I have a macabre obsession with abandoned places. This also includes amusements parks, and more recently, a water park. River Country was the first water park at Walt Disney World, and remained as such for 13 or so years. It was on the property of Fort Wilderness. Fiddledaddy worked their as a lifeguard many years ago.
River Country opened in 1976, and closed its gates in 2001.
But here’s the thing that most people don’t know.
It’s still there.
And it’s really really creepy.
You have to know where to look, but there’s an area of Fort Wilderness that houses the horses. Behind that area and near the pavilion are very very tall chain linked fences, with a green plastic grid so that you can’t see what’s behind it. Except that there are places that the green plastic has been broken. And you can see.
This is a picture that I took on our last trip to Fort Wilderness:
Those two chute type structures were the slides. There is a pool ladder and plastic chair floating in what’s left of the murky green water.
I found some images of River Country in its heyday. This is that same pool.
We stayed at Fort Wilderness back in 2000, after Emme was born. I regret not visiting this attraction before it closed. There are a number of rumored reasons for the closing of River Country. Some speculate that it was because of the opening of the other two Disney water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon which can accommodate much larger crowds. Another reason could likely be that most of the attraction’s water sources were from Bay Lake, which of course could not be filtered. The State of Florida began clamping down on public swimming areas which could not be properly maintained because of deadly amoeba contained therein. I prefer to think that it closed because it was haunted. That’s how I role.
Very close by, surrounded by Bay Lake, there is a small island which used to be called Discovery Island and home to various wildlife and nature walks. Disney visitors were able to ride a ferry to the island and explore, as it was another tourist attraction. And then one day it was closed with no warning. Not even the employees knew what happened. It is rumored (by people who have swum the lake in the dead of the night and explored the island on their own) that there are still filled file cabinets in offices, and an open coke can on a desk. And a lot of really really weird noises….
Anytime you take a ferry from Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom or other park destinations, you pass that island. Seriously it always scares me. But if I had less sense and more nerve, I would LOVE to explore it.
When we were camping last week, and very kind lifeguard had gotten off duty and was answering our kids many questions. The subject of the abandoned water park came up, and he said that he heard that the area was going to be turned into a Disney Vacation Club destination. This is fancy talk for another hoopty ploopty hotel.
I secretly hope that they leave it be. I like to visit the fence most nearly every time I go there, as it allows my vivid imagination to enjoy a workout. At least that’s one part of me that gets a workout.
(You Tube hosts a number of videos about River Country. This one was fun. There is before and after footage. It’s lengthy, but it shows some kids who sneaked in and took video a couple of years ago. I kept wondering where their parents were…)