About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Will Hyperion Wharf save Pleasure Island or make it more ordinary? The debate is on.

LAKE BUENA VISTA – Walt Disney World calls it “re-imagined”: the theme park giant’s plans for the nightclub area built in 1989 to provide more fun for adults, but that’s gone through some extensive changes in the past two decades.

Last month, Disney announced that work was about to begin on a revamped Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney, in a series of projects expected to create more than 1,200 new jobs over the next three years.

Pleasure Island first opened in 1989, to give adults something to do at night on Disney property.

“We have made great progress since first announcing our vision to bring new shopping, dining and entertainment experiences to Downtown Disney, many of which can’t be found anywhere else and have already become guest favorites,” said Keith Bradford, vice president of Downtown Disney.  “We look forward to providing even more ways for our guests to enjoy Downtown Disney, while at the same time creating new jobs for Central Floridians.”

But the authors of books on Disney and Central Florida’s theme park industry wonder if the changes will end up making Pleasure Island even less distinct.

“It’s disappointing that Disney would bring in third party vendors for shopping and dining options that you could find at your own neighborhood mall,” said Seth Kubersky, the author of “Universal Orlando 2011,” and several upcoming books on the region’s theme park industry.

“It’s not the unique entertainment that you’d drive halfway across the country to see,” he added.

The changes coming to Pleasure Island include the recreation of an early 20th century port city and amusement pier, to be called Hyperion Wharf.  This port district will offer “stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants” open during the day, Disney announced in a news release, while “by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.”

This new wharf district is also going to feature a lakeside park, enhanced pedestrian walkways, and more dining options.

Bradford said Hyperion Wharf will “offer guests of all ages a vibrant atmosphere and new experiences that can be enjoyed by day or by night.  Whether looking for a great place to dine with the whole family or a place to relax and enjoy live music, Hyperion Wharf will provide the perfect setting for guests to make new memories with us.”

Others, though, are skeptical. 

Pleasure Island first opened in 1989, and as Kubersky noted, it was designed to be ambitious expansion of the smaller shopping plaza known as the old Disney Village Marketplace.

Seth Kubersky discusses his book "Universal Orlando 2011" at Barnes & Noble in downtown Orlando.

“It was originally called the Lake Buena Vista Marketplace,” Kubersky said. “It had been there since 1971. With Pleasure Island, you can see it as the reverse of what they wanted to do in Las Vegas at the time. Vegas decided they wanted to be more family friendly, and Disney added Pleasure Island to give adults things to do while the kids were in bed at night.”

There was another motive, Kubersky said.  At the time, the region’s top night spot was Church Street in downtown Orlando.  The popular Church Street Station brought in adults looking for nightclubs and alcohol.  Then Pleasure Island offered an alternative.

“The feeling was Disney likes to keep money on Disney property,” said Jim Korkis, a former Disney cast member and recognized Disney and Pleasure Island historian, and author of the book “The Vault of Walt.”

“Since guests found there was nothing to do on Disney property at night, people were leaving and going to Church Street Station, which at the time was the fourth most popular tourist destination in Florida after Disney, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens,” Korkis said.

“The original intention was to put Church Street Station out of business,” Kubersky said.

It worked.  Wholesome, family-oriented Disney introduced night clubs with disco dancing and plenty of alcohol – risqué for a theme park that primarily emphasized its appeal to children and families, Kubersky noted.

“Compared to everything else on Disney property, it was,” he said.  “It was never R-rated, but sometimes it was a strong PG-13.  Their discos for a while were quite happening, and Pleasure Island was very successful for the first decade.  Within 10 years, Church Street Station was out of business.  It was very effective.”

“A lot of people thought Pleasure Island was meant to represent the theme park in the movie ‘Pinocchio,’ where people go and drink too much and make asses of themselves,” Korkis added.

Kubersky said changes started after that. With the demise of Church Street Station and Downtown Orlando as competitiors, he said Disney appeared to lose interest, while at the same time Universal Studio’s City Walk began drawing away more of the nightlife crowd.

At the same time, Disney did away with Pleasure Island’s admission fee, opening the gates to the general public.

“The real change happened when it went from being a gated attraction to letting anyone through,” Kubersky said.  “Then they just had to pay to get into some of the clubs.  At that point, the demographics started to shift.  Once they got rid of the gates, nothing ever quite worked.  It changed being from a special place where they could control the clientele into a shopping mall. It just became a mall to hang out at.  Disney also got rid of the fireworks show at night.”

“That’s where people to start to track the fall of Pleasure Island,” Korkis added.  “It just became, here’s a bunch of clubs and you can go party.  With the admission price, you sort of controlled who got in.  At the same time, City Walk had the aura of being fresher and cooler and with it.” 

Pleasure Island still has night clubs for the nightlife crowd.

In addition to bringing the new wharf district to Pleasure Island, Disney also announced several other projects underway at Downtown Disney.  They include a renovation at Lego Imagination Center, with a 3,500 square-feet expansion and the addition of some new Lego exterior models that recreate scenes from classic Disney movies.  While Disney is working on this project, Merlin Entertainments is building Legoland Florida – modeled after the popular theme parks in Europe and California – at the site of the former Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven.

