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Abandoned: The Rise, Fall and Decay of Disney’s River Country

Abandoned River Country

“An exciting new country now awaits you inside Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness.”

“River Country is the kersplashingest, kid laughingest, slippery slidingest, raft ridingest, rope swingingest, swan divingest, summer swimmingest, sun snoozingest, picnickingest, old-fashioned, good, clean wet American fun you've ever had!"

“Bring a swimsuit and a smile. You're likely to wear both out, at River Country.”

These were some of the words that Disney used to entice guests to visit its first ever water park, River Country, which debuted at Walt Disney World in Florida in 1976.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

A 1978 ad for River Country.

Fast forward to today, and River Country still stands next to Bay Lake, not far from the Magic Kingdom. The slides are still in place. The pools are full of water. Safety signs advise guests of what they should and shouldn’t do.

There’s just one problem: the park is completely abandoned, and has been for more than 13 years.

Abandoned River Country

Image - Tri-circle-D, disboards.com

The slides are gradually disappearing underneath dense plant life, and swimming in the dank pools is not advisable. In short, Disney’s River Country is decaying and dissolving, the millions of visitors that passed through its gates now a thing of the past. And it’s all happening right in front of our very eyes – parts of the park are still clearly visible from boats passing by on Bay Lake, while the entire area stands just meters away from the Fort Wilderness Resort.

River Country from Bay Lake

How did it come to this? And why?

If you’re a Disney fan, you’ve probably heard of River Country. Striking images of its abandoned state have spread like wildfire across the web and social media in recent years, and you may even have visited the park during its 25 years in operations.

However, while photographs of the crumbling River Country are easy to come by, piecing together the full story behind it is more difficult. Why – and how – did Disney build a water park in the first place? What was it like to visit? Why did it shut down? Why didn’t Disney demolish it? And could it ever open again in the future?

The answers to these questions are out there, spread across hundreds of articles on dozens of websites. Yet, to our knowledge, no-one has pulled them together before into a single, coherent account of the rise, fall and decay of a park that many hold dear to their hearts.

Bring a swimsuit and a smile. THIS is the story of Disney’s River Country.

The beginning

These days, Walt Disney World is a vast, sprawling resort that is firmly established as one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. It boasts no fewer than four full-sized theme parks, two water parks (not counting the deserted River Country), a huge shopping and entertainment district and dozens of resort hotels.

Back in the early seventies, things were very different. Just take a look at the 1971 guide map below to get an idea of just how sparse the resort was in comparison to today:

1971 overall map of Walt Disney World

The Magic Kingdom was there, of course. It was largely a clone of the original Disneyland, and featured many attractions that are still favorites today, such as the Haunted Mansion. There were a handful of resort hotels, including the iconic Contemporary Resort and the exotic Polynesian Village Resort – both of which were connected to the theme park by a monorail system (note that the Venetian and Asian Resorts shown on this map never actually materialized). For those on lower budgets, camping was available at Fort Wilderness.

Magic Kingdom grand opening

Despite concerns that an East Coast audience wouldn’t warm to Disney’s brand of tourism, the Magic Kingdom quickly became very popular following its 1971 debut. Look beyond the theme park, though, and there was precious little to do. Guests could swim, fish or sail on Bay Lake. They could play a round of golf. They might ride a horse around Fort Wilderness. At a push, they could simply glide along on the monorail. But none of those things were likely to draw them in for the long, multi-day stays that would boost Disney’s bottom line.

Of course, Disney had to start somewhere, and the plan was always to expand Walt Disney World with more attractions and more hotels. Those plans, though, were jeopardized in 1973 when war broke out in the Middle East. An oil embargo was placed on Western nations, and President Nixon scrambled to introduce gasoline rationing. For a resort that received the majority of its guests via car, this was nothing short of a disaster. Attendance at the Magic Kingdom crashed, and Disney’s share price fell by more than half.

