Hyperion Wharf

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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“On June 27, 2008, the Walt Disney World Resort announced that it would be completely re-imagining the Downtown Disney area with new shopping, dining and other experiences, including a completely re-imagined Pleasure Island. On September 27, 2008, Pleasure Island will cease to exist as we know it today. “

…and it did. I wrote those words back in July 2008 in a column I entitled “Who Killed Pleasure Island?”. In that column, I examined the history of the Downtown Disney entertainment venue and speculated on the reasons for its imminent demise. That speculation led me to the conclusion that the chief reason Disney pulled the plug on Pleasure Island was a lack of profitability. I also wrote:

“I would hope that just this once, they (Disney) might look beyond the profitability of each establishment and recognize that unique entertainment offerings that improve the guests’ experience might be best left alone.”

That sentence was one of many pleas to spare two beloved and storied venues, The Adventurers Club and the Comedy Warehouse, from the corporate axe. Ultimately, and unfortunately, those pleas fell upon deaf ears.


Doomed. Photo by Steve Russo.

Since that column was published, Pleasure Island has become a mere shell of its former self. The West End Stage that once hosted nightly shows featuring Frankie and the West End Boys is gone. The lines of people queued in front of the Comedy Warehouse, awaiting entry while being entertained by Frankie, are gone. The Adventurers’ Club is locked up tight, its animatronics gone silent along with the Mask Room and Library. Many of the facility’s artifacts have turned up in other venues across the Disney property. There hasn’t been a new member initiation in years.


Doomed. Photo by Steve Russo.

The Pleasure Island clubs, Motion, the Rock and Roll Beach Club, 8-Traxx and the Wildhorse Saloon? All are now quiet.

So… here we are, two-plus years after this announcement was made and nothing of any real substance has happened. We do have two new dining establishments added to the area—Raglan Road and Paradiso 37—but where’s the “completely re-imagined” Pleasure Island that Disney had promised? Where are the new shopping, dining and “other” experiences?


Demolition and reconstruction will, hopefully, start soon. Photo by Steve Russo.

On November 18, 2010, we got our answer: Hyperion Wharf. Wha? What’s a “Hyperion Wharf”?

The first thing that struck me was the name: Hyperion. With a little research, you’ll find that Hyperion was the “god of light” in Greek mythology. That gives a bit of a clue to what’s coming at Hyperion Wharf, but to a Disney geek like me, the connection is more apparent: Hyperion is the name of the street where Walt Disney built his first major animation studio—2719 Hyperion Avenue, near Hollywood, California.

So… after more than two years of inactivity, we’re about to get started on some construction—actually, demolition that precedes construction. Disney will soon begin demolishing several of the former Pleasure Island nightspots. The first to go will be the former Motion and Rock 'n' Roll Beach Club—both on the lower part of Hill Street. Later, two establishments further up the street will be torn down: the BET Soundstage and the Adventurers Club (and I sense there will be a great disturbance in the Force when the first brick falls from the Adventurers Club.) What’s going to replace these establishments? That’s where the information gets a bit sketchy.

“With a fresh take on early 20th century amusement piers, Hyperion Wharf will feature trendy boutiques, a lakeside park and unique dining among a wonderland of lights.”

Let's examine that statement. To me, “trendy boutiques” equals “shopping opportunities” and if you’ve read any of my previous columns, you know that I feel Disney World is sufficiently rampant with shopping opportunities. Do we need more? I guess if we put the adjective “trendy” in front of it, we might expect a few more shops like D Street with its “edgy” apparel; TrenD, a “stylish boutique with designer flair”; and LittleMissMatched, a place to buy, of all things, mismatched socks.

OK, that’s all a bit unfair and my “curmudgeon” is beginning to show, but I really dislike being fed more shopping opportunities to replace what I believe are unique entertainment venues. Let me try to pry open my mind a bit and attempt to envision what we might see from this newly re-imagined area of Downtown Disney. For a moment, we’ll ignore the “trendy boutiques” and look at the “lakeside park.”

Keith Bradford, vice president of Downtown Disney, stated that an amphitheater-style park on the lakeside would be the first area ready for guests. He expects the park, next to the Paradiso 37 restaurant, will be ready by the summer of 2011. Here’s a Disney-supplied rendering of what this area will look like:


A rendering of Hyperion Wharf. © Disney

Looking closely, that appears to be Paradiso 37 off to the right. The large facility in the center of the rendering is labeled “Zach Divine." I can’t find any reference to that name as a restaurant or shop, so I’m speculating it’s just a “placeholder name” Disney has used in the rendering.

Personally, I’m not seeing a great deal of “turn-of-the-century seaport” which is how Disney is describing the area. The amphitheater does look very nicely landscaped and depicts a number of people relaxing while watching some type of lighting display—bringing us back to the “god of light” reference. It appears to be a great spot for a breather, but hardly an attraction in itself—unless, of course, this light show is truly entertaining or there are plans for additional live entertainment in this venue.

