Disney (NYSE: DIS ) hasn't made many mistakes under CEO Bob Iger's watch. Shuttering its Virtual Magic Kingdom online community earlier this year was one. Closing down Florida's Pleasure Island in two months will be another.
Naturally, the family entertainment giant won't concede that these business moves are mistakes. It has expanded on the Virtual Magic Kingdom by launching premium virtual worlds themed to everything from pirates to fairies. However, Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) move to jump into this niche earlier this month with the launch of Lively -- especially with Lively's viral gimmick of embedding the experience into third-party sites -- will leave Disney smarting over killing off what could have been an ideal ambassadorial winner for its theme parks and entertainment properties.
Now we find Disney set to take down the six lively nightspots that make up its Pleasure Island complex in Downtown Disney in September. The official company line is that Disney will be taking things to "the next level" as it replaces the clubs with "an extraordinary mix of shopping and dining" based on guest feedback.
Really? Guest feedback? I've never heard anyone in Disney World's massive resort mutter the words "This place really needs more stores and places to eat." They may bellyache about wishing that merchandise would be cheaper or that the quick-service alternatives would be tastier, but I don't think making it up in volume will change that. Disney is a company that already makes many of its attractions empty out into gift shops. I don't have a problem with that. It's good business. I just think that most guests would rather see a gift shop empty into an attraction for a change.
The "re-imagining" of Pleasure Island is different, though. For starters, one can't really describe the six clubs that are getting the ax as havens of adult debauchery. Many are open to accompanied minors. Some of the best times that I have had with my teenaged son in the resort have been at the Comedy Warehouse improvisational shows and walking into the one-of-a-kind establishment that is the Adventurer's Club. The other four clubs may be more conventional throbbing dance-floor joints, but how will Disney appeal to adult visitors by replacing clubs with the shopping and dining that are plentiful elsewhere?
Keep in mind that regional operators like Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) and Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) don't have the kind of luxury that Disney has in housing many of its day guests as overnight lodgers.
Both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California have Downtown Disney districts that stay open late to catch guests as they leave the parks at the end of the day. Some may want to shop more. Some may still be hungry. However, I can't be the only one who feels that Disney razing its nightspots -- even if it's the whitewashed Disney variety -- can't be good for business if it gives fewer visitors a reason to go to Downtown Disney in the first place.
Bad call, Disney. Taking things to the "next level" is apparently a big step backward.