Ever wonder if Disney has ever covered something up? Ever wonder if Disney has more than one abandoned theme park on property? Ever wonder if River Country isn’t the only abandoned themed area that’s been left to rot by Disney? Enter Discovery Island.
Discovery Island is an abandoned island in the middle of Bay Lake, near the Magic Kingdom, and it’s way more interesting than River Country. At around 11 acres, this island was once a theme park dedicated to animals, and it housed around 150 different species in its’ prime. In this article, I will discuss everything about Discovery Island, from the layout to why it closed, and to what happened after it closed and what comes next.
Originally known as Raz Island, it was named after the family that lived on it (Side note: Why on Earth would you decide to live on an island in the early 1900’s? That sounds like an awful idea). Later on, in the 1930’s, it was bought for $800 by a man who lived on it for 20 years with his wife and pet Crane (this island has all sorts of weird little things about it, including the fact that the man who purchased it had a pet Crane!). Later on, it was sold again and renamed Riles Island, and the owner used it as a hunting retreat (Again, this honestly sounds horrible. Did the owner bring animals there and then let them run then hunt them? Because, it’s an ISLAND. I honestly don’t know if any of the owners knew that). Then Disney bought it in 1965 as a part of its’ Florida Project.
You know that creepypasta and that FNAF fan game? Those are partially based on this island. Good luck sleeping tonight knowing that part of those are real, the setting at least.
When Disney bought Riles Island in 1965, they originally planned to have it open as Treasure Island on Day One, which is shown by this early concept art:
CREDIT: disneyparks.disney.go.com (Side note: If you want to know more about what WDW was originally supposed to be, this is an interesting written by an official Disney Blog
Obviously, this never happened. In fact, only MK, the Polynesian, and the Contemporary Resorts opened on Day One. The Asian, Venetian, and Persian Resorts were never built either (Click HERE for a great video about those resorts). Instead, Treasure Island opened on April 8th, 1974 as a place to observe animals and interact with pirate related stuff. A beached pirate ship was placed on the southwest side of the island, and that remains there to this day. The island wasn’t very popular, and when it was recognized as a Zoological Park, they renamed it Discovery Island in hopes that might be more popular then and to better reflect what the island actually was.
Unfortunately, the name change did little to boost attendance at this park which most people thought of as a half day attraction or a “We’ll do it later” park (Like Hollywood Studios as it is right now). Discovery Island hosted 150 species of animals, such as lemurs, flamingos, giant tortoises, and lots of rare and endangered bird species. I own a brochure of the park from 1986, which shows the layout and highlights animal species that lived on the island.
As you can see by the map of the island, the path winded through forest and featured roughly a dozen and a half attractions, since restrooms and snack areas were considered attractions on the brochure. The trail went in a circle, with small paths connecting the sides. Pretty cool concept, right? So what happened and why is it abandoned?
THE DECLINE OF DISCOVERY ISLAND
As I said earlier, most people considered Discovery Island a park they’ll do later or only go once, which is not good at all. It was hard to get to, as you had to take a boat from either the Contemporary Resort or the Magic Kingdom, and it was small, at 11 acres. The concept of a theme park on an island is a cool one, but it’s not practical if you don’t have a bridge or a monorail or at least something other than a small boat to get guests there. Also, Disney was fined a fairly large amount of money in 1989 because it was found that they shot Vultures which frequented the island. I don’t think this is why the island closed, but it’s worth noting. The biggest reason Discovery Island closed was because Disney decided to make a bigger park dedicated to animals: Animal Kingdom. It was easier to get to, was 50 times larger than DI, and it was better themed, with themed areas of the world which housed different animals. So, Discovery Island closed on April 8th, 1999, 25 years after it opened because of Animal Kingdom, not because of a bacteria in the water (This makes zero sense why people think this. River Country may have been closed by it, because in that park you actually SWIM. You didn’t touch the water at this park). So what happened after?
This is the image of Discovery Island from Google Earth as of February 2016, when Google Earth last updated the image. You can see some buildings and the remnants of the beach.
When Discovery Island closed, Disney said they were looking into other ways to use the island, but nothing ever materialized. Disney cared for the island for a few months, then everything stopped. The next thing that happened was in 2006, when the dock was removed and a couple other exterior things, but not the Pirate Ship. That was still there, looking like this:
The next thing that happened was in 2008, when the power finally was cut from the island. That’s right: They left the lights on. Every night, the island lit up as if it was still open.
This picture was taken by Shane Perez, one of the few people who dared to venture to the island after it closed. He went in 2003, and the next explorer explored it around 2006. No one else has been there, meaning we don’t what it looks like now. That is crazy. We only have pictures from ten years ago.
The next thing that was a noticeable change was that they replaced the service dock, which was in bad need of repair. I don’t really know when, but it was replaced.
The next change was the change I photographed and talked about in THIS post: the fence. Put up in 2016, it is really unknown why it was put up. Some thing it was just to prevent trespassing, but with all of the security on the island, it’s unnecessary. Others think something else is going on (Dismantling, building, etc.). I’m not really sure. All I know is the fence looks like this:
The fence is over the main entrance, and no where else.
So that brings us to today: we don’t know what is going to happen with the island, if anything will ever happen. Water damage from the rivers and lakes on the island have most likely damaged it so nothing could be built on it without costing Disney way more money than necessary, but I don’t know. In 2009 Disney worked with the developers of the game Myst to create a Real World tie in park, but nothing really happened with that. So we really don’t know what Disney has planned for it, if anything. They pretend it doesn’t exist and don’t do anything. When I was at Disney World visiting the park, the captain of the boat talked about River Country and how it closed, saying it is “Still listed as temporarily Closed” on the Disney database or whatever they have, but he said nothing about Discovery Island. I asked him about Discovery Island after I got off the boat, and he got really uncomfortable when he pointed it out to me, which I found suspicious. Everything about this island is weird.
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