Did you know there is a secret backstory that weaves together many attractions all across the world, from Japan to the Disney Cruise Lines to Hawaii to the Walt Disney World in Florida?
It’s true, and it’s all based on the S.E.A.
S.E.A. stands for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. It is made up of the imaginary members Harrison Hightower, Lord Henry Mystic, Barnabas T. Bullion, Dr. Albert Falls, and Mary Oceaneer. Each of these five characters has a very real story, and each story is interesting and fanciful. S.E.A. may just be Disney’s most elaborate backstory yet.
The S.E.A. backstory weaves attractions, restaurants, and parks together.
Let’s take a look at 14+ attractions that tell the story of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers!
1. Pre-History: Pleasure Island’s Adventurers Club
The whole story starts in Walt Disney World when the Adventurers Club opened in 1989 in, what was then, Downtown Disney. Pleasure Island was an adult’s playground with bars, clubs, lounges, and lots to do after dark.
Adventurers Club was more than just a lounge though. The story is this: the year is 1937, and inventor Merriweather Pleasure (the namesake of Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island) was a successful entrepreneur after WWI in his sail business. His home was getting cluttered with his inventions and collections, and his wife wanted him to take it somewhere else. He created Adventurers Club to store his own stuff and entertain his friends. The restaurant, pub, and theater became a popular gathering place for adventurers and they started sending their own artifacts to Pleasure.
The lounge had dozens of original characters including Club President Pamelia Perkins – more on her later. There were also surprising hidden and special effects.
It’s unclear whether Merriweather Pleasure was part of S.E.A. since Imagineers didn’t create the society until after Adventurers Club opened. However we do know that Pleasure was intimately aware of S.E.A.
Adventurers Club closed in September 2008 to make way for the retheming to Disney Springs. Soon, a new restaurant has opened in its place: The Edison. Interestingly, The Edison will be themed for Thomas Edison who was a real inventor and is often regarded as America’s greatest inventor.
2. Origination: Fortress Exploration
Tokyo DisneySea in Tokyo Disneyland, Japan is regarded as one of the grandest Disney Park in the world. It’s also the first place to have a confirmed S.E.A. appearance.
In 2001, Fortress Exploration debuted on opening day in the Mediterranean Harbor area. Fortress Exploration is a volcano called Mount Prometheus and is largely a walkthrough museum of arts and sciences. The four-story grand Renaissance structure is made of domes and towers each with individual exhibits of things like da Vinci’s flying machine, a fancy remote controlled ship game, optical illusions, and a seismic recording station. There’s even a room called the Chamber of Planets with cranks and cogs that move metal planets around a sun prominently fixed at the center of the room.
Outside, Explorers Landing is a dockside play area. Here you’ll find a bronze plaque that reads: “We, the members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, herewith establish Explorers’ Landing in order to promote the sharing of nautical and scientific knowledge for world exploration.”
Fortress Exploration is a modern reimagining of Tom Sawyer Island by being totally open for exploration. It challenges guests to solve puzzles to join the ranks of S.E.A. After all, S.E.A. only allows the most accomplished adventurers to join.
It’s appropriate that this section of Tokyo DisneySea is the home base of S.E.A. These bright, cunning, and enterprising explorers left behind hints of their findings, and it’s your job to hunt them down.
3. Magellan’s restaurant
Inside Fortress Exploration is a restaurant called Magellan’s. It is said to be a meeting place for members of the society. There’s a secret wine cellar hidden behind a bookcase for current adventurers to find. It’s named for the real explorers Magellan and Galileo.
This ornate fine dining restaurant feels like a real place where real explorers would have held meetings. There’s no denying the S.E.A. connection here as the doors are even inscribed with the letters.
The menu offers familiar options like scallops and crème brulee, and everything is presented in amazing beauty and attention to detail just as you would expect in a secret society’s meeting place.
4. Tower of Terror
Forget what you know about the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The attraction located in Tokyo DisneySea is set in New York City in 1912, and it has nothing to do with the Twilight Zone TV series, which won’t happen for two more decades. Since the Twilight Zone story is almost unknown in Japan, Disney had to create a new storyline. This one involves S.E.A., which continues from other attractions to create a sense of cohesion.
