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Abandoned Disney, Part 1

Link - article by Avi Abrams

Abandoned Discovery Island & Other Fantastic Sites of Imagination

As part of our Abandoned Places series, we featured many old amusement parks and former playgrounds that acquired that special haunting and quaint quality of decay through years of closure or sheer neglect. We covered abandoned theme parks in China, Japan and Korea... and we also touched on some dilapidated places of former amusement in America (see here) - but today we have something special for you.

(all photos courtesy Nomeus, the founder of Flurbex "The Home Of Florida's Urban Explorers")

Our guest today is Nomeus, veteran urban explorer and expert on abandoned places in Florida, the founder of Flurbex "The Home Of Florida's Urban Explorers" site. His contribution to our popular article Abandoned Houses of Super Villains was Osama Bin Laden brother's enormous residence in Florida. This time his urban exploring took him to rather more cheerful place, namely Walt Disney World.

Abandoned Discovery Island, 1974-1999

Located in the middle of Bay Lake, this island is off-limits to park visitors today (it was closed back in 1999, with the introduction of Animal Kingdom). This place has rich and varied history (it remained open for 25 years, and before that was used mostly for farming as far back as the early 1900s), features a rich botanical environment, a huge amount of birds and many animal exhibits. One of the island owners even lived on it with his pet crane (pet crane?... I gotta get one of these!).

Before Disney purchased the island in 1965, it was originally called Raz Island, then Isles Bay Island, then Riles Island (while used as a hunting retreat) and finally renamed Blackbeard's Island by Disney. It remained undeveloped until 1974, then converted into a pirate-themed Treasure Island attraction, and then again turned into the animal exhibit and zoological park in its "Discovery Island" incarnation.

Then, in 1989 the island encountered huge problem with... vultures. "According to Disney employees, the vultures attacked animals and defecated on a boardwalk. Investigators found a small metal shed with no windows, ventilation, water or perches... it was believed that as many as 72 vultures have been kept in the shed at once." (info) The island recovered from this public relation disaster, but slowly became a low-key attraction and was finally closed in 1999.

Discovery Island beckons in the dark of night:

This is the kind of back alley where pirates certainly can have the time of their lives:

Huge freezer holds some mysterious stuff and colorful drawing supplies:

Heading into the jungle (surrounded by macaws, rheas, tortoises, flamingos, pelicans, bald eagles, alligators, rabbits, miniature deer, toucans, cavy, hornbills, scarlet ibis, cockatoos, white peacocks, golden pheasants, Guinea fowl, cranes and swans... at one time Discovery Island featured over 140 species of animals and 250 species of tropical plants):

Discovery Island is now overgrown and overrun by vultures, resembling a wild jungle more than ever before:

Watch "Discovery Island: Vanished World of Disney" here. Also see another explorer's account of visiting this island, Shane Perez's trip. Shane also mentions that, as rumor has it, one possible reason why Disney closed the island was the presence of deadly brain-eating amoeba (Naegleria Fowleri) in the lake's water - not to mention ubiquitous alligators. Nomeus adds that it's the "River Country" (see below) that was possibly closed because of amoebas, not Discovery Island, as the island does not really feature access to water.

(images credit: Shane Perez)

Journey into the Imagination Playground

This is ImageWorks (1982-1998): an entire upstairs playground inside the Journey Into Imagination pavilion - a closed and partially dismantled cornucopia of various attractions for kids, including huge kaleidoscopes and vibrating mirrors, bubble projectors and rainbow corridors. Most of these attractions were user-controlled, with some capable of producing custom music, light shows and even blue screen effects:

Pop Century Resort Hotel

Similar to the Ghost Hotels in Egypt (see here), this sad-looking resort sits right in the middle of Walt Disney World, close to the Epcot Sphere... The hotel's construction was suspended after 9/11 events, but is scheduled to continue again.

The overall feel of this hotel is incredibly melancholy and sad... with the added bonus of strange art deco-style numbers (these were supposed to signify the Legendary Years of Pop Century):

Is this the Yellow Submarine? Really? -

River Country Waterpark

Here is another little-known abandoned corner of Disney with plenty of character:

Seems like it was a big attraction before:

Food Rocks!

This is actually an abandoned stage from the audio-animatronics show. Nomeus says, "Not many photos of this but it's kind of neat. This show was called Food Rocks and it was in the land pavilion. It's completely walled off and on the other side of the wall is the entrance for the ride called Soarin’. This show has been hidden from view for many years."

