The story behind Pleasure Island's huge renovation

This week we've talked A LOT about the big renovation that will take place very soon, and that will end in 2013. Now, here you are the story that explains you WHY the Disney Company decided to take this big step toward this amazing project:

How the Hyperion Wharf project became reality

When Pleasure Island opened at Downtown Disney in 1989, a gallon of gas cost 97 cents, families were gathering around the television to watch "The Cosby Show," Bobby McFerrin was singing "Don't Worry Be Happy," and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "The Little Mermaid" were box office hits. Two decades later, the six-acre venue flanked by the West Side and Marketplace had become as dated as acid-washed jeans and dresses with shoulder pads.

In 2008, Walt Disney Imagineering began developing a holistic, overarching vision for all of Downtown Disney, including the redesign of Pleasure Island into a more family-friendly experience featuring a mix of shopping, dining and nighttime entertainment. The WDI team included Principal Show Designer Alex Wright, Senior Project Manager Frank Paris and Director of Master Planning David Stofcik. 

Working with Downtown Disney Project Manager Nancy Belanger, the WDI team began exploring how to repurpose the district originally built as a gated venue, and master plan a seamless experience in line with other Downtown Disney offerings. "A big challenge we asked of WDI was to open up the waterfront to better showcase our greatest asset, which is Village Lake," Nancy said. Along with the theming and story development process, Imagineers also had to address tactical considerations such as meeting Downtown Disney's deficit of food and beverage service options and working with existing Pleasure Island tenants including Fulton's Crab House, Portobello Restaurant, Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant and Paradiso 37.

Placemaking was another important consideration. "We all wanted the island district to be relevant - a social gathering spot with inviting and intimate spaces where all of our guests can relax," Alex explained. "A place where they feel comfortable lingering; perhaps spending an evening sampling different offerings, having a nice meal, strolling the water's edge and stopping later for dessert or coffee." This meant the existing architecture – predominantly big night club structures with controlled environments – had to be repurposed to a more comfortable scale that improved the pedestrian experience and took advantage of its lakeside location. Imagineers also wanted it to be a definably Disney place. 

The theme that emerged centered on a time period that inspired Walt Disney and the Company's early days. Alex described the story driver: "The 1920s were a time of grand visions and exuberance and an optimistic sensibility that we can all relate to. Electric lighting was a novelty then and it spurred a proliferation of amusement parks like Coney Island and Luna Park. In fact, Disney lore tells the story of young Walt and his sister looking through the gates at Electric Park in Kansas City and watching the lights come on at night; a memory that became the inspiration for the moment when the Main Street lights are turned on in the Magic Kingdom." As a result, lighting emerged as an important component of the theme. 

The waterfront venue's new name – Hyperion Wharf – is a nod to Disney’s early heritage. Hyperion is a reference to the street address of the Walt Disney Studio in Los Angeles where Walt used light to project moving images to create his early animation including the Oswald the Rabbitcartoons, Steamboat Willie, Ferdinand the Bull, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

Serendipity erased any concerns about the unfamiliar name. "While Hyperion is a key word in the history of The Walt Disney Company, it never has been incorporated into any of the Florida theme parks and experiences," said Alex. "Then we discovered that Hyperion also is the Greek god of light, and that brought the whole theme full circle for us. Everything clicked and a lot of things fell into place." 

From an architectural standpoint, Imagineers drew inspiration from the industrialized look of the time period. To make the existing assets and architecture fit into the core design, they divided the island into three sub-neighborhoods. The area closest to Marketplace is designed as a port or shipyard and features Fulton's Crab House, in the former Empress Lilly riverboat replica docked on the waterfront, and a ferry terminal building. 

Anchored by Raglan Road, the center of the island is fashioned after a dockside wharf with canals, boardwalks and heavily industrialized-looking buildings. The former Mannequins Dance Palace is being repurposed and will be presented as an industrial factory reminiscent of Thomas Edison's workshop, while Paradiso 37 reflects the look of a port authority building or a waterfront receiving warehouse. The third area nearest the West Side has the feel of an amusement pier from the heydays of Coney Island and Luna Park. 

A new element is a lakeside park at the island’s center that features an amphitheater and waterside promenade where guests can relax and enjoy the view while being entertained by live musicians. A key element of the park is a Vintage Electro-Vision – imagine an Edison-era jumbotron – that uses incandescent lamps to create a low-definition monochromatic amber-colored video presentation that is eventually interspersed with LEDs for more color and fidelity. 

At the end of the day, lighting becomes the common thread throughout Hyperion Wharf that links the three venues together. Alex described Imagineers' two-staged approach to this core design theme. "Beginning at twilight, there is a 'moment' when a cast member flips a big contact switch; you hear the sounds of generators whirling to life and the lighting spider-webs its way around the island. Later in the evening, as people start gathering after dinner and the character of the island becomes more animated and vibrant, the lighting takes on a contemporary feel, shifting more to a saturated color palatte with sculptural lighting and building washes."

Frank noted that the story line and supporting theme, architecture and other elements create a sensory experience.  "The new district has an urban sensibility found in a restaurant district with all the things that appeal to your senses – the glow on the street from restaurants and shops, the sight of food being prepared, the smell of great food, and the sounds of people enjoying time together," he explained.

Nancy's praise for WDI and its work on Hyperion Wharf is electric. "As the Downtown Disney operator, we are excited to have a story line, a strategy and a master plan. The Imagineering team collectively understands and respects the operations side of our business, and they worked very hard to integrate our needs into the story line and environment."

That's a nice story. As I said many, many times, i love what they're doing to the old Pleasure Island. Its first incarnation was very anti-Disney, with alcohol, clubs, etc...
There's one club, though, that will be greatly missed by many: The Adventurer's Club.
I was hoping that they would leave it, but for the sake of the new project, it will have to sacrificed.
Why, we had to sacrifice World of Motion, Horizon, etc... and we can't sacrifice a club?


  1. Why would The Adventurers Club need to be sacrificed? It would fit the theme and era quite well. It was a totally unique place where families with older kids could all go together. This club has such a huge and loyal following-it would be filled the very day it re-opened.

  2. Ridiculous! Manaquins should be reopened. It was one of a kind.

  3. Funny how many people say that the alcohol at PI was bad for Disney,,you do realize EVERY Disney park except "Magic Kingdom" has bars and serve hard liqour everyday almost from the time the park opens..
    PI was a place for the adult kids to get away to their own gated theme park after a long day of park hopping with the young kids. .

  4. Disney bring back manequins


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