The wonderful thing about Disney Parks is that EVERYTHING comes with a story.
Even the newest cookie shop at Disney Springs has its own backstory, but there’s one tale that encompasses almost all of Disney’s theme parks! We bet there’s a good change you might not even know this is a thing (and for some folks, it’s a BIG thing!). We’re talkin’ bout the elusive, mysterious, and sometimes familiar Society of Explorers and Adventurers — sounds awesome, right? Just wait til you learn more!
So what IS The Society of Explorers and Adventurers?
The Society of Explorers and Adventurers (aka S.E.A.) is a fictional (or is it? 😉) secret organization that you can find in Disney parks ALL OVER the world. And if you want to know what it’s about, look at its crest, which features a galleon to represent adventure, an armillary sphere to represent romance, a compass to represent discovery, and a set of artist tools to represent innovation.
So first thing’s first…S.E.A. ain’t real. Well, not real in the sense that these are real people and a real society. It’s Disney magic with some fun twists. But it DOES have an elaborate backstory that is pretty neat:
The S.E.A.’s history goes all the way back to 1538, during the time of the Renaissance and Age of Exploration. All its members were explorers, scientists, researchers, and adventurers from all over the world. As the centuries passed, the Society began to expand.
The most prominent members of the group in the late 1800s include some names Disney fans might find familiar (but we’ll get to that later): Harrison Hightower III, Lord Henry Mystic, Barnabas T. Bullion, Mary Oceaneer, Dr. Albert Falls, and Jason Chandler.
Since its beginning, the S.E.A. has continued to carry out its mission:
“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.”
As we mentioned, Disney fans already know the names of many of the members of the S.E.A. because they are represented throughout Disney Parks all over the world. We could spend DAYS listing all the artifacts, photos, books, etc. found at Disney properties that refer to these characters, but we’ll just stick with their main locations for now. And there are a lot of members (including honorary ones), so we’ll stick with the most well-known.
Harrison Hightower III
Harrison Hightower III was the builder of Hotel Hightower and an antiquities collector at the Tower of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea.
He mysteriously disappeared on December 31, 1899, after acquiring (actually, he STOLE) the idol Shiriki Utundu. Let’s just say he wasn’t always a nice guy — most of his artifacts were gained by nefarious means. After entering an elevator with the mysterious idol, he disappeared (DUN DUN!) and only the idol remained! Now, he’s the ghost haunting Hightower Hotel in Tokyo DisneySea and that little idol is terrorizing guests in the hotel.
The character also bears a striking resemblance to Imagineer Joe Rohde (perhaps a relative?).
Acccccctually — it IS Joe Rohde. Well, kinda. Thanks to Disney+’s Behind the Attraction, we know the famed Imagineer, probably best known for overseeing the design of Animal Kingdom, lent his appearance in the designing of a corbel on the outside of the building. Imagineers thought his face was particularly scowly and would look ominous on the building. A few dozen corbels later, he had essentially been cast as Hightower and was placed all over the ride including in filmed portions seen on the ride.
Lord Henry Mystic
Lord Henry Mystic is the good-hearted owner of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland’s version of The Haunted Mansion. It’s NOTHING like the Mansions you might be used to! It’s Mystic’s voice you hear during the pre-show.
He built this majestic victorian manor to showcase all of the treasures and artifacts that he has collected during his adventures and loves to showcase them for anyone willing to journey to his manor. There are also several portraits of him in the manor, and guests can spot him at the beginning and end of the ride in the cataloging room. Also, he really loved his pet monkey.
Like REALLY loved this monkey. After rescuing this young monkey, the two became lifelong companions, and Lord Henry Mystic named him Albert, after one of his favorite uncles.
Dr. Albert Falls
If you’ve taken a trek to see the infamous “8th Wonder of the World” on The Jungle Cruise, you no doubt have at least HEAR of this member of S.E.A.. After all…Schweitzer Falls is named after the noted explorer that discovered it Dr. Albert Falls! (Oh Jungle Cruise, we heart your dad jokes.)
This explorer was the one who established the Jungle Navigation Company and the skippers navigating these jungle rivers honor his legacy by continuing each tour with his historic humor. Funny side note, though: he was first mentioned in the Jungle Cruise as a joke, but he became an established character with the opening of the Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen in Disney World, and there’s evidence of him and his life all over that restaurant.
The restaurant is loaded with Falls family artifacts and, most notably, a SECRET S.E.A. meeting room (don’t worry, we’ll show you more of that in just a bit!). His granddaughter Alberta Falls is running the show now both at the Jungle Cruise and at Skipper Canteen! Keep an ear out for her next time you’re in the restaurant.