Oil embargo 1973

It wasn’t just Disney that was suffering. The newly-growing Central Florida tourism market that it had largely created was crashing around it, with existing hotels shutting their doors and construction work on new ones grinding to a halt.

Slowly, painstakingly, Disney turned the situation around. It adjusted its marketing to attract more locals, and put in place measures to ensure that guests coming from farther afield would be guaranteed enough gas to complete their journeys to and from the resort. It cut costs and laid off staff. And, eventually, the crowds returned. So, too, did the oil when the embargo was lifted in March 1974.

The plans for expansion, however, were permanently changed. In those days, Disney was determined to be a “good neighbor” to other businesses in the area. It considered its competitors in the tourism industry to be “supporting” rather than “competing” amusements, and had even invited Dick Pope, the owner of nearby Cypress Gardens, to the opening day of the Magic Kingdom. Similarly, it wanted to maintain good relations with the owners of the hotels and motels that had sprung up on the fringes of Walt Disney World.

Asian Resort concept art

The Golf Hotel opened as planned in December 1973. However, plans for additional on-site accommodation in the form of the Asian Resort, the Persian Resort and the Venetian Resort were scrapped, partly to avoid antagonizing struggling local competitors. Instead, development would be focused on Fort Wilderness, which as a campground was not viewed as truly “competitive” with hotels and motels.

Any additions to Fort Wilderness could double as incentives for guests at the other hotels to stay at Walt Disney World for an extra day or two. According to David Koenig’s excellent Realityland, Disney initially considered the creation of an enormous “Wild West” village, complete with restaurants, retail outlets and other amusements. It even went as far as building the town’s Pioneer Hall, which hosted a buffet and also became home to the long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue show.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

Plans were made to rename a small island close to Fort Wilderness in the heart of Bay Lake as Treasure Island (later changed to Discovery Island). Animal exhibits were installed and it was marketed as a nature preserve. However, the Western Village plans were dropped after management decided that it would be more lucrative to create a high impact, separately-ticketed attraction that could be pitched as an essential destination for all resort guests.

Disney was going to build a water park.

The Ol' Swimmin’ Hole

Concept artwork for River Country

Just as there were amusement parks before Disneyland, there were water parks (or, at least, pools with slides) before River Country.

With Disneyland, however, Walt Disney had completely revolutionized the whole concept of the amusement park. Rather than simply assembling a collection of rides, Disney created an entire fantasy world (and sub-lands within it) that transported guests to other times and places. In short, Disneyland was the first true theme park.

In a similar vein, the company’s first water park wouldn’t simply host slides and swimming pools. Instead, it would feature a single, cohesive theme, and each of the attractions would be carefully designed to fit within it. In essence, it would do for water parks what Disneyland had done for theme parks. The fingerprints of River Country’s Imagineers can still be seen today at dozens of other water parks, most noticeably the ones created by Disney itself.

Fort Wilderness poster

Naturally, as the water park was due to be placed within Fort Wilderness, it would have to match the resort’s rustic wilderness theme. As it had in the past, Disney would draw inspiration from the works of Mark Twain. Working under the title “Pop’s Willow Grove”, Imagineers settled on the concept of an “old-fashioned swimming hole” – a place where Huckleberry Finn himself might have gone for a dip.

Supporting this theme would be the park’s physical location, on a six-acre plot on the south shore of Bay Lake. Indeed, to the untrained eye it would appear as if there was really no separation at all between the natural lake and the natural-looking swimming hole next to it. In typical fashion, Disney devised a way to make sure that guests at its water park would be able to swim in the actual lake water, in a way that was as clean and safe as possible.

Water would be drawn from Bay Lake via an intake/filter pipe, being sent along the lake bottom into a pump system inside an enormous artificial mountain. From there, it would be forced down the park’s flume troughs at 8,500 gallons per minute – serving both to sweep guests down the flumes, and to continually top up the water supply in River Country.