Here’s a second rendering with a slightly different perspective:


Hyperion Wharf. © Disney

From this view, Paradiso 37 is more clearly visible so we’re able to orient ourselves a bit. We can see spotlights above the sign and a large video “scoreboard” depicting a smiling Mickey Mouse. I could certainly envision some uses for that display but most of them pop into my head as advertisements. Again, much like Disney’s press release, there are no hints as to what new shopping, dining or entertainment venues may be offered here.

With nothing else to go on, let’s examine Disney’s press release more closely.

“By day, Hyperion Wharf will draw guests in with its stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.”

Much as the Downtown Disney Marketplace draws crowds each day, I think we can assume there will be a similar attraction to Hyperion Wharf. Again, it’s only speculation but I can envision some (hopefully) unique dining establishments offering some outdoor dining opportunities consistent with that “turn-of-the-century seaport” ambiance.

While a part of me is a bit cynical regarding the “electric wonderland” comment, I’ve been around too long to doubt Disney’s ability to pull off something special. While I’d like to believe it would be something on a par with Disneyland’s World of Color, practically speaking that’s highly doubtful. Nonetheless, I would expect a use of current lighting technology that will capture our attention, if not dazzle and amaze us.


Hyperion Wharf. © Disney

What of the dining and entertainment locations planned for Hyperion Wharf? Disney has indicated they are currently in negotiations with a number of companies so we’ll have to wait for those answers. Many have lamented the perceived decline of Disney dining over the last several years so here’s hoping that the new establishments brought in will help to rectify that. While nothing specific has been announced, there are unconfirmed rumors floating around about a speedboat themed restaurant, called Mahogany Bay, to be built in Disney World.

While, Disney expects the entire project to be completed by early 2013, there are a number of other changes we can expect to occur sooner. The following items come from a November 18 Orlando Sentinel article (link):

“The AMC theater will open a "concession stand of the future" next week that will feature gourmet popcorn, self-serve ice cream, specialty coffees and 106 flavors of Coca-Cola.”

I don’t know about you but my reaction to this is “Meh." I like popcorn but the opportunity to serve myself soft serve ice cream could prove disastrous. And does anyone really need 106 flavors of anything?

“The theaters will convert six screens into a ‘Fork & Screen’ concept next year. They will have ‘seat-side’ service — food delivered to the tables inside the theater.”

I know that many areas of the country have established these “dinner and a movie” operations but these are two activities I prefer to keep separate so, again, this is not a big benefit as far as I’m concerned.

“The Marketplace's Lego store will expand 60 percent and change its building-block icons into Disney characters. The partially submerged Lego dragon ‘is still slated to be there’ said Keith Bradford, vice president of Downtown Disney.”

OK, this is cool. The only thing potentially better is if they had gone to a Muppet theme.

What’s the bottom line? Pleasure Island was such a unique experience—it had a feel all its own. I can still remember walking up Hill Street and seeing the large television screens that showed the crowd. Does anyone remember the dancers performing on the outdoor stage on the lower end of the hill? I can recall standing in the outdoor queue at the Comedy Warehouse, watching a small crowd dancing in the street to Frankie and the West End Boys.

Yes, there are improvisational comedy clubs in many locations in the world but none has the Disney feel of the Comedy Warehouse. It was a place where young and old alike could enjoy some top-notch performances by a first-rate cast. The entertainment was wholesome with not much more than innuendo to offend anyone. And is there anything like the Adventurers Club?

Will Hyperion Wharf prove to be a suitable replacement for Pleasure Island? Will it “plus” Pleasure Island? Obviously, the jury’s out until we learn more. As I indicated, there’s a part of me that’s cynical—ever pessimistic when Disney chooses to replace something that I don’t particularly want to see replaced (Horizons, anyone?) In this case we have to give the benefit of the doubt. Disney Imagineering’s track record is too good to think they can’t pull this off and turn Hyperion Wharf into a place we will all enjoy. It won’t be Pleasure Island but… maybe that’s OK.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Comments

  1. By danyoung

    My take on this is that the area has been more or less a big nothing for so long now that anything new gets compared to the nothing, and not to what was there in Pleasure Island's heyday. I wasn't a big regular at PI, but I did enjoy a visit from time to time, and like most I lament the loss of a truly unique experience to be had at the Adventurers Club. I'm a little less pessimistic, Steve - I'm willing to wait and see, and to enjoy the new outing for what it is, not comparing it to what once was.

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    My take on this is that the area has been more or less a big nothing for so long now that anything new gets compared to the nothing, and not to what was there in Pleasure Island's heyday. I wasn't a big regular at PI, but I did enjoy a visit from time to time, and like most I lament the loss of a truly unique experience to be had at the Adventurers Club. I'm a little less pessimistic, Steve - I'm willing to wait and see, and to enjoy the new outing for what it is, not comparing it to what once was.

