Happy Thursday, everyone! Welcome to the first topic on thedisneyjournal.com! I chose to start with one of my favorites, and the one that got me interested in abandoned places, especially ones within Disney parks. And that is River Country, the abandoned water park within Walt Disney World, and one of two abandoned parks within the property, the other being Discovery Island, which I will talk about in a later post. First, let’s get into the history of River Country.
At the time the Walt Disney World resort opened (1971), it had one theme park (Magic Kingdom) and two hotels, the Polynesian Resort, and the Contemporary Resort, and would add Fort Wilderness Campground soon after. While Magic Kingdom is huge, Disney needed another park. An idea was a themed water park, something never seen before. In the mid-1970’s, water parks usually consisted of a few slides and a pool, and were never themed. Disney reinvented the water park, and most water parks (Blizzard Beach, Mt. Olympus, etc.) either wouldn’t exist or would be drastically different if this water park was never constructed. The water park would be known as River Country, and would be themed similar to that of Fort Wilderness, a rustic theme. It was to be placed just west of Fort Wilderness, and you would travel there by a small train from the Fort Wilderness parking lot.
The park opened on June 20th, and was five acres, which is quite small, but it was incredibly impressive for the time, and it still is visually impressive. A map of the park can be seen here:
As you can see, the park featured three main areas: Upstream Plunge, Kiddie Cove, and Bay Cove.
Upstream Plunge: A kidney-bean shaped pool, filled with your average chlorinated pool water. The pool featured two water slides, called Slippery Slide Falls, which let you freefall for a second or two into the pool. This one is the most interesting, and will be talked about more after River Country closes.
Kiddie Cove: This was the area meant for children. It had smaller slides and a cove, hence the name Kiddie Cove.
Bay Cove: A 2,000 meter pool that used water from Bay Lake, filtered to get rid of most chemicals, bacteria, fish, and bugs. The bay had a sand floor, and had two water slides, named Whoop n’ Holler Hollow, draining into it. Over it were the Boom Swing, Tire Swing, and Cable Ride attractions.
Near Bay Cove was the lazy/tube river, named White Water Rapids, which was 330 feet around. Around these pools were other attractions, including Pony Rides and Boat Rentals (Now both a part of Fort Wilderness), the Cypress Point Nature trail, and restrooms.
During the parks’ operation, it looked like this:
The Park was amazingly themed, from the slides going through rock, to the wooden water tower, the rock speakers, the restrooms, and the concession stands. Now that I’ve described and shown to you what the park looks like, I bet you’re wondering why it closed, and why its on the darker side of Disney.
Well, most of the blame for the death of River Country falls on Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the current water parks at Disney World, its’ size, and its’ location.
As I said before, River Country was 5 acres, meaning the capacity was small, under five thousand people could be there at a time, which simply couldn’t meet the demand, as there were many more hotels, and a new park (Epcot), meaning more people visited the WDW resort. So, Disney saw the demand for a larger water park, and acted upon it, building Typhoon Lagoon, which opened on June 1st, 1989. Typhoon Lagoon was 56 acres, ten times larger than River Country! But even that wasn’t enough. On April 1st, 1995, Disney opened a 66-acre water park, named Blizzard Beach. At this point, attendance at River Country was low, as it was inconvenient to get to, and it was small. Also, an 11 year old boy died from an amoeba after swimming at River Country. The amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) is found in most lakes in Florida, which included River Country’s Bay Cove. It was the only death from this amoeba in River Country’s history, which meant the water was safe, but nonetheless, it helped seal the fate of the park.
Now, flash forward to 2001, when the attacks on September 11th occurred. A lot of attractions closed during this time to save money, as attendance at the resort was low due to the attacks. This included River Country. But, unlike other attractions and the other parks, River Country would never open again. River Country was open from June 20th until November 2nd, 2001. But that’s not where it ends. In fact, after the park closed is when it gets interesting.
At first, it seemed like Disney was going to get rid of the park, as the water tower and other scenery were removed. But, they didn’t do anything else. The next time Disney actually did something to the park was while I was at Disney World, on August 25th, 2016. Fears of the Zika Virus developing in Upstream Plunge caused Disney to drain the pool, and fill it with dirt and cover it with cement. No plans to demolish the rest of the park have surfaced, so it seems like that’s all they plan on doing for now. While they were doing this, I tried to get into the park, as there is a part of the park that can still be accessed, but they had a cast member or two blocking people from entering, so I couldn’t get in to see them filling it, but I didn’t really expect to.
Here’s what Abandoned River Country looks like:
It’s really sad and surreal to look at, as it is overgrown with weeds, and Kiddie Cove has become a meadow. Here’s a few pictures taken by photographer Seph Lawless:
If you want to see River Country (Just don’t trespass), you can, as everything under the restroom on the map is completely open to the public. If you take a boat to Fort Wilderness, simply take a right at the first trail, and keep going straight, under the ticket booth which looks really out of place.
Just keep going straight and you’ll be in River Country. The Fort Wilderness Pavilion Restrooms are the original River Country Restrooms, and if you take a peek through the fence, you can see the Upstream Plunge pool, in all of it’s unkempt cemented glory, or you can see other parts of it, including picnic tables and chairs, all completely rotted and filled with plants. Even if you don’t look through the fence, River Country is still prevalent throughout the area. Paths lead nowhere, rockwork that looks odd compared to Fort Wilderness, and random cement pieces where landmarks used to be, including the River Country Water Tower. If you want to see someone actually enter the park (DON’T DO THIS!!!!), here’s a link, CLICK HERE.
If you want to see what River Country looks like as of earlier this year, here’s a video touring the public part of the park: CLICK HERE.
NOTE: you can see River Country from a boat taken from either the Contemporary Resort or the Wilderness Lodge to Fort Wilderness. Here’s a video I took while boating by it:
I never went there, but I still find it very interesting. Just the fact that Disney let a water park rot is amazing. I wish I could have seen it in its’ peak. I’ve only seen it by boat and slightly from in front of a cast member who was blocking me from entering, but it’s amazing. I only hope Disney does some good with it in the future.
The future of River Country is uncertain. Eventually, Disney will be forced to tear it down, and what they’ll put there is uncertain. Recently, plans have leaked of a possible Disney Vacation Club Resort going where River Country is, so that could happen. Personally, I would something that wouldn’t ruin the charm of Fort Wilderness, so maybe cabins on the lake, which would recreate the charm of a lake home/cabin in the north. It could be a DVC resort if they wanted. Or, the park could sit and rot for 15 more years, and Disney could do nothing about it, which is equally as likely. No one knows for sure about the fate of Disney’s first water park.
Hint for Sunday’s post: Endless Magikarps.