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The Island That Disney Abandoned

But, that wasn't all...

Image - stringanomaly, Flickr

Despite the fact that Discovery Island closed, Disney still knew that having this island in the middle of Bay Lake – complete with a pre-built infrastructure – might be valuable down the line. And so, they didn't quite tear everything down. Instead, they left most of the structures up and untouched – presumably planning to retool anything they'd want to use again down the road.

Initially, the island was the subject of plenty of rumors about future attractions that might call it home. One particularly robust rumor surfaced in the early-2000s suggesting that it might be re-themed as an experiential game designed by the makers of the computer game Myst. Later, some theorized that it might become an attraction themed after the television show Lost.

Image - hawaii, Flickr

Months dragged on and turned into years, and eventually, Disney fans and the famous Disney rumor mill gave up. It has now been over 15 years since the closing of Discovery Island, and we have no evidence that Disney is planning on doing anything with it. For now, it sits untouched.

Well, mostly untouched.

The island becomes a magnet for (trespassing) explorers

In the late-2000s, Disney became a popular location for so-called “Urban Explorers” to ply their craft. Essentially, these explorers would sneak into not-entirely-open spaces and have a look around. At Disney, that meant Discovery Island – the former attraction that could be reached only by boat.

The fact that you had to take a boat to get there proved to be an appealing challenge to those explorers. Some groups used elaborate strategies based on satellite imagery to find the closest point to set off from alongside the Fort Wilderness shore, but they quickly figured out that they'd need to swim to the island if they wanted any hope of making it across the lake without being caught by security.

Image - Aloha75, Flickr

Made it they did, and what they found was shocking.

It turns out that, due to Disney’s desire to possibly reuse the structures and space at a later time, Discovery Island was left in something of a suspended state. There were papers all over the place, food in the fridges, and animals still preserved in jars. It looked like a place that was abandoned in a hurry – sort of like the most realistic video game level of all time. These explorers couldn't get enough of it, and released photos and videos showcasing their bizarre findings. It was so bizarre, in fact, the national media picked up the story, and it went viral nearly overnight. To this day, blogs and sites still discover those photos and are surprised by the contents. The idea that something so ruinous could exist on Disney property seemed to be a baffling dichotomy that took the internet over.

And now, people always try to get close to snap images of the unsettlingly creepy remains: 

Obviously, it’s not recommended that you do this yourself – if Disney catches you, you’ll likely be banned from the property for life – but we’re glad someone made that sacrifice so that we can see these surreal and fascinating images from a former attraction left to nature.

Discovery Island’s spiritual successor opens

Image - sfgamchick, Flickr

In 1998, Walt Disney World opened Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a park dedicated to educating guests about the natural world, providing them with thrilling experiences contained within it, and encouraging the conservation of the beautiful natural spaces on our planet. Those ideals draw a lineage directly from Walt, himself, and those roots continue all the way through Walt’s True-Life Adventures and even thorough Discovery Island.

Many of the techniques used at Animal Kingdom were first developed for use on the island. The experience with animals Disney gained in operating the attraction was very valuable when they began planning and putting together the new park – particularly the zoological accreditation. Additionally, a small number of the animals that were originally located at Discovery Island were relocated to Animal Kingdom.

Image - number1son, Flickr

But, perhaps its greatest legacy is the name of Animal Kingdom’s central hub – also, Discovery Island – a fitting tribute to the Disney animal attraction that came before it.

Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom experience that same sense of awe and adventure they would have felt in visiting Discovery Island two decades prior. Its beautiful natural aesthetic, its meandering paths and trails, and its exploratory ethos all combine to give it the same audacious vibe of the old island park. A trip to Animal Kingdom is really about discovery – discovery of the natural world, of the animals that inhabit it, and of our role within it – and so, it’s very fitting that a part of the park bears Discovery Island’s name: It’s truly fit to carry on its legacy.

Even with all of that, Disney can learn a lesson from Discovery Island

Image - sthomasphotos, Flickr

Great ideas never die at Disney. Some might get shelved indefinitely, some might get reworked and reworked until they reach a point that the originals are unrecognizable. However, if an idea is truly great, it will have a chance to succeed. And, even if it fails, Disney will make sure it has its best chance at success in the future.

Disney tried to create an animal attraction with the Jungle Cruise, but that didn’t quite work (not with real animals, anyway). They tried again with Discovery Island – this time creating something people enjoyed and that lasted much longer – but it still didn’t resonate with the public the way Imagineers had hoped. And so, not content to let a good idea die, they gave it one last go, this time throwing the full support of the company behind it. And, lo and behold, they wound up creating one of Disney’s best theme parks.

Image - scubabix, Flickr

The lesson, then, is an important one for Disney – and really, for anyone working in a creative field: Risk, fail, risk again. If you truly believe in something, it’s worth it to keep at it, even in the face of failure. Just because an idea didn’t work the first time, doesn’t mean it can’t work at all. There’s value in failure, because you learn far more from failure than you do from success.

And, most importantly of all, if an idea came from Walt, you should probably listen. That guy seemed to know what he was talking about.

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There is 1 comment.

I am so happy that I got to experience Discovery Island numerous of times. We would go to River Country then Discovery Island. It was a relaxing day away from the theme parks. It was such a natural habitat for the wild life. I do miss the smaller and simpler times at Disneyworld.


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