterprises. Tomorrow the Adventurers Club will open late to the public after hosting a function for the Association for North American Travel Agents. Occasionally the whole Island gets rented out for hours and throngs of outside guests on their once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Pleasure-iest Island on Earth are denied entry. How many times did that happen at Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium? Not nearly enough, probably.

What sounds really good is the soulful saxophone emanating from Pleasure Island Jazz Company across the way from Mannequins’ front entrance. The evening needs a cool down, maybe with a proper martini at an intimate candlelit table in a cozy brick cabaret with the live jazz ensemble swinging through the John Coltrane songbook. Alas, the club still at capacity. No cozy table. No sophisticated martini sipping. Our best hope is to drag one of the metal chairs from D’Zertz cafe’s outdoor seating area over to the Jazz Company’s wall to intercept “Blue Train” before it clashes with “Cotton Eye Joe” fiddling through the PI speakers. But, of course, the jazz number finishes, the crowd applauds, and the lead of the ensemble murmurs into the mic that they’ll be back after a short break. It feels like we’ll never get to see the remnants of artificial artifacts inside what once wanted to be known as M.A. Pleasure’s Original Sailmaking Factory, the place where it supposedly all began back in 1912, where Mr. Pleasure would stand on the roof once a month and chant to the goddess of the tides to keep his empire afloat. Histerical plaque say what now? How many Beach Buckets deep was the Historianeer who wrote that one?

Back along Breeze Way, back in front of the PI Live DJ booth. Carpe déjà vu.

Down at the end of Hill Street, the barn doors to Motion are swinging open earlier than expected; the private partiers are unleashed onto the rest of the Island. A flood of khaki pants and lanyards and glow sticks gushes forth from the building, streams of coworkers meandering off into different direction. Will those heading uphill flow through the Comedy Warehouse? Will they be inspired to toss aside their own lanyards to train in improvisational scene work? What have they learned about the unverifiable rumoured history of Merriweather Adam Pleasure?

Like they say, when life hands you an open nightclub door…

Unlike most of the Pleasure Island nightclubs, where guests enter from an upper level and wander down to the dance floor, Motion opens straight at ground level. Anyone with a move to bust or a booty to shake can head directly to the dance floor with minimal interference, thanks to this building originating as a full-service restaurant.

In the beginning — ho-hum! — when this site was the Fireworks Factory, hungry patrons were welcomed right off the street and seated anywhere on the main or upper levels, no climbing stairs or riding elevators just to get in. The Fireworks Factory was the rare spot on Pleasure Island where the modern-day purpose was themed with the Imagineered purpose, to wit, the building was designated as a factory for fireworks and it also seemed like a fine theme for a specialty eatery. Though its 1922 origins as a laboratory for renowned fireworks inventor known as The Bang Master is suspect, its industrial structure and whimsical pyrotechnic-themed decor tied it in with the rest of the Island. Families could feast on charred and barbecued meats while musing over plaques claiming that Merriweather’s pipe set off an explosion here on July 3, 1927 and whether Pleasure Island considered celebrating Independence Day every night with fireworks. Some Business Stuff happened in the late 1990s and the Fireworks Factory restaurant was shuttered and renovated. One day the green warehouse was transformed into a red barn beneath the intimidating façade of a Western desert mountainside, with the aforementioned fiberglass horse statues poised to trample tourists en route towards Planet Hollywood. Thus, the Wildhorse Saloon was added to the stable of nightclubs. It continued to operate as a restaurant as well and kept the ground floor entrance. Inside, the industrial beams and trusses were replaced with rustic wooden railings and the whimsical dynamite props were replaced by life-sized anthropomorphic cowboy horses. Each level had full-service bars running the length of the building. Along the base of the ceiling were embossed silhouetted stallions racing across the flatlands in front of a flaming red sunset sky. The Imagineers had no hand in creating this wild west Marlboro Man fantasy. We’re spared the tall tale about when Merriam Pleasure, Merriweather’s daughter, asked for a pony and a pack of wild stallions happened to gallop across the bridge and onto the Island, pulverizing Isabella Pleasure’s beloved rose garden in the process and how the Imagineers discovered these horses living in the old fireworks factory. The Wildhorse Saloon offered line dancing, country music, and Southern comfort food for three years then boot-scooted out of here in early 2001.

What we’ve got here is an authentic repurposing of a building. The horses are gone but the desert mountainside still remains. The rustic red barn has been painted a modern cobalt blue. All the wild horses are gone but the more permanent nondescript fixtures have been repainted black and blue. As it stands, Motion feels like it’s just going through the motions as a generic dance club; seeming exactly the place where you’d meet a dude who calls himself the Bang Master and says stuff like, “Baby, I’ll make you see fireworks.” But surely it won’t always be like this. Surely they’ll — what? Surely they’ll bring in an Imagineer from the original team, you know, the one just on the brink of retirement but could be persuaded to do one last job for the place they brought to life? Neigh, neigh. To be fair, it might be too soon to judge and what we’re seeing is a real-time transformation as a nighttime venue struggles, like most of the Gen Y-ers it hopes to attract, to find itself in a Y2K, post 9/11 world. Motion, now a dark and cavernous Top 40 club space for the teeny-bopper crowd, could magically evolve into an iridescent 21st century boogie wonderland with futuristic cage dancers or aerial performers twirling and twisting around on hoops and silken ropes dangling from the high ceilings. Or maybe the new Star Wars will inspire its conversion into some sort of space desert cocktail-automat.

