Have You Heard About Disney’s Secret Society?

Do you know about the secret society at the Disney Parks, and Disney’s plans to expand it in the coming years?

This secret Disney society goes all the way back to the 20th century, coming out of a pivotal era in Disney history at the Walt Disney World Resort, and has amassed a lot of attention from Disney fans. As a result, the Walt Disney Company has finally recognized its significance and has announced plans to expand on the original lore surrounding the society through multiple media formats and themed entertainment experiences, giving fans more opportunities than ever to become involved.

Good Morning From Fortress Explorations at Tokyo DisneySea | Disney Parks Blog

Credit: Disney Parks Blog

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When Pleasure Island opened in what is now the Disney Springs shopping district, Walt Disney Imagineers created an elaborate plot tying together every location within the nightlife and entertainment area under the premise that it was the lost headquarters of renowned global explorer, Merriweather Adam Pleasure. One such location was the Adventurers Club, a highly detailed themed entertainment experience that invited Disney Guests into a secret 1930s realm of brave explorers and unique artifacts.

A true product of Americans’ 20th-century fascination with travel to “exotic” locations that inspired Walt’s own premise of Adventureland, the private club combined comedy and the popularity of “Tiki” fads and franchises such as Indiana Jones in the 80s and 90s. After the closure of Pleasure Island, many of the props used in the Adventurers Club decor found new homes within attractions and experiences across the world, sparking the inspiration for a similar revival known as the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.

In fact, the first mention of the S.E.A. appears in Fortress Explorations, a walkthrough attraction at Tokyo Disneysea’s “Explorers Landing” celebrating the Renaissance’s Golden Age of Exploration. Since this introduction in 2001, various references to the society appear in all the Disney Parks, including well-known attractions such as the Tower of Terror, Mystic Manor, the Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, and even Club 33, which held an S.E.A. themed event!

 Disney's Secret Society of Explorers and Adventurers

Credit: Disney

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Of course, the S.E.A. follows motivation that is startlingly like that of the original Adventurers Club, which WDI has since turned into Merriweather’s personal branch of the much older, Italian-originated S.E.A. founded in 1538. In fact, in the S.E.A. premise, founding members such as Marco Polo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Ferdinand Magellan came together in a shared pursuit to “acquire knowledge through exploration.” Furthermore, a longer mission statement found within the Oceaneer Lab reads:

The mission of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers is to collect, conserve, and curate valuable cultural and artistic artifacts from around the world and make them available to the public in an artistically pleasing and sensitive manner. It is furthermore the mission of the organization to equip and mount socio-cultural expeditions to discover, explore, chronicle and protect the artistic achievements of human society, past and present, exalted and forgotten.

However, it soon became clear that knowledge was not all that the collective of researchers, intellectuals, and eventually, rich explorers, wished to acquire. By the 19th century, the club had become a democracy led by Vitale Robustelli, undergoing a global expansion to acquire more members from various aristocracies and high society, eventually promoting secretary Jason Chandler to the role of president. Moreover, some of the “nefarious” members, notably American mining-mogul Barnabas T. Bullion, Lord Henry Mystic, and trust-fund baby Harrison Hightower III abused their position as S.E.A. members to justify the looting of sacred relics and the invasion and colonization of indigenous lands for their personal collections, a motif which would carry into the high concepts for many Disney Parks attractions.

The Society of Explorers and Adventurers

Credit: Disney

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Future Elaborations

Originally, with the success of Mystic Manor’s in-depth story concept for Hong Kong Disneyland, Walt Disney Imagineering planned a large expansion of the original lore across Disney Parks worldwide, as well as the Disney Magic cruise ship in 2014. For instance, when Magic Kingdom’s Skipper Canteen opened at the Walt Disney World Resort in 2016, Dr. Albert Falls of the Jungle Cruise script received an expanded storyline, operating a S.E.A. headquarters out of his family estate until his granddaughter, Alberta, turned it into a dining location for tourists.

Plus, former CEO Bob Chapek told attendees of D23’s Destination D: Amazing Adventures event that the Society’s presence in Disney Parks and Disney Company merchandise and other mediums would expand in the years to follow. In fact, the Disney-published Tales from Adventureland series originally intended to include the S.E.A. as a major source of characters, until the Company advised the author to change it to the new “Jungle Explorers Society due to Imagineers “gate-keeping” the original lore.

Disney Makes Massive Addition to Secret Society of Explorers and Adventurers Club - Inside the Magic

Credit: Inside the Magic

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However, another theory has emerged that Disney has begun to backpedal their focus on the Society of Adventurers and Explorers due to valid fan complaints that the “Adventure pulp” inspiration for the characters glorifies atrocities such as colonialism, cultural appropriation, white supremacy, indigenous genocide and/or exotification of cultures of color for what is largely a white cast of characters. As a result, Disney has allegedly removed some references to S.E.A. members or their connections to other Park creations.

Even so, rumors of a Disney+ original series exploring the backstories of the S.E.A.’s extensive original characters created by Walt Disney Imagineers have surfaced, and it’s true such a premise could only strengthen the cyclical relationship Disney desires between the audiences for its programming and that of its theme parks. What’s more, WDI preemptively created an artistic portrait of Mystic and Hightower, amongst many nameless members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers based on actual Imagineers, many of which provide a springboard for even more creative content and expanded lore in the future.

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About Spencer Beck

Spencer is a lifelong lover of theme parks, princesses, and Disney history that recently relocated to Northern California. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she was the founder and first president of the campus Disney Club. A former Cast Member still mourning the loss of the Disney Store, she now haunts the halls of the Walt Disney Family Museum, and shares her opinions with anyone who will listen @pinknpurble everywhere.