This attraction in Japan is called the Hightower Hotel and is named for the disliked S.E.A. member, Harrison Hightower III who stole artifacts from places that he visited and stashed them in a vault in his New York Mansion. One such artifact is the Skiriki Utundu statue from Africa.
On New Year’s Eve in 1899, he held a party to show off his collection including this statue. A reporter asked him if he was worried about the rumored curse on the statue; to prove he wasn’t, he put his cigar out on the head. That night, his body disappeared and the idol was returned to the pedestal in his study without a scratch or a burn.
In 1912, the Hightower Hotel was slated for demotion, but the New York Preservation Society held a campaign to keep it as an architectural landmark. They even provided tours of the hotel and the collection calling it the Tower of Terror.
This is very much a continuation the S.E.A. storyline.
5. Mystic Point
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005, and the Mystic Point expansion opened in 2013. Part of this expansion is Mystic Manor, a dark ride that is often considered one of the most impressive attractions in any Disney Park around the world.
The ride is dedicated to Lord Henry Mystic and his mischievous monkey, Albert, whom he saved from a giant spider in the African Jungle. It’s set in Peru in 1916 in Mystic’s home, Mystic Manor. He too traveled and collected artifacts, but unlike Hightower, he collected them without stealing. He was polite and liked by locals who gave him things. These things are on display in his Manor.
The queue has several references to S.E.A. like a group portrait of the club’s members dated 1899 in which even Hightower is pictured. The Exhibition Room has black and white photographs on the walls including some showing the opening of the manor in 1896.
When the attraction actually starts, you board the most advanced ride technology that Disney has ever created- a trackless system that allows cars to weave and spin around each other effortlessly. The cars are called Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriages, and you ride through a tour seeing the artifacts stored there from all over the world: Greece, Norway, Egypt, Medieval England, and more.
The first thing you see is his prized music box that is said to give life to the lifeless. Mystic tells Albert not to touch it then leaves the room. The last culture represented is Chinese, and the collection literally tears the mansion apart. Once order is restored in the Cataloguing room, Mystic, totally oblivious to what just happened, asks Albert if he touched the music box. Mystic is none the wiser.
6. Explorer’s Club Restaurant
The Explorer’s Club Restaurant continues Mystic’s story with décor from his collection of antiques. Some things you can see are animated masks and things from Disney World’s Adventurers Club that were sent here when the restaurant closed.
It’s another clear connection to S.E.A. overseas.
7. Disney Explorers Lodge
Disney’s Explorers Lodge opened in Hong Kong Disneyland Resort on April 30, 2017. It welcomes explorers with accommodations diverse in cultures and artifacts. Themed areas include Asia, Oceania, South America, and Africa- all places to which S.E.A members have traveled.
Each area has a garden named after a Pixar character like Kevin from Up and Squirt from Finding Nemo. Could it be that S.E.A explorers visited places in these movies as well?
Aulani Resort in Hawaii is a different kind of Disney destination. There aren’t really any attractions like you would think of in theme parks, but there are island excursions and recreational activities.
The connection to S.E.A is not explicit, but there is an Easter Egg inside Aunty’s Beach House kids club where you’ll find a painting that used to be in Adventurers Club in Florida, accompanied by a letter from Pamelia Perkins, President of the Adventurers Club. The letter references Hightower saying that he’s not missed and he’s now a lady’s man.
The portrait, which is from The Pillagers Brigade Expedition, was found in a storage room while they were cleaning. During this expedition, Hightower learned of the Skiriki Utundu idol, which led to his freak disappearance represented in Tower of Terror in DisneySea.
9. Disney Cruise Line
Appropriately, Disney Cruise Line is involved in S.E.A. as well. After all, the explorers and adventurers traveled the waters frequently.
Most notably here is Mary Oceaneer, whom we’ll hear more about next. There’s an Oceaneers Lab on each Disney Cruise Line ship holding artifacts from Mary’s adventures. This kids’ area has a S.E.A. theme and even references the Asian attractions we discussed earlier. In fact, the same picture from Mystic Manor showing all of the society’s members hangs on the wall.
