Originally named Riles Island, Disney purchased the island on Bay Lake in 1965 as part of its strategic property acquisitions before building the Walt Disney World Resort.
The island opened as Treasure Island on April 8, 1974, as a place to observe wildlife, and was later renamed Discovery Island when it was recognized as a zoological park. Discovery Island’s name was chosen by a Disney employee who worked as a life guard at the Polynesian Village hotel in the late 1970s.
The island was rich in botanical settings and wildlife including flamingos, pelicans, eagles, alligators, peacocks, swans and more. Discovery Island featured a walk-through aviary, bird shows, a flamingo pool and Turtle Beach. The “Thirsty Perch” snack bar was constructed and the island premiered the “Jose Carioca Flyers” bird show, which was performed in the CooCoo Cabana. There were also a scavenger hunt which was available to Guests as they arrived on the Island. The 20-question hunt had clues with answers that could be found on signs throughout the island. Successfully answering all of the questions entitled a Guest to a Jiminy Cricket “EnvironMentality” Earth Day button.
- Parrots Perch – The Discovery Island Bird Show, featuring macaws, cockatoos, and other trained birds.
- Monkey Colony – Capuchin monkeys
- Trumpeter Springs – Trumpeter swans
- Bamboo Hollow – Lemurs from Madagasgar
- Vulture’s Haunt – Vultures
- Toucan Corner – Toucans
- Cranes’s Roost – Demoiselle, sandhill and African crowned cranes
- Avian Way – The United States’ most extensive breeding colony of scarlet ibis, Muntjacs and peacocks were also kept here.
- Pelican Bay – Brown pelicans
- Flamingo Lagoon – Flamingos
- Tortoise Beach – five galapagos tortoises
- Alligator Pool – American Alligators
- Eagle’s Watch – Bald eagles
Discovery Island officially closed on April 8th, 1999 and all of its animals had been relocated Animal Kingdom. Although Disney never officially stated its reasons for closing the park, poor attendance and high maintenance costs, combined with the newer and bigger Disney’s Animal Kingdom being opened a year before, are the most likely causes.
Today, the island can easily be seen from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness Resort as well as from boat trips between them. It is adjacent to Disney’s River Country, which closed in November 2001.
Since its closing, the island has sat largely abandoned, with no signs of development. As of 2018, all original buildings and attractions remain on the island, though several have sustained major damages from hurricanes and natural decay. In 2017, a Youtuber named Matthew Sonswa gained access to the island and captured video footage of the abandoned park. There had only been 2 other documented explorations of the island before Matthew. One in 2005 and 2007, but all that was captured at that time were still photos. There had never been detailed HD video footage of the island and it’s interesting to see what’s been left behind this forgotten park.
We have attached a video which includes footage of Matthew’s exploration along with an old promotional video of Discovery Island.
Did you ever visit Discovery Island?