There's an Abandoned Island at Disney World — and It's Hidden in Plain Sight

Discovery Island welcomed Disney World guests for 25 years before closing in 1999.

The dock of Discovery Island at Walt Disney World in 1994
The dock of Discovery Island at Walt Disney World in 1994 . Photo: Mark Walter via Flickr

There's an abandoned island at Walt Disney World, and it's hidden in plain sight. Located in Bay Lake near Magic Kingdom and several Disney hotels, Discovery Island was once a tropical rain forest oasis that welcomed guests for 25 years before closing in the late '90s.

On April 8, 1974, then Treasure Island opened just a few years after Walt Disney World first welcomed visitors in 1971. The original theme was based on the 1950 Disney pirate adventure film "Treasure Island," with a wrecked ship visible on the shore. Its name was changed to Discovery Island in 1977, and the 11.5-acre nature preserve — accessible by boat — operated until April 8, 1999, about a year after Animal Kingdom opened. The tropical island was home to an array of birds and animals, with one of the largest walk-through aviaries in the world and giant tortoises, according to D23, the official Disney fan club.

A 1999 Orlando Sentinel article about the park's closure traces the island's pre-Disney history as a family residence in the early 1900s, and later, a hunting retreat. According to the story, tickets to Discovery Island at the time cost $12.67 for adults and $6.89 for children.

Today, Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort are all located around Bay Lake, so the island isn't really hidden at all, but many guests have no idea that it used to be a Disney attraction. From afar, it blends in with the wooded shoreline of the lake — and with very little visible from the outside, it doesn't draw much attention (except from in-the-know guests). The property is off-limits, though that hasn't stopped a handful of rule-breakers from attempting to visit. In 2020, a 42-year-old man was arrested after sneaking onto the island and camping for days.

And Discovery Island might be gone, but it certainly isn't forgotten. In fact, its legacy lives on in another Disney World theme park. Disney's Animal Kingdom seems to build upon the island's zoological theme with interactive and immersive animal exhibits. Plus, its central land is named Discovery Island, in what seems to be a nod to the park of yesteryear.

Of course, this defunct attraction is not to be confused with Disney's River Country, an abandoned water park that existed during nearly the same time period on the shores of Bay Lake. This park, themed after a rustic swimming hole, was open from 1976 to 2001 — but that's a Disney story for another day.

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