Walt Disney World is made up of about 25,000 acres. While not every acre is currently being utilized (a good portion is reserved for conservation and wetlands), it’s safe to say that Disney World is big. Very big. Over the 47 years the resort has been open, attractions have come and gone, buildings built and buildings removed. With such an expansive area under the Disney name, there are many abandoned areas that may leave guests confused if they see it, like River Country or the island next to it that sits mysteriously in the middle of Bay Lake.

For anybody who has been going to Disney on a regular basis since the mid 70s or for those who are read up on their Disney history, this island isn’t as mysterious as it will be to anybody who doesn’t fit into one of those categories. As somebody who started going to Disney after this attraction closed, it was always mysterious and a bit creepy to me.

From abandoned docks to overgrown vines on railings and dense tree cover, it’s hard to tell what the purpose of this island once was. It personally reminds me of something from Jurassic Park, as if there is something menacing on the island that wards off visitors. As a kid growing up going to Disney, I obviously let my imagination run wild about this island. But the story of the Bay Lake island doesn’t belong in a Halloween-time movie. Like most things that go “bump” in the night or scare us, this place has a reasonable explanation.

Original to Bay Lake and not man-made, this 11.5 acre island opened in April of 1974 as Disney’s Treasure Island, a place where guests could explore and learn about wildlife. Shortly after, it was recognized as an official zoological park and renamed to Discovery Island. If that new name sounds familiar, it should. More on that later.

Discovery Island required a separate admission from the other parks, about $11 for adults and $6 for kids three to nine in 1995. There was a beach where you could play and walk, but swimming was not allowed. In fact, Discovery Island was such an important zoological location, that it was the last known location of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow which was declared extinct in 1990.

After Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, Discovery Island started to become obsolete. Obviously, an entire theme park could contain more animal species and attractions than a island a small fraction of that size. It was phased out in early 1999 and was completely closed by July of the same year. The remaining animals were sent to either Animal Kingdom or local zoos. The name Discovery Island was moved to the hub of Animal Kingdom.

It’s understandable that the former attraction could look spooky; it’s been nearly completely untouched over the last 19 years. Rumors have swirled for years as to what Disney plans to do with it, but for now, it will continue to stand as a head scratcher to those who don’t know it’s origin and a ghost of an attraction for those who do.

Susie Bryan
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