Home » The 3 Abandoned Attractions of Walt Disney World’s Lakes

The 3 Abandoned Attractions of Walt Disney World’s Lakes

Concept artwork for River Country

Part of what makes Walt Disney Imagineering so good at what they do is that they never quite throw away a truly great idea. Sure, maybe the first attempt to execute that idea wasn’t perfect, but if an idea is legitimately great, it will be given every chance to succeed. To prove this, you needn’t look any further than the lakes of Walt Disney World.

You see, in the early days of the Walt Disney World Resort, Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon were considered a central draw of the Vacation Kingdom. They were home to dozens of attractions – everything ranging from watercraft, to floating parades, to places to swim, and so on, and sought to offer a relaxing alternative to the resort’s sole theme park: the Magic Kingdom.

Over time, as Disney opened new parks and offered even more alternative entertainment, some of those activities began to fall out of favor for one reason or another. Many of these attractions are still operational, such as the Electrical Water Pageant and the various watercraft, but others have long since been abandoned or discontinued.

But, as Disney is wont to do, even those discontinued attractions were used to inspire something even newer and more exciting. Let’s take a look at three of those abandoned attractions – two of which have become rather infamous on the internet, while the other exists mostly in rumor and hearsay.

3. Disney’s River Country

Disney’s River Country opened in 1976 – roughly five years after the launch of the Walt Disney World Resort. It was a proto-water park designed to look like an old fashioned swimming hole, complete with rope swings, water slides, and a lazy river. The main pool area featured a sand bottom, and its water came from nearby Bay Lake, giving it even more of a natural feel.

In 1980, a young boy perished after contracting a rare but deadly amoeba, allegedly caught at River Country. Those sorts of amoebas have been known to breed in freshwater lakes when temperatures are hot, and so the boy’s death, while tragic, was not so unusual as to warrant the immediate closure of the park – thus, it continued to operate for another 21 years.

In 1989, Disney opened Typhoon Lagoon and, six years later, upped its water park count to three with Blizzard Beach – each of those parks offering even bigger and better attractions than those offered at River Country.

The park remained open until 2001, when economic conditions in the wake of the September 11 attacks led Walt Disney World to cut back on some of its offerings. It is, of course, at this point that the story gets a bit odd.

Concept artwork for River Country

Image: Disney

River Country, which operated solely during the warmer months due to its reliance on lake water, was one of Disney’s first major cut backs in the recession, although according to the Orlando Sentinel from the time, they were not entirely certain that it would be closed permanently. As of April 2002, Disney remained in a holding pattern, saying that River Country would reopen if there were enough guest demand. Of course, there wasn’t, which is why it simply remained closed for nearly two decades before the remains were demolished to make way for more hotels

But while Disney moved on from its original themed water park, they still remained committed to the concept, perfecting it and creating two of the best water parks in the country in Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

You can find out everything there is to know about River Country by reading this recent feature.

2. Discovery Island

Walt Disney originally wanted to use live animals for the Jungle Cruise out in Disneyland. This proved to be rather impractical, but Walt’s interest in bringing exotic animals to guests helped spawn a unique attraction at early Walt Disney World – Discovery Island on Bay Lake.

While it opened as Treasure Island, Discovery Island was a place where visitors to the resort could meet and interact with all kinds of zoological life, including endangered and rare birds, lemurs, and tortoises. Its message of conservation, and the science and education performed within, eventually earned it official accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Guests arrived via boat from the Contemporary or Polynesian Resorts and could spend the day either exploring the wildlife exhibits, or investigating the various props and sets placed around the island by the Imagineers, included the famous shipwreck of the Hispanola.

In 1998, Discovery Island found itself in a position much like River Country, competing for guests’ attention with another attraction within the resort: Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Considering Animal Kingdom’s vast size, resources, and level of immersion, it was a battle Discovery Island was destined (and probably ordained) to lose. In 1999, Discovery Island closed for good, transferring some of its animals to exhibits at the newly opened Animal Kingdom.

But, like River Country, once Discovery Island was closed down, Imagineers weren’t quite sure what to do with it next. Most high-minded plans, which included everything from a Myst-themed overhaul to one based on the ABC television show Lost, fell through. Instead, Discovery Island has mostly been left to nature, and the results are eerie.

Like River Country, it’s become a popular spot for urban explorers – only this one is a bit tougher to get to as it requires a swim. It’s usually just easier to go to visit its spiritual successor: Animal Kingdom.

1. The Mythical Seven Seas Lagoon Wave Machine

Image © Disney

Believe it or not, when Walt Disney World was first built, not only could you swim in the lakes, but you were encouraged to do it. Back in the days before Wet ‘n Wild, Universal Studios, and Legoland, Disney felt like their biggest competition would be the beautiful Florida beaches. They figured guests wouldn’t just want to spend time at the Magic Kingdom, but that they’d also want a bit of time catching rays out by the water, or riding a big wave into shore.

Their first plan to counteract this idea was to build a massive lake with beautiful sandy beaches. But, they thought, that wouldn’t be enough to keep guests from fleeing to the coasts. They’d need something else.

They’d need waves.

Dick Nunis, avid surfer, Disney legend, and then-Vice President of Operations for Disneyland, thought that real, surfable waves would help give Walt Disney World an even grander scale, attracting even more guests to the resort with the variety of entertainment options. But, due to the design of the machine, it would have to be installed while the Seven Seas Lagoon was empty, and so, as the resort was being completed, the massive wave machine was installed and pointed in the direction of the Polynesian Resort – all at great cost.

And, at least for a short while, it worked. But then, a variety of factors combined to make the thing more trouble than it was worth.

Image: Disney

For one, the waves washing up on the Polynesian Resort’s shore caused a more significant amount of beach erosion than was initially projected. Secondly, passing ships found the waves difficult to navigate, making passage to the Magic Kingdom more troublesome. Lastly, some said the machine simply wouldn’t work, breaking down every so often, and requiring a massive repair in which the whole of the Seven Seas Lagoon would need to be drained. For those reasons, the thing was left to rust away for over thirty years, only recently being partially dismantled.

But the dream of having surfable waves never died, and 18 years after Walt Disney World first opened, Typhoon Lagoon opened its gates, giving guests one of the most realistic wave pools on Earth.

All of which just goes to show that when Disney has a good idea, they stick with it. Even if they don’t get it quite right on the first try, they’ll eventually figured it out.

Now all they need to do is give us that Lost-themed experience on Discovery Island. Who wouldn’t want to do that?