Inside, kids ages 3 to 12 years old can explore games, experiments, activities, and even an interactive dance floor while parents have some alone time. Aboard the Disney Dream, Fantasy, and Magic, the lab has a water/pirate theme, but the Disney Wonder is dedicated to space travel with Buzz Lightyear- “to infinity and beyond!”
Each ship also serves lunch and dinner inside the Lab so kids can eat and play with their fellow explorers just like the actual society members did!
10. Big Thunder Mountain
Disney World has recently started integrating the Society of Explorers and Adventurers into existing attractions with updates and also building completely new attractions.
In 2013, Big Thunder Mountain in Magic Kingdom‘s Frontierland was refurbished. This was the first official S.E.A. appearance in Disney World. The new interactive queue immerses guests in an old mining operation with exploding dynamite and the sounds of miners in the caverns below. In the attraction, you’ll find a portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion (who looks awfully like Imagineer Tony Baxter) who is the president and founder of Big Thunder Mining Company.
11. Polynesian Resort
When Disney’s Polynesian Resort was rehabbed to become a Disney Vacation Club resort, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar and later the Grog Grotto (2015) was themed in the right period as the S.E.A. The walls are covered in maps, newspaper articles, and relics from the time period as well. Although this connection isn’t confirmed, it fits.
12. Skipper Canteen
Another 2015 dining establishment has a more direct connection.
The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen in Adventureland is said to have been founded by Dr. Albert T. Falls who was a member of the society and also packed the restaurant with artifacts from his fellow members. There’s even a secret dining room that is said to have acted as a meeting space for S.E.A. the room is elegant and intimate.
This restaurant is the first outright and direct experience with confirmed S.E.A connections in the United States.
13. Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar
Later that same year, Jock Lindsay’s Hanger Bar opened as part of the reimagining of Disney Springs. Lindsay was Indiana Jones’s pilot, and the décor and menu of the bar reveals that Lindsay was a member of the society.
14. Miss Adventure Falls
S.E.A. unofficially started in Disney World, so it’s only right that we end (for now) there, too.
Miss Adventure Falls is a recent addition to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. This water park is one of two in Disney World and is the most popular. The rafting attraction starts with a queue full of references to Mary Oceaneer (whom we talked about earlier in the DCL section) and expands on the mythology of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. The ride itself is a rafting attraction and holds the title of the longest ride in any Disney water park.
Mary Oceaneer was first introduced in an oil painting back in Lord Mystic’s collection at Mystic Point in 2005. She sailed the seven seas with her parrot, Salty, who appears as an audio-animatronic in the attraction. She was a diver, a sailor, a snorkeler, and a navigator, but a rogue storm left her stranded in Typhoon Lagoon. Does this mean that Miss Tilly, the shipwreck on top of Mount Mayday is hers?
Let’s take this one step further. Miss Adventure Falls may be the lasted attraction to showcase S.E.A., but it’s probably not the last. Mary may have left us a hint of what’s to come. Inside the ride, there is a hieroglyphic type of writing that some sleuthing fans believe could hint at a connection to the 1914 tale of the lost city of Atlantis. Is this story connected to S.E.A in some way? If so, it would be the first time Disney used a real story from history in connection to this society.
15. And more!
Scavenger hunters and Imagineering fans everywhere try to find connections to S.E.A. just like they do Hidden Mickeys, and they’ve found some other possible, though unconfirmed connections.
Raging Spirits in Tokyo DisneySea is a rollercoaster that looks like an ancient Peruvian Altar. It’s rich in detail and architecture and specifically large serpent heads at the front of the temple. Inside, there’s a picture of Hightower, and if you look closely, he’s making off with one of those serpent heads!
In a 2006 refurbishment, the spooky bride was replaced with a murderous mistress named Constance who cut off the heads of her husbands. Most notably, Constance is pictured with her husband George, who was her final husband and the owner of the mansion. Presumably, he left the mansion to Constance in his will. So what’s the big deal? Well, George’s last name is Hightower; his brother is Harrison. This is revealed in his tombstone on which his bust appears with an ax in his head and a woman (Constance) seated on top holding a rose.
Do you know Disney S.E.A.: The ultimate, connected Disney backstory?