Some hangers-on from the private party linger at the bar, trying to chat up polite but distracted bartenders. The young revellers wander in with their Midway monkeys and teddy bears and beeline to the dance floor. The barren stage, once host to famous country-western bands, is currently home to a classic house DJ setup ready to spin all the pop bops and hip-hop topping the charts. The actual DJ is nowhere to be seen and a NOW That’s What I Call Music CD plays in his stead. Ugh. Too much knowledge about this place is harshing our Good Time.

From the base of Hill Street, looking up towards the West End Stage, we finally get a sense of P L E A S U R E I S L A N D. It is El DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” come to life — the party just beginning, music playing, celebrations starting, etc. The multi-coloured string lights, no doubt taken from Merriweather’s Stringed Lights Factory, strung high across the wide brick path make a strong case for PI being “a place where we can dance all night away, underneath electric stars.”

There are colourful shacks stationed along Hill Street equipped with bartenders ready to serve up any cocktail imaginable. The purple aluminum shack at the intersection of Breeze Way and Hill Street has the shortest line and therefore wins our nighttime juice dollars. In honour of the classic crescent moon mascot, let’s raise a yellow Pleasure Island cup to the Grand Funmeister with a Funmeister cocktail (light rum, melon liqueur, pineapple juice, and Sprite). The bartender includes a bonus skewer loaded with maraschino cherry garnishes and says “Happy New Year’s!” as the PI DJ announces there’s just two hours until the Pleasure Island New Year’s Eve fireworks show. But first —

The Pleasure Island Explosion Dancers jog onto the Hub Stage and perform a couple of routines, harkening back to the days of TV’s Solid Gold with their dance interpretations of hit songs. A modest but enthusiastic crowd gathers near the foot of the stage while the dancers impressively demonstrate what the human body is capable with dedication, persistence, lots of stretching, and a love of Lycra. To the tune of bomp-badonkadonkadonka-bomp-wakawakawaka-bompbomp-enkenkenkenk-bompbomp-thümp they go shimmy-shimmy, thrust, step-ball-change, Δ𝑥⃗=𝑣⃗𝑖𝑡+1/2𝑎⃗𝑡₂, grapevine, J²(ÿ) = π|x-y|<{φ·∰}2x₁, pivot turn, qi(t+ 2t0) = (−xi+2(t),yi+2(t)), b-boy kick, split, jazz hands! The crowd whoots and applauds at the end, appreciative for the complex but lively distraction. Couples walk away teasing and daring their partners to imitate those dance moves in the club.

Beyond the Hub Stage is a long, single-storey building with orange clapboard siding where tourists can purchase luxury souvenirs like limited edition prints of Oliver & Company, The Hunchback of Notre Dame porcelain statuettes and Winnie the Pooh leather bomber jackets. These shops have undergone imperceptible changes over the years. DTV might’ve been called YesterEars. Mouse House moved into what was formerly known as Avigator’s Supply. Suspended Animation has been suspended in the same location for 13 years. None of the shops acknowledge their Island lore as the support facilities for Merriweather Pleasure’s yacht refurbishing biz. Across the street is Reel Finds, a shop for overpriced movie memorabilia because they did not learn from Music Legends that there’s low demand for a different necklace Kate Winslet wore in Titanic and George Clooney’s Batman & Robin mask. The street is lined with green metal guardrails that seem to serve no purpose than to catch wobbly college girls three Beach Buckets into their Good Time. Down the short Maxwell’s Alley is a caricature artist hard at work turning a couple of giggly teen girls into early 20th century suffragettes ready to smash the patriarchy with Mary Poppins. Hey, is this the same caricaturist from the Comedy Warehouse portraits?

Time to flashback, rewind, and timehop all the way back to the 1970s with a quick spin around 8TRAX. The groovy disco is tucked away from the rest of the clubs in the middle of Hill Street. One could miss it completely if it didn’t look like something out of a Peter Max painting. The indigo exterior is covered with dynamic rainbow-like swooshes and boldly coloured blocks. Bursting cosmic rays and far out psychedelic planets on the sign draw the eye to the 8TRAX name and the funky bubble lettering informing passersby that this is “a 70’s and 80’s Dance Club” and not indoor glow-in-the-dark mini golf. The awning over the entrance is a jumbo eight-track cassette tape. If you can identify it, the door minders in their psychedelic Op-Art shirts will wave you in without bothering to check your wristband.