Disney also announced plans to enhance the AMC movie theater with new digital technology, a paradigm-shifting Concession Stand of the Future, and Florida’s first Fork & Screen Theater, plus several new or renovated retail shops throughout Downtown Disney — a series of projects expected to create an estimated 600 construction jobs, 500 restaurant, retail and entertainment jobs, and 100 vendor and supplier jobs. 

Kubersky, though, said Disney appears to be inviting outside vendors to come in as the highest bidder.

“It’s all third party vendors,” he said.  “Disney doesn’t seem interested any more in developing their own concepts.”

Korkis agreed, saying “The realization is Disney is a business and it has to be held accountable to its stockholders.  Will Hyperion Wharf be good business? Disney thinks so, because it will not be making any personal investment.  Basically Disney is supplying the location and other people are supplying the money.”

Korkis said he hopes the new wharf shopping district is a success, but he thinks Disney may be making Pleasure Island less unique and more pedestrian – shops and dining options available at plenty of other shopping plazas, lacking the distinct Disney touch.

“It will be interesting to see how that develops,” he said.  “I’m a huge Disney supporter.  I want Disney to be around for the rest of my lifetime and continue to do good things. But the vision they have now is a more narrow vision – ‘Let’s have more restaurants and shops.’  With this new plan, there is nothing that people can’t find elsewhere.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

Is it art or just scratching? Living Canvas aims to set a higher standard for the tattoo industry

FOUR CORNERS – Malcolm Arnott can remember the seemingly epic struggle he faced when he first wanted to open a tattoo shop more than a year ago. The search for a good location in one of Central Florida’s numerous shopping plazas wasn’t easy – and that wasn’t because there was no office space to rent.

Malcolm Arnott has been operating Living Canvas Art Company Custom Tattoos for the past 15 months.

The problem was, Arnott found a lot of doors closed to him when he told them what kind of shop he wanted to operate.

A tattoo shop, it seemed, was almost taboo to some landlords.

“We went to eight malls and every one refused us,” Arnott said.

Cut to 15 months later. Anott and his son James have been operating Living Canvas Art Company Custom Tattoos for that period of time, and found a receptive local business environment and a healthy stream of customers in their chosen location.

Malcolm Arnott says it took a while to find a location for his tattoo shop, but he likes being in Four Corners now.

“We came to the landlord here and said ‘This is what we want to do,’ “ Malcolm Arnott said, and this time around, they get approved.  Their shop is at 9310 U.S. 192, Suite 8, in Four Corners, the section of Central Florida just south of Walt Disney World and Celebration where the counties of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk meet at U.S. 192 and U.S. 27. Arnott said the decision to open up in Four Corners proved to be a smart one.

“We didn’t want to be touristy, but we obviously knew tourists would be a part of our business,” he said.

With so much traffic along U.S. 192 – and so many international visitors, U.S. tourists and snowbirds flocking to Four Corners — the Arnotts don’t even bother advertising anymore. They get plenty of walk-ins without it.

“We’re now getting people coming in to say ‘We were going to drive down to Miami, but decided to check you out,’ “ Malcolm Arnott said.  “We do absolutely no advertising at all, but tourists will come in and talk. Yesterday we got seven bookings.”

“It’s different every day,” James Arnott said.  “We get clients from every single continent.  We’ve done it to people from the Philippines to China.  We get a lot of what we’re calling ‘Popping their Cherries’ – their first tattoo.  We got one women in here for her first tattoo, and she was 84.”

Their success in finding both a home and a client base, Malcolm said, demonstrates the fact that the tattoo industry is evolving, and that having a tattoo is far more universally accepted today than it was not so long ago.

“There are just under 50 million people with tattoos,” Malcolm said.   “There are 13,000 McDonald’s in the United States, and 22,000 tattoo shops. Old tattoo shops are dying out, and new ones are coming in.”

Malcolm said he understands that the tattoo industry has had an image problem.  He said Living Canvas is unique for two reasons.  First, the people who do the tattoo are all, he insists, true artists.

“The artists are actually just that – artists,” he said.  “They’re not flash jockeys. That means you’re a scratcher.”

A scratcher, he said, simply takes a drawn image and retraces it on a client. Malcolm said his artists actually do original work.

Living Canvas Art Company Custom Tattoos is on U.S. 192 in Four Corners.

“Somebody might come to the scratchers with a piece of work and they will trace it.  The scratchers are not artists, they can’t draw,” he said.  “If you put alcohol on it, it will come right off. Eighty percent of our work is custom work.”

Living Canvas is unique for another reason: all three of the tattoo artists are women, in an industry more traditionally dominated by men.

“Most people who will approach a tattoo shop, you have a rougher element hanging around, and all the tattoo artists were men,” Malcolm said.  “It’s changing a little bit, especially if the shop looks inviting, and you don’t have heavily tattooed, pierced, mohawked types hanging around.”

