I love all things abandoned, and after finding out about the abandoned water park at Walt Disney World, River Country, I needed to see it in person! In 2014 my friend and I booked a dinner at Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and headed over to get a glimpse at River Country, Disney’s abandoned water park. River Country is located on Bay Lake on the other side of the Contemporary. Check out this vintage map below to see where exactly it is!
To get to Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, you actually enter through the front gates of River Country. The front half of the park is still open, with ticket gates, water fountains, lights, and some parking. They’ve covered over the River Country sign with a Mickey’s Backyard BBQ overlay. I had previously watched a video about how the “abandoned Disney water park still lights up and plays music”, but the video failed to mention that the front half of the park was open to guests. To clear it up, only the back half of the park where the pools were was actually abandoned.
Image courtesy of Yesterland.com
If you walk to the end of the open section of River Country, you see a big green fence dividing the park. This fence had multiple gaps, allowing us to get some great pictures of the abandoned park. We’ve heard since 2014 the pool was filled in and the view is much different. But first lets go back to when River Country was open, the pools were filled with water, and guests visited it every day.
History from 1976-2001
River Country opened in 1976 as Walt Disney World’s first water park. The park featured a rustic wilderness theming, complete with rocks and man-made boulders. It was described as an “old-fashioned swimming hole with “a twist of Huckleberry Finn”. There were many slides, some using pool water and some using filtered water from Bay Lake. This was one of the reasons River Country ended up closing.
Image courtesy of Yesterland.
The park had 12 attractions from 1976- 2001, listed below. We’ve also attached some vintage pictures of the park in its glory.
- Upstream Plunge, a kidney shaped clean-water pool.
- Slippery Slide Falls, two water slides that emptied into Upstream Plunge.
- Kiddie Cove, a kids zone with two large water slides and a cove. This area was targeted toward preteens.
- Barrel Bridge, a bumpy bridge with barrels under it, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.
- White Water Rapids, a 330-foot (100 m) long inner tube river.
- Bay Cove, a half-acre (2,000 m²) sand-bottom lake which featured a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, and T-bar drop.
- Boom Swing
- Cable Ride
- Tire Swing
- Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, two water slides, 260 ft (79 m) and 160 ft (49 m) long, that emptied into Bay Cove.
- Bay Bridge
- Indian Springs, a very small splash zone with fountains spraying kids. This area was mainly designed for guests under age 8.
- Cypress Point Nature Trail, a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.
- Pony Rides
- Mercury WaterMouse Rental
Images courtesy of Yesterland.
River Country was one of the first water parks in the world to have extensive theming, and wowed guests on every visit. It was small and quaint, but had enough attractions for a half-day trip atleast. Below is a park map from the year before its closing.
In 1989 Disney opened Typhoon Lagoon, and in 1995 opened Blizzard Beach. Both parks were much larger in scale than River Country, and had more attractions. Typhoon Lagoon is estimated to be 9 times larger than River Country.
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, and rumors (unconfirmed) also said a dangerous amoeba was in the Bay Lake water and the filtration process was not sufficient for swimming. Four years later in 2005 Disney finally announced that the park would never reopen, and it was left to deteriorate.
There were several deaths that took place at River Country. Most notably,
- On August 22, 1980, an 11-year-old boy from died after swimming in the water park. The cause of death was amoebic meningeoencephaliatis, traces of which were found in the water
- On August 9, 1982, a 14-year old boy drowned at River Country. He was polled from the water of the cove about five minutes after going down the 60 ft slide into 5 ft deep water.
- On July 10, 1989, a 13-year-old boy drowned at River Country, swimming with 8 classmates and two counselers. 15 minutes later, another swimmer felt him under his feet and dragged him out.
One of the reasons the second and third boys were not spotted under the water sooner is that part of River Country used filtered lake water. Because the water wasn’t transparent like at a typical pool, it was harder to spot someone under water.
River Country in 2014
Below are our pictures from our 2014 visit. Note that anyone who crosses the fence and trespasses on the property risks a lifetime ban at Walt Disney World.
As you can see in this picture behind me, the fence does not do the best job of hiding the park. Disney left this area to deteriorate quickly, and did not make much of an effort to hide this area, demolish it, or transform it. This is a very unique decision on their part, as Disney is extremely detail oriented and focuses on ensuring guests have a magical experience.
I was able to get a great picture of the now empty pool through the gap in the fence. It seems unreal that Disney left this view so easily accessible to guests. I also stood on a picnic table to grab this second shot.
The back end of the park was not able to be seen through the fence, but on the boat ride from Fort Wilderness Campground to Magic Kingdom you used to be able to see the old tire swing and parts of the old slides. For more about the history and what’s happening with the park today, head here!