You’re in Orlando, Florida, and have just walked into the happiest place on earth — Walt Disney World. You walk down Magic Kingdom’s Main Street and see Mickey Mouse on your right, smell fried foods coming from three-blocks down, and hear the music starting for a princess sing-a-long. Everything is bright, clean, and happy.
But what about those attractions that now hide in the shadows? Forgotten, overtaken by shrubbery, cobwebs, and lost in the past? Take a stroll down memory lane with these abandoned and extinct Disney attractions.
Walt Disney World opened its first water park in the summer of 1976. Slides are still in place, pools are full of water, and park rules are still visible from the shores of Bay Lake. The only problem is that River Country has been completely abandoned since 2005 — guess that means no lifeguards are on duty.
Weirdly, Disney never gave an official statement as to why they shut down the park, and the silence led to many conspiracies theories. Deadly amoebas are at the top of the list. Gross.
Abandoned attraction? Try abandoned island that is no longer labeled on a map of Disney World, but rather illustrated as a green mass in the middle of Bay Lake.
Opening in 1974, Discovery Island was a pirate-themed amusement park inspired by the popular Disney film “Treasure Island.” And contrary to popular belief, the main appeal of the park happened to be the 150 exotic birds from around the world and not the pirate reenactments. Although the park’s closing in 1999 remains a mystery, many believe it is due to the opening of Animal Kingdom.
Polynesian Beach Wave Machine
Who needs to wait for a perfect surf set when you have a wave machine to make one for you? In 1971, the Polynesian Resort decided they wanted to add surfing as a recreational activity for guests — the wave machine was born! Although the attraction was a hit, the surrounding Seven Seas Lagoon and its beaches suffered.
Rumors spread regarding the attractions early abandonment, ranging from machine failure to the more accepted reasoning of severe beach erosion. It’s been said that some remains of the machine were left to rot at the bottom of the lagoon.
Discovery River Boats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Opening in 1998, the Discovery River Boats were intended to transport guests through the Beastly Kingdom. The ride was meant to show fire breathing dragons, unicorns, krakens, and other fantastical beasts — maybe a Hippogriff would have shown its face! Alas, the kingdom of beasts never saw the light.
Desperately needing a facelift, the attraction was renamed in 1999 to the Radio Disney River Cruise. It didn’t help. Seems like guests were more interested in wildlife than a Radio Disney broadcast — who would have thought? The ride permanently closed that year.
Albeit a bit trippy and probably the cause of many epileptic episodes, this futuristic tunnel was part of Epcot’s Imagination Pavilion, namely, Imageworks on the second-floor. Shortly after opening in 1982, the attraction became increasingly popular when the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, did a photoshoot inside — way to get free marketing, Disney!
All of the technicolor was dimmed in 1998 when ImageWorks was moved downstairs, leaving the tunnel abandoned until recently. At the 2019 D23 Expo, Disney announced their plan to reinstall the Rainbow Tunnel in the new “Epcot Experience Center” later this year.
Mike Fink Keel Boats
In 1971, the Mike Fink Keel Boat attraction made its appearance at Magic Kingdom. The vessels were meant to illustrate the keelboats raced between Davy Crockett and Mike Fink from the show Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. But what’s a competition without a prize? The victor of the high stakes race was crowned “King of the River.”
Fink’s Gullywhumper and Crockett’s Bertha Mae were free-floating, motorized boats that cruised around the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island. A capsizing incident left the attraction not so attractive to guests; it’s no wonder the boats stopped running in 1997.
Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat
The Riverboat ended up coming late to its own party, arriving the day after Disney World’s grand opening in 1971. Guests were not overly happy about the no-show.
Then 1980 hit, bringing with it a routine rehab for Admiral Joe Fowler. Sadly, while being hoisted out of the water, Joe fell, destroying the hull beyond repair. The boat was brought to the backstage boneyard before being buried somewhere on Disney property. As far as abandoned attractions go, at least this one had a proper burial.
Plaza Swan Boats
Let’s start by saying who wouldn’t want to cruise around in an over-sized swan? The Swan Boats were known as one of the most relaxing attractions. It’s no Splash Mountain, but it did show pretty cool views of Cinderella’s Castle.
Some say the cost of maintenance was too high during the peak summer months, but the real reason for closing the attraction in 1983 remains unknown. A few of the original Swans found their way to auction and were ultimately purchased by long-time fans of the ride. Here’s to hoping the buyer had a pool big enough for a gigantic swan boat.
The Southern Seas and Ports o Call ships were two ferries that shuttled guests around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Per our aquatic attractions pattern, these ships didn’t last.
In 1974, the Southern Seas suffered severe hull damage, ending up placed in dry dock and eventually dismantled in 1977. Out of her ashes came the Southern Seas II, but the next few years weren’t the best for the World Cruise ferries. Due to low guest attendance, The Ports o Call stopped running in 1984, with the Southern Seas II joining in 1997.
Wonders of Life Pavilion
Depressingly known to some as “the Wonders of Sadness,” the pavilion is technically not abandoned, but rather reinventing itself as a venue: new year new pavilion and all that jazz. The area now hosts events such as the Food and Wine Festival as well as the Flower and Garden Festival.
