It’s been 17 years since Walt Disney World’s original animal kingdom, Discovery Island, closed for good. Located on Bay Lake between Fort Wilderness and the Contemporary Resort Hotel, Discovery Island was a perfect half-day adventure that opened in 1974 before giving way to the larger Animal Kingdom in 1998.
Over 11 acres of animal exploration awaited guests when they first landed on the island. Originally named Treasure Island until it was recognized as a zoological park, thus becoming Discovery Island, birds from flamingos to toucan and kookaburra could all be found on the island. Walking the self-guided trail, guests who took the ferry from Fort Wilderness, which was the easiest way to access the island, could watch a bird show involving a multitude of macaws, see monkeys swinging by or could simply picnic on Shipwreck Beach.
My family has at least three family photos of us posed in front of the wrecked ship Walrus. It was one of the essential photo ops for our vacations. Discovery Island was the place where you could get so close to the famous Galapagos tortoises that you could not help but be in awe of these ancient creatures.
Discovery Island was never crowded and, for many family trips in the 80s, I looked forward to wandering around the island. Discovery Island was the first location in Walt Disney World that I tried to make a model of as a kid. I failed, but the months I spent looking over the guide maps and trip photos is just an added bonus of extending the fun of my trip. If Discovery Island was closed when we were visiting, I was saddened more for this than any other attraction.
When it closed in 1999, Animal Kingdom absorbed all the creatures that called the island home. Discovery Island wasn’t needed. Safari Village at Animal Kingdom was renamed Discovery Island, a tribute to Animal Kingdom’s predecessor.
Discovery Island almost received a remodel in the early 2000s. Disney was going to partner with the makers of the very popular video game Myst to transform Discovery Island into a themed attraction based around the game. I’m glad it didn’t happen. It probably wouldn’t have lasted, and Discovery Island would most likely still be abandoned.
There is not much left of Walt Disney World’s original zoological park. Today, if you are riding the ferry from Fort Wilderness, you pass by the overgrown and abandoned Discovery Island, remnants of the Walrus can still be seen through the overgrowth. I miss Discovery Island. It was just the perfect size for me in exploring the wonder of nature.
Now when I am navigating through the crowds and walking the miles of ground that Animal Kingdom covers, I often think of the peaceful walk that you could enjoy on Discovery Island and wish I was there. I can see myself sitting at a picnic table finishing a cold drink at the Thirsty Perch refreshment stand on Discovery Island, feeling the breeze and maybe petting the friendly deer that lived on the island.
Rest in peace Discovery Island. You are missed.