Bay Lake "bladder"

Separating the water park’s Bay Cove from Bay Lake would be a large rubber “bladder”. This would remain inflated six inches above the surface of Bay Lake with the help of a special sensor system, ensuring that filtered water could leave the park and spill over into Bay Lake, but that unfiltered water could not pollute River Country’s swimming pools.

Pat Burke, who joined Disney in 1972, was one of the Imagineers who worked on the River Country project. In a fascinating interview with Disney and More back in 2011, he revealed some of the processes behind the creation of the park.

“I worked with [architect] Dick Kline on River Country, which I believe was the first themed water park with trestle-supported slides that I know of. I remember the problem with trying to figure out the slide and its supporting trestles.”

River Country model

Whereas today’s major theme park and water park attractions are modelled extensively using computer software, things were different during River Country’s development. “We had no computers yet and I was given a flat drawing of the proposed slides,” says Burke. “Having had photography in college under Chouinard’s Jerry McMillan, I cut out the suggested elevations on the model pictured [above]. I then rolled on film emulsion under a red light, and flashed a film of the flat two-dimensional plan on it with an overhead projector.”

“We quickly developed and fixed the film, yielding a three-dimensional model to work with. I built the slides out of fiberglass, just as the real ones would be, and figured out the themed wood tower heights needed for a marble to roll down them.”

River Country model

The park’s main attractions would be centered around its faux mountain (the same one that hosted the intake pipe from Bay Lake). “The mountain was terraced,” explains Burke, “so I built the model slides from a flat plain above out of fiberglass sections I moulded and modelled off rubber hose laid in the position of the plan. They were a lot like snake skins.”

It may have been a relatively low-tech approach, but it worked. “That was a great experiment and made it very easy to lay out the course of the slide and for rockwork legend Fred Joerger to do his River Country rockwork.”

Joerger had been lured away from Warner Bros. by Walt Disney in 1953 to become one of the very first Imagineers. One of his earliest projects had been to create several models of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, helping Walt to settle on a final design. Over the years since those initial Disneyland projects, he had become a master of sculpting convincing fake rocks, and was responsible for almost all of the rockwork at Walt Disney World when it opened (including the iconic fountains in the Polynesian Village Resort’s lobby, which were recently removed despite protests from fans).

Imagineer Fred Joerger

“Clay was rarely used at WED [Disney’s Imagineering arm] back then,” explains Burke. However, Tony Baxter had used it on his model for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Joerger also employed it to sculpt the rockwork around the model slides that Burke had created. He also oversaw the creation of the full-sized rocks during the park’s construction, with former colleague Harriet Burns recalling: “He just had the aesthetic ability to do it himself. What would take a whole team before, he would do overnight.” Asked himself how he produced such impressive rockwork, Joerger quipped, “You just have to learn to think like a rock.”

White Water Rapids

The mock rocks were scattered with real pebbles from streambeds in Georgia and the Carolinas. Guests would also be greeted by real, sandy beaches, helping to create the overall impression that this was a natural swimming hole, and not something that had been carefully hand-sculpted.

As construction work on the park proceeded, some very senior figures at Walt Disney World became intimately involved. Vice President Dick Nunis even volunteered as a “slide tester”, with Burke recalling that he “let us know which corners needed to be higher so you didn’t fly over the edge like I heard he did.”

By the end of May 1976, River Country was ready to welcome its first guests. Walt Disney World Cast Members were invited to a special “splash party” preview that ran over a six-day period, allowing the attractions to be thoroughly tested on large number of visitors, and helping to ensure that the park’s staff knew how to handle the crowds. The Cast Members and their families could also hop on a boat to visit Treasure Island, which had opened in April 1974.

River Country Grand Opening Commemorative coin

The grand opening of River Country followed in June 1976, with more than 700 reporters and their families in attendance. They were all equipped with admittance bracelets with specially-designed celebratory coins like the one pictured above.

President Ford’s 18-year-old daughter Susan helped officiate, and marked the park’s debut by plummeting down the 260-foot Whoop ‘n Holler Hollow slide into Bay Cove. River Country was open for business.

