One of the most interesting and mysterious attractions in Walt Disney World history is Discovery Island. The beautiful kingdoms, their captivating rides, and Disney’s iconic and lovable characters have outshone the 11-acre island park. Originally called “Treasure Island,” the old Discovery Island in Disney World’s Bay Lake closed to the public in 1999.
Discovery Island once hosted a kind of proto-Animal Kingdom, with exotic birds, lemurs and Galápagos tortoises. However, Attendance to the island dropped drastically. On April 8, 1999, a year after Animal Kingdom opened, the island closed to the public, with the animals being relocated but the structures remaining behind.
From 1900-1937, it 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. Nicholson stayed on the island, which he called Idle Bay Island, for about 20 years, making a home for his family. He was skilled at growing exotic plants and had an interest in zoology. The island then changed hands yet again and was bought by local business people as a hunting retreat.
When Walt was flying and taking repeated arial surveys of central florida, an island in Bay Lake was one of the main spots that caught his eye. And the property was finally purchased by Disney in 1965. A unique diversion from the theme park attractions, the island was planned to be a retreat for exploration and relaxation, with wrecks of pirate ships. In 1974, however, plans to add a wide variety of tropical birds to the island emerged, thereby putting the pirate theme on hold.
In 1978, Disney renamed the park and focused more on the island’s rich, botanical settings. Plants from China, the Himalayas and South Africa were transplanted to give the Disney Discovery Island a tropical lush feel. Once on Discovery Island, guests would encounter a variety of animal exhibits with the most notable being Trumpeter Springs, home of trumpeter swans. The new island was a haven for all kinds of animals including rare species and exotic birds like bald eagles and vultures.
In 1981 Disney Discovery Island became accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. In 1989 things took a turn for the worse, when charges against the island’s director and four employees was filed for the mishandling of wild birds and vultures, as well as the destruction of nests and shooting of falcons and hawks. Animal Kingdom Theme Park opened in 1998. And Disney Discovery Island became less popular as Animal Kingdom was larger and easier to reach via car rather than by boat. Disney Discovery Island closed in 1999. All of the animals were relocated, the exits were sealed and every shop, attraction, and pit-stop were closed.