Today we’re sharing five fast facts about the River Country, the abandoned Disney water park located next to the Fort Wilderness Campground.
1. The park was open from 1976-2001 and had 12 attractions
River Country opened in 1976 as Walt Disney World’s first water park. In the 70s and 80s, Disney was focused on making Walt Disney World the “Vacation Kingdom of America”. The Magic Kingdom was a huge draw, but Disney also advertised their other offerings equally as much.
The Vacation Kingdom offered sailing, canoeing, fishing, camping, boat cruises, and more. Adding a water park was a big step to create more recreation options.
The park opened with two pool areas, the Upstream Plunge and Bay Cove. Upstream Plunge was a clean-water pool with the Slippery Slide Falls water slides. Bay Cove was a half-acre sand bottom lake featuring a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, T-bar drop, and the infamous Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow water slides. The cove used filtered water from Bay Lake. The park also had a barrel bridge, nature paths, pony rides, boat rentals, and two kids zones.
2. The park closed in 2001, but it was never supposed to be abandoned
Walt Disney World changed significantly between 1974 and 2000. Epcot opened in 1982, MGM Studios in 1989, Typhoon Lagoon opened in 1989, Blizzard Beach in 1995, and Animal Kingdom in 1999. The parks were significantly larger than River Country and had many more attractions. River Country started to decrease in popularity as guests chose to spend their time elsewhere on property.
In November 2001, as it did every year, the park closed in to reopen in the spring in warmer weather. This time, it never reopened. Disney said the park would reopen if there was enough guest demand. It is unlikely that at this time, they planned to abandon the park and let it decay. However, as the years passed, Disney left the park untouched. In 2005 they finally announced that the park would never reopen, and it was left to deteriorate.
Some say the park closed not due to unpopularity, but because of the dangers in the park. Rumors said a dangerous amoeba was in the Bay Lake water and the filtration process was not sufficient for swimming.
There were several deaths that took place at River Country. One death was from the amoeba in the water. Two were from drowning in the Bay Cove. Because the water was filtered from Bay Lake, it was not transparent like pool water. Lifeguards did not see the drowning boys for several minutes.
3. The park still played music and had the lights on – but not for the reasons you might think
After the park closed officially in 2005, Disney closed off the water park area with a green construction fence. This was not like the fences they put up in the parks that have quotes from Walt, or images of new attractions. It was a simple green fence that wrapped around the pool area. If you followed it into the wooded area, you could get up close views of the slides.
Disney left the front half of the park open. The banquet hall held Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, which remained open despite the park closure. The bathrooms were also open to guests. When you walked into the front entrance to sign in to Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, you actually passed the old ticket booths.
Inside of the park, the now abandoned water park still played music and had all the lights on. But, the front half really wasn’t “abandoned”. It was maintained by cast members and open to guests. There were no lights on, or music playing, in the back half of the park.
4. Urban explorers documented the park in its state of decay
Although Disney closed the area with a fence, it was incredibly easy for urban explorers to bypass the fence by climbing over it, moving it, or through the open gates near cast member parking. This area was completely off limits, but not patrolled frequently by cast members.
The image below shows the proximity of the onstage area and offstage area. The red line shows the approximate location of the fence. Not only was there an onstage area that touched the fence (as discussed above, the front half of the park was open), but also many backstage areas. Urban explorers would walk in the woods along the road backstage and enter through the former backstage gate to the park. At times, it was left completely open by cast members.
The urban explorers snuck in and documented the state of the park up until its closure. Below are some before and after pictures of River Country after it was abandoned. Please note, none of these pictures are our own and we do not condone sneaking anywhere backstage on Disney property. These photos are courtesy of Imagineering Disney.
5. The park is becoming a new resort
Disney has started construction on the new Disney Vacation Club Resort, “Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Resort”. The former location of the abandoned Disney water park is now an active construction site. Guests looking to get a peek at the park in person are out of luck. If you want to find the address of the park on Google maps, this is the location: 28.410828, -81.564382. You can also search “River Country” and it still comes up!
The Reflections resort will open in 2022 between the Wilderness Lodge and the Fort Wilderness Campground. The project joins three others underway at Walt Disney World that will bring a total of more than 1,700 new hotel rooms and DVC villas over the next four years. The deluxe resort will be themed to complement its natural surroundings.
For more about Mouselet 2’s experience visiting the abandoned park, head here.