September 27, 2008 was a memorable day in Disney history. On that Saturday, patrons at the Adventurers Club—a nightclub at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island complex—witnessed the final public performance at the venue. Considered more than an ordinary watering hole, the nightclub was filled with surprises, including animatronics, live performances, audience participation, club chants, and magical drinks.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Disney made the decision to close Pleasure Island and its bevy of bars, revamping the area to make it more family-friendly with shopping and restaurants. If you miss the Adventurers Club—or want to know what you missed out on—read on for a little behind-the-scenes trivia.
1. THE IDEA CAME FROM A THEME PARTY HELD BY A DISNEY IMAGINEER.
According to Craig McNair Wilson, who developed the shows and trained the actors, the idea for an old-explorer-themed hideaway came from “our shared love of the world of the pith helmet and all that circled around it.” A party held by Imagineer Joe Rohde, called “The Last Days of the Raj,” helped nudge the idea along. Another major influence was a play called Tamara, a show based in the 1930s that allowed theatergoers to physically follow characters from room to room in an Italian Villa (really an old Elks lodge).
“There’s also more than a pinch of Rick’s Cafe,” Wilson said.
2. THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT FEATURED BAR PATRONS SIPPING COCKTAILS NEXT TO GHOSTS.
Had the design been executed as originally planned, guests could have pulled up a stool next to a spectre. The “Illusions Bar” would have utilized the Pepper’s Ghost optical effect to fade ghosts in and out of the atmosphere. It was likely never realized because the whole Pleasure Island concept ended up being over budget, and certain details had to be sacrificed. Another idea that got the axe? A room where a gypsy named Madame Zenobia would tell fortunes and read palms.
3. IT WAS ONCE HOME TO THE MISSING LINK.
The early days of the Adventurers Club included a character named Marcel, who was referred to as the Missing Link. Part gorilla, part human, Marcel could be seen (but not heard—he didn't speak) doing chores and helping the performers. He was eventually deemed unnecessary and replaced with an Amelia Earhart-inspired character named Samantha Sterling.
4. THE HERO CHARACTER "EMIL BLEEHALL" WAS SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.
Created by head writer Roger Cox, explorer Emil Bleehall was meant to mirror his own creative journey. According to Cox's widow, Sybil:
"The Adventurers Club's unlikely hero, Emil Bleehall, is based on a long-standing semi autobiographical character Roger created. He is the funny little guy from Ohio who wins over the higher authorities and gains their respect and admiration with his seemingly awkward modest but ultimately unique crowd-pleasing talents. Roger felt Emil's struggle at the Adventurers Club paralleled his own story at Disney getting his Adventurers Club ideas off the ground and accepted there."
Here's Emil in action:
5. A THEMED FIREWORKS SHOW WAS NEVER REALIZED.
The back story was that the founder of the club and island, Merriweather Pleasure, had once owned a steamboat that had been blown up by Pleasure’s greedy cousins. Every night, the ghost ship would appear on the water surrounding Pleasure Island and re-enact the spectacular explosion of yesteryear before disappearing back into the night. Presumably, the idea was canned when the nightly New Year's Eve bash became Pleasure Island's big draw instead.
6. THEY DISCUSSED AN EXPANSION IF THE CLUB BECAME A BIG HIT.
"The physical design of the club grew out of Chris Carradine’s brilliant and dangerous mind," Wilson said. "Chris explained it to me on a series of cocktail napkins, late one night in NYC." Carradine envisioned that the club would have "twice as many rooms as . . . guests will ever see." Wilson suggested that they would add or open additional rooms after the club proved successful. "New treasures, now arriving from around the globe... Adventurers Club: bigger, wilder, crazier. Kungaloosh!"
7. “FINGERS” ZAMBEZI WAS INSPIRED BY ANOTHER PHANTOM PIANO PLAYER.
The team that concepted many of the club’s special effects were big fans of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, another exclusive hangout featuring mysterious characters and magical encounters. They borrowed the idea for Fingers Zambezi, an invisible organ player, from the Magic Castle’s “Irma,” a ghost that not only plays the piano, but even takes requests.
8. THE JEKYLL AND HYDE CLUB WAS CREATED BY A FAN.
According to Wilson, the Jekyll and Hyde Club in New York, a similarly interactive restaurant but with a Gothic theme, was created by a stockbroker who was enamored with the Adventurers Club. "They even hired away several of the actors I had trained from Streetmosphere at Disney-MGM and Adventurers Club," Wilson said. "When I met the manager, he said, 'It is based on and totally inspired by the Adventurers Club.'"
9. THERE WAS AN OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER.
Adventurers Club members were so beloved that fans from around the world wrote them letters. At first, cast members wrote back, in character. But soon, they were receiving so much mail that show writer Chris Oyen created a four-page newsletter, based on a real newsletter from a real turn-of-the-century explorers’ club, instead. To make it seem as if Adventurers Almanac had really been around for decades, volume numbers were not sequential. That tactic drove collectors nuts—they thought they were missing copies.
10. A NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN CHARACTER APPEARED ON THE FINAL NIGHT.
During performances and conversations, club members often referenced a fellow explorer named Sutter Bestwick. Like Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, Sutter never actually showed his face—until the last night. He even inducted new members:
11. SOME OF THE PROPS HAVE FOUND A SECOND LIFE.
The club was packed full of artifacts and knickknacks, some of which were dispersed to other Disney projects when the place closed. A selection of the tribal masks are now on display at the Explorers Club at Hong Kong Disneyland.
12. YOU CAN SPOT REFERENCES TO THE CLUB AT VARIOUS OTHER LOCATIONS ON DISNEY PROPERTY.
The Adventurers Club gang may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten. For example, if you scan the walls at Trader Sam’s tiki bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, you may notice some framed correspondence from club members Pamelia Perkins and Samantha Sterling. An avian "resident" of the club, Scooter the peacock, still resides in the vicinity—he's displayed at a Downtown Disney store called D Street.
There are also references to other members in the Jungle Cruise queue, and there’s a dish called “Kungaloosh!” at the new Skipper Canteen restaurant at the Magic Kingdom—although it's chocolate cake, not the fruity alcoholic drink with a cult following from the club.
There are even references at Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian resort; though designers are tight-lipped, it seems that the proprietors of "Aunty's Beach House" are related to one of the original members of the Adventurers Club.
13. THE CAST HAS REUNITED ON A FEW SPECIAL OCCASIONS.
In 2009, a private gathering for WDW Radio was held at the venue, with the cast performing. The event below was arranged courtesy of D23, the official Disney fan club, in November 2014 for a tribute to Pleasure Island:
14. THERE WERE MYSTERIOUS GLYPHS ON THE EXTERIOR THAT WERE NEVER INTERPRETED.
One article in the club newsletter recounted the fictional tale of how the real glyphs were discovered. As the story goes, a pre-Columbian statue was being placed by the front door of the club when the crane operator accidentally bumped the wall. Plaster fell away, revealing these mysterious glyphs. The article was accompanied by an “editor’s note” that said the club curator had determined that the glyphs represented jokes told by a Pharaoh who had citizens thrown from an obelisk if they didn’t laugh.
There really were glyphs painted on the building, and as Wade Sampson of MousePlanet notes, there’s usually a meaning behind things that appear to be random at Disney parks. However, no Imagineers have ever stepped forward to provide an interpretation.