Like the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club, 8TRAX was not part of the original nightclub lineup. When PI opened, this site was home to Videopolis East, a teens-only club with a hi-tech theme that incorporated countless TV monitors and a stainless steel dance floor. The underage youth could watch music videos and dance while sipping on soda pop and boring old anytime juice. For reasons, it was rebranded to Cage in 1990 and upped the target demographic from insolent teens to the over-18 set. For more reasons, Cage was closed two years later. In 1993, riding the wave of 1970s nostalgia boom, 8TRAX boogie-oogie-oogied onto the club scene.

As long as we’re in flashback mode, let’s see what the Histerical Society’s got to say about this joint. Oh! Middle child Henry Pleasure finally gets in the game as the “mad genius of Lake Buena Vista” with this Artificial Intelligence lab built in 1929. Here, Henry tinkered and toiled on his “Pleasure Cellular Automaton” and died believing his creation was a failure. However, so the plaque would have us believe, the automaton was found alive when the Imagineers were scoping out the Island’s potential to fulfill the nighttime entertainment directive. The sentient robot creature reportedly presided over the AI laboratory’s renovation into Videopolis East with all the televisions and slippery dance floor. While it was on a roll, the automaton apparently also designed computer hardware to “showcase its abilities,” which was presumably to get itself off the Island because there is zero physical evidence of this robot and nobody in an official capacity will acknowledge its existence. On the whole, this place unfairly raises more questions than it answers. You don’t see Universal Studios putting up plaques about Aloysius Z. Citywalk and his kooky billionaire antics, do you?

The only past that matters is the one belonging to those children of the ’70s and it’s on full display in 8TRAX. The densely populated queue to get inside is predominantly Generation X, tourists and locals bonding over memories of mood rings and pet rocks, the Hayley Mills era of Buena Vista pictures, and Schoolhouse Rocks. Their conversations a preview of their future in the retirement colony, speaking solely in catchphrases and movie quotes, punctuated by exclamations of toys — “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, WIllis? We’re gonna need a bigger boat. Etch-a-Sketch!” They nod and point in gleeful recognition, these one-time strangers forever bonded in nostalgia. They laugh uproariously at the drinks menu — Ha-ha! Leisure Suit (raspberry and melon liqueur, amaretto, blue curaçao, sour mix, and Sprite), Oh-ho! The Bellbottom (light rum, blue curaçao, and sour mix), Coco Cabana (coconut rum, banana liqueur, melon liqueur, pineapple juice and grenadine) — oh, like “Copacabana!” A-hyuck! Before the night is through, they’ll settle the important debates of the era like Betty vs. Veronica, Wilma vs. Betty, and Ginger vs. Mary Ann. In popularis culturae, spiritus unimus.

Without guidance or warning, we’re shuffled through the doors with a crowd, into the darkened discotheque, and onto the mod Mondrian-style dance floor. Happy Gen Xers bounce and bump to “Le Freak”/“That’s the Way (I Like It)”/“Get Down On It”, fulfilling their childhood Saturday Night Fever fantasy. They gesture and nod at the vintage videos on the big video screen. They point and cheer at the spinning mirror ball. They giggle with delight when they spot the lava lamps glowing and blobbing away. The first nine notes play of “The Hustle” and the crowd falls into line dance formation. The DJ follows up with “YMCA” and the whole club roars with such nostalgic enthusiasm you’d swear this was the first time anyone’s heard in it 20 years instead of every night in a bar, at a game, or on a cruise ship.

Away from the dance floor, on the upper balcony, assorted posters from forgotten movies of the era are tacked up alongside generic flower power imagery that appears only under the ambient blacklight used throughout the club. The black walls are decorated like the Partridge Family bus collided with an enormous Rubik’s Cube and large squares in primary yellows, reds, and blues splattered all over. Long gone are the multitudes of Videopolis monitors and the futuristic features of yore. Couples hunch over the Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga arcade game tables, playfully bickering over whose turn is next. At the bar, wild ’n’ crazy guys in sateen shirts lean in close to politely listen to ladies in lycra dresses ranking their Tiger Beat faves. Navigating under cover of total blacklight, we ease down the stairs to the main floor, where true nostalgists can get their fix of the “me” decade. In a wall-mounted glass case is a collection of 1970s doodads and periodicals — assorted toys, including mint-in-box dolls of Farrah Fawcett and John Travolta, magazine covers featuring Mickey Mouse — been a while since we’ve seen that guy — and Richard Nixon, cereal box posters of Donny and Marie, platform boots, a metal Scooby-Doo lunchbox, and a couple of TIME magazines serving as reminders of serious issues like the oil crisis and Women’s Liberation. It wasn’t all fun and games. However, fun and games is all some of us knew because we were only children then. Easy Bake Oven! Hungry Hungry Hippos! Dy-no-MITE! Around the corner is a seating nook with a dozen modular vinyl chairs designed to look like ’70s children’s trifold chair beds that were perfect for lounging on while watching Saturday morning cartoons and are now…perfect for making out on with strangers…you just met outside while singing The Brady Bunch theme.

