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News Article

Inside Disney World's Abandoned Theme Parks


Last week we took a look at the ruins of what was once the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Florida. Naturally, that got me thinking about the biggest attraction in Florida: Disney World. Disney World occupies an insane amount of land in Florida, and Disney owns even more that is undeveloped. Surely, hidden away somewhere there must be the ruins of a Disney park or two.

There are two to be exact: Discovery Island and River Country. The adjoining parks are the only two Disney parks to ever be closed permanently. Luckily for us, they were abandoned rather than demolished.

Discovery Island

Purchased by Disney in 1965 as part of their massive (and secretive) Florida land grab, this 11.5 acre island in Bay Lake was built as a place to "observe wildlife." The park housed lemurs, tortoises, cranes, swans, brown pelicans, flamingoes, and the last-known dusky seaside sparrow. (It died in 1987 and was declared extinct in 1990.) The park was operational from 1974 to 1999, at which point the remaining animals were transferred to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

In 2009, after hearing rumors about the island's existence, urban explorer Shane Perez and some buddies set out to find what remained. After swimming through bacteria and gator-infested waters, Perez came ashore to something that sounds like a horror movie:

Almost immediately, we realized we were not alone on this island. We could hear all sorts of noises in the trees surrounding us. We were literally surrounded by what sounded like thousands of birds. We could hear them cawing and cooing in all directions, some sounded almost like people speaking. With every branch we stepped on that made a snap, a group of birds would be startled and take off all at once, making even more noise.

Among the abandoned buildings and overgrown wildlife, Perez and his team made several haunting discoveries: staff photographs left in abandoned offices; snakes preserved in jars and, oddly, a Coke bottle; and a pair of angry baby vultures.

River Country

Disney's first water park, River Country was operational from 1976 to 2001. With the much larger and more modern Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the "old-fashioned swimming hole"-themed park seemed unnecessary. 

There is an extensive photo tour of River Country from 2009, but here are some of my favorite images.