The Adventurers Club was a piece of Disney World history that left a lasting impression on fans.
“It is always talked of in a dreamy voice with that far off look in the eye when you meet someone who has been there.”
In mid-April, 2019, I stood barefoot in the sand, adjusting my safari hat and eagerly listening to Ian Janosko, the self-proclaimed #1 Fan of the Adventurers Club.
We were at the Stage 89 Pleasure Beach party and, even nearing midnight, the shore of Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort was erupting with laughter and spontaneous cheers: I was in the middle of one of the biggest celebrations for one of the deepest Disney Parks fandoms. And I didn’t even know it existed.
Janosko was eager to enlighten me. When I asked him to describe what the Adventurers Club was, he was ready, “It was undoubtedly the best thing Disney ever built.”
In this installment of our two-part series, we’ll learn, as I did, what the Adventures Club was all about in an effort to understand the razed fandom that lives on today. In the second part of this editorial, we’ll discover how fans helped raise thousands for charity through their love of the club.
What Was the Adventurers Club?
To a layman like me, the Adventurers Club is something of myth and intrigue. I never had the chance to yell “Kungaloosh!” on command inside the hallowed halls that once stood where The Edison is at Disney Springs today.
As guests passed the threshold of the Adventurers Club, they were instantly transformed into 1937 explorers attending an Open House on New Year’s Eve. The club utilized creative architecture, decor, actors, animatronics, puppets, and effects to create a world of continuity, humor and more than enough self-awareness.
It’s important to note that the Adventurers Club was an attraction. It simply wasn’t just another lounge or bar on Pleasure Island.
Some of the most memorable personalities in the club were animatronic masks Arnie and Claude, and the Colonel Critchlow Sunchbench puppet, but it was the cast of live characters that interacted the most with guests and created memorable fan bonds to the club.
The characters were each based in wacky premise (think a 1985 “Clue” level of camp, complete with a butler and maid on the roster) and were played by various actors each night. They carried on the same storylines and shows, but each actor was seasoned in improv and put their own flavor on the characters.
Your Cast of Characters:
- Hathaway Browne, the handsome (and he knows it) aviator
- Otis T. Wren, stodgy Club Treasurer
- Fletcher Hodges, the absent-minded Club Curator
- Pamela Perkins, Club President who minds her p’s and q’s
- Samantha Sterling, expert Explorer and cabaret singer
- Emil Bleehall, Junior Adventurer and country bumpkin
- Graves, the Butler
- The Maid, The only character whose name and identity changed with each actor
- Madame Zarkov, the rarely-seen gypsy psychic
The shows were humorous and performed in the spirit of inclusion: The audience members were always part of the show.
Here’s What The Adventurers Club Was Like Inside
Entering the Adventurers Club was consent to suspend all disbelief. As Janosko recalls, “The first time I ever visited the Adventurers Club was during its opening year in 1989, when I was 6. I didn’t quite get what was going on with all these crazy people running around and talking about their latest expedition to Papua New Guinea, but I certainly loved the building!”
Guests would enter the building on the second floor Zebra Mezzanine, surrounded in artifacts from various expeditions and overlooking the Main Salon. Wall displays included photos and plaques detailing the history of the characters with whom guests were about to meet. The decor was assembled by the infamous Imagineer, Joe Rohde–the guy behind genius theming at Pandora, Aulani, and Expedition Everest (to name a few).
It’s been said that some guests who didn’t get the appeal of the Adventurers Club may not have had great timing — those who lingered long enough might see Colonel Critchlow Sunchbench wake up to sing the Club Song in the Main Salon or witness as Emil Bleehall won the outrageous Balderdash Cup Competition (again) in the Library.
Every 20 minutes, shows were held in one of the five rooms of the Club, The Library was the largest, playing the first show of the night, where Samantha Sterling and Fletcher Hodgesmain shows like the Radio Broadcast, in which Otis T. Wren and Pamelia Perkins struggled to put on a radio show without most of the actors. It was up to the audience to step into the roles.
Once a Member, Always a Member
Janosko said, “Some came because they just stumbled into the place one night and got hooked, some needed a place to escape the drudgery of their lives, some came because there was alcohol! But, no matter who you were, if you ‘got’ the Club it felt like home.”
At its outset, the goal was to make guests feel like part of the club. And it worked — almost too well. By the end of its nearly 20-year run, its fictional beginnings had amassed a bonafide community of real-life adventurers. That the hundreds of letters they wrote to the club characters inspired a quarterly newsletter to quell the crowd.
Locals patronized the club so often that the actors still knew these regulars by name at the Pleasure Beach reunion over a decade later.
At the Stage 89 Paradise Beach event, I spoke with perhaps one of the most frequent reciters of the club creed, Virginia Carmichael, who remembered, “We went almost every Friday, sometimes more.” It was only natural that she and her late husband, Bob, even celebrated their 50th Anniversary at the Adventurers Club. On her arm, her friend, Melissa Galleon, quickly piped up, “I met my husband there!”
Just two stories among thousands, these guests are eager to swap stories of past adventures now that they don’t have a club in which to commemorate them. And it soon became clear that the fandom had taken on a life of its own, living on well after the club’s closure in 2008.
The Adventurers Club Lives On
Janosko remembers hearing the news that the failing Pleasure Island was taking the Adventurers Club with it, “Well, I basically went through six of the seven stages of grief…. but I never have reached the “Acceptance” point, for I continue to hold out hope that one day, someone high up in the Disney corporation will resurrect the Club.”
Disney has made efforts to subtly immortalize the Adventurers Club in what someone could call an “extended universe” in the form of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.). This fictional organization first appeared at Tokyo DisneySea in 2001, at the Fortress Explorations attraction, where guests would solve puzzles in an effort to join S.E.A.
Since then, the legend has expanded to include fictional S.E.A. members Harrison Hightower III (of Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror), Lord Henry Mystic (of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor), Jock Lindsey (Indiana Jones’ pilot and purveyor of Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs).
In addition, nods to the Adventurers Club and its members can be found in the Jungle Cruise line queue and Magic Kingdom’s Skipper Canteen, where one can order a dessert named after the club’s all-purpose word, (and signature drink), the “Kungaloosh”.
These remaining nuggets are clues to the (literally) uninitiated, like me, that this Adventurers Club was a pretty big deal.
But while Disney keeps a torch-lit for Adventurers Club, the fans have been building a bonfire.
In the years since it’s closure, fans have been meeting and performing the club salute, and even raising over $40,000 for charity in the name of adventure. But if the club was closed… how did they do it??
To read on and discover the legacy of the Adventurers Club, let’s go an expedition to WDWNT.