Downtown, No Finer Place For Sure
For most visitors to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, a typical vacation isn’t finished without picking up some souvenirs from Downtown Disney. After flying most of my day, I’ll usually head “Downtown” that first day since I’d rather not waste my day in the park. It’s a great place to get into the mood of being at Walt Disney World. Shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and nightlife are all a big part of what makes Downtown Disney great for any guest. However, the funny thing is Downtown Disney was not initially intended for guests on vacation.
When the Disney company was flying under the radar with it’s Florida project, they purchased an amazing amount of land, but to be completely legit and do what they pleased with the land they had to form a town. They, in fact, created two towns; Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista which gave power to the Disney company to do what they wanted and govern their own district in Florida. (The area as a whole was called the Reedy Creek Development District.) As the project developed, it was thought that the two towns would also have housing developments. Along with housing, there also needed to be shopping so that residents wouldn’t have to drive 20 miles to Orlando just to get food, clothing, and other items needed to survive. Lake Buena Vista was to open with planned homes by the end of the 1970s so the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was built and opened in March of 1975.
As housing developments turned into more hotel rooms, due to Disney seeing more money being made with guests staying on property, the ideals of the Shopping Village also changed. It was renamed the Walt Disney World Village in 1977 and was marketed towards visitors of Walt Disney World as a place to grab souvenirs during their vacation. When Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over in 1984, they saw big potential in the Walt Disney World Village. Restaurants and entertainment became a focus to add to the shopping and by the end of the decade, ideas of expansion brought a new nighttime scene to the Village.
Church Street Station, a district of Orlando by the old Atlantic Coast railroad line, became a popular night club area in Downtown Orlando. Church street was renovated in the late 1970s and saw major success in the 1980s. It’s key to success was allowing admission into multiple nightclubs for the price of one. The Disney company saw this and decided to replicate the idea with a new idea at the Walt Disney World Village called Pleasure Island, named after the land in Pinocchio. The new Pleasure Island had several nightclubs, a comedy club, an outdoor music stage, and several places to grab a bite to eat or a cocktail. Pleasure Island opened on the same day as the new Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park) and the combined two areas were renamed the Disney Village Marketplace.
When the Disney Decade took full swing in the 1990s, there was an abundance of new hotels and theme park attractions that were added to Walt Disney World. By the mid-1990s, the theme park destination had huge buzz and was packing hotel rooms. Supply and demand led to further expansion of the Village area. Due to crowds growing at the shopping district and at Pleasure Island, the new area, the West Side, was added in 1997 and the entire lot, including all three sections, was rechristened as Downtown Disney. The West Side added an eclectic mix of restaurants, nightlife entertainment, and shopping. The newly named Marketplace became less crowded due to the addition of West Side, keeping shoppers and diners happy. The West Side also gave families or folks who didn’t want to pay the entrance into Pleasure Island a place to go at night.
With the latter statement, Pleasure Island lost some of it’s sparkle when the West Side opened. With the House of Blues, AMC, DisneyQuest, Cirque Du Soleil, and several other entertainment venues, many folks so no need to pay the admission for Pleasure Island. In 2004, Pleasure Island nixed the admission fee to enter the “island” and instead decided to charge for the nightclubs themselves. That meant many guests could enjoy some of the other benefits to the area like the outdoor stage, the Comedy Warehouse, the Adventurers Club, or several of the restaurants and shops in the area. Unfortunately for Pleasure Island, this wasn’t enough for Disney executives and they pulled the plug in September 2008. The area currently has a few restaurants, but is mostly a shell of old buildings left over from Pleasure Island. Plans to renovate the area as Hyperion Wharf, a turn of the century nautical district, were created in 2010 and would have been implemented right away, but due to the economical recession and a lack of faith in the project without the right funding put it on indefinite hiatus.
Meanwhile, the Marketplace and West Side areas continue to have success with new shops and restaurants. Several locations have become staples of the property like the Lego Imagination Center or the World of Disney store in the Marketplace or the Cirque du Soleil tent on the West Side. It goes without saying that renovations are constantly happening, like the newest addition of Splitsville, a bowling and entertainment complex. There are some changes needing to be made and have been discussed, such as a new Cirque do Soleil show or the updating of DisneyQuest, but those will come with time.
Downtown Disney has become a permanent fixture of the Walt Disney World property and has become an essential part of many trips for guests. It’s continued renovations keep it fresh while still feeling familiar. It’s a fun, friendly, and safe place to do a little shopping, grab some dinner, or party it up on Walt Disney World property.
What do you like to do at Downtown Disney? What should become of the old Pleasure Island spot? Leave your thoughts and comments. (Bonus points to anyone who can name the musician who sings the lyric which I used as the title for this article.)
Posted on January 29, 2013, in Articles and tagged Adventurer's Club, Bay Lake, Cirque Du Soleil, Comedy Warehouse, Disney Decade, DisneyQuest, Downtown Disney, History, Josh Taylor, Lake Buena Vista, Marketplace, Michael Eisner, Pleasure Island, Reedy Creek, Shopping, Village, Walt Disney World, West Side. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.