Disney EPCOT Tunnel

"Not many people know that EPCOT has a tunnel system. It's not as long as the one in the Magic Kingdom (see Magic Kingdom Tunnel images here)... but here it is. It runs under the park."

Abandoned Disney EPCOT Exhibit

"This used to be an AT&T exhibit that you would see as soon as you exited the Spaceship Earth ride. It was walled off out of the public view for quite some time."

A bizarre hand holding a "compass"... and a weird-looking hole in the cable tree, home to a good population of mice perhaps? -

(all photos courtesy Nomeus, the founder of Flurbex "The Home Of Florida's Urban Explorers", exclusively for Dark Roasted Blend)

As you can see, there are plenty of interesting sites inside Walt Disney World which are either waiting further development, or seemingly completely abandoned (enough material for Part 2? We'll see...). However, as with any urban exploration, we have to urge for caution when gaining access to closed-off areas: it could be a contentious issue.

One more thing: there's been some frustration with how Disney Company has handled its own legacy and older movies in recent years. Some well-known movies are given new life in re-issues and on Blu-Ray, but other vintage masterpieces are allowed to sink to obscurity. In particular, child movie stars of the 1950s and 1960s are not given the recognition they certainly still deserve (such as Hayley Mills, for example). We would like to see better exposure for retro Disney concept art, older parks and movies... and will keep featuring this treasure trove of material in the days to come here at DRB.




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Anonymous David. said...

The 'Yellow Submarine' is a replica of a toy Buck Rogers rocket. The Pop Century Resorts are full of large scale replicas of toys.

Blogger Chris & Andrew said...

That hotel is actually currently under construction and its supposed to open next year as Disney's Art of Animation Resort. The ATT exit to Spaceship Earth was completely rebuilt and is now open, except it's now sponsored by Seimens.

Anonymous Swlip said...

I remember River Country. It was pretty cool. You could reach it by steam train from Fort Wilderness campground or by boat from the Contemporary and Polynesian Resort Hotels.

Anonymous lennn said...

The mysterious metal racks in the freezers look a lot like the ones we use in the liquid nitrogen storage of our cell biology lab. And in the front you even see an open box with plastic 2 ml tubes for cell culture samples

Blogger Barry said...

Makes me feel old when I can remember all those attractions when they were still open. Many fond memories of them. I was a resident of Florida some 20 years ago and I would often go to the park as a day trip.

That "yellow submarine" reminds me of the 20,000 leagues under the sea attraction. However, I am not sure if it is the same one.

I guess it might be time to go back.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've definitely been/ experienced most of those attractions and I'm only in my mid-20's. Shame to see them closed. I understand the walking/ exploration sections, which never got much traction, but the Epcot exhibits were interesting and taught kids about physics and health.

Blogger Let's Go To WDW said...

I remember many of these attractions when they were "alive". I'm sad we never actually went over to Discovery Island. Thanks for the memories!

Anonymous nomeus said...

could have swore it was a flash gordon rocket ship....

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Lenn's comment, that is a -80C freezer. Check the gaskets. Why would they have a -80?

Blogger Nafa said...

Fascinating pictures. A few notes (and some have been mentioned):

Pop Century - The views of the Pop Century Resort are from what was to be the Legendary Years (1910s-1940s) part of the resort (on the west side of the lake). Construction was abandoned on the west side after the decline in tourism post 9/11. (The Classic Years [1950s-1990s on the east side] has been open since late 2003.) And as Chris & Andrew pointed out they are now completing the Art Of Animation Resort on the west side.

River Country - This was the original waterpark for the Disney resorts, well before Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon. It also closed in 2001.

AT&T Spaceship Earth Post Show - These pics were probably taken during the refurb in late 2004/early 2005 when sponsorship switched from AT&T to Seimens (again, as Chris & Andrew pointed out).

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Nafa - great info, really appreciate

Blogger Jennifer said...

The big metal tree with the hole in it is from the old "new" (it wasn't the original) AT&T post-show of Spaceship Earth. The holes in tree were places you'd put your face into and it'd take your picture. You then backed up to view the shot on a screen above.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

they should have mentioned the deranged mickey.

Blogger Ratchicat said...

oh man! The Imagination Playground was my favorite place in the world when i was little i still talk about it every time were at Epcot i remember they had a pin board toy the size of a pool table and i loved it! Ahh childhood where did you go. I would so love to get up there somehow how do you amazing explorers do it!!!


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