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There are 60 comments.

This could so easily be done up and look amazing again. It could be part of the DVC membership - for DVC members only.

I think it should be revamped and renovated and opened again. ONE person out of thousands and thousands gets something and they closed it?! That is not right. Hard to believe they had "flagging" attendance too. It looks like more fun than the generic water parks of today. I love those big water slides.

Great and informative article. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, and all of the pictures. I didn't realize I had been there until I saw the slides with the 7 foot drop! I may have been 7 or 8 years old.

I do hope something will become of the property. It is truly unique.

I was JUST thinking the exact same thing..August of 78' sound about right?

All my memories of Walt Disney World center around Fort Wilderness and River Country. My family and I stayed there every year from the late 70's in an air stream rented trailer till the early 90's in the beautiful log cabins. River country was my familys highlight of our vacation. Hoop and Hollar Hollow, The super deep pool, were you could dive off a three tier ledge and lunch at Pops Place followed by a walk on the nature trail, made going to the parks secondary. We all miss it and can't believe its closed. Memories are all we have left of the most fun place at Disney World.

I got chills just looking at the pictures of the park, almost as if a ghost were haunting it and I could feel it watching me. Its very sad to see something like that just go to waste. The least Disney could do is invest a little money to turn it into a nature sanctuary or something. I'd like that better than them adding all of these new things. If we just kept improving and improving and never trying to save any of the old stuff, then there would be no history for anyone to look back on. It makes me wanna cry.

I really think they should clean up what was River Country and build more water rides! Add some other things too so that it isn't just a water park. I can picture a great park!

They have different Countries at Epcot so why couldn't you build a park with other Countries like Australia, and others that Epcot doesn't have! Or create a New York City, New Orleans, Nashville, etc.

Interestingly enough, countries have to pay to be in the World Showcase center, and there are 6 or 7 more spots for potential countries in Epcot.

I hope they do something with the property, though. It's unfortunate. :/

That's misinformation. Norway, for example, has never had funding. And very VERY few of the restaurants are operated by their home countries anymore. Disney pretty much runs and funds everything at the World Showcase now.
When it opened; however, countries did commit.

Not true. Notway did fund their section but it has run out a few years ago. This is part of the reason Disney had no issue adding Frozen to that section. This was told to me from a cast member this past week.

Great job, but I have to take issue with one section that had a repeated mistake in it. In the reasons why River Country closed, please correct all usages of 'bacteria' to 'amoeba'.

Without getting too technical, Naegleria fowleri is a eukaryote like us, meaning they have a membrane bound nucleus which bacteria do not (called prokaryotes). Just because the amoeba are single celled micro-organisms, that doesn't mean they're bacteria. Believe it or not, N. fowleri is actually more closely related to us than bacteria!

Signed,
A microbiologist who sees similar errors all too often.

This is awesome.

Thanks AJ! I'll make that fix now (although I'll have to leave "bacteria" in place where the original sources used the term...it seems even "proper" journalists make the same error).

This is certainly one of the most informative comments we've ever received!

it was a place for a great time with family. Disney if you really wanted to could refurbish, rebuild, and make it a great water park just for Fort Wilderness campsites.they have already built to other water parks that cater to thrill seekers and more demanding public.Disney you can make the park safer,the water healthier, the slides more comfortable. you have no idea how much fun it was to go there. I brought my sons there in the seventies, I wish it was still there to bring my my grandchildren, sometimes it's not about the money it's about memories. think about it Disney, what do you have to lose make it a special park just for Fort Wilderness you won't regret it.

thanks for this article. We were there about the last year..and afterwards wondered why it closed. Staff said it was temporary...others said they were going to make a better swimming area for the campground...but it just sat...very strange. I can't believe nothing has changed. It was a fun place. Thanks again.