🎵Ain’t we lucky we got ’em, Good Times🎵

The rear 8TRAX exit spits us back out at the waterfront walkway like a worn out cassette tape. Rambling up the Lombard Promenade, we can finally catch the West End cover band’s set before the midnight festivities. We’ve bypassed Superstar Studios, a recording studio where tourists can make an embarrassing video or audio tape of themselves performing the hits of yesterday and today karaoke-style. It is rumoured that when the tapes are played backwards, Isabella Pleasure can be heard singing along with one of her countless 78 rpm Italian opera records that were stored in this, her former music parlour. On the TV monitors bolted outside the studio, passersby can watch amateurs and children making memorable souvenirs. The giggly teen girls from earlier are doing their best Britney and Xtina impressions in a video, secretly hoping to be discovered for a Millennial MMC reboot.

On the West End Stage, the band cranks through their penultimate set of the night with “Mustang Sally”/“Jump”/“Long Train Runnin’.” Swarms of late night arrivals ascend the stairs from the West Side, cluttering the plaza as they assess the Island’s entertainment options. Hill Street is buzzing with the convergences of Good Times as conventioneers and the private partiers mingle with locals making the most of their annual passes and curious tourists too excited to stay in their hotels join College Program kids in seizing as many nights as possible before returning to real life. Female cast members in black tops and short skirts stroll along Hill Street with baskets of roses for couples that are definitely having a romantic night out and haven’t just been embroiled in a tense debate at the waterfront pavilion over the Male Gaze and Its Appropriate Uses. More servers take to the street with trays of PG-13 shooters like the classic Jell-O shots, B-52s, Astro Pops — no Slippery Nipples or Quick Fucks to be found where Puritans might be spending their moralistic nighttime dollars.

Just two clubs left to look at and only one hour ’til the midnight pyrotechnics. The sands of time are rapidly shifting from P.M. to A.M. Time is, of course, a construct and we needn’t follow PI’s “Carpe PM” billboards to the letter. The Island doesn’t close until 2 AM. There’ll still be a couple of hours left for revellers to drink and be merry before Jessica Rabbit turns into a pumpkin and Pinocchio rolls up to haul everyone off to the salt mines. Relax.

Midnight Pyrotechnics would be an awesome band name.

Dodging and weaving the oblivious throngs across the West End Plaza, we join the queue into BET Soundstage Club. It is the hippest looking joint at PI, being the freshest newcomer behind Motion. With assorted closings and openings and construction a-go-go, 1998 was a big year for Downtown Disney. The West Side popped up over the bridge, The Fireworks Factory became the Wildhorse Saloon, and BET Soundstage Club moved into this spot, which used to be a quaint all-ages country music dance hall known as Neon Armadillo. For reasons, there could only be one country-western club on the premises. BET — yes, from the television — arrived to help usher PI into the 21st century with common architectural elements carried over from West Side. The one time dusty green aluminum siding is now a deep royal purple, more befitting a sleek nighttime spot. Its quirky tri-pitched roofline remains unchanged but the BET Soundstage Club logo sits perched atop a conic brushed steel column jutting through the aluminum wrapped awning like an abstract antenna. The place is completely unrecognizable as The Greenhouse, as the Histerical Society plaque calls it. In addition to being a globetrotting innovator and businessman with a penchant for the supernatural or otherworldly, Merriweather Adam Pleasure apparently was an amateur “cactologist” and cultivated cacti and other exotic desert plants in this specially-designed building. Even in the 1920s, where did he find the time to do all those things?

BET Soundstage Club opened in 1998 with an enormous televised concert that dominated the outdoor West End Stage with all-star Black performers. Like E! and CMT and sundry other cable networks, BET network promoted the heck out of Pleasure Island by recording live performances at the club for broadcast. And just like Stand-Up/Sit Down Comedy and Countdown at the Neon Armadillo, the camera crews vanished once the novelty wore off, or the bean counters decided having a TV presence wasn’t bringing in enough nighttime dollars to cover the costs of TV production dollars.

Inside BET Soundstage Club, the revellers have heeded the DJ’s earlier call to get the party started and we join it already in progress. Jams are pumping, the crowd is jumping, booties are bumping, beats are thumping — this is the quintessential dance club experience. The main dance floor is packed with couples and groups immersed in their individual choreography. The upper balcony is SRO with head-boppers and arm-wavers proving they don’t need a designated area to move to the groove while sipping on nighttime juice. All signs of neon cacti and kitschy armadillos have been removed. Phrases like “state-of-the-art” and “high tech” are used to describe the use of 20-odd television screens and DJ equipment. Wait, did the Historianeers get this place mixed up with 8TRAX? Is this where Henry Pleasure’s robot creature lives? It could do worse. With glowing orange walls and illuminated floor-to-ceiling purple columns, this club is 21st century cool. And, hey, Mr. DJ has enough R&B, hip-hop, and reggae records to keep the party going ’til the break of dawn…or, y’know, 2 AM.

