Disney has had its share of dirty secrets over the years. Many of them have been closely guarded, so much so that their existence now borders on more urban legends than on actual fact. Walt Disney’s overt anti-Semitism or his head being cryogenically frozen somewhere in Space Mountain to name a few.
Yet many of Disney’s mistakes and near-misses still remain. Some messes, for instance, are not so easy to clean up and it took one brave photographer to reveal that some of Disney’s most curious secrets still remain in the shaded bayou that surrounds its Floridian empire…
Deep in Florida’s beautiful Orlando, lies the self-styled, “Happiest Place on Earth.” Disney World may be just that. For decades, families have migrated down to this semi-tropical paradise in search of good, wholesome fun, exciting rides, great food, and excellent service.
Not far from the park itself, located in the middle of Bay Lake and about 300 feet away from the shore of the city, lies the 11-acre island on which Disney once operated a smaller theme park with a very familiar theme…
It was originally intended to be a pirate-themed island but went through various stages before it was ready to be opened up to the public. The original name was “Blackbeard’s Island” and Walt Disney planned for it to include various pirate shipwreck attractions, forts, and inns for guests to stay and dine in.
The name turned out to be a little too limited for the theme, so Disney changed it to “Treasure Island.” They also included over 600 native and tropical birds, flamingos, pelicans, and peacocks, as well as tropical plants, flowers, and trees. It opened on April 8, 1974, to great fanfare….
Unfortunately, as beautiful as the exotic flora and fauna were, the island failed to draw the crowds that the rest of the park brought in. Hoping to fix these issues, the management reworked the park as “Discovery Island.” This time it featured a walk-in aviary, bird shows, the biggest colony of Scarlet Ibises in the U.S., and even five tame Galapagos tortoises.
Unfortunately, things started to go south in 1989 when Discovery Island came under controversy. Apparently, some employees had been firing rifles at Hawks, beating vultures to death, and destroying clutches of Red Ibis eggs. A two-month investigation followed, and Disney was charged with 16 state and federal charges of bird abuse…
The Dream Dies
Disney settled out of court by paying $95,000, but the cost was far too steep for Discovery Island ever to recover. In 1999, the dream came to an abrupt and unceremonious end. All of the exotic animals were relocated to Disney’s new attraction, Animal Kingdom, but the park was closed for good, under mysterious circumstances.
Untouched by Man
The ruins of Disney’s Discovery Island would remain untouched by the public for the next decade. Like many of Disney’s expensive and ill-conceived attractions before it, the park passed into memory. It’s last known visitor would come in 2009, when a photographer, Shane Perez, mounted an expedition of sorts to the mysterious place…
Shane had apparently learned a few disturbing facts about the island and had wanted to visit it for a while to learn why it had actually closed. Unfortunately, nature had put a few roadblocks in the way in the form of Floridian alligators and bacteria-infused lakewater. Still, ferocious reptilian predators were not about to stop these bold photographers.
The water surrounding the island was apparently filled with Naegleria fowleri bacteria which can infect the human nervous system and almost always results in death. This same bacteria was also found in the water of the formerly adjacent Disney’s River Country water park, which had been shut down some years before…
Shane and his three friends smuggled themselves and their equipment during the night, at a time when boat traffic through the area was at a minimum. They ignored the bacteria and alligator warnings and decided to swim across, under cover of darkness, with their camera equipment tucked safely in waterproof bags.
Keeping the Lights On
The first thing the team noticed was that Disney had decided to keep the lights running all the time at their abandoned theme parks. This apparently gives the impression that they are still functioning fine. Perhaps, though, it was because something was still being done at the park even though it had been closed for nearly a decade…
It was clear that the park had not undergone any outward maintenance since it closed in 1999. Shane and his team walked slowly and carefully through the island’s overgrown paths and thoroughfares, traveling by the light of only a small red light. Even though they were trying their best not to draw any attention, they knew somehow that they were not alone.
Paperwork and Jars
The animals still living on the island were loud and cawed and cooed with each semi-silent step they took. As they ventured further inland, they came across an old storage building filled with all manner of old paperwork, photos, and even some odd-looking snakes preserved in random jars. Then, they came upon a row of old cages and veterinary facilities…
These cages must have housed Discovery Island’s many animal species before they were sent over to their new forever homes in Disney’s new Animal Kingdom. Shane and his crew soon came to a domed aviary type building that was also used to keep the island’s many exotic birds. As it turned out, not all the park’s birds had left.
A Strange Hissing
In one of these sheltered areas, Shane heard what sounded like a hissing noise coming from one of the corners of the room. In it he found two young and very ticked off vulture chicks, angrily hissing in their direction. They tried to puff up immensely as the men photographed them and eventually made so much racket that the photographers had to clear off…
The team moved on to other portions of the island where they discovered more hidden, abandoned trails leading to the back of all the buildings. It seemed that Disney had managed to clear out a good deal of attractions when they abandoned the island to nature. This may have been the idea all along behind abandoning the place.
One of the reasons the island may have been abandoned, besides the obvious bird abuse and potentially deadly bacteria, was that the natural ecosystem of the area was slowly being poisoned by the presence of thousands of human beings every day. The pollution and litter caused by theme parks are astronomical, and it might have been better to simply cut their losses and leave the place to the birds, literally. Soon, however, it was time for even them to leave…
Only Half the Island
The team had only been there for a total of three hours and had only covered about half of the island, but knew that it was about time for them to get a move on. If the ferries started coming back soon, there would be no way to safely swim back to the mainland without being caught. It was just a shame they had been forced to leave without learning all of Discovery Island’s dirty secrets.
The Rest Can Wait
After taking a mandatory group photo on the docks of the island, the group swam back to the mainland for a much-needed shower. They got a few odd looks waiting for the bus back to the parking lot, but no one said a word to them about their excursion. Though the park hasn’t been reopened, there are rumors that it will be with a new “Lost Island” theme, perhaps someday.