Discovery Island and River Country ~ By Dianna Standen
You know that creepy old abandoned house at the top of the hill that no one will go to?…… Well at Walt Disney World there is a whole island *dramatic pause* and a water park, Discovery Island and River Country, which have that same effect. These are the only two parks Disney opened that closed and never reopened. I will not give the exact location because recently people have been trying to trespass to these two closed locations. I trust that no one here will do anything illegal but I don’t want to contribute to anything that could be done.
Discovery Island should sound familiar but lets start with a little history lesson. The island’s earliest history goes back to the early 1900s when it was called Raz Island; in the late 1930s Delmar Nicholson renamed it Idle Bay Isle, in 1965 Walt Disney purchased it as part of the Florida Project and called it Treasure Island. The island opened April 8, 1974, closed exactly 25 years later on April 8, 1999, and was abandoned as of July 9, 1999.
Remember I said the name should sound familiar; the island was the predecessor to the Discovery Island part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The population included 140 species of fauna and 250 species of flora. Most of the animals were transported to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. After Discovery Island closed Disney wanted to reopen it as Mystic Island, an interactive experience but the concept was never developed. From the guest areas all you can see is a shed, a boat dock and if you look close you can see foliage covered poles and structure support lines.
Now on to the creepier park, the creepy part is my opinion. River Country was Walt Disney World’s first water park and that can be applied to all of Orlando. The Wet N Wild opened a year after River Country. The ‘Ole’ Fashion Swimming Hole’ opened June 20, 1976, closed November 2, 2001, and officially closed permanently on January 20, 2005. This older brother of Blizzard Beach was only 6 acres; Blizzard Beach is 4 times larger. The water park was officially open after Susan Ford, Gerald Ford’s daughter, took the first ride down the Whoop n’ Holler.
Now what would an article about Disney be without a little controversy. This time it is about why River County closed. The most common is that a young boy died after swimming in the water when an amoeba attacked his brain in 1980, this was never Disney’s fault. The same amoeba has taken several lives all across Florida, the most recent was earlier this year. Two children also drowned, one in 1982 and one in 1989. Disney also officially ended swimming in the natural pool in the early 1990s.
Another rumor was a new Florida law that required all public swimming location has to have a certain process for filtering water, more about that in a little bit. The real, official, reason was River Country was another victim of the attacks on September 11th 2001. The park closed for the season in November 2001 and was never reopened as part of the cut backs to cover the slump of tourism. The park was prepped for open in 2002 and 2003 but after that it was left dormant and in 2005 a Disney press statement officially closed the park.
There were two pools; one was your normal 160 ft hotel pool that was heated during the winter. The other was an inlet off Bay Lake. The pool was kept 6 in taller than Bay Lake with the help of a flexible bladder created by Imagineers that pumped the water through a filtration system and was sent to the top of the the 16 ft water slides to and then joined the 330,000 gallon Bay Cove pool. There was also the classic tire swing, walking trails and kids play space. The sand was all natural along with most of the rocks, they were local or from Georgia, North or South Carolina. The rock guy, Fred Joerger, sculpted the rest, including the water falls; his other masterpieces include Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Tom Sawyer Island.
The creepy part is how it was just left. Since they closed in 2001 with the intention of opening in 2002, everything was left. When 2005 rolled around and the park of officially closed everything was just left. Signs, papers, furniture, dishes, and so much more. I wanted to show pictures that people have taken, but those people were trespassing so don’t want to share their work. I can not stress enough that it is not safe to trespass in these or any restricted area.
Now on to a tall tale, a REALLY tall tale. There is a story about an abandoned Disney resort called, Moguli’s Palace set just outside Emerald Isle, South Carolina. The stories goes that it was hated by locals from the start so one of them broke into the costuming department stole a Mickey Mouse costume and did some evil things. After the incident the island was haunted so it was closed, several years later a guy got to the island and got the paints scared off him. If this story seems interesting look it up I really enjoyed it, but make no mistake it is all fiction and I would add a PG-13 rating to it to be on the safe side.
- Discovery Island and River Country - February 5, 2014
- Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus….. - October 11, 2013
- My Hollywood Studios (stress on the ‘my’) - September 27, 2013
3 thoughts on “Discovery Island and River Country”
Interesting… I remember taking the kids there many years ago and wondering what happened to it. When we were at WDW last year, I saw the remains (from a distance) and it is spooky. It would be a perfect Disney opportunitiy for a haunted something or other. Thanks for the article.
I have been to both! I know that they seem creepy now but when they were open they were pretty awesome. My family and I have great memories at river country. Still one of my favorite water parks. It may not have been big but it had a lot going on. There was always something to do as a family. As for Discovery Island. We used to make sure we went there at least once on our trip. It was always cool to walk around and see different birds and animals with out a lot of people.
But as jayjaybee said “seems so un-Disney” is correct. I am just hoping that some day river country will reopen and they do something with discovery island.
I was at both of these places in the mid-70’s. I have pictures from River Country and remember it was AMAZING for it’s time… unlike anything I had ever been to before! So much better than the SEE-MENT ponds of other water parks at the time! Some of my pics I took of Discovery Island birds are still my favorites to this day. It’s amazing that they just left the islands as is, never to return. Seems so un-Disney.