The phat jams come in loud and clear through the state-of-the-art sound system. Maybe a little too loud for anyone looking to chat up hotties or discuss the Merits of Late-Stage Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. The pressure’s off to do anything but dance and drink, which is really the sole criteria for most people out for a Good Time. But four hours of standing in lines and walking around the Island’s six acres is taking its toll on our tired, sweaty feet. Where’s the laidback piano lounge or the cozy British pub? A comfortable chair and another nighttime juice is vital if we’re to survive this ordeal, er, experience, er, adventurous exploit.

Did somebody say adventure?

At long last, it is time to tackle the most perplexing and endearing spot on Pleasure Island. Guidebooks and promotional pamphlets have faltered in accurately encapsulating the Adventurers Club. Words like “interactive theatre” and “gentlemen’s club” and “zany eccentrics” are bandied about to the horror, disappointment, and confusion of many who pass through the revolving door. For those in the know, this is a must-see destination bordering on obsession. What they know is that this is more of a themed attraction with booze than a nightclub with some lite entertainment. If your idea of a Good Time is sitting in a room listening to humorous factoids and olde tyme music surrounded by skeletons and cursed objects, welcome home.

How fortunate that we wrap up our tour of Pleasure Island here, at what is basically a two-storey “histerical” monument devoted to founder Merriweather Adam Pleasure. According to the Historianeers, the Adventurers Club is the sole structure built to purpose and maintained as such. What had happened was all these weird little statues and ships in bottles and ceremonial garb were pilling up in the Pleasure family home — better known these days as the Portobello Yacht Club restaurant, behind Motion and not technically part of the nighttime entertainment complex — and Isabella, in cliché wifely fashioned, ordered her husband to move his crap out or she would. Instead of building a garage or proper warehouse, he built this luxury Art Nouveau-style clubhouse with a full library and rooms for all his artifacts and treasures in 1932. He fully intended to putter around in there, to invite his travel buddies to hang out and listen to cricket matches on the wireless or summon voodoo priestesses and whatnot. In modern times, we’d call it a man cave. Some stuff happened, Merriweather went joyriding, disappeared, was presumed dead in 1941. The Adventurers Club reportedly was sealed off and sat dormant until the Imagineers discovered it, blew some of the dust off, and opened it up to the general public.

The exterior of the Adventurers Club stylistically sticks out from the rest of the Island’s aesthetic; a 1920s Moroccan pastiche plonked in the middle of a 1980s industrial warehouse district. Per the plaque, the Adventurers Club’s designs were won off a notable architect like Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens in a game of dominoes. The blueprints probably didn’t include a crashed aeroplane in the planter behind the tiki-inspired adventure club juice cart. Egyptian hieroglyphs peek out from behind cracked plaster on the stone pillar grafted onto the side of the building. The parachute draped over this obelisk likely left behind by one of the club members. Tribal drums and jungle noises come from sources unseen around the building. Some of Pleasure’s treasures — stone sculptures, tribal accessories, and Indigenous earthenware — are scattered in front of the building. Is it wise to leave poached sarcophagi outside to weather the Central Florida rains? Are the assorted skulls on pikes meant to ward off any curses set off by moldy mummies? There’s a welcoming display with an aged storybook and framed parchment scroll inviting thrill-seekers and explorers to enter if they dare. Dare we, though? A banner waves over the entrance promoting the 1937 Open House reading “Come in a stranger, leave a little stranger.”

Quick — turn back, before it’s too late. We could get off this crazy Island and go listen to CDs at Virgin Megastore in the West Side!

Through the revolving doors, we’ve taken the world’s fastest time machine back to the year 1937. The modern world does not exist here. No cellular phones or computers. No Ms. Pac-Man or Scooby-Doo. The events of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” have yet to occur. We’re now immersed in what feels like a Jules Verne story. At any moment, Phileas Fogg could come around the corner gabbing about an ambitious plan to circumnavigate the globe in a steam-powered bathtub. Guests are greeted by a door host dressed in his best safari formals — khaki jodhpurs, crisp white blouse with matching maroon bowtie and cummerbund, and brown riding boots — who provides a quick run-down of the schedule of events for the remainder of the evening. He invites guests to peer over the railing of the mezzanine to observe the goings-on in the Main Salon and encourages everyone to head downstairs for the New Member Induction Ceremony. He seems unfazed to see confused patrons stumbling through the doors in futuristic street clothes. A solemn butler strolls past carrying a bell on a tray and offers a silent nod but no other reaction to the sight of guests arriving with plastic Beach Buckets and blinking smiley face necklaces. Butlers tending to the idle rich have likely seen weirder.