Thank you for the time spent creating this article! My first trip to WDW was in the early eighties and my strongest (and best!) memories are from River Country. I sure wish they would do something wonderful with that space... I am going to start saving today at even the speck of possibility of DVC building there : )

i remember camping at Ft Wilderness in the 70s and I actually took my kids there. They loved it. Why did it close? They REALLY need to bring it back to life and let it be part of the campground. I also remember going to the Discovery a Island (a great bird sanctuary). I remember actually swimming in Bay Lake too. It needs to be reopened as well. Now days, everything has been looked at the high priced hotels. They really need to bring back a little of the great things. I miss it. Bring it back!

Just add another virtual "high-five" to the author of this piece. As a kid who grew up in the area, I vividly remember the birth and heyday of this place. I begged my parents to take us here on several occasions, but alas we were never given the opportunity to visit. A visit to Disney (rare enough to count on half a hand) meant an hour or so drive, a packed day, and a long and sleepy drive home - no way we were staying and playing. This article was a fascinating and nostalgic trip down memory lane, well organized, and personal for me and I assume all those who knew this park. Thanks man.

My boyfriend and I would go to River Country and bring a group of friends many times. I remember staying late when the crowds thinned and running along the bouncy boardwalk, the anticipation of everyone gathering in the tubing lagoon, prior to going under the chilly waterfall, and starting down the ride. The slide into the swimming pool was heart stopping! Occasionally we would slide down the kiddie slide and even that was thrilling. The big people slide was so fast as it slung you up the sides and spilled you out with a powerful plunge. My boyfriend and I are now married for over 35 years. When we stay at the campground our necks always crane to see a peak of River Country as we travel by boat to the magic kingdom. I miss the fresh water smell, the soft feel of the lake water and sand underfoot. How sad it was left to decay. I had always hoped they would fix it up for the campground folks, but clearly it is beyond repair. Thanks for reminding me of a good time in my life.

A friend, my wife, and myself went to River Country in 1977, I noticed a bunch of young boys with snorkels and masks on sitting underwater in the pool right across from the slides that you went down then basically fell feet first into the pool. I pointed them out to the other two and we all wondered what they were doing. After getting in line and going down the slide, my wife that was wearing a two piece tube top type bikini that was popular back then told us she knew exactly what they were doing because as soon as she hit the water her top went up to her neck exposing her you know whats for all those kids to see underwater!

Hi it's Alison from Walt Dated World here. Great article and I appreciate you mentioning my site. Your links go to my old web address that I'm in the process of getting rid of so I'd appreciate you changing the links in the story to: http://www.waltdatedworld.com/id220.htm
Thanks!

Disney has enough money to built new parks,so instead of doing that fix the ones everyone enjoyed. Check River Country out and see how much it would cost and had somet h ING to it but don't let it die. To much history in this area is being distorted for no real reason . Let's keep some history. Bring River Country back to left.Please.

Hello, I work as a pool tech at one of the hotels on property. This is the complete reason why this property will never reopen and why it closed. Disney has strict water codes. In the mid 90s they started I think they called it Epcot water laws. Pretty much it meant all bodies of water across property had to be inspected at. Each body of water has to be a closed system. That maintained a balanced chlorine, ph, and a temperature of 85. Only one pool was a closed system and everything else was lake water. They would have to pretty much bulldoze the whole place and start from scratchbecause nothing couldve been updated.This came from a Reddy Creek Water District state inspector, when they were inspecting our property they told us this.

Great comment. Thank you for this information. Sounds right.

I see by the photo credits to Tri-CircleD of the Disboards that my old pal Andrew is still sneaking around behind the scenes of Disney! Good job and good article!

It should be noted that River Country is gone now. I'll have to find the information again from my research but they went in and bulldozed everything in the last year or so.

This is not true. We camp there several times a year and go there even more to eat at their restaurants. We were just last there at the end of March/early April (over Orange co spring break) and we peek/explore all the time and it is still there. Nothing has been bulldozed from what we can see from the fenced area or the boat area. We even rented the small jet boats and rode up real close, closer than the ferry goes and it still looks like the "after" pictures.