Living Canvas tries to create a more inviting, even family oriented, environment. They have a television set and play area for young kids who are waiting while their parents get a tattoo. Anyone interested in a tattoo has to be at least 16 years old to get one.

Another thing that’s changed, he said, is that there’s no longer a particular type of person looking for a tattoo. Entire families have come into their shop looking for one.

“Fifty percent now go for, shall we say, a reason,” Malcolm said. “In other words, a mother, father, loved one who died and was important in their life.  We had a mother and son come in. He was 16 years old and he just said ‘I want a tough-looking tattoo.’  The mother wanted three tattoos of three butterflies all named after her sons. Fifty percent of the people are having it done for special reasons.”

“It’s the artist more than anything that dictates the shop,” James added.  “If you’ve got good artists, people will come.”

To learn more about Living Canvas, call 321-284-4113 or 407-452-9902 or log on to www.livingcanvasartco.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

Intimate setting or a wild party: take your pick at the Funky Monkey Wine Bar on New Year’s Eve.

ORLANDO – It’s a quiet environment, with dim lighting that creates the ideal spot for a romantic dinner between two that ends with a champagne toast at midnight ….

No, it’s a wild night, with flashy production numbers, music and dacning — almost like something out of Vegas …

Since the Funky Monkey Wine Company has two separate locations, and both of them are celebrating New Year’s Eve, you get your choice on the big night.  Do you want serene and romantic … or some lively entertainment with your meal?  Decisions, decisions.

“Pointe Orlando is more of a party,” said Ashley Nickell.  “Ours is more relaxing.”

The Funky Monkey Wine Company's Mills Avenue restaurant has an intimate, relaxing atmosphere.

Nickell is preparing the New Year’s Eve meal at Funky Monkey’s downtown Orlando location, at 912 N. Mills Ave. It promises to be a lavish offering in a restaurant that seats 45 people in an intimate setting.

Guests start with a duo of Carpaccio, tuna with wasabi cream and Gold masago, and beef with horseradish cream and olive oil drizzle.

The appetizer includes a choice of carmelized seared scallop, a bed of Lemon Risotto, Mint Oil drizzle, and Cripsy Pancetta … or a vegetable roll with cucumber, asparagus, roasted red peppers and carrots.

The soup course includes roasted garlic and leek soup, followed by a spinach salad that comes with strawberries, prosciutto, bacon vinaigrette, croutons, and poppy seeds.

The entrée gives guests a choice of filet of beef with lobster mashed potatoes, Mushroom Demi grace, and white pepper asparagus … or sea bass with Saffron mashed potatoes, truffle brown butter sauce, and bourbon glazed baby carrots … or Sous Vide braised lamb shank, cherry red wine reduction, roasted duck fat potatoes, and white bean ragout.

For dessert, guests can choose between “Hot Chocolate” bread pudding with peppermint infused whipped cream and vanilla bean ice cream, or Egg Nog Crème Brulee Cinnamon with whipped cream.

“It takes works,” Nickell said of the task she faces preparing this enormous meal.  “I have to plan it weekly in advance.”

Nickell added that during the meal, guests “can order whatever wine they want.”

The Funky Monkey's six course meal on New Year's Eve seems likely to keep guests smiling.

But if it sounds delicious, a lot of other people thought the same thing days ago.

“The Mills meal is completely sold out,” said Matthew Slattery, the executive chef.  “But at Pointe Orlando, they’re still accepting reservations.”

Funky Monkey’s larger restaurant is at Pointe Orlando at 9101 International Drive. This one has 150 seats, more than three times larger than the Mills Avenue site.

They also have a lavish meal planned – Panzanella Salad, Crab and Spinich Dip, an Assorted Buratta Platter with stuffed olives, roasted tomatoes, grilled artichokes and assorted meats, Lobster and Truffle macaroni and cheese, Apple and Blue Cheese Bites, Assorted Skewers (Miso glazed rock shrimp, salmon and ginger, chicken and broccoli Karage) and grape-infused meatballs stuffed with mozzerela cheese.

And as you wine and dine, there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate with shows, shows and more shows.

“We’ve got about seven different production numbers,” said Jimmi Rossi, who manages the Funky Monkey’s new Mills Street diner, Bananas, and has been helping out with the Pointe Orlando entertainment.

“We have huge costumes,” he said.  “We have numbers from ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Grease.’  It’s very much a Las Vegas-type show.”

The elaborate show is put on by Danielle Hunter and Company, with performances by Hunter, Alicia Markstone, The Minx, the Funky Monkey Dancers and others.  The fun also includes plenty of ice. 

"It's very much a Las Vegas-type show," Jimmi Rossi says of the Pointe Orlando New Year's Eve bash.

“We’re doing a huge display and bringing in ice carvers,” Slattery said.  “They come in and carve the ice and build a three tier stations,” which will include a raw bar and dessert station.

The cost for this event is $99 and reservations can still be made by calling 407-418-9463.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

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