This is definitely not a dance club. In stark contrast to other clubs on the Island, the Adventurers Club is well-lit with lots of upholstered chairs and carpeting. Instead of cranked up pop music reverberating off industrial fixtures, a small wooden radio plays Strauss’ “Emperor Waltz.” All of the walls are cluttered with artifacts and knick-knacks — wooden carvings, small tapestries, primitive musical instruments — the sorts of things a 55-year-old white woman might buy at a Ten Thousand Villages shop in the mall after declaring herself a Buddhist. Bolted to the sandy-coloured walls are framed black-and-white photographs of aeroplanes and locomotives and automobiles alongside portraits of distinguished gentlemen explorers. Touring this mezzanine level, this place feels less like a beloved nighttime destination and more like a heritage home turned into a museum for affluent kleptomaniacs and amateur archaeologists. Wanderers can mosey around this level, reading all the typewritten labels and brass plaques describing the whos and whats on display or poking around curio cabinets and desk drawers for further clues about the life and times of the notorious M.A.P. Beneath the wall decor sits an eclectic mix of furniture arranged in conversation nooks of varying sizes, indicating that groups could gather and chat about their own adventures or bring their own board games to play around scheduled entertainments. Between the columned archways and along the railings that define the mezzanine are intimate two-top tables where couples and small groups can observe the events downstairs from a relatively safe distance. An enormous iron chandelier hangs from the domed ceilings, surrounded by model planes and taxidermied birds and strings of national flags flapping in the air-conditioned breeze. Most of the chairs are vacant and inviting but the upstairs bar is closed. Spike Jones’ “William Tell Overture” starts on the big wooden radio in the corner near the top of the stairs. A man in a tweed coat and leafy skirt bounds up the stairs, pausing to welcome the hibiscus-clad Boomers from the Rock ’n’ Roll Beach Club, “Ah, Mr. Featherbottom! Back from safari? A honeymoon! This is the new Mrs. Featherbottom then. Hope you have better luck with her than the first five. How are you dear? Oh — my muffins!” With that, he dashes off towards the club’s entrance. How zany. So eccentric.

The carpeted staircase winds down the rear of the club next to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing Village Lake. It’s too dark to take in the view, which is okay because there is so very much to look at inside. More photographs, more tapestries, some feathery things, a bunch of maps, wall-mounted fire alarms, amateur Victorian-era paintings, and more animal skulls. A family ascending the stairs kindly promises their young teens in tow that they’ll return someday just to admire all the artifacts.

Entering the Main Salon it becomes clear that, yes, this place demands repeat visits. A large stone goddess’ head mounted above the doorway to the restrooms is literally blowing smoke as a taxidermied animatronic yak-moose mounted on the opposite wall yowls about dropping a contact lens. Wall-to-wall floral carpeting is a bold choice for a nightclub. Mismatched chairs upholstered in burgundy and jungle green fabric are arranged in semi-circle around an oval settee in the centre of the room. Atop the settee is a bronze statue of Poseidon or maybe Zeus wielding a fishing rod. Some of the chairs are empty — a trap? A barmaid in a dowdy maroon dress with an apron assures us that it is safe to sit. Above the bar stands a deep sea samurai diver, armed and ready to do battle with the bronze god of the sea and settee. Behind the bar, a blender whirs. In front of the bar, stools rise and sink to the delight of the corporate party escapees. At 11:20 PM, we have just enough time to get another specialty drink before taking a peek at the pyrotechnics and deciding where to wrap up this exciting night out. Unprompted, the barmaid recommends the Kungaloosh (spiced rum, blackberry brandy, orange juice, and strawberry daiquiri mix) over the Jungle Juice (spiced rum, overproof rum, light rum, orange juice, and strawberry daiquiri mix) and Tropical Rain Forest (vodka, melon liqueur, coconut rum, and pineapple juice). Kungaloosh it is and the barmaid does a strange salute as she walks away.

The Main Salon is an octagonal room with entrances and exits leading to other rooms containing even more junk and displays. The room next to the yak-moose is the Treasure Room, where a disembodied genie head is trapped in a cabinet and can be heard humming “Just a Gigolo.” Next to the bar is the Mask Room, which is full of sentient tribal and ceremonial masks deep in conversation about whether missionaries pushing their colonial religious agenda on Indigenous people are worse than the idle rich poaching treasures from regions yet unspoiled by developers. A set of double doors, currently closed and secured, lead into Merriweather Adam Pleasure’s Library. Watching over it all from a special balcony seat above a display case is a small, comatose elderly man in full British Raj colonel regalia. One gets the sense that the Imagineers invested all of their energies in this place and ran out of time developing the rest of the clubs on the Island.

A man in a plaid jacket and lumpy brown hat enters carrying a large trophy, stopping to chat with nearby guests about the challenges of travelling on a bus with 500 pigeons. The strange plaid man is guided away by a debonair man in a bright green jacket and tan jodhpurs. They theatrically banter about club events in an expositionary manner for the benefit of first-time visitors to this time bubble. It’s 1937! It’s open house night! It was also time to vote for the Adventurer of the Year! And the annual Radiothon fundraiser to pay for the club’s lease! And it’s New Year’s Eve in a few minutes! Don’t ask why it’s 1937 and how there’s a lease on the place if Merriweather Pleasure owns it and he doesn’t disappear until 1941. There’s no time to ask anyhow because the butler is up on the mezzanine ringing his bell and making announcements.

