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Disney World Discovery Island: History, Photos, and More

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If you are a serious Disney fan, you may think you’ve seen it all. But, unless you were a super fan in the 70s and 80s, you’ve probably never seen Disney World Discovery Island. The abandoned and mysterious Discovery Island is one of Disney’s forgotten treasures.

Disney World Discovery Island [Source: New York Post]
Disney World Discovery Island [Source: New York Post]

Disney World Discovery Island: The Basics

In the 1960s, Disney made several large land acquisitions for future endeavors. Among the properties Disney acquired was a small private island used previously as a hunting retreat.

The island located in Bay Lake, already a natural preserve for local wildlife, was developed by Disney with pirate-themed attractions and launched as Treasure Island in 1974.

It was later renamed Discovery Island and promoted as a zoological park.

Disney World Discovery Island [Source: Bright Sun Films/ YouTube]
Disney World Discovery Island [Source: Bright Sun Films/ YouTube]

The lush, tropical park was home to Galapagos tortoises, Capuchin monkeys, pelicans, flamingos, lemurs, and Trumpeter swans among other species.

The park was even home to the last known Dusky Seaside Sparrow before it died in 1987. 

Disney World Discovery Island was a popular park for guests looking to get away from the noise and crowds of the main attractions of larger parks such as Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The park remained a special oasis for guests for 25 years.

Then, Disney abruptly closed the park in 1999. 

There was and is still speculation about why Disney chose to close the popular island park.

So…

Why did Disney close Discovery Island? It is likely the decision was due to the high cost of operating the small island preserve and the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom the year before. 

So what happened to the animals who called Disney’s Discovery Island home?

Many of the animals were transferred to habitats within the new park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Other animals were transported to zoological parks across the country to receive quality care from trained professionals.

But Disney’s Discovery Island lives on!

In December 2000, Disney renamed the Safari Village Hub in Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Discovery Island. A few other attractions bear the name as well such as Discovery River Boats and Discovery Island Trails.

So, in typical Disney style, the spirit of Discovery Island lives on with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. 

Disney World Discovery Island Animals [Source: Disney]
Disney World Discovery Island Animals [Source: Disney]

You can even observe many of the same creatures on Discovery Island Trails that you could have seen on the original Discovery island.

This includes wonderful animals as lemurs, flamingos, and Galapagos tortoises! 

Of course, we know that Disney World Discovery Island remains a well-guarded secret.

Any attempt by guests to sneak onto the island have been definitively stopped and guests find themselves banned from Disney properties. 

So, what’s a Disney super fan to do?!

How to See Disney World’s Discovery Island Today

Want to catch a glimpse of Disney World Discovery Island on your next trip to Walt Disney World?

You can…

But there’s a catch!

Disney World Discover Island Aerial View from Above [Source: disneydrawingboard.com]
Disney World Discover Island Aerial View from Above [Source: disneydrawingboard.com]

You can see Disney World Discovery Island easily from several places:

  • Walt Disney World Monorail
  • Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Of course, this isn’t quite up-close and personal, but it’s still tons of fun to see the old park in person.

What’s the Future of Disney World Discovery Island?

It’s unclear at this point.

We don’t know if Disney will try to reopen the island as another attraction or keep it closed for good.

Some ideas have been tossed around over the years, though.

It’s well known that Disney purchases and retains land around its massive theme parks for future endeavors, so it’s at least possible it will become a new park in the future.

Personally, I hope Disney World Discovery Island will be reopened in some way, even if it’s a completely new park, with all the Disney magic we know and love.

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