    I agree with you, Dan. I hope I didn't come off as overly pessimistic. It will appeal to a slightly different demographic. As I said, I don't think it will be Pleasure Island but that might be OK.

  3. By DwarfPlanet

    The last time DW and I visited DTD we only went to the Disney store for potatohead parts. The time we spent going there and returning was longer than the amount of time we spent there. This will definately be a wait and see but I'm not holding my breath. So far I see nothing that screams "Man, I have to go see this" like the Adventurers Club used to.

  4. By cbarry

    I'm going to commit a Disney sin here by saying that I never set foot in The Adventurer's Club, and I do sort of regret that, but that aside I was always so turned off by Pleasure Island as a whole. The few times I walked through it, my Disney World Bubble instantly popped and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I found it to be cheap and garish.

    I remember reading that Walt was always disappointed with the 'honky-tonk' that opened around Disneyland soon after it's opening. I have to say, and I accept that I may be in the minority here, but that was my first thought the first time I stepped foot on Pleasure Island, after a loud and audible "Yuch" from both my wife and I.

    Sorry, I know people lament it's passing, but I was thrilled when the word hit that it was going away. I hope Hyperion Wharf is bit classier.

    CB

  5. By ericles

    Quote Originally Posted by cbarry View Post
    I'm going to commit a Disney sin here by saying that I never set foot in The Adventurer's Club, and I do sort of regret that, but that aside I was always so turned off by Pleasure Island as a whole. The few times I walked through it, my Disney World Bubble instantly popped and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I found it to be cheap and garish.

    I remember reading that Walt was always disappointed with the 'honky-tonk' that opened around Disneyland soon after it's opening. I have to say, and I accept that I may be in the minority here, but that was my first thought the first time I stepped foot on Pleasure Island, after a loud and audible "Yuch" from both my wife and I.

    Sorry, I know people lament it's passing, but I was thrilled when the word hit that it was going away. I hope Hyperion Wharf is bit classier.

    CB

    wow....my husband and I always thought the same thing. We've been visiting together since 1993 and had never made it to the Adventurers Club either. We really get where you are coming from when you say that you felt "out of the bubble", as we've long thought the same.
    Welp, we will give it another try once it's completed I suppose.

  6. By carolinakid

    At this stage, Hyperion Wharf holds little appeal for us. We weren't big PIers to begin with but we always enjoyed dancing a few hours away at 8Trax!

  7. By pmhacker

    Not sure what to say about this new development. Being a DVC owner and spending most of my stays at Saratoga Springs, I have a new found like of Downtown Disney. I spend more time at the AMC theaters, the restaurants and just walking around absorbing the people and what little entertainment there is. While PI is very much gone, and sorely missed, in my opinion, something needs to tie the two ends of DTD together. I hope Disney builds something for everyone that isn't all food. Entertainment is critical to draw the crowds in. I would love to see a bar like Jellyrolls or even a revival of the comedy warehouse in some form. The amphitheater is great, lets just hope it gets used. I am sure that's not what Disney has in mind, but oh well.

    In any event, something is better than nothing, which is what currently fills the space.

  8. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by ericles View Post
    We really get where you are coming from when you say that you felt "out of the bubble", as we've long thought the same.

    For me, it was just instant...POP...The lights, the neon, the drinking, the bad cover band playing outdoors...you couldn't get me out of there fast enough. Funny, because this past summer walking through City Walk over at Universal, I didn't feel the same. It's loud and tacky and all that, but I wasn't already "inside the Disney bubble." There was no bubble to burst. So, it was almost acceptable there. When I crossed that bridge onto PI for the first time...unacceptable.

    Although, everything I've heard and read about the Adventurer's Club does make me wish I had checked it out. Oh well.

  9. By Drince88

    In the category of WILD speculation with absolutely no basis in any actual knowledge: I thought the stage area looked similar to the World of Color area. Perhaps they could stage something like that there?

  10. By danyoung

    Quote Originally Posted by cbarry View Post
    Although, everything I've heard and read about the Adventurer's Club does make me wish I had checked it out. Oh well.

    Not that it matters, but I do recall AC members being very adamant about this. There is no apostrophe in Adventurers Club. It's a club full of adventurers, not a club owned by an adventurer.

  11. By carolinakid

    The first thought that came to my mind when I saw the sketches.....it looks like our local mall with laser lights!

  12. By suekolkka

    It's funny, but I stopped enjoying Pleasure Island years before it closed. I remember going there and feeling uncomfortable and even a little unsafe. It stopped feeling like and extension of DisneyWorld and started feeling like a "Jersey shore" episode! I had always enjoyed the comedy show, and it is a shame they could not figure out a way to keep it open, but I think unfortunately P.I. had turned into something Disney never intended. I would like it if they would add more than shopping and Movies- we will just have to wait and see!

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