The Kungaloosh cocktail arrives in the nick of time as the Main Salon is suddenly flooded with guests apparently returning from a show in the Library. The two official club members take the stage at the front of the room to recruit the crowd as honorary members of the Adventurers Club. The more curious guests stick around for what’s called the New Member Induction Ceremony. Save for a small group of ardent admirers from 2002 seated near the men from 1937, nobody has a clue what’s going on or what to expect but sometimes that’s part of the Good Time experience. The men launch into their demonstration of the secret, all-purpose club salute and greeting. Hey, that’s what the barmaid did! Kungaloosh is the greeting? That’s what the drink is called! Such fun. They teach the crowd the Adventurers Club creed, which is all about living that globetrotting, jet-setting life of leisure. The elderly colonel has sprung to life — it’s an enchanted puppet singing shanties about drinking! Don’t get Pinocchio’d, Colonel! The puppet joins the two men in leading the crowd in the Adventurers Club theme song, completing the ceremony. The radio on a high shelf plays “Pomp and Circumstance.” The new members are released just in time to claim a spot outside for the New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular. Time to join the processional up the stairs and through the revolving doors to observe the handiwork of the Pyroneers.

Hill Street is sufficiently crowded for a midweek midnight as the Pleasure Island Explosion Dancers take to the West End Stage for the big New Year’s Eve show. Efficient revellers are already queued up for Comedy Warehouse’s last show of the night. Is it weird to celebrate the new year in April? Does there have to be a holiday to justify shooting pyrotechnics into the sky? Like, is there a local bylaw that WDW has loopholed to be able to launch midnight fireworks? Nighttime juice has not made us less inquisitive. This New Year’s Eve countdown is Serious Business and it is crucial for the crowd to make the loudest noises possible and really be prepared for the clock to go from 11:59 PM to 12:00 AM. “What’s up, Pleasure Island? Are you ready to have a Good Time this New Year’s? Make some noise out there!” The stage is lit for maximum dramatic impact as silhouetted dancers gesticulate and gyrate to thümp-bompbomp-ahahahahah-badonkachonk-badonkachonk-pewpewpew-bompbomp-enkenkenkenk-bomp-thümp. This show is trying very hard to ramp up excitement. Lights! Fog machines! Loud music! “We gotta crank this party to the next level or we’re gonna get replaced with inflatable wavy-arm things. Who’s having a Good Time? Lemme hear you say ‘yeah’,” booms a voice from the stage. The Tuesday crowd musters a lively enough “yeah” to satisfy the demand for enthusiasm. “Here comes the final countdown! Get ready for this new year comin’ atcha! Are you ready? 10–9–8–7- make your resolutions now -3–2–1!” Fireworks blast out of the tops of the stage and over the clubs’ rooftops. Smokey streams of orange, blue, pink, and green light up the black velour sky. An electric guitar solo of “Auld Lang Syne” plays as the unseen emcee declares “Happy New Year! Out with the old; in with the new!” Confetti cannons fire and coloured crepe paper rains down over the gathered masses. The crowd cheers obediently and the dancers vanish. As the pyro haze wafts towards the parking lot with the help of the lake breeze, the crowd cheers dwindle to murmurs of “Oh. Is that it?” and “They’ve clearly spared every expense now, haven’t they?” The PI DJ tries to keep the energy up with “Hot! Hot! Hot!” but the blasé crowd is dissipating, shuffling quietly to their final destinations of the night. With P.M. truly carped, a significant portion of the crowd drifts to the exit turnstiles.

Now what?

Standing on the steps of the Adventurers Club, decisions must be made. Did we achieve the ultimate goal of Having a Good Time? Is it worth the effort to return to any of the nightclubs for the remainder of the night? Have we plumbed the deepest depths of Pleasure Island history, reconciled the real and imagined pasts with the present and solved long-neglected mysteries? The jungle drums loop playing through a nearby speaker seems to tap out “Go home, interloper.” Or maybe it’s saying “comb the antelope.”

WWMAPD? What M.A. Pleasure would do is return to the comforts of his Adventurers Club to finish his flagon of nighttime juice and listen to some more wild tales before setting sail for foreign shores once again.

Back over the threshold to 1937. Uh-oh. There’s chaos amok. Creatures are chanting. The club members are scrambling around frantically amid reports of a cosmic disturbance. Aliens? No, the spirits of the I-4 Nomadic tribe have come to destroy the Adventurers Club and reclaim this land…and give everyone bad haircuts? Finally, consequences for rampant colonialism. Oh, no. The place can be saved if everyone participates in a rhythmic ritual dance and sacrifice? That seems problematic and places undue pressure on intoxicated time-travelling tourists. Thunder rumbles. Guests are guided downstairs. Lights flicker. The colonel speaks in gibberish. Chants are chanted. Poseidon’s bronze buttocks quiver. Percussion is percussed upon. The club’s maid dusts the head of a bald man. Drinks drank. Crash! Tinkle! Boom! The club is saved by the cringeworthy pageant. Hooray! …What?

