Photo by Nomeus, 2008 - Flurbex.com

Discovery Island

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Located in the middle of Bay Lake, there is an island known today as Discovery Island, which is owned by Walt Disney World. The island though, has a long history going as far as the early-1900s when the island was called Raz Island.

The Raz family owned the island, using the land for farming up until the late-1930s when the land was purchased by Delmar “Radio Nick” Nicholson for $800, renaming the island to Isles Bay Island. He lived on the island with his wife and pet crane for 20 years before selling the property which would be used as a hunting retreat and again renamed, Riles Island. The property was finally purchased by Disney in 1965.

The island was renamed Blackbeard’s Island, but remained undeveloped until 1974. The Buena Vista Construction Company added nearly 15,000 cubic yards of soil, increasing the island to 11 acres. Over 1000 tons of boulders and trees were exported from other countries such as China, South Africa and the Himalayas, to be used in creating an entirely new landscape for Disney’s new attraction, Treasure Island.


Photo Credit: Nomeus, 2008 – Flurbex.com

On April 8, 1974, Treasure Island opened. It was accessed by either taking a direct trip from a resort dock or as part the “Walt Disney World Cruise,” a tour of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake that stopped at the Island. Though the island was named after the 1950 film of the same name, the island’s loose pirate theme was largely overlooked by the dozens of animal exhibits.

In 1978, Disney renamed the park, Discovery Island, losing any references to pirates and focused more on the island’s rich, botanical settings. Charles Cook was the park’s head curator and was often seen posing with birds in Disney publications and also on various TV broadcasts when the island’s conservation efforts were discussed. As an extension of other responsible environmental practices on the part of the company, the animal care on Discovery Island was a very public and important component.


Photo Credit: Nomeus, 2008 – Flurbex.com

Disney’s conservation efforts were recognized in 1981, when it was made an accredited zoological park by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. The park was also widely known for housing the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow before it died in 1987, and then officially declared extinct in 1990.

In September 1989, the Orange-Osceola state attorney and a U.S. attorney in Orlando filed 16 charges against Cook and four other Discovery Island employees with a large number of allegations included the mishandling of vultures and other wild birds, the destruction of ibis and egret nests and the shooting of hawks and falcons.

According to Disney employees, the vultures attacked animals and defecated on a boardwalk, the hawks, falcons and owls attacked show pigeons and the egrets and ibises were noisy. Investigators found a metal shed measuring 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 7 feet high with no windows, ventilation, water or perches. Old food, feces and feathers were on the floor. 19 vultures were in the shed at the time, one of them dead, though Cook told investigators that as many as 72 vultures have been kept in the shed at once. Jim Found, the manager of Discovery Island, told investigators that they even had discussed destroying the vultures before.

Even though it was a major blow to Disney’s public reputation, they were able to keep the park open in a respectable manner.

Disney had decided to close the park soon after Animal Kingdom debuted. On April 8, 1999, 25 years after the park had opened, Discovery Island closed.

Photographer: Nomeus
Year Taken: 2008
Website: FLURBEX

45 thoughts on “Discovery Island”

  1. Hey. This site is awesome and than you for making it. So I had a question about eating here. Where is it located? And how do I get in? I really want to see this.

  2. Around 1996 I dated a girl who worked on the island. There were Galapagos turtles, birds, really neat stuff. In the evenings, she would take two small animals, one dangerous, one not, and do a show for guests at the wilderness lodge. I would watch the show and ride back with her. Usually she had a bird in a cage, and a snake or alligator in a bag. It was pretty creepy to go there in the evening. The guest area was closed at dusk, so we would park the pontoon boat and return the animals. It was typically dark, and the bird activity was tremendous.

    1. I worked there in 1978. It was an awesome place to work. Great bunch of people I worked with, like family. I cleaned cages on the walking trails, prepared the food and fed the animals, and gave the bird show guy his break and did the show for him until he got back. I even got to train 2 ring neck doves for a Lake Buena Vista shopping Village commercial. Such a shame it is left to ruins like this. It breaks my heart.

