All Those Abandoned Places at Disney World

in Inside the Magic, Walt Disney World

Abandoned Disney World Sites_feature image

Not every venue at Walt Disney World Resort can withstand the test of time, and even the most magical place on Earth has been known to pull the plug on certain Resort and Disney Park attractions.

If you’ve ever looked up the answer to the question “How big is Disney World in Florida?” then you already know it’s massive—comprising nearly 30,000 acres. As one of the greater Orlando area’s premier vacation destinations for more than five decades, there are bound to be changes in the various onsite offerings. Sometimes, though, these changes entail the shuttering of certain operations. In some instances, the closing of an attraction prompts an almost immediate replacement or revamping of an existing area, as was the case when the Backlot Studio at Hollywood Studios was remade into Toy Story Land. Other times an area sits in disarray on the grounds for a prolonged span of time.

Here at Inside the Magic, we’re taking a closer look at some of Disney World’s most notoriously abandoned sites through the years, recounting each one’s history and any potentially teased plans for the future.

Discovery Island 

The abandoned Discovery Island Disney lore you’ve no doubt heard about is the stuff that urban legends are made of. There’s an undeniable intrigue surrounding this once-thriving zoological park stop-off that now sits abandoned and covered in vines out in the waters of Bay Lake.

It opened to the public in 1974, first under the name of “Treasure Island” before the motif shifted to animals and wildlife. And during its prime, it played host to many unique creatures, exhibits, and fun interactive sites and activities. But that all changed in 1999 when Discovery Island abruptly shuttered all operations. Most of the animals were relocated to Disney’s newly formed Animal Kingdom Park, while others were transferred to other zoological parks throughout the nation.

Disney has always been mysteriously silent on the reasons surrounding Discovery Island’s abandonment, which has prompted the rumor mill to spin out some pretty ludicrous legends and myths. It also doesn’t help that there are strict rules regarding trespassing on this island or even floating a boat too close to the shores. While many like to imagine sordid and sinister details surrounding the closure, the most likely reason is financial decline, given that Animal Kingdom Park had been established just a year before the closure, and Discovery Island demand had been significantly impacted as a result.

Aerial view of Discovery Island
Credit: Florida Sunshine

Related: Debunking Myths and Rumors About Disney’s Original Discovery Island

Disney’s River Country

This was Disney World’s first-ever water park, which opened in 1976. Themed with an old-fashioned swimming hole motif, the water park was based on the shores of Bay Lake, near Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds.

Even after the opening of Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, Disney’s River Country continued operating until 2001. That was when it closed indefinitely. Later, in 2005, Disney announced that the closure of River Country would be permanent.

Again, no official reasons have ever been given for its closure, leading to plenty of unwarranted speculation through the years. Some claims go back to a freshwater amoeba discovered on location here in 1980, which was even attributed to the death of an 11-year-old boy. But seeing how the water park continued to operate for two decades following, this does not seem plausible.

In 2018, it was announced that the former site for Disney’s River Country would become the location for a new Disney Vacation Club Resort—Reflections—A Disney Lakeside Lodge. The original intent was for the hotel to open by 2022. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered all active work and construction onsite. Since reopening, Disney has made no further mention of continuing work on this project.

Long ago thriving River Country
Credit: D23

Wonders of Life Pavilion

This now-defunct Pavilion in EPCOT, which opened to the public in 1989 (in the former Future World area), primarily focused on health, wellness, and the human body (physical fitness and nutrition). Throughout its tenure, it hosted several renowned Disney EPCOT attractions, including Body Wars, Cranium Command, Wonder Cycles, Coach’s Corner, Fitness Fairgrounds, Goofy About Health, Sensory Funhouse, and the surprisingly risqué-for-the-day film The Making of Me.