Nothing has operated since the closing in 2007, but that doesn’t mean anything has been dismantled. Does it? Time to sneak in and see if Body Wars and other attractions are still intact and operational! Joking, that’s illegal…
Minus turning into a donkey like Pinocchio, this island is what it sounds like: bars and clubs for the night owls. What had been a great idea in 1989 flopped at the turn of the century, and renovations went underway in 2006. One of which was the removal of the infamously large Jessica Rabbit from the “Pleasure Island Tonight” sign. The renovations didn’t bode over well, and foot traffic didn’t increase.
In 2008, Disney decided that it would close the strip to make way for more family-friendly entertainment. Ultimately, the entertainment hub shut down permanently in 2010.
The Adventurers Club
"Kungaloosh!" As far as unique traditions go, this greeting takes the cake. The Adventures Club was a thematic bar on Pleasure Island, housing five individual rooms: The Mask Room, The Treasure Room, The Main Salon, The Library, and The Zebra Mezzanine. Guests would be privy to live shows, radio broadcasts, and even new member inductions (this may or may not have been a not so secret society).
When Pleasure Island closed for business in 2008, fans of the club started an online petition to keep to club running. It worked, for a time. The Adventures Club was eventually shut down in 2010.
This abandoned palace was a horror story from the get-go. Townspeople were angry about the park taking up prime real estate on Emerald Isle, NC, and they did not want to deal with tourists. The project heads didn’t care and built the park anyway.
Mysteriously, right before the grand opening, the park chained its gates forever. All records of the park’s design and construction were “lost,” but it is said that over every surface is the same three-word phrase: “ABANDONED BY DISNEY.” Some believe the construction of the palace is an urban legend, while others believe in the horror.
The Skyway opened with the rest of the park in 1971 as a way to quickly travel between Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. The attraction lasted well into the late 90s, and like all Disney closures, the reason is subject for debate. Although shut down, it wasn’t until years later that Tomorrowland’s loading station was demolished, along with its pylons and cables.
Fantasyland’s station, however, lived to see another few years. Even with rumors flying around of making it an eatery, the station finally met its demise in 2011.
One of the main shows on opening day in 1971, and guaranteed to drive parents crazy. Hosted by two birds, Clyde and Claude, the show featured over 150 mechanical birds, flowers, and tikis singing songs like "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Roon" and "Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing." Not sure if those songs qualify as a calming serenade, but to each his own.
The show closed its curtains in 1997 to make way for a modified version called "The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management)." Hopefully, Clyde and Claude weren’t fired and able to snag a part in the chorus.
The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management)
The Lion King’s Iago and Aladdin’s Zazu took over as hosts for The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management). Hopefully, Clyde and Claude found work elsewhere in the park. Too similar to the old show, the reviews weren’t stellar.
In January of 2011, a small attic fire damaged poor Zazu beyond repair, and a sprinkler system ruined one of the mechanical goddesses, Uh-Oa. The show closed once more, and the powers that be decided to remodel it back to the original style of Tropical Serenade. An expensive lesson in “don’t fix what ain’t broke.”
Probably okay that this property was forgotten, as it was pretty much useless. The STOLport, or “short take-off and landing” runway sported zero hangers and could only allow up to four grounded planes at a time. At least passengers didn’t have to worry about the hardship that is baggage claim.
Management decided it was best to shut down passenger operations in 1972, eventually entirely closing in the 80s. The landing strip still exists but has downgraded from a landing strip to storage space.
Fort Wilderness Railroad
The fully operational steam train opened in 1973 and ran through the vast property of the Fort Wilderness Campground. Like many Disney attractions, the official reason for its closure was never released. Rumors ranged from bad fuel capacity to a little girl being hit by the moving train while riding her bike. Ouch. If the last reason is real, it’s a good thing the tracks were abandoned to nature in the 80s.
Fortunately, Disney was able to find a use for some of the train cars in other properties, such as a ticket counter on Please Island.
Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends
A 12-minute live performance featuring Pocahontas, Meeko, Grandmother Willow and a slew of live animals was one of the opening day highlights at the Animal Kingdom in 1998. Let’s be honest, her moody hummingbird, Flit, probably hid in a tree judging everyone while the princess sang to the woodland creatures.
After a 10-year run, Pocahontas and her friends had one last performance before the show was canceled. Grandmother Willow, due to her rooted state, managed to stay at Camp Minnie and Mickey as a designated smoking area until the park closed in 2014. Here’s to hoping she didn’t catch fire.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Arguably one of the coolest of the original attractions, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea featured 12 individually driven 38-person submarines that explored a 12 million gallon tank. The underwater ride featured animatronic mermaids, giant squid, and even a replica of the Lost City of Atlantis.
Rigorous upkeep forced the ride to shut down in 1994. Rumor has it that a Finding Nemo equivalent is in the works. A celebratory draining of the tank and sinking of one submarine in Castaway Cay marked the end of the attraction’s era.