Friday, August 9, 2013

The End Of An Era?

So the interwebs today have told me that a closing date (August 17th) has been set for Cap'n Jacks Restaurant at Downtown Disney Marketplace.  I've never eaten at Cap'n Jack's both because their menu mainly consisted of seafood and also just because it just never seemed like I needed to do so.  Cap'n Jack's has been serving guests since 1975 and is one of the last remnants of the early days of the Village (Marketplace).

I have many fond memories of the Walt Disney World Village from my childhood in the late 70's and early 80's.  Many of these memories are very vivid, like the playground thingamajig that I always thought looked like a hairdrying even though it didn't remotely resemble one).  Others memories are just hazy images or certain smells.  While looking for images for this post I came across several images that brought back flashes from visits to the Village.

A visit to the Village began in the old days by exiting I-4 at SR535 and driving in on Hotel Plaza Boulevard.  It seems like we usually came in the evening and the trees along Hotel Plaza Boulevard were lit with twinkling lights in their branches.  The only other place that one normally saw that was in the hub at the Magic Kingdom in those days.  Once at the Village there were any number of interesting shops to visit.  Obviously as a young child I didn't do any shopping but I can distinctly remember the array of merchandise of all descriptions.  Exotic things, Disney things, strange toys one couldn't find at an ordinary toy store, there was so much selection and all of it seemed like stuff that you never saw anywhere else.  This seems particularly ironic since Disney's continuing reasoning for outsourcing establishments at Downtown Disney and across property is that their guests want more unique shopping and dining options.  In those days everything was exotic and unique and always seemed very "Disney" without being in your face.

From the 1977 Walt Disney World ... A Pictorial Souvenir
A world of discoveries awaits Walt Disney World visitors at Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village.  In a setting of weathered bricks and woods, and shops with cedar-shingled roofs, old-world craftsmen carry out their vintage arts before admiring eyes - cutting crystal, shaping clay pottery, engraving gold.  Fine fashions and imports are found in the elegant shops, and any number of taste-tempting treats await the hungy explorer - sourdough bread (made famous in San Francisco), New England oysters on the half shell, international cheeses, peppermint wonders and other sweet-tooth sensations.  Discover the Shopping Village on your journey to Walt Disney World - a treasure chest of shops located just off I-4 and SR-535 in Lake Buena Vista, the Host Community to Walt Disney World.

In the late 80's and early 90's in my teens and early 20's I again began to spend a lot of time at the Village.  Some things had changed but it still very much retained it's original feeling.  The addition of Pleasure Island in 1989 didn't really have an impact on the Village feeling.  At that time there was a very nice stand of pines between the western edge of the Village and the eastern edge of Pleasure Island that for the most part made it seem distant and separated.  The mid-nineties changed everything.  The gaudy Rainforest Cafe and the behemoth World of Disney probably dealt the two largest blows to the scale and feeling of the Village.  More third party companies moved in.  The waterfront along the lagoon became a string of refreshment carts and kiosks.  Lego statues were installed seemingly everywhere.

I rarely go to Downtown Disney anymore.  It's extremely crowded, traffic and parking is a nightmare, and aside from the AMC theater there is very little that I want to see or do.  You can't take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront.  Even the great nightclubs are gone that brought me to Pleasure Island every Thursday for ten years.  So is the closing of Cap'n Jack's the end of an era for the Village or did that era end almost twenty years ago?  When the redevelopment of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs is complete will it be any better?  Will it restore some of that relaxed feeling from days gone by?  Do people even still want that kind of place and if so is Disney still capable of creating those kind of environments?

An early aerial shot of the Village.  Compare this with the next picture and see how the lagoon was reconfigured at some point.  I'm guessing it was done during the contruction of the Empress Lilly.

The Captain's Tower.  The "tower" was removed in the mid-nineties I believe due to rot.  Today you might know this location as the Pin Trading store.

I'm guessing this is the interior of the Great Southern Craft Company.  I have a vague recollection of this store.

The Village Restaurant.  Today the Rainforest Cafe occupies this location. 

The elegant Empress Lilly before she was desicrated and turned into Fulton's Crabhouse.  I've always felt that turning a venue named after Walt's wife and beautifully themed as a paddle wheel ship into a third party restaurant with a gigantic sign on the top as a major slap in the face to the Disney family.

How about some live jazz with your meal.

The Potter Chalet / Christmas Chalet, along with the attached shops which encircled a tranquil courtyard, was demolished to build the World of Disney store.

This photograph could have been stolen straight from my head.  This is one of the areas of which I have distinct memories.

My favorite store of all, Mickey's Character Shop (today Team Mickey Athletic Club).  I could and did spend hours and hours in this store.

Finally, the oldest guidemap that I have for the Village is this one from 1987.  By this point many of the shops from the original lineup had changed but the place was still in its glory.

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