The Pavilion closed to the public in 2007 and has largely served as EPCOT’s Festival Center up through 2018. Since 2019 construction has been underway to transform it into a newly imagined Play! Pavilion. The intention was to complete the project in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2021. But due to the pandemic and resulting Park closures, the project was not completed in time. Disney has since mentioned that the Play! Pavilion concept is being re-evaluated.

Former Wonders of Life Pavilion
Credit: D23

Related: Disney May Be Making Progress on “Abandoned” Play! Pavilion

Pop Century Legendary Years

When Disney’s Pop Century Resort was being constructed in the early 2000s, it was initially supposed to be done in two phases. One section would be themed for the latter half of the 20th century and called “The Classic Years.” Just across Hourglass Lake, connected by “Generation Gap Bridge,” was to be “The Legendary Years” section, following an earlier half of the century motif.

While still a work in progress, the 9/11 terrorist attacks significantly impacted tourism. Therefore, Disney completed only the first phase Classic Years part of the Resort. The Legendary Years section was abandoned, despite work on the would-be lobby (Legendary Hall) and a couple of buildings left unfinished. Then, later in 2010, Disney announced that the former Legendary Years section would become the site of a new Resort. By 2012, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opened here.

Abandoned remnant of unfinished Pop Century Legendary Years building
Credit: World Abandoned

Related: Did You Know About These Never-Built Disney World Resort Hotels?

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Over the years, Stitch’s Great Escape! has become notoriously regarded as one of the top bad Disney attractions ever. It opened in Magic Kingdom Park’s Tomorrowland in 2004, replacing the previous ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter theater experience. Fans of Lilo & Stitch probably wanted to like the attraction but were, in truth, disappointed by its lackluster qualities as a theater round. It just wasn’t very eventful unless you consider being tormented in the dark by a rogue Stitch the show’s highlight.

In the years leading up to its 2018 closing date and confirmed permanent discontinuation in 2020, the attraction’s lack of popularity reduced its operational performances to only seasonal occurrences. Since its official dismantling, it’s served a few temporal purposes during special holiday-ticketed events and other happenings. Most recently, its queue has been hosting a pop-up merchandise location for TRON Lightcycle/Run. But this is only temporary, and no permanent future plans have been verified for the existing abandoned site. At one time, there was even a rumored Wreck-It-Ralph attraction slated for this area. Is it wrong to still be hopeful about this?

Interior of former Stitch's Great Escape!
Credit: Inside the Magic

Related: What Should Replace Stitch’s Great Escape at Magic Kingdom?

Aunt Polly’s at Tom Sawyer Island

It may not be accurate to count this quick-service dining spot on Tom Sawyer Island among the other abandoned Disney attractions on this list. That’s because it isn’t altogether officially defunct. But its operational hours are few and far between and usually reserved only for peak holiday times at Magic Kingdom Park.

Aunt Polly’s has a surprisingly long history in the Park, opening in 1973 and serving as a full-time operation for several years. Over time, however, hours became increasingly reduced, and operations were significantly cut. Now, more often than not, the restaurant sits empty and shuttered to Guests visiting Tom Sawyer Island.

Even though operations are infrequent, Aunt Polly’s menu offerings still manage to lead a foodie fan base. Some of the hailed highlights here include Becky’s Buttery Biscuit BBQ Sliders, various peanut butter specialty sandwiches, soft pretzel sticks, root beer floats, and their famous Mississippi Mud Brownie a la mode.

Dockside view of Aunt Polly's
Credit: DisneyFanatic

Galactic Starcruiser

Most recently, Disney has announced that the official closing of the Galactic Starcruiser Star Wars-themed hotel will occur by the end of September. And while we have yet to receive any official word on what may take its place permanently, we can only speculate that at least for a time, the area once occupying it will sit abandoned and unused. Only time will tell, though.

Related: ‘Star Wars’: Galactic Starcruiser Out, New Disney Hotel In

Do you have any fond memories of any of the now-abandoned places we covered on this list? We’d love to have you share them with us in the comments below.

in Inside the Magic, Walt Disney World

View Comment (1)