Hints of Captain Mary Oceaneer can be found aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Wonder and Magic, as well as the Miss Adventure Falls ride at Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon. Her claim to S.E.A. fame was her commitment to deep-sea diving and treasure hunting. The Oceaneer Lab on the Disney ships the Wonder and the Magic were modeled after her ship, the RV Oceaneer Lab.
Like any sea-faring wanderer, she had a pet parrot named Salty. OF COURSE!
Barnabas T. Bullion
Barnabas T. Bullion was born into wealth and obsessed with gold. He is the founder and president of Big Thunder Mining Company — his portrait hangs in the queue of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at both Disney World AND Disneyland. He and fellow S.E.A. adventurer, John Chandler, went on an expedition to find the lost city of gold, El Dorado, and that was the last anyone in the S.E.A saw of Barnabas T. Bullion.
Fans of Imagineering might notice he bears a striking resemblance to Tony Baxter — the Imagineer responsible for dreaming up Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! What a coincidence, eh? 😉
Jason Chandler is actually from an unbuilt Disneyland idea, Discovery Bay. (That was Barnabas…I mean, Tony Baxter’s brainchild as well!) He was a brilliant inventor and also served as the Society president for a time. He also has ties to early versions of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, having invented a powerful drilling machine.
He and Barnabas T. Boullion enjoyed a close friendship and collaborated on several ideas for Big Thunder Mountain — pay attention in the queue at Magic Kingdom’s version of the ride and you just might see letters from him.
EVERYONE knows Jock Lindsey, right? We mean, we hang out at his bar (Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs) every chance we can get! He was an American aviator and his claim to fame is that he was the airplane pilot hired by famed explorer (yet…not a member of S.E.A….hmmm.) Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This aeronautical adventurer took on dangerous expeditions and performed death-defying stunts in airshows.
His aerial prowess earned him a place in this special society. Also, he has a pet boa constrictor named Reggie. (As you can imagine, that did NOT go over well flying with Indy!)
Last but not least, one of the most notable members of the S.E.A. is Camellia Falco, who was the first female member of the organization (you go, girl!). She was born into a family of aerial adventurers and became a renowned aviatrix herself. She created a plane, modeled after Leonardo da Vinci’s work called the Dream Flyer, which plays an integral role in Tokyo DisneySea’s Soaring: Fantastic Flight!
Girl is fierce — she has a pet falcon and everything!
There have been many members throughout the organization’s long history, but these are the members with the most representation in the parks. We could make this article into a novel covering the history of famed characters like Merriweather Adam Pleasure (not surprisingly, he could be found back in the day at Pleasure Island and the Grand Floridian is rumored to be one of his homes!) or Professor Garret Reed, a S.E.A. member turned villain who was stripped of his membership. (Lore for S.E.A. goes DEEP, guys.) Be sure to pay attention in queues, at restaurants, and pretty much everywhere else to find hints of them! There were honorary members, too, such as Leonardo DaVinci, Marco Polo, and Ferdinand Magellan, among others.
The REAL Story
So the REAL story behind the S.E.A. (as much as we hate admitting that Disney stuff isn’t real) goes back to 2001 to the Fortress Explorations attraction at Tokyo DisneySea. The real S.E.A. fun started in 2013 when Pleasure Island in Disney World closed. This included the closure of the Adventurer’s Club, the heavily themed “secret” society lounge that inspired this whole thing to begin with! When Pleasure Island closed, the props and “artifacts” from the Adventurer’s Club were scattered all around the Disney Parks worldwide!
And yes, if you happen to see portraits around Disney properties and think those characters look VERY familiar — well that’s because they are caricatures of some of Disney’s Imagineers, as we previously mentioned. Joe Rohde, we see you (maybe he didn’t retire — maybe it’s just a ruse so he can continue his S.E.A. adventures!).
In 2016, Disney confirmed that it is committed to continuing the legacy of the S.E.A., so it’s likely you’ll see these characters in a lot of new places eventually, including on TV (hang on and we’ll get to that).
We’ve already mentioned some of the main appearances of the most iconic members of the S.E.A., and, well, if we mentioned EVERYTHING, you would be reading FOR DAYS. There are literally hundreds of little artifacts, clothing items, patches, badges, letters, etc. in Disney Parks that reference the organization. And where’s the fun in it if we tell you where they all are? But we’ll do our best to get you started on your hunt for the S.E.A..
The original headquarters of the society is at the Fortress Explorations attraction, which is also where new members get inducted.
You can also find a S.E.A. office at Magellan’s Restaurant (obviously, as Magellan IS an honorary member).
The Museum of Fantastic Flight, aka Soaring: Fantastic Flight has portraits of Camellia, including one of her at her initiation with Jason Chandler and Lord Henry Mystic.
