Discovery Island is one of two permanently closed Disney parks in Walt Disney World, Florida
If you were to look at the official map of Disney World, you’d see a green mass in Bay Lake.
The mystery green 11-acre island has no label or sign, and doesn’t show any way for people to access it, but it’s clearly there just east of Magic Kingdom in Florida.
Two decades ago the island was part of the main park and called Discovery Island, now it’s one of two Walt Disney World parks to close permanently, the other being River County.
Discovery Island was bought in 1965 by Disney as part of a larger buying up of land when Walt Disney World was just an idea.
When it opened in 1974 it was under the name Treasure Island , based off the Disney movie of the same name.
The island, which was shut in April 1999 , isn’t accessible to staff or guests anymore, but that hasn’t stopped explorers – and YouTubers – creeping onto the island to see what remains.
Discovery Island’s birds and animals
In 1976 it was renamed Discovery Island, becoming a zoological park in 1978 with animals and birds habiting the island.
Disney marketed it as an alternative for guests who wanted a break from the busy park lands and attractions where you could see exotic birds and flowers. It was known for breeding rare birds – one being the dusky seaside sparrow , which died in 1987 and was labelled extinct in 1990.
There were 150 birds, including flamingos and cockatoos, as well as trumpeter swans and trained macaws, that were part of their bird shows. They also had the United States’ most extensive breeding colony of scarlet ibis .
As well as the birds, there were lemurs and five Galapagos giant tortoises homed on Tortoise Beach.
Then in 1998, Animal Kingdom opened up, meaning less guests ventured out onto the island, which was only accessible by boat.
The birds moved to the new land and other zoos, and the island was abandoned .
That’s how it remains to this day, despite rumours it would become a honeymoon resort – or even an interactive adventure based on a video game – though nothing ever came of the ideas.
People sneak onto the Island
For years no one went near the island, and while guests can rent out boats on the lake, they’re not supposed to get closer than 15m . The island’s sign was rehomed at Animal Kingdom’s Safari Village after the closure.
The island was left to the mercy of nature and soon became overgrown, the main buildings slowly falling down with plants wrapping around them.
Then in 2009 Shane Perez became one of the first to sneak onto the island. Spurred on by the rumours, he and some friends decided to investigate.
The group shared photos of what they discovered; snakes in jars, baby vultures, staff photos left behind in their offices, and medical supplies.
The Thirsty Perch
The Thirsty Perch still stands, which was once a concession stand at the island’s entrance.
One of the biggest buildings is an animal hospital and nursery, which acted as the headquarters of the island.
The medication and supplies were still in their cabinets when YouTuber Matt Sonswa snuck onto the island. The YouTuber has actually visited the island a few times, and returns each time to the cooler to check what supplies are there.
Animal Kingdom is now home to the park’s wellness centre , where veterinary procedures and operations are carried out.
Other parts of the island have proved less resistant to the elements, with walls crumbling and ceilings caving in.
The main attraction’s entrance, Avian Way, allowed guests to walk around the island on a series of walkways, but now is covered in shrubs, fauna and greenery.
The entrance takes you through to the elevated walkway, covered by a canopy, most of which is actually still standing.
Some canopies are weighed down by the overgrown trees and leaves, where once guests had looked up at the birds.
Why did Discovery Island close?
There are plenty of rumours as to why Discovery Island closed, from claims that it was because of pollution from the nightly fireworks or pollution from the fairs and boats, to the claim it was down to a deadly bacteria and a death back in the 80s.
This comes from an Associated Press article, which reported that an 11-year-old boy died after swimming in River County, but this is the neighbouring water park that Disney also closed down.
An amoeba reportedly entered his body through his nose, attacking his nervous system – he hadn’t swum elsewhere near the time of his death. He was one of four cases, the others were not linked to Disney.
The boy’s death wasn’t linked to Discovery Island closing, or even River County, as it happened 19 years before either was shut .
Disney has never officially said why it closed, but poor attendance and high costs, as well as the new Animal Kingdom, have all been cited as causes.
While Discovery Island remains out of bounds, it looks like any more answers do too, these pictures and footage our only glimpse into the forgotten park.