It is too late to dwell on the experience and whether it might be canon in the Pleasureverse. The club president implores everyone to join her and the rest of the adventurers for a celebratory Hoopla. Guests are herded into the Library for the end of the night cabaret. True to its name, the Library is filled with all manners of hardcover books which are most assuredly Merriweather’s collection of enriching and restorative reference manuals and not Merriam and Isabella’s trashy romance novels. An intrepid modern-day explorer attempts to pull a tome from the shelf for closer inspection and is issued a firm tut-tut from the door host. To the right of the Library’s entrance is a stage with an organ loft, a hole through the ceiling above the stage, and an organ crashed into the stage’s floor. The unmanned organ vamps as the audience is seated. It is revealed that the organ is inhabited by the spirit of a deceased organist because of course it is. Guarding the organ loft are two suits of armour, likely worn by brothers Stewart and Henry Pleasure whilst romping about the Island in a game of Seize the Knight. To the left of the entrance is a bar with a towering display of shiny brass trophies and a super-sized ship in a bottle. The dark rosewood shelves recede against the ornate green floral wallpaper. Stuck high on the wall to the right of the trophy shelf is a rectangular digital clock. Well, never mind the speculation about whether the club members and staff inhabiting this place are all actually ghosts trapped on the Island and doomed to repeat the events of New Year’s Eve 1937 indefinitely. The time bubble is shattered by glowing red numbers. No time for disillusionment! The zany eccentrics take to the stage to perform bawdy novelty numbers. It’s a solid twenty minutes of a jaunty adventuress decked out in animal print leading everyone in rousing sing-alongs like “The Happy Wanderer” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” with other boldly-dressed adventurers taking the mic to belt out a few songs about drinking and sexual conquests. The official club members assemble on stage, give one final Kungaloosh salute and run off before anyone can ask how a ghost from 1937 could be in a 2002 car wax commercial or why Merriweather Pleasure couldn’t be arsed to show up for Open House. At the back of the Library bar, the ship in the super-sized bottle cracks and sinks. As the audience debates whether to stay seated or move on, a friendly recorded voice assures us that the show is indeed over and that it is time to skedaddle.

A quick elevator ride and one last spin through the revolving doors, we return again to a subdued Hill Street. The scheduled shows are over. The steel stanchions corralling club queues are empty. The bar huts are shuttered for the night. Over the sound system, the PI DJ spins his “Well, This Was Fun — Good Night” mix. “Closing Time”/“One More Time”/“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”/”(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” reminding party people of the Good Time they had tonight. Revellers in the street review their last call options — last chance to get a souvenir glow-in-the-dark PI hurricane glass or a framed animation cel of Pinocchio with the donkey ears and Jiminy Cricket saying “That’s what you get for reading Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang,” last chance to play the Midway bottle toss to win a neon monkey, last chance to justify carrying that overnight toothbrush. In the middle of the empty West End Plaza, an illuminated PI logo slow dances alone around the brick and asphalt slab.

Before crossing the bridge and facing the harsh realties of traffic and the quietude of home, guests must dispose of the remaining alcoholic contents in their yellow cups and Beach Buckets. Down the stairs alongside the West End Stage and at the base of the building is a waterfront seating area where patrons trying to carry their cocktails through the turnstiles are directed to by weary gate minders who themselves are ready to escape the Island. The area is dressed up as a seaside quay, with wooden barrels and crates stacked around as if this were once a bustling warehouse loading dock in the early 20th century and not a set built in 1994. The exterior walls are decorated with antique life preservers and fishing equipment and signs for maritime-based operations making vaguely punny references to Captains Nemo and Ahab. Smokers congregate around the wooden barrels, moaning over how they soon won’t be able to smoke indoors anywhere and the unfairness of having their personal freedoms infringed upon. Stragglers from the Multinational Technology Enterprises party groan about how they have an early morning of meetings tomorrow and should’ve gone home hours ago. College Program kids gather farther down the backside of the West End Stage, energetically bouncing to the beats leaking out from the BET Soundstage Club patio and determined to close the place down before heading out to the 24-hour diner on International Drive.

Now comes the sobering task of figuring out late night transportation logistics. Designated drivers steer their boozed crews in the direction of the parking lot. Tourists staying on WDW property stumble towards the bus stop and struggle to remember which resort they’re booked at. A parade of yellow taxis idle along the curb ready to whisk Spandex’d Cinderellas and sleepy beauties safely back to their apartments and hotels. Our checkered chariot awaits and at 12:45 AM, after a full six hours of Good Times, we bid a fond adieu to Downtown Disney’s nighttime theme park.

Goodnight, Funmeister. Goodnight, Merriweather Pleasure. Goodnight, PI Histerical Society and your ridiculous plaques. Goodnight, Jessica Rabbit. Goodnight, ticket caboose. Goodnight, Forrest Gump’s boat. Goodnight, Planet Hollywood and the rotating dinosaur on top the Planet Hollywood gift shop. Goodnight, pretend warehouses and manufactured lagoon. Goodbye, Pleasure Island.

Katharine Miller: Author. Artist. Novelty Enthusiast. sparklingobservationalist.com

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