New Year’s Eve is upon us, which is always a big deal for Walt Disney World. But newer guests may forget there was once a time when you could celebrate New Year’s Eve every single night at the parks! Where was it and how did it start?
When Disney World opened in 1971, a mild annoyance was that while it was great for kids, there wasn’t as much then for adults at night. To enjoy clubs or such, one would have to drive to downtown Orlando, which was a bit of a hike.
This was one of the many gaps that newly installed Disney boss Michael Eisner wanted to fix when he took over in 1984. As part of the wider expansion of Walt Disney World, he and Frank Wells soon conceived Pleasure Island, a fantastic mix of clubs and shopping aimed at the adult demographic.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Disney without crafting a backstory, and they had a good one. The legend was that Merriweather Pleasure was a famous explorer who eventually created a huge district to house his business and memorabilia. After he vanished at sea, his heirs ran the business into the ground and the area was abandoned until Disney “discovered” it and converted the various warehouses into clubs.
The place was a huge hit, yet as the 1990s dawned, Disney wanted to spice it up. And extending a New Year’s Party to every night was just the wild idea to appeal to them.
Why was it New Year’s every night at Pleasure Island?
Back in this time, Disney didn’t just slap any old celebration together at random. There had to be a reason for it and Disney came up with a fun one, as detailed by historian Jim Krokis in his book Secret Stories of Extinct Walt Disney World: The World that Disappeared.
According to the backstory, Merriweather Pleasure had been born on New Year’s Eve as had his two eldest children. However, his daughter Miriam was born in February of 1912, breaking the tradition.
“Pleasure said that since it was his island, he could say it was any day he wanted it to be. He claimed that the birth of Miriam on a date so far out of Pleasure family tradition was clearly a sign that every day should be New Year’s Eve on Pleasure Island.This, of course, meant that every night, there was a New Year’s Eve party on Pleasure Island. At the end of each work day, every day of the year, the laborers, artisans, investors, and globe-trotting millionaire visitors alike, would dance in the streets as the entire Island community kicked back with wild abandon. The buildings that provided industrial functions during the daytime were reset to be dancehalls, concert or theatrical venues, or locations for dining or refreshments. Every night there was a fireworks display, choreographed by Pleasure himself.”
So, Disney was merely “following Pleasure’s tradition” in having New Year’s Eve every night. This is a fun explanation as the party itself would have music acts ranging from local bands to Disney singers and all built to the big countdown. There would be fireworks, confetti, a rock version of “Auld Lang Syne,” and more. In short, a classic New Year’s Eve party taking place at any night of the year.
The legacy of the parties
The parties would be a good event, with Disney advertising it as part of the Pleasure Island experience. The Simpsons parodied it in a classic episode visiting Krustyland, taking part in such a party, and when Marge tells a worker, “It must be great doing this every night,” he moans, “Please kill me.”
Sure enough, the actors at the beloved Adventurer’s Club followed the same idea as more than once, guests would hear them say stuff along the lines of “it’s New Year’s every night…every night…every stinking night after night, after night….”
The parties were toned down a bit as the 2000s dawned as the novelty of it had worn off a bit, but it was still part of Pleasure Island until the entire area was closed down in 2008. Yet, as WDW prepares for its New Year’s celebrations, it’s fun to think about how Disney used to throw a party like this every night of the year for folks to celebrate.