Attractions that are abandoned, spaces ready to be developed in the future, and some buildings that are hardly ever used. We’ll explore all three of these oddly unused areas around Walt Disney World. Epcot claims 4 spots on my list out of 6, totally unintentional – the other two aren’t part of the 4 main theme parks at all.
Magic Kingdom doesn’t seem to have wasted space- in fact, the “New Fantasyland” expansion needed to make use of existing areas, not unused space. Hollywood Studios has some land that could be used for expansion, but would require closing other attractions (like the Backlot Tour) to access it. One noticeable building that has been empty for a while, Soundstage 1, couldn’t be included because it is finally being used as part of “Frozen Summer Fun.” Animal Kingdom, currently undergoing major expansion with the development of Pandora: The Land of Avatar, can’t be accused of not using its’ space (although they do have a huge piece of land to the north of the park available for future growth).
Have you ever noticed the following areas at Disney World Resort?
1. River Country
Opening in 1976, River Country was Walt Disney World’s first water park. It is located on Bay Lake, by the Fort Wilderness Resort. Yes, ‘is located’ – It was never demolished. Although the park closed in 2001, pieces of slides, walkways, and pools are still there, albeit overgrown and in a state of disrepair. If you attend Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, the entrance that you use is actually the entrance once used for River Country.
River Country and its closing have long been the sources of some controversy. Rumors of why it closed include water regulations banning Disney from using water from Bay Lake in its’ attractions while others suspect that the park did not reopen due to financial cutbacks. After September 11, 2001, park attendance took a sharp downturn. Disney had to decide where cutbacks could be made. Because they had two, much newer, more successful water parks on property, River Country fell victim to one of the “temporary” cutbacks. Disney never cited an official reason for River Country’s closure. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see if Disney Imagineers can use this area for something in the future.
2. Discovery Island
Just across Bay Lake from River Country lies Discovery Island. It opened in 1974 as “Treasure Island”, a pirate-themed animal observation area. Discovery Island was home to birds, reptiles, and lemurs. The island featured a bird show and other animal presentations. Discovery Island was closed in 1999, resulting in part from poor attendance and the opening of Animal Kingdom. (Incidentally, the island at the center of Animal Kingdom is also named “Discovery Island”.) Many of the animal residents of the island were transferred to Animal Kingdom and the island itself was left to go back to its’ natural state. Reportedly, hundreds of birds currently live on the island. Fun fact: urban explorer and blogger Shane Pérez made the news when he made a nighttime swim to the island. Admittedly, he was unaware of the brain-eating amoeba and alligators in the water before his voyage. You can get good view of Discovery Island from the Contemporary Resort – check it out while you wait for your reservation at Chef Mickey’s.
3. The Odyssey Restaurant, Epcot
You’ve probably noticed this building on your left as you are walking from Future World toward the World Showcase. Located between Test Track and the Mexico Pavilion, The Odyssey used to be a restaurant until it closed in 1994. Now it is opened occasionally for special events, such as the Food & Wine Festival, where it is used as convention space. The fact that a restaurant has gone unused is not all that shocking, but the fact that this under-utilized building is so prominently placed in the heart of Epcot is a bit surprising.
4. Wonders of Life Pavilion, Epcot
This gold-domed building, located between “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” and “Mission: Space”, used to house popular attractions about the human body such as “Body Wars”, “Goofy About Health”, and “Cranium Command.” Epcot could use a few more attractions to offset the huge lines for its headliners, so it’s a bit of a shame that this space isn’t being used. If you want to get a glimpse inside, visit during the Food & Wine or Flower & Garden festivals.
5. The Upstairs Area of the Imagination Pavilion
Back when the original Dreamfinder was still Figment’s buddy, there was an awesome area in the upstairs of this beautiful glass building. It was called “ImageWorks” and provided lots of interactive fun. I vividly remember climbing the spiral staircase to get up there, going through the rainbow tunnel, and play with sound, light, and color. Unfortunately, the upstairs area closed in 1998. Today, you can find a similar interactive playground after you exit the Journey into the Imagination ride, but somehow it feels less cool downstairs than it did upstairs.
6. Epcot’s World Showcase- Space Between Countries
When I first learned that there is room for 8 or more new countries in Epcot’s World Showcase, I was surprised. Walking around, you’ll probably never notice the unused pieces of land nestled between the existing countries. In fact, there are only 2 countries that are directly adjacent with no land between them – Norway and China. A look from above (via Google Earth) shows that the unused spaces are home to storage sheds, vehicles, and trees- all easily moved/removed. Walking between countries in the World Showcase, you may notice sections of trees that are the same size as the space currently inhabited by countries. Examples of these available plots are the land behind the railroad display next to Germany, the area behind the African Outpost, and the wide expanse between China and Germany. In total, it appears that there may be room for up to 8 more countries in the World Showcase. Which countries do you think Disney should include in the World Showcase? Tell us in the comments below.
There you have it – 6 unused and deserted spaces that I’ve wondered about in my travels to Disney World. Nostalgia and curiosity leave me wishing I could travel in a time machine back to the heydays of these attractions, or whisk to the future so I can see how they might be used one day. In the meantime, let’s hope that Disney makes creative use of some of these open spaces in the near future!