Hyperion Wharfby Steve Russo, staff writer
“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.
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.
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?
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:
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:
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.
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?