In yet another controversial move, Disney announced today that the old Pleasure Island section of Downtown Disney will be transformed into “Hyperion Wharf,” a 120-acre complex themed like an early 20th century seaport town. The Adventurers Club, BET Soundstage, Mannequin’s, Motion, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Beach Club will be torn down to make way for new restaurants, shops, and the expansion of the AMC Movie Theater. Construction is set to begin immediately and the final product is set to open during the summer of 2013.
The first change will happen at the AMC Movie Theater, which will begin to serve upscale snacks and drinks from “next-generation” self service vending machines. No word yet on whether the machine can make you that martini shaken, stirred, or just sort of shook. Disney expects the vending machines to be installed by January 1, 2011. By Spring 2011, at least part of the theater will be transformed into a “Fork and Screen” branded experience. The Fork and Screen Theater offers full food and beverage service conveniently from your theater seat. A sample menu is available here. Expect Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s quality food and pricing.
Downtown Disney sits on a beautiful man-made lagoon, but it isn’t always obvious because there are so many Disney stores blocking the view. The re-imagining of the area will focus on the waterfront aspect and a major part of the transformation will be the installation of a new park. No, not a theme park, but a neighborhood-like park. If executed correctly, this could be a great area for families to enjoy a relaxing evening without having to spend gobs of money. Disney didn’t release a lot of details about what will go into it, but it is expected to open by Summer of 2011 so we should know more soon. Hopefully there will be a lot of benches and tables to make water-front seating an option for those of us who prefer more moderately priced take-out food from places like Earl of Sandwich over a pricier meal at a sit-down restaurant.
In the announcement, Disney made a pretty big deal about the “lighting” aspect. It’s true that humans love bright lights, to the point where most of us can’t resist purchasing Disney-branded merchandise if it’s bright enough. “By day, stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants will draw you in and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.” An electric wonderland sounds sort of dangerous, especially so close to water, but we can assume it will be safe. It certainly looks neat in the pictures.
Other enhancements include 3,500 additional square feet of retail space added to the Lego Store. Many of the stores that currently exist will also be renovated to fit more into the “modern” early 20th century theme.
Read the full Disney announcement on the Disney Parks Blog, here.
As I previously insinuated, there is a lot of controversy over the closure of Pleasure Island, which was really the only “adults-only” section of Disney World. The closure of the Adventurers Club in particular is a hotly debated subject. Should Disney, a “family friendly vacation destination,” have an adults-only section where drunken debauchery is not only condoned, but encouraged? Does Disney World really need more stores that sell the exact same merchandise that can be purchased in dozens of other locations? Are people really going to go to spend two hours and more cash at the movies on a vacation that already costs more than $3,000? These questions are always brought up when Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island are discussed.
Am I excited for Hyperion Wharf? Yes and no. I wasn’t expecting an enhanced version of the old Pleasure Island. While The Adventurer’s Club and Mannequin’s might have a following with several thousand people who spend most of their time on Disney forums, Pleasure Island was not popular with the vast majority of Disney visitors. It was bleeding money, which is why Disney shut it down. Had it been profitable, we could mosey down to Pleasure Island today, have a cocktail, and watch some comedy. I have some hope for the park area and the possibility of some counter service restaurants similar to the Earl of Sandwich, but the cynic in me knows that we’re probably going to have a little grassy area and more overpriced, mediocre sit-down restaurants. Time will tell and there’s really no reason to debate it. The suits have spoken and this is the direction Disney has decided to take. They have their own studies and their own market research, and it’s telling them people will spend more money in Downtown Disney if there is more opportunity to spend money at Downtown Disney. That equals more stuff with price tags on it rather than fun and unique experiences.