The Adventurers Club at Downtown Disney

Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you… But always dress for the hunt.”

Years ago, we began our Lost Legends series with a simple idea: to build a library of stories that encapsulate the most complete and accessible histories of these forgotten fan-favorites. By doing so, we hoped to save these stories for a new generation of emerging Disney Parks fans who simply might not understand what the big deal was about Journey into Imagination, Snow White's Scary AdventuresMaelstromThe Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, or any of the dozens of other Lost Legends entries in our In-Depth Collection Library.

As we’ve told these tales – exploring the way they intertwine and weave through time – we’ve asked you to share your thoughts and memories and stories. Today especially, we’ll need your help, because there may be no attraction on Earth that relied as heavily on community, storytelling, and camaraderie than that of The Adventurers Club, the mysterious and revered living theater venue in Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island.

Image: Disney

Packed with special effects, Audio-Animatronics, songs, hidden wonders, ancient artifacts, and mysteries worth years of exploration, even in retrospect it’s hard to say exactly what this venerated and beloved attraction was. A nightclub? A walkthrough? A show? An exhibit? Hmm…

Join us in this in-depth look at the history of the beguiling Adventurers Club, what waited within, and where its ingredients have spread across the globe… As always, the story begins years before the Adventurers Club would ever open its doors... in this case, it's rooted more than a century ago in a fairytale history that many Disney Parks fans don't know...

Paradise found

Pleasure Island Histerical Society plaque. Image: Rob Yeo Design

According to "Disney legend," it was 1911 when a Mississippi side-wheeler steamed through Lake Buena Vista in Central Florida, anchoring on the coast of a miniscule island overgrown with sawgrass and Florida wildflowers... population: "a couple of alligators and a family of herons." Unbeknownst to them, their preserved island had been discovered by Merriweather Pleasure, a bon vivant turn-of-the-century seafaring explorer who'd set out for the unknown with his family in tow! 

A collector of wonders, artifacts, relics, and art, Merriweather Pleasure was a renaissance man of most noble type; a thinker, dreamer, inventor, and wanderer whose landing in this otherwise remote Florida lagoon was no accident! A product of the great era of merchant sailing, Pleasure, his wife, and his three children had arrived with a dream, and christened their new home Pleasure Island. Here on this new island, he would establish Pleasure Canvas and Sailmaking, Ltd. 

Image: Disney

At once, the overgrown lagoon isle became a flurry of construction and, by 1912, the endless expanse of Florida wilderness was dominated by a canvas fabrication plant and a sailmaking factory! A year later, a power plant began supplying the island with the electro-power of the new incandescent lightbulb, spurring a telegraph office and mail room. A brass foundry, upholstery shop, and social center began drawing the old money of the region with a lucrative yacht-refurbishment business, and before long Pleasure and his family were able to move out of their paddlewheeler and into a Bermuda-style mansion overlooking Lake Buena Vista, taking all of Merriweather's decades of artifacts, artwork, and relics with them.

In 1920, the long-suffering Isabella Pleasure offered her husband an ultimatum: find a new home for his ever-expanding collection of international oddities or she would do it for him. Pleasure did what any man faced with choosing between his wife or his wonders would: he found a way to keep them both. In 1920, he opened a new library on the western shore of the island and transposed his priceless collections to its hallowed halls. The library quickly became a go-to social club for his globetrotting companions; a secret society hangout of seafaring explorers; a headquarters for the age-old Adventurers Club...

Image: Disney

Like all dreamers, Merriweather's hopes eventually surpassed his means. His devoted quest to discover reusable energy – what he called "the power of the planet" – saw much of his sailmaking infrastructure transformed into laboratories for constructing unimaginable steam-powered flying machines, eventually leading to Pleasure's unfortunate disappearance somewhere in the Arctic... When Hurricane Connie struck in 1955, it closed the rusted remains of Pleasure Island off from the rest of the world (and, coincidentally, created Typhoon Lagoon), and it seemed certain that all traces of Pleasure Island and its Adventurers Club would be lost forever... Until...

The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (1975)

Walt Disney World held its triumphant opening in 1971. Billed as "The Vacation Kingdom of the World," executives and designers at Walt Disney Productions were certain that their new, master-planned resort would be a one-of-a-kind international destination. Sure, it had a theme park, resort hotels, and a week's worth of leisure activities (including boating, camping, hiking, swimming, waterskiing, and more). But much more than a transient tourist attraction, they also planned for Walt Disney World to have neighborhoods... permanent residential communities!

Image: Disney

The first planned would be located in the property's southeastern corner on the shores of Lake Buena Vista. This quaint, charming, quiet community would be a relaxing retreat. And best of all, it would have its own accompanying shopping center.

According to plans, residents of Lake Buena Vista would only need to hop aboard their own full-circuit Peoplemover (a practical application of the Lost Legend: The Peoplemover only prototyped at Disneyland) for a sleek, swift aerial ride to the nearby Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. There, they could purchase sundries, snacks, and souvenirs at low-key shops, or catch a Monorail to sail further into the resort.

The problem is that, by the mid-'70s, Disney's executives and designers were moving full-speed ahead toward their largest projects to date: the nearly simulantaneous openings of EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. Lake Buena Vista's residential community was postponed, though the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village did open in 1975. Without its associated neighborhood or the Monorail that would've connected it to the rest of the resort, though, the Shopping Village felt more or less separate from the core of Walt Disney World.

1978 map, featuring the new name "Walt Disney World Village." Image: Disney

To help, it was renamed just three years later to the Walt Disney World Village. But it wasn't enough to make the collection of shops worth a drive for most Disney World visitors. It needed more. And that was exactly what it was about to get... Read on...


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