Hi. If you loved River Country, my romance novel, SUMMER OF YESTERDAY, takes place there, both modern-day abandoned setting and back in 1982. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Yesterday-Gaby-Triana/dp/1481401300 ENJOY!

Loved this article, had me running to my mom's to dig out old family vacation photos. Sure enough, there we were on the tire swing and on the Slippery Slides drop. Awesome! Gaby Triana - just ordered your book, can't wait to read it!

I can't believe, and the avid Disney fan, that I haven't heard of this park before! Thank you so much for this detailed article! Of course I have no fond memories of the place, having never been there, but it was so interesting to hear the story! It does seem very wasteful and irresponsible to simply leave the park abandoned like that, doesn't it? Eventually, won't they need that space to expand? The longer they leave it there the harder it will be to both rebuild the park or demolish it! That being said, I'd love to see it rebuilt and reopened! They could easily market it as almost a "historical" thing, I'm sure many people would go just to see the place their grandparents have such great memories of.

I do have a question! Do the characters ever visit Disney's current water parks? I'm curious as to how they made it possible for Goofy to go down water slides that require you to be a strong swimmer. It seems like that would be dangerous to the cast member, and to the magic! There seems to be a lot of opportunities for costume malfunction there

This was an excellent, informative article. Thanks for bringing back memories of the great times my family and I had at River Country in the 80s and early 90s.

I too spent many summers as we camped with our children at fort wilderness. I would love to see it opened to the campers only.. Since we rarely get the discounts the hotels get I think it would be wonderful to have it reopened... I might have to make it there a couple more times a year if it were... thanks for the article..

The first year we took the kids to go there it was closed to do an amebia in the water. talk about being scared no River country for us.

Great article!! I'm lucky I got to visit it in the summer of 2000 shortly before it closed.

incredible article!! Never been to Disney, and now I have a reason to go. I'm really into abandoned stuff most especially zoos and amusement/water parks. I really wish there was an article as informative and detailed as this one for each place. Well done and thanks for the read!

Great article- thanks so much. It's amusing looking at the size of it though. Whereas in it's hayday it sure was incredible, it just simply isn't anymore- even if refurbished to it's glory days. Typhoon and Blizzard dwarf RC in comparison.

Quite simply, the pool areas of Aulani or Stormalong Bay are almost as good or better (in Aulani's case) as RC being a "full fledge water park". So why not finish out the Long-rumored DVC and make this the incredible pool for it? That would be perfect.

Essentially, what I'm saying is- taking your nostalgia aside, RC is simply not a good water park by today's standards- at all. However- it would be an incredible resort pool- even by today's standards. So why not make it that?

This article was amazing! For the past 20 years or so I could picture this water park we went to when I was 8 (1978)That was my fist trip to Disney World and it was amazing. We've been there to many time tocount since then. We don't do the water parks when we go,but I was pretty sure "Blizzard Beach" or "Typhoon Lagoon" were not the water park I visited when I was a kid. It was "River Country" Even the posters bring back some awesome memories. Living in Wisconsin there are some big water parks. But nothing compares to the fond memories of my first visit to this Water park. Thanks for confirming I haven't lost my mind. So much going on at Disney right now it would be nice if they could find a use for the forgot area. Again thanks for this fantastic story.

I'm currently a Slide Operator at Disney's Waterparks. I feel like the updates on safety standards may have had more to do with the parks' closing than the article proposes. Reading the description of the attractions and looking at the photos, they are nowhere equipped with the standard safety features in almost all water parks today. First of all, all the slides spitting out into one giant (murky) catch pool makes it incredibly difficult to guard. Doubled by the fact that the pool is so large, and lifeguard stands can only be placed on the edges, it seems unlikely that a guard would be able to reach a victim in 20 seconds, the current standard held by Disney guards. A quote in the article talks about how fun White Water Rapids was because everyone got all piled up and sometimes you even fell out. This is the stuff Slide Operators' nightmares are made up of today. We operate on a timed red/green light system. Multiple guests in a slide flume are never allowed and a guest falling out would not cause laughter, it would cause a loud alarm to sound, shutting down the ride. This ride couldn't function on today's safety standards.