    1. Nomeus “borrowed” a boat from the Fort Wilderness shoreline, went on over in the dead of night, took pictures and brought the boat the boat back.

  3. That makes me sick, what they did with the vultures. Funny thing is that is shows they weren’t interested in any of the animals’ sakes. (theirs or the natural ones) They were just worried about what the vultures did to their profit. All the conservations and stuff? To make them look good for profit. Relocate the things… but abusing them like that? God… if I was a judge…

  4. The island was one of my favorite places in Disney. Being close to the animals was great. My sister worked for years at Disney and she was the one who helped us find this delightful place to spend an afternoon. We are returning to Orlando, Florida again next week and sorry to hear that the island is closed.

  5. Disney still lights the place up, And the island is still viewable from Disney’s contemporary resort, and Disney’s fort wilderness resort and campground. There are also boat rides that run between the two resorts, where you can also see, Discovery island.

  6. Omg I was on YouTube listening to a creepy pasta about this island and there was a link to this and I thought “WOW I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S A REAL ISLAND”. I thought it was just a figment of someone’s imagination.

  7. vials and specimans in a cooling vac no no no somethingg illegal was goin on there some clone or mutant shit u dont just have fucking specimans and vials hanging around on islands of theme parks no

      1. Is there anyway to get to the island now? My bucket list for my high school years (I am a sophomore now) is to visit all of the still standing locations on your site lol

    1. Yes, it is being used, but Disney doesn’t want anyone there. When it closed for the season in the fall of 2010, Disney pooled a ton of construction equipment there, only transporting it in the dead of night so as to not attract attention. The workers were mostly illegals because Disney knew they’d keep their mouths shut. I was a foreman of one of the crews. They build some major subterranean facilities under the island, some real James Bond kind of stuff, with acres of labs and other facilities. There was one off limits area where they built something with a bunch of cryogenic piping…I bet Walt’s head is down there, still being served by an army of Disney drones, plotting his return to life. They could send their hit team against me for even mentioning it here. But think about it…keeping it overgrown and nasty and off limits keeps people away. Most of them, obviously. Keep up the explorations, and if you’re on the island again look for the side entrance…it’s in the men’s room up in the northernmost building, in the last stall on the left. You have to feel around the walls for the fake panel, it’s up high so it wouldn’t be accidentally hit by anyone. Good luck and God bless your explorations.

  8. The surrounding water of the island apparently has bacteria that can kill you. Disney is not in the business of its customers dieing

    1. Sorry that isnt true and it is a rumor..I live in orlando, been here my whole life and swam in those waters many times…Theres bacteria every where but never on that could kill you…

  9. Damn! I had completely forgotten about this! I worked at Fort Wilderness in 1973-75 as a lifeguard and a sailing instructor. At that time, there were only 75 campsites at Fort Wilderness and a small number of staff. We used to take one of our boats over to the island for lunch, or when we just had to get away from looney guests.

    Nobody at WDW could ever figure out what to do with that little island. When they came up with this “Treasure Island” idea, they decided to have all kinds of weird animals on the island. One day I went over there with a friend and we saw OSTRICHES running around. They were young ones and still relatively small, but they were still about 5 foot tall. My friend and I decided to try to catch one. We ran like the Road Runner all over the place, but we never got anywhere near the birds. We couldn’t believe how incredibly fast the birds are and it all seemed so effortless for them. Like taking a short jog for fun.

    Damn! I haven’t thought about the island and those birds for at least 30 years! Thanks for the memory bump!

  10. The actual reason for closing it was a financial one. Bay Lake has an Amoeba that eats away at brain tissue, the place is sick with them.

  11. The park closed due to dangerous levels of deadly bacteria, Naegleria Floweri – a free-living, single-celled organism better known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” Commonly found in warm bodies of fesh water including lakes, ponds, rivers and hot springs. It was the only chocie Disney had, they had to shut down the park for the safety of all. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html

  12. Great story! I just relocated back to Orlando after many years. I went here with a friend back in 1994. I loved the place, especially the Galapagos turtles. I always wondered what happened to it. I understand them closing it after Animal Kingdom opening. They should redevelop the island as a nature trail or something, it’s beautiful.

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