And, as we previously mentioned, the Tower of Terror is the final haunting place of Harrison Hightower III.
Hong Kong Disneyland
We told you about Mystic Manor, owned by Lord Henry Mystic. But you can also find some references to the S.E.A. in Adventureland during Halloween events. In 2014, the Horrors of the Amazon stage show focused on a man who wanted to join the organization.
The Halloween Jungle Cruise overlay, Curse of the Emerald Trinity, is all about a man kicked out of the S.E.A. for his greed and unhealthy desire for forbidden objects (remember that Professor Reed we mentioned above? Yeah. That guy!). Didn’t we already warn you people about that?!?!?!?!
Walt Disney World
There are references to the S.E.A. ALLLLLLL over Disney World, including Magic Kingdom! Barnabas T. Bullion, along with Jason Chandler, is mentioned in letters as a S.E.A. member in the queue of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. And new nods to the Society popped up recently in the queue for the Jungle Cruise.
If you happen to dine at Skipper Canteen, ask about the S.E.A. meeting room (hint: it’s hidden behind the library).
You can also see club fezzes from members there! There are also maps as drawn by Mary Oceaneer and Jason Chandler hanging on the restaurant’s walls. And if you look closely at the books in the library, you’ll notice that some were penned by S.E.A. members!
The entirety of Skipper Canteen is essentially a big nod to S.E.A., especially member Albert and Alberta Falls!
At Typhoon Lagoon, Miss Adventure Falls is based on Mary Oceaneer’s story! You’ll see signs of her (quite literally) all over the water park.
If you’ve been to EPCOT’s U.K. Pavilion and checked out the Kidcot station there, you’ll notice the station is a library of the “Royal Adventurer’s Society.” In that library is a book called “Society of Explorers and Adventurers Handbook,” as well as copies of books found at Skipper Canteen.
We already LOVE the mysterious vibe of AbracadaBar at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, but it’s also got a S.E.A. affiliation! Which totally makes sense, given the bar’s theme. The story goes that on Friday the 13th, September 1940, every magician inside the bar disappeared! SPOOKY.
Among the props left behind is a S.E.A. Fez, so, apparently, a member was one of those missing magicians. Why do we have a feeling the S.E.A. knows more about this incident than they’ve let on?
But wait! We’re not done yet. Over in Anaheim, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has a portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion, as well as cargo being sent to Jason Chandler. The Tropical Hideaway has a canoe paddle display with names of S.E.A. members on them as well. LOTS of members have contributed paddles here!!
Bengal Barbecue doesn’t just serve delicious grilled skewers, it was once an outpost for S.E.A., at least according to a portrait hanging on its wall. There’s also a photograph that has Lord Henry Mystic’s monkey on it, along with another photo of Dr. Albert Falls.
The newly renovated Jungle Cruise added some new faces, new jokes, and new references to the S.E.A. See if you can spot one of the newest society members, Dr. Kon Chunoksuke trying to escape an agitated rhino!
The additions and tweaks to this classic attraction have us riding and re-riding to take it all in. As we absorb all of the details, we may find more S.E.A. nods!
REVIEW! We’re Whipping Into The Tropical Hideaway For the Next Indiana Jones-Themed Treat in Disneyland!
One piece of luggage near the entry signs for Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost (formerly the Explorers Club Restaurant) has a S.E.A. sticker on it.
Cafe Hyperion is a large hanger in which lesser-known S.E.A. member Captain Brieux has docked his airship, the Hyperion. Guests can actually eat beneath the airship surrounded by displays of where the Captain has been.
Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Magic and Disney Wonder ships have numerous portraits of Mary Oceaneer, usually with her parrot. You can also see her diving suit on display in the Oceaneer Lab, along with the treasure she found on Castaway Cay.
There’s also a portrait of Lord Henry Mystic in the lab, as well as a newspaper article about the disappearance of Harrison Hightower III (remember our warning about stealing cursed objects!)! Fun nods to S.E.A. can be found all around Castaway Cay as well!
Okay, so here’s something NEW to get excited about. We recently learned that an entire universe of TV shows are in development at Disney+ revolving around the Magic Kingdom. The first project? The Society of Explorers and Adventurers!
We don’t have word on how far along in the development process the series is, but we can’t wait to see our favorite explorers and adventurers on TV!
So there you have it — we hope you enjoyed learning more about the S.E.A. and are eagerly awaiting the new TV series about the organization. And just think — you’ll be WAY ahead of the game when the show starts because you’ll already know all this stuff! To quote Maui — you’re welcome!
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Have you heard of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers before? Let us know in the comments!