Moreover it seems like most of these rides require you to be a string swimmer, a growing problem where a complaint we get is that there aren't enough attractions at Typhoon and Blizzard for people who can't swim well. Why you'd come to a water park and can't swim is beyond me, but people do, and also attempt to put children on large slides younger and younger. It seems like trying to operate this park on today's safety standards would be a mess

My 11 year old son is autistic and has major issues about getting his face wet, but loves Adventure Island. Because of the issue, he has never wanted to learn how to swim. The best he's done is a weak doggy paddle. But, he's totally cool with getting his face wet there, but still won't swim. He's happy enough doing things that don't involve swimming, but I'm always right by his side... just in case. So yeah, it happens... parents bring kids to water parks even though they don't know how to swim. There's plenty of other things for them to do.

While the red light/green light system is safer, it has greatly damaged the fun at water parks. Getting stacked up in the rapids was awesome. Also in the video, you see kids forming trains down the slides. Lots of fun!
We visited Adventure Island (Busch Gardens Tampa) a couple of years ago and the wait times were unbearable due to one person being allowed on a 60 second + slide. A five-second separation used to be sufficient. Today's standards are overkill!

I believe we are losing too much history to technology and we should try to revive as much as we can and this is a perfect example. For a place that brought so much happiness and smiles it is bringing so much sadness from sitting and wasting away. I think Disney should reflect on what Walt Disney wanted in the first place; to put happiness and smiles into the heart of each and every person who attended here. Not to worry about the financial gain. Go back to the roots Disney!

I remember visiting river country when very young. We stayed at camp wilderness. This was back in Nov 1988. I wasnt a swimmer and couldnt do most areas there i wanted to. I so wanted to do the innertube. Had to wait till grow up. Sadly. Never made it back in time to try. The one year when i was finally able to go was when they closed it down. I was excited in telling people about the park. Now all I have left is the memories. The new waterparks are always in refurb now when we go and not worth the extra money as it got so expensive. I had kept the one River Country towel with mickey, goofy and donald going down the slide. This towel now got so old and worn out it started to tear. So sad and can't get a new one anymore...

I was a lifeguard at WDW's River Country the last Summer it was open (September 2001.) I was terrified be assigned to this water park at first, but soon fell in love with it. The entire park was one of the only places on property that every cast member knew each other it didn't matter if you were a lifeguard, custodian, food services, guest relations. I got a ton of experience in my College Program experience working there. It was a place designed for strong swimmers, but it wasn't hard to guard; you just had to be on top of your game. I had visited the park a couple of times during family vacations prior to working there, so I knew what we were going into. The entire cast member family was devastated when we were informed that River Country wasn't planning on reopening because we had all been talking about seeing each other next season. I ended up moving to a full time lifeguard position at Typhon Lagoon and eventually went back home due to cut in hours after 9/11.

I remember my first visit in the mid 80s as a child. The water was dirty and deep creating poor visibility and unsafe swimming conditions. I remember my uncle's foot was sliced open by broken glass found everywhere in the sand. Great article and trip down memory lane but as a former lifeguard I can testify that this place was a safety disaster.

Hi, thanks for this fascinating article. We visited Florida/Disney in September rom of 97 and 98 from the UK and both times River Country was disappointingly closed so we never got to see it. I guess it was only open for 2 or 3 months of the year and September was deemed 'off season'? I find it so sad to see many of the other attractions away from the Disney empire have disappeared too, such a shame :(

Spooky stuff. I never got the chance to go to River Country but I can tell it meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. I love Disney but I am kind of disappointed they would just let one of their prized creations turn to rot like that. Interesting article, though!

They need to fix the place and reopen it. Do not just leave it as is